How Switzerland Happened to Me

Leslie and Arnaud upon arrival at Geneva Airport on our first day as residents of Switzerland. August 24, 2019.

Leslie and Arnaud upon arrival at Geneva Airport on our first day as residents of Switzerland. August 24, 2019.

All expats, soon enough after they meet, ask each other: What brought you here?

Given how rapidly the move to Lausanne unfolded, a lot of my friends and family have asked me the same question. Let’s look back on the whirlwind.

Planning to Exit Houston

As many close friends know, I wanted to move on from Houston for a long while.

With a job that I could perform remotely and no children or spouse, I had few limitations and felt completely stymied by the number of options.

The United States has all sorts and types of cities—a smorgasbord of options to explore. Internationally, a little light research turned up a handful of places that appealed to me, supported working remotely, and allowed in foreigners without beaucoup dollars.

I spun in place, indecisive, for a long, long time. (Years, actually.)

By fall 2016, I’d decided to try a stint in Belize. I’d even begun to look into six-month leases. Belize has good Internet, a relatively stable political and economic system, uses the dollar as its common currency, sits in the same time zone as the central and east coasts of the United States, the national language is English, and a flight to Houston requires minimal expense and takes less than two hours.

Finding My Person—and Rethinking My Plans

And then I met Arnaud.

His career didn’t allow for remote work, as mine did. And when you find your person after so many years of looking, you don’t leave him.

Yet when I said I’d had an eye toward moving, he heard me. He’d received a few interview requests from other universities, yet nothing had particularly intrigued him and he hadn’t made any concerted effort toward a next career step. Now he looked a little more deeply at offers when they surfaced—including possibilities that would take him back to Europe. (In case you missed it, Arnaud est français.)

Somewhere in the overall mix, we decided to keep each other. (Trust me, after all the time I’d spent happily single, I barely believed it myself.)

Yes, I wondered what it would mean if he took a job in a different place—especially if the place didn’t have the most conducive set-up for my work. Conversely, I wondered how I’d feel if we never moved from Houston. And I realized that when you find your person, he becomes your place.

And besides: Why worry about problems you don’t have?

The Perfect Job Offer

Just as the wedding planning got truly underway, Arnaud got an offer he couldn’t refuse from a university in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Did I want to live in Switzerland? What did I know about Switzerland? (Nothing, nearabouts.)

I’d never even thought about visiting Switzerland before Arnaud and I stopped in for a brief meet-and-greet during his interview period.

The Lausanne part of Switzerland speaks French. I don’t speak French. I have zero facility for language learning. After years of trying, my Italian never got more than passable. How would I ever do anything cultural in Lausanne? Would I even make any friends?

Further, how could I easily get back to the United States for work and family purposes from the southern part of Switzerland, which has few direct flights into any area of the United States I’d need to visit on the regular?

Speaking of work, how would this work for my work?

Deep breaths.

Fortunately for assuaging my anxiety, I’d run FrogDog from London when I’d lived there several years before—during a time when I needed a separate phone line for my high-speed DSL Internet connection. Connectivity has come a long way since then. And I’d already initiated the sale of the office building in which FrogDog had its headquarters, which had prompted the team’s shift into a distributed-workforce trial period. If the distributed workforce continued to operate as well as it had from the outset, I’d have an even easier time working remotely from Switzerland than I would have otherwise.

Maybe, at the time, I still wished that we’d found an opportunity to move to London or Paris, just for the hustle and bustle and urban grit and the endless culture and the direct-flight access home to the States.

Yet I figured I could do this.

Let the Whirlwind Begin

Arnaud’s job offer had him moving to Switzerland mere weeks after accepting it. He had so much excitement about the work ahead and the team he would join that I felt selfish asking him to suggest a later start date.

We had a wedding to plan, so much to do to combine our worlds, and so much to do to settle out our U.S. lives. I didn’t want to do all these things with an ocean between us. I wanted to move to Switzerland married, and after taking a few more deep breaths, and after having settled a few more of our affairs with minimal unnecessary panic. Besides—I still had a company to run and work to do.

He agreed and the university agreed, though I know it bummed him out a bit.

And so together, in a matter of a few months, we planned a wedding, settled on temporary accommodations in Lausanne and connected with the key contacts we needed to get started there, Arnaud sold his house, I sold my car, we found someone to stay in my Houston house for reduced rent to take care of the dogs over the short term (at least), we sorted through everything we owned and relieved ourselves of most of it, we coordinated with international movers and oversaw the packing and shipping of everything we decided we’d take, we got married, we had a honeymoon in the Caribbean, we spent as much time with Houston family as we could, and we moved. (More posts to come with details on some of this, so stay tuned.)

Seemingly suddenly, as so often these things tend to feel, we went from single and in Houston to married and in Switzerland. From the engagement in December 2017, through to the wedding in July 2018, and then on to the move in late August 2018, we had eight months that upended our worlds—and in the best of ways.

And that, dear readers, is how Switzerland happened to me.