Two Unemployed Small Potatoes in Switzerland

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Are you asking yourself if that means what you think it means?  If so, it does mean what you think it means.  We’re now two unemployed Americans in Switzerland.

A year ago this week, we arrived in Europe from the US with our luggage, 3 pets, a place reserved at an Airbnb for one week, and no ideas beyond that what the next few years would bring.  We certainly didn’t expect that a year later, we’d be looking at repeating the experience.

In April, Travis’s boss warned him he had “funding issues” and likely wouldn’t be able to extend his post doc beyond the current contract, which ends on July 31st, 2015.  At the time, there was the possibility that some last minute funding would come through and allow him to remain in the lab for a second year, but it didn’t pan out.  In May, Travis officially lost his job here in Switzerland.

Our first reaction when we found out was sheer disbelief.

Then I got really mad, like a kid who doesn’t get the toy they want for Christmas.  For days, the same negative thoughts kept running through my head.

It’s not fair.

Duh, life’s not fair.

But we expected a full post doc. 

So what?  We’re not guaranteed or owed anything in life.

If we had known it would only be for a year… 

What? We would have planned everything differently?

Obviously!  And we’d also buy a lotto ticket since with hindsight, we’d know the winning numbers.

Rationally, I knew these thoughts weren’t productive and I knew I sounded like a broken record with friends when we shared the news.  It was somehow necessary for me in order to process everything we were facing.

I resented Trav’s boss, Switzerland, even Europe in general for “how they treat foreign employees,” which has no logic whatsoever.  I could only think of all the sacrifices we made to move half way around the world for a job that didn’t pan out and an employer that turned out to be unreliable.

For days we struggled to work through the regrets.

  • We spent our entire savings we’d been carefully building for the last 7 years in Eugene to fly to Europe for interviews and then to move here.  Only two of the five employers who arranged for interviews with Travis reimbursed us for travel costs as they’d agreed to before the interviews.
  • We sold all but a few boxes of our stuff.  Two vehicles we’d had for years that were paid off and we loved, gone.  Pine furniture lovingly collected from auctions, Craigslist, and thrift stores over nearly a decade, gone.  My cake decorating stuff, gone.  Our kayaks, gone.   That last one still makes me tear up.
  • I resigned from the best job I ever had (social worker) and left the most amazing group of people I’ve ever worked with.  I’d given up the financial security, retirement benefits, and personal satisfaction from a meaningful professional career for nothing.
  • We put our 3 pets through significant trauma with multiple vet visits for the required vaccinations, European micro-chipping (in addition to their US microchips), uprooting them from their home, traveling with them in a car for 6 hours and flying them on 3 planes and a train for nearly 24 hours to move here, and living in hotels and Airbnbs for a solid month before we found a place to live. Touille, our dog, is still terrified of planes flying overhead after flying here.
  • We made some amazing friends and we already have to say goodbye.
  • Travis will only complete one year of a post doc, which isn’t enough time to publish anything.  He’ll likely have to abandon his project to start over somewhere else once he does find another post doc.  It sets him back the year+ he spent on a wasted post doc in Switzerland, plus the 6 months prior to that that he spent job hunting and interviewing for that job.

After taking some time to work through the initial shock and anger, we’ve been able to look at our situation in a more pragmatic way.  We know we’ll be moving by July 31st since the lease on our flat is up, but we don’t yet know where we’ll go from there.  Without knowing that, it’s rather difficult to make some pretty basic decisions, never our strong suit anyway.

We have some pretty big questions facing us right now.

  • Residency Status – Our Swiss visas expire at the end of July.  According to the Immigration Office, they won’t/can’t extend them for even a month since they were approved based on his post doc status.  Will we have to fly back to the States until Travis can find another job?  Should we park the animals somewhere, store our stuff, and travel until a new job starts for him?  Are we even allowed to do that?
  • Belongings – What do we do with our stuff?  Sell it or hope he’ll find another job in Europe that will allow us to move it with us?  Do we sell the car?  Everything we bought here was second-hand and we can sell it all if we need to, but we shipped things here that we want to keep.  If we ship it back to the States, it’ll take us weeks to book passage for it back on a cargo ship.
  • Insurance – Medical insurance, car insurance, renter’s insurance…  Do we drop them?  If so, when?  We’re required to have all this coverage until we leave Switzerland, but if we don’t have valid visas, I can’t imagine our insurance would be valid if something were to happen.
  • Cell phones –  Since we expected the post doc to be 3-5 years, we signed a 2-year plan with Swisscom.  The fees for breaking our contracts are around 800 chf (roughly the same USD).  That one’s a head scratcher.
  • Unemployment – Travis has an appointment on July 15th to discuss all of this with the unemployment office, but Immigration already told him even if he qualifies for unemployment, which we believe he will, they won’t approve visas to stay.  Since he has to be in Switzerland to collect unemployment, he won’t qualify for unemployment.  Another head scratcher…

It probably goes without saying that the last few weeks have been rather stressful with more days like that to come.  For everyone who’s sent messages of support, thank you!  We appreciate it and love you all!

And for the friends we’ve met here who have offered to let us stay with them (despite cat allergies, lack of space, etc), offered to let us store our stuff at their place, offered to translate online postings into French to sell our stuff, offered to go to the unemployment office with Travis for his appointment, and so many other things, thank you!

You guys are all amazing and it’s because of you that it was worth coming to Switzerland!


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