Part 1: Caught between the two worlds: Dilemma of an expat

What does it feel like to belong as an expat or an immigrant? How does one cope with losing identity and the sense of belonging? In this series of stories, speaks to a few expats about their experience of leaving their homeland and calling a new place their home.

Parul Chhaparia

“Stop being so fussy. It is not Switzerland. The system works differently here,” I was dumbfounded for a minute by my friend’s gentle reminder. During my recent visit to my homeland India, I have been told many times ‘not to act Swiss’ or that ‘I have changed now’. At first, I would get offended at these remarks and defend myself saying I am still the same. But of late, these comments evoke certain thoughts. The thoughts of my sense of belonging.

It has only been eight years since I moved to Switzerland and I have always missed home. Therefore, visiting family and friends and family back in India has always been on my yearly agenda. However, this is the first time I am majorly missing my ‘Swiss home’, my friends back there and my life in general out there.

Why is it that I am missing Switzerland?

I had a hard time accepting this place and vice versa. We had a love-hate romance. My first few years were mostly about contemplating whether to stay here long-term or repatriate. It took both of us (the place and me) to be amicable to each other. Once we did, it got easier and happier.

Still, I don’t consider myself a good ‘fit in’ the Swiss culture. I have tried and I am trying my best to integrate and adapt to the cultural changes. Among the countless other things, I have also picked up the language but I still sound foreigner when I speak. My Swiss friends still banter with me about the famous ‘Indian head bobble’.  For them, I am still their Indian friend and for me, I am still an Indian expat who got an opportunity to live in one of the most beautiful countries on the planet earth.

However, this time ‘my homeland’ feels different. Just like my friends in India who think I have changed, I feel a little ‘out of place’ here. Unlike previously when I would speak up if I saw something disagreeable, I am reserving my comments towards issues that otherwise always mattered to me. It is not consciously done but there is a sense of my comments ‘not being counted’ as I don’t belong here.

It is true that when we spend a particular time in a place, it feels like ours. The same place, which felt strange and interim initially, becomes the place of our belonging as we pull through the cultural shock and adapt to the new society. I indeed find my comfort in my new home. But, I feel like an ex-pat of contradictions now.

Half of my soul still misses ‘homeland’ and considers itself the ‘auslander’ in Switzerland, but the other half feels home on Swiss soil. It is a constant struggle to steer between the two worlds that are worlds apart and the sense of never being home feels real by each day.

Über Parul Chhaparia

Parul comes from India. She has worked as a business journalist for over nine years with many English publications in India. Here she works as a content manager with a tech start up. She loves to write about people, culture, travel, business and anything that piques her curiosity.

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