Thoughts on twenty years in Switzerland

This day twenty years ago, I boarded a flight for Switzerland. Apart from my suitcase, all I had with me was my bicycle and a fold-up occasional table my grandmother had once given me. I had carried it from flatshare to flatshare and now I was carrying it with me to a new life in a new country.

Travelling light was what I did back then – in work, in love and in material things. A year earlier I had left a permanent job in The Irish Times, and my last short-term job in Dublin was producing a play for a small theatre company.

But I was ready for a steadier life, and that is what Switzerland had in store for me. My Swiss boyfriend became my husband. In our apartment in Fribourg, I finally cooked in my own kitchen with my own pots and pans. I got a job with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. Eventually we had three daughters and built a house together.

I look back over those years and cannot believe how much my life has changed, and how fortunate I have been. Workwise, I reclaimed my freedom after ten years in the same job. I started writing books. This autumn, I’m organising a festival of Irish culture in Fribourg, enjoyable work that reminds me of the theatre job two decades ago.

Even though I’m as integrated as a piece of bread dipped in fondue and I speak the local languages, I haven’t always found it easy to accept my destiny as an emigrant. I didn’t realise how much I would be leaving behind, and for how long.

Acceptance. I got there eventually. I believe I will live in Ireland again – one day. But it doesn’t matter that it’s not now. Right now, this Swiss life is full in the best possible way. Yesterday evening, I went for a beautiful sunset walk with my mother (my most faithful Irish visitor) and daughters. It made me glad, yet again, that I found this place and made it my home.

Above is a photo of me from 2003 in the Gúna Nua Theatre Company office in Dame Street. It was taken a few weeks before I left Dublin for good. If I told her the whole story now, I think she would be more than ready to fold up the table once again.  

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on twenty years in Switzerland

  1. Congratulations, dear Clare! 20 years in Switzerland: that’s great. What a lovely picture of you. I wish you at least another 20 happy years of living, writing and publishing at any place you love, much success, happiness and health! I was such a pleasure to get to know you and your books and to become one of your translators (in German). Best wishes, see you soon, perhaps at the Irish Festival. Love, Barbara Traber

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Barbara. You are a great inspiration for independence and creativity. It would be great to see you at the festival! Lots of love, Clare

  2. How wonderful that young Clare looks–I don’t think she’d regret the decisions you’ve made so far. So much of what you say in your post reminds me of what I went through, arriving in Bern thirty-five years ago with very little High German and no Bärndütsch. I feel very lucky, too, mainly because of the acceptance that you refer to. You and I have been fortunate enough to be taken in by the Swiss, and we have come to feel that we belong here; we also have interesting work to do (which is part of why we belong.) But, as you say, it hasn’t always been easy. I’m so glad you’re feeling happy, and I’m excited about your Irish culture festival; I’ll be there!

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