I have been holding off finishing this post for months but with just days (or hours?!) before our second baby arrives, it seems like it’s about time to hit publish and enter into this new chapter as a US suburban family of four!
It’s been quite a season. We landed back in the states with the pandemic in full-throttle in May, our belongings arrived off a barge that traveled over the Atlantic in July, and we closed on a house in the Philly suburbs, finally moving in at the end of August. It was a wild summer of nomadic living between our family’s homes, but it was exactly the point of moving back to the US – extended quality time!
My final thoughts about our expat experience? It isn’t for everyone. But the two years of travel and a more leisurely life in Geneva’s lovely lakeside paradise were some of the happiest days of our lives individually, as a couple, and a new family of three.
Even in a pandemic, I’ve already felt the pressure of jumping back into the “American pace” but I’ve tried to remind myself that when we first landed in Geneva, it was freezing, slow, and unfamiliar, but I immediately felt peace. It had been harried months of being asked “when are you going? what are you going to be doing?”, panicked internal quandary over logistics and my potential career derailment without a work visa, and just general apprehension of being far away from our loved ones.
And then when we arrived, I relished in the quiet space. As I got to know the city by aimlessly walking around without a working iPhone, I felt like I could breathe for the first time in ages. My worst and best quality is impatience, but I had to learn that in those first days days all I might get done was to find a few familiar items at the grocery store, and to do laundry without flooding my home. And it was a real luxury to learn to stop beating myself up all the time and find joy in the small moments of victory. It was the confidence I needed to gain before becoming a new parent, when pressure and expectations can easily creep in, and you can sometimes only take solace in knowing you (mostly) kept a little one warm, dry, fed, and adored. And between the amazing sage-femmes (midwives who come to your house after giving birth) to the ludotheques (free toy libraries), thousands of beautiful walks, actually informative hospital pre-natal classes, abundant post-natal exercise classes, endless playgrounds and parks, chill pediatricians, everywhere being breastfeeding-friendly, and appropriate parental leave – Geneva is an incredible place to be a new parent. It’s so stereotypical and I sound like a girl who came home from a semester abroad with a bad accent and a beret (or worse, Emily in Paris?) but I can hardly believe already how annoyingly competitive and neurotic America is. I’m probably far better suited to the more laissez-faire and common sense nature of European parenting (and…life.)
We are cognizant that a big reason why this time was so special was because it was always a temporary slice of heaven. We are grateful that our family and friends directed so many of their precious vacation days and savings to ensure we were never lonely, and were so often by our sides to experience some of Europe’s greatest treasures, and our biggest moments.
And we found so much love and friendship in the people in Geneva – from fellow American colleagues to the sweet British “new mom” and now lifetime girlfriends that my fast beating Anglophile heart always dreamed of. It was no real surprise to us that we didn’t make any Swiss friends – they are notoriously private, have no interest in acquaintances (and particularly short term ones) and we never became fluent in their language! But there is something very special about an expat community – people know that everyone’s parents, siblings, and best friends are so far away that you have to show up for each other. I will always treasure the long coffee walks full of encouragement, commiseration, and reassurance from dear friends.
Post tenebras lux is Geneva’s motto, Latin for “Light After Darkness.” It is a reference to the new light of the Protestant Reformation, so it shouldn’t have much resonance for me as an a la carte Catholic – but the first time I visited here, I looked at the carving on a wall with tears in my eyes and so much hope. Geneva was that healing brightness for us and so much more. This country will always be so special to our family and we someday can’t wait to bring James back and show him where it all began for him.
As for travel recommendations – I posted about our favorite moments here – but people often ask me if they should come visit Geneva if they have a week of vacation to do Europe.
While I LOVE it – I’d say no – if you have limited time, it’s no Rome or Paris as far as historical, cultural or artistic attractions go. But that’s precisely why it’s so delightful to live there. It’s not crowded – it’s quiet, clean, practical, and the pace is idyllic. When you do need the hit of a Paris, you’re a train ride away (or really any big city in Europe, you can reach in an under 2 hour flight!) It was the perfect mellow antidote to a busy few years before our next busy few as brand new suburbanites with two kids, twenty months apart. If you are visiting, go ahead and visit this guide to some of our favorite places to eat and drink!
We’ll aim to take so many lessons from our time here – slower Sundays, longer lunches, eating organic as much as our wallets allow, and savor the amazing memories of this time. American suburban life is different – I mean we live in a cul-de-sac, drive an SUV and pay a quarterly bug guy now – but we’ll never, ever forget Switzerland and all it taught us. I’ll be grateful for it every single day the rest of my life.
Thank you so much again for following along on our journey. I’m keeping the site live (just downgraded slightly as I mentioned here) if you ever need travel inspiration and information (whenever that starts again?) The photo below (one of our first as a family of four!) was taken outside our apartment on our last day in Geneva by one of our dearest friends (Hi, C!) in hopes that James will track it down in his future travels!
Je t’aime, Geneve!