International Associations in Switzerland, with the Zurich International Women's Association

Topics covered

  • What do international associations offer?
  • Types of events offered
  • How to build a community when you first arrive
  • Factors that make the transition to living in Switzerland easier
  • Raising a child in Switzerland
  • Work-life balance in Switzerland
  • Factors that make an international association successful

Who We're Speaking With

We speak to four women from the Zurich International Women’s Association about social groups and expat life in Switzerland.

Karin, Martha, Debbie, and Carolina offer diverse perspectives on finding a social network. They speak about topics such as how to approach your neighbours, what you can do to meet others in your community, and how to juggle work, having a family, and leisure time.

We also discuss the importance of joining social groups like ZIWA and what to look for in a group.

If you liked the episode, don’t forget to share this podcast with your friends and leave a review on your favourite platform. You can also subscribe to our newsletter at rigby.ch/newsletter for more great content about living in Switzerland.

About the Episode

Martha, Debbie, Carolina, and Karin have some great tips for people new to Switzerland or those who would like to find a community:

  • Take a language class: Many Swiss people appreciate it if you make an effort to speak their language. Even if you only pick up a few phrases, it will make a difference to your everyday interactions. Plus, you can meet other expats at your German or French class.
  • Introduce yourself to your neighbours: Because people tend to stay in the same area  for many years, you can make great long-term friends by connecting with your neighbours. Traditionally, newcomers knocked on their neighbours’ doors to introduce themselves. While this isn’t always done nowadays, it’s a nice way to meet others when you first move.
  • Take advantage of various opportunities: If you have a child, get involved in school events. If you have a dog, speak to other dog walkers in your neighbourhood. If you or your partner has a job, attend as many work events as possible and connect with coworkers and their spouses.
  • Explore Switzerland: The country has so much to offer. Take advantage of the great public transport system to visit various cities and sights. If you don’t want to go alone, find others through an international association, Facebook, or Meetup.
  • Join an international association: Groups like ZIWA provide you with an instant community. You can take part in a range of events and meet people from all over the world. Many groups also have a large number of Swiss members, so you can connect with locals.

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Transcript

Kathrin: Hello everybody and welcome to another episode of Living in Switzerland. This series is brought to you by Rigby. We are a staffing and project services company based in Zurich. If you or anyone you know of is looking for a new role in Switzerland, or if you're looking to hire, let us know. We'd be happy to help. The best way to do that is by going to rigby.ch/apply and filling out the form. Then, if we have anything that might be of interest, we'll gladly let you know.

Today we're very excited to talk to four women from the Zurich International Women's Association. What began in 1985 with a small group of women in Zurich seeking connection with other English-speaking women has grown into the Zurich International Women's Association, better known as ZIWA.

Despite their present size, that sense of connection remains at the heart of the association. Today, we talked to several members and their president about what being a member of ZIWA means to them and how being part of an association can support you in rebuilding your life abroad. Here with me to start is the president of ZIWA, Karin van Lierop.

Karin, can you tell me a little bit more about ZIWA?

Karin: Hi, Kathrin. It's a pleasure to join. And well, ZIWA is the Zurich International Women's Association, and we've been founded in 1985, and next year we celebrate our 40th anniversary. And it's basically, it was set up by a group of women, expats to, you know, create a group of women of all ages and nationalities to build friendships, celebrate cultures and expand horizons.

And it's part of a bigger network. So, there are international groups in every city throughout the world. But Zurich is actually quite a large one with 500 members.

So, we have a lot of activities and different events that are hosted by the members. So, the chairladies, we have like 50 groups with a volunteer. We have book clubs, hiking groups, culture activities, after work groups, language groups, and these are all hosted by members, which is amazing.

So, the group is really carried for, but also by the members. And Martha will tell you more about the group that she represents.

Kathrin: All right, thank you Karin for joining us.

Now we'll hear from ZIWA member and chairlady, Marta Vargas. She has some great tips for us about how non-native German or French speakers can settle into life in Switzerland.

Marta, welcome.

Martha: Hello. Again, my name is Marta. I come from Colombia, and the reason why I came to Switzerland is because I am married to a Swiss man. In other words, I am here because of Cupid, because of love.  

Kathrin: That's lovely. Great. And, so what would you recommend to non- native speakers to make the transition easier?

Martha: My first recommendation, or what I highly advise, if it is possible, of course, is to enrol in a German language school. This is an opportunity to find people who are in the same situation as you, and it helps not to feel alone. Because that is a problem at the very beginning in a foreign country. The second one is to introduce yourself to your neighbours.

Swiss people usually understand English. And if it is not the case, you can just wait until you are able to make or to construct a few sentences in German. People usually react very nicely. And it's a, it's a nice form. To break the ice, because people tell you that Swiss people are very close, that they are really not open, but I did it and I had a very, very nice experience.

I have a little anecdote that happened to me when I first arrived to Switzerland. It was very, it's a very short and nice story. I had been living no more than four months in Zurich. And I was, alone in my apartment and I was not waiting for anyone. And suddenly the doorbell rang. It was more or less 8:00 PM, and then I opened the door, and that was my Swiss neighbour in front of me. And she asked me very, very nicely if I could do a favour for her. And then she said, ‘My, my child has his birthday tomorrow. I am making him a cake, but I forgot to buy the flower.’ And then she say, ‘Would you have half a kilo of it, please?’ It was very, it's a very, very nice, funny situation.

I laughed. She laughed also. And, and it was a big surprise because this does not correspond to what I had been told about Swiss people. So maybe this is a bit of an exception. But that happened to me, and afterwards we became very good friends.

Kathrin: Oh, that's lovely.

Martha: Yeah, it was really, really a nice story.

And we laughed a lot. And then afterwards we were, we exchanged many things. She always came to me. ‘I need this.’ And I went to her. That's probably like, like I say, an exception, but it was, it happened to me and it was very, very nice.

Kathrin: It's lovely. And I think what you'll find also in Switzerland is people often rent longer than in other countries, like here in England, they might change their apartment every year or two, but in Switzerland, they keep it long.

And that does help with making these neighbourhood friendships, doesn't it? It's

Martha: It’s definitely true in my, in my case. We now, we are already 34 years, the same neighbours in the same plot.

Kathrin: Amazing. So that helps.

Martha: Yeah. We celebrate the 1st of August together and we, we, when we have, when the sun is shining there, we go outside and we drink a cup of wine.

We have a very, very nice relationship, it's true.

Kathrin: And maybe a takeaway point from this also for people coming to Switzerland is that you can do the opposite. You can take that first step and go and ring your neighbour's doorbell and maybe ask for something. People love to be helpful. So, yeah, for sure, reach out to your neighbours.

Martha: Yeah, and I mean, this is something I learned from Swiss people. I saw Swiss people knock at the door and they say, well, I am the new neighbour and my name is that, and I think it's, it's, it's very nice.

Kathrin: Yes, it's great, isn't it? You immediately get to know people, you're out there.

Martha: Yes, yes. That was my experience.

Kathrin: Excellent. Is there anything else you can recommend?

Martha: Well, I think really, really to, to learn German is very important because I think people appreciate it. Yes, for sure. And then and then, in fact, talk to people. Like I say, they react very friendly. And then it's also important to do the first step, no?

It's also important. It's very important because you are the new person who are in this country. So that's why I recommend it, to learn the language, to approach people, to go to people, to talk to people, to ask something.

Kathrin: Speaking of approaching people, let's talk about ZIWA. And how long have you been a member?

Martha: I have been a member of ZIWA for more than 10 years. And that was a good decision I took. Because when, when my son, left home, I started to look for a reading group because I read a lot and I like that. I knew about ZIWA and I contacted the club through their website. In ZIWA, I found a large list of interest groups.

Far more than I was looking for. I found a hiking group. I found a cinema group, a conversation group in Spanish, in English, in German, in French, and another group which is called Cooking Around the World, which I find is very interesting, especially for women in my age because we can exchange recipes. We talk about cooking and people are so friendly, warm.

They like to talk about their traditions. They, they, you learn new things. It's a very, very nice place to interact with people of different countries. This is a group I love. I mean, all the groups in ZIWA are really highly recommended. And I am very happy with my selection of groups. I am.

Kathrin: Yeah, exactly.

It sounds like there's so much to do and so many different options. So, I think that's one of the great things, isn't it?

Martha: Yes. Yes, really, really. And they, and you met people from the whole world. I mean, it's... and Swiss people, you find also Swiss people in. And this, this, this, this amazing. I love it.

Kathrin: So aside from being a member, you're also a chairlady at ZIWA. What made you decide to take on this role?

Martha: To be a chairlady is a very interesting, interesting experience for me. And then I, the group I, I have is the Spanish Conversation Group. It's very exciting for me because it is a nice way to transmit my culture, and also because I am interested that the community of Spanish speakers in the ZIWA grows and expands.

No, there are many people who really, really like to speak Spanish. And then I want to give them the opportunity. We are a very interesting group from people from Argentina and Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia. And then a person who wants to practice his or her Spanish they can listen other accents from Latin America.

Kathrin: Right, yeah. Yes. That's really helpful. That sounds great.  

Martha: And this, this is a very nice, and also gives you the opportunity to make long, long-term friends because people, yeah, and then this is something which is very important.

Kathrin: Because people join for many years at a time or they keep coming back.

Martha: Yeah. That's very, very important.

Kathrin: Perfect. You're welcome. Thank you. Next, we'll be speaking to Debbie Hsi. In 2019, Debbie moved to Zurich from the United States with her husband, who works for a small Swiss startup software development firm, and their youngest child, a teenage daughter. It was their first time living abroad, although they have travelled extensively throughout their lives.

She'll tell us more about her experience as a resident in Switzerland. Debbie, welcome.

Debbie: Thank you, Kathrin.

Kathrin: Can you briefly tell us a little bit about your decision to move to Switzerland?

Debbie: Well, my husband started working for the firm and we knew it was a possibility. He was here on a business trip and he called me and said, ‘Are you sitting down?’

I said, ‘Oh, I know.’ I had just come from walking the dog. I said, ‘Oh, I know what you're going to ask. I don't need to sit. The answer is yes.’

Kathrin: Oh, nice. So, you were immediately up for it.

Debbie: I was. I was.

Kathrin: Okay. Excellent. And then when you came here, what did you find were some of the most interesting cultural differences between Switzerland and where you lived before in the United States?

Debbie: Well, I would say they were apparent differences, not necessarily interesting. For example, the Swiss, at least here in Zurich, are very much rule followers. It's very organized. That is definitely not the case in the United States, especially in Texas, where my husband and I moved, and daughter moved from.

In Texas, they're very much a,’This is our country, this is our land, we'll do what we want.’

Kathrin: Right, yeah.  

Debbie: But here in Switzerland, it is not that way. I find it refreshing. I found, found it easy to live here. I am a rule follower by nature. So it, it doesn't bother me at all. That's just something that was, like I said, apparent, very quickly apparent.

Second item might be that when you're walking about the Swiss don't necessarily greet or smile at strangers. I, I know what Martha said that often people are, the Swiss are reputed to not be friendly. I haven't found that to be the case, but I do notice that they don't greet you as, as strangers.

So, but it's, and they do in the U. S. and in the U. S. they're just very open and friendly in some parts of the country more than others, but it's, it's not a big deal. You just get used to it.

Kathrin: Yes, it's definitely a different way of interacting. I mean, it also depends, I'm sure, on rural and urban areas.

So, in rural areas, you would more likely see people greeting, but definitely not in Zurich, right?

Debbie: I agree. I agree. Again, I haven't had all that experience because I have sometimes just reached out, as you said earlier, where you have to initiate. So sometimes I will just talk to someone and they often respond.

Kathrin: Okay. That's great. And let's talk a little bit about your transition. How did you find your transition?

Debbie: Well, I'm, I'm pleased to say my, my transition went very smoothly, other than the first perhaps three, first three months, because I was still learning how to use transportation, how to read grocery store items in German.

Kathrin: Right, yeah.

Debbie: Making sure our daughter was adjusting because she definitely did not want to move to Switzerland.

Kathrin: Okay, yeah, moving with children is a bit more tricky.

Debbie: Right, but she, especially as a teenager, but she adjusted and I'm happy to say. So again, we, other than those first three months or so, I made the transition, no problem.

Kathrin: Great. And what factors do you think contributed or what factors could make the transition easier for new expats as well?

Debbie: There are several factors, any or all of which would be helpful or applicable to anyone moving to another country, I think.

First of all, having a child or having children automatically opens up a network of people. In our daughter's case, she went to the Zurich International School, which is English-speaking. And people are there from all over the world, and some of the groups embrace you. Our daughter was a little too old to have, like, parental involvement because she was already a teenager, but if you have grade school or middle school children, you may be at the school more often, something like that, and that opens up a network, whether it's talking to teachers, other parents, theatre events, whatever.

So, I did have a little bit about that, of that. Zurich International School does have a USA parent group, so I did go to a few of those events, so that was some people.

Let's see, a second item was I have a dog. We brought our dog from the U. S. and he is, he's a golden retriever, so he's very friendly, very beautiful, and as a result I was out walking seven days a week, including during the pandemic and therefore, I meet other people, I meet other dog owners, I meet other dog walkers, and they tend to talk to you because many of us remember the other dog's name, but not necessarily the person's name.

Kathrin: Oh, yes. That's the same here in England. Yes.

Debbie: Yes. Exactly.

Kathrin: It's like Nero's mummy or something like that.

Debbie: That's exactly right. That's exactly right, Kathrin. So that made a difference for me because I was out. It also allowed me, well, I'm getting ahead of myself. I was going to say, the next thing is I did enrol in a German class the month after I arrived, and I embrace the learning of a new language. I really enjoy it. I still practice daily today after five years.

I do have a few non-English speaking friends who, who I, with whom I have to speak only Deutsch. So, between that, which is taxing and tiring, but I do that and but between that and Google Translate and hand motions, we usually can communicate well.

Kathrin: Perfect.

Debbie: And she found me. She is a Swiss person who found me. I didn't find her.

Kathrin: Oh, wow. So yes, like, like with Martha's story going the other way.

Debbie: It, it was a very funny story. She tried, she told me who she was in German, and of course I was clueless. So, she kept telling me, and then she kept explaining that she was in the house behind my apartment and she had seen me on the top floor of my apartment So, so that's why she wanted to talk to me.

Kathrin: Oh, nice. So, a neighbourhood friend as well.

Debbie: Exactly. And we've become friends and she doesn't speak English. Or very, very little. So, it's fun. Anyway, so that's, that's another item that, or event and Martha mentioned that too, that if you learn the language, people appreciate it where you are and it's, it's just helpful all around.

Yeah, helpful all around.

Kathrin: Agreed.

Debbie: Let's see. I guess a fourth item for me was my husband's work colleagues. Many of them are from the US. So, there were English speakers. Also, his work is in English generally, even though his colleagues are from all over the world, but because they are American or English-speaking meeting them and meeting spouses, you know, created another social connection.

Kathrin: Right.

Debbie: So, you feel, like Martha said earlier, not as alone.

Kathrin: Yeah.

Debbie: So that was one. And then I guess the last item that was probably the highlight would be ZIWA.

Kathrin: Of course.

Debbie: ZIWA has provided a great group of women, friends, and acquaintances. They're terrific.

I happen to be most involved with a group that is very social and brings in a lot of new members. So, I guess that's been very good for me. I have done other ZIWA events and activities, but the one I'm most. Closely associated with is the Friday morning walk and cafe.

Kathrin: Okay, right. And so, what does that involve?

Like if there's a new member who would like to join? What happens during this meeting?

Debbie: Well, it's a, it's weekly, first of all. And so that means it's all the time and it's year-round. So, it's 12 months a year. So, it, it knows no weather or season or school year. Many, many events follow school years.

Kathrin: Yeah, true.

Debbie: But anyway, it's every week and we meet and we take a walk. It's not very long or rigorous. It's about 30 to 40 minutes.

Kathrin: Okay.

Debbie: In the radius of the Opernhaus or the centre of Zurich. So, you can't go very far as a result. And then after the walk, we have coffee, tea, in a cafe.

Kathrin: Oh, lovely.

Debbie: We try to change it all the time. We try to try different cafes, new ones. Clearly after years, every week, you have to repeat cafes because you cannot go to a new cafe in a 40-minute walk radius every week. I have been involved for about two and a half years. I was, I attended before covid when it was not a walk, it was just a cafe.

Kathrin: Oh, right.

Debbie: And I, it really wasn't for me, but because of covid we took it outside, and so I started going again just attending and then I joined ZIWA. I had not been a member I, was... just attended. And then by default I started leading it whenever the chairperson Jane Aragon could not lead, and I just did that automatically. And then eventually they said, ‘Well, you really should be a chair if you're going to do this all the time.’ And I said, ‘Okay. I don't really have to, I can do this without having the title of chair, but okay.’

So now I'm a co-chair by default.

Kathrin: Well, that sounds great. Is there anything else you'd like to highlight about your experience at ZIWA?

Debbie: No, just that it's, it's a great group. There are a variety of groups to belong to, join, check out, and I think that's a very nice thing because everyone has a different set of interests, time, et cetera.

And so, I think it's, it's really good that there are book clubs and there are eating clubs and, you know, mine's just a walk and coffee and that's because mine is a walk and coffee, by the way, to answer your original question, Kathrin, that a new member is welcome, or not a member, a new person is welcome to come and join us and meet whoever's walking that day and they get a feel for what type of women belong to ZIWA.

Kathrin: Yeah, and then it's quite informal as well. You just come and join in. Yeah.

Debbie: It’s informal, and you can leave. If you can't stay for coffee because you have another engagement, you just leave.

If you can only come for coffee, you come for coffee. And usually that works. It's just, you know, the group is really large now. It was maybe six or eight people when I joined and, oh, I'd say it could be 22 now.

Kathrin: Amazing.

Debbie: So, yeah.

Kathrin: Thank you, Debbie. That's great.

Debbie: Thank you, Kathrin. Thank you for inviting us to be here.

Kathrin: Now we'll hear from Carolina Ponchione. Carolina is the proud mum of her five-year-old daughter and works full time in the human resources department of one of the largest engineering companies worldwide. Born and raised in Italy, Carolina has lived and worked in France and Germany before moving to Switzerland 10 years ago.

Today, she will be talking to us about her own experience living in Zurich and being part of ZIWA as a working mother. Carolina, welcome.

Carolina: Thank you, Katrin. Thank you very much.

Kathrin: Could you briefly tell us a little bit about what brought you to Switzerland?

Carolina: Absolutely. I moved to Switzerland for an incredible professional opportunity that was also conveniently close to my hometown, Turin.

And I still remember the first time I came to Zurich for job interviews. It was a wonderful sunny day, and after the interviews, I went for a long walk around the lake and through the old town, and then I stopped for a hot chocolate at Sprüngli in Paradeplatz, and I literally fell in love with the city. It immediately felt like home.

Kathrin: Amazing. Yeah. Sometimes it goes like that. And now you live in Switzerland and you also have a young child. So, what is it like to have a child and work in Zurich?

Carolina: Yeah, that's a great question, Kathrin. Well, being a mom and working full time is certainly very intense. But it's also very rewarding.

I must say Switzerland is a wonderful place for children to grow up. Its multilingual international environment exposes Children to diverse cultures and languages, fostering a global perspective, which, in my opinion, is great. And also, the country's beautiful natural landscapes provide endless opportunities for outdoor activities, and this contributes to a healthy and active lifestyle for kids.

Of course, as I was saying, it can be very intense to juggle all the roles of being a mom and working. I do work full time. So definitely a recommendation I can share is to plan for childcare early enough finding a spot at daycares in the Zurich area can be challenging. So, it is important to be proactive and to start the search enough in advance. Also, if you don't have any family or relatives living here, like is my case, it's important to connect with other people. The beauty, though, about Zurich is that there are so many international people and families moving here that we all face, I would say, similar challenges.

Yeah, and therefore there is a real openness and willingness to support each other and build a strong sense of community. I consider myself very lucky as well, because the company I work for allows us a lot of flexibility when it comes to working from home. And I know many companies nowadays have implemented smart working policies, which is great.

So, in a nutshell: Being a working parent is absolutely feasible. It just takes some planning, an organized schedule, and a bit of flexibility.

Kathrin: Amazing. Thank you. And just to follow up question, maybe about childcare. So, is it correct that most childcare providers are private in Switzerland? Because in some countries there's like, public childcare.

Carolina: Yeah, very good question, Kathrin. So, there are public childcare as well. However, my experience was that finding a spot in one of those public ones was very challenging. Maternity leave in Switzerland can be relatively short compared to other countries or neighbour countries depending on the company you work for, depending how long you would like to stay on maternity leave.

However, it's usually four or five months. And therefore, public kindergarten or public Kitas had a very long waiting list, which wouldn't have allowed me to return to work. However, there are many private Kitas as we call them, which are usually bilingual as well, so have the advantage that children are raised in an environment where they can, they learn English and German.

They tend to be also pretty flexible. So, they are set up in a way that really cater to working parents’ needs. So, they usually open early in the morning. They're open until a bit later in the evening. And it's just a matter, again, of taking time to look for those places and going visiting them and talking to the teachers.

Kathrin: So aside from being a mom and also working, you also managed to have a social life with ZIWA and everything. So how do you do that? How do you manage with all your commitments?

Carolina: Yes. Having a social life is for me key to keep a balance. And having those sense of belonging and community and interactions is very important for me.

And I must say ZIWA is perfect for this. So, I joined as I wanted to meet and connect with new women and also do some cool and fun activities. And I must say that joining ZIWA has been an amazing experience. Not only I got to meet some incredible ladies, which turned into very good friends. But also, ZIWA offered me the opportunity to explore other parts of the city by doing cool activities in different restaurants, for instance, or wine tasting activities, outdoor activities.

So, I am very, very happy about it. I'm also the co-chair of the after-work group, which is a group that we have for women who would like to do activities mostly in the evening. So, it's not only for working women. However, it's for women who are either busy during the day, or they just have time to meet in the evening.

We usually do something different every month. So, we had very different activities from painting nights to cheese tasting, wine tasting. But we also go to exhibitions, we go to concerts together, and then we usually have an activity where we gather together and afterwards, we go for dinner and drinks.

So, it is very nice and very fun and a great opportunity to connect with other ladies in a, in a very relaxed environment.

Kathrin: It sounds amazing. Yeah. And great that there are so many different things that you can do that it's not sort of, always the same.

Carolina: Absolutely.

Kathrin: And so you're also a chairlady, what made you decide to go from a member to then being also more actively involved?

Carolina: Yes. The beauty about ZIWA is that it offers the opportunity to create, also take initiatives. And with my other co-chairlady we had the vision for the after-work group. As we both work full time, we know well the challenge that is sometimes to make space for, to have a social life and do something fun in the end, in the evening, which is very much needed after a long working day.

And so, we got together and we had many ideas of cool things we wanted to do. And I thought that becoming a chairlady would offer me the opportunity to give back in a way. So, as I have been, years ago, in the place of being new to Zurich, not knowing much about the city, what to do, where to go.

And now that I've been living here two years, 10 years and we have many ideas of cool activities to do, nice places to go together. I thought, okay, that's a great opportunity to give back and also do something that could be liked by most of the working women.

Kathrin: Yeah, exactly. Offering something unique for people maybe who have a different schedule.

That's amazing. Thank you, Carolina. Thank you for joining us.

Carolina: Thank you, Kathrin. Thank you so much.

Kathrin: Finally, we're speaking to the president of ZIWA, Karin van Lierop. Karin came to Switzerland seven years ago and has a full-time job as the head of Sales International at Biostrath in the health and wellbeing industry.

Karin joined ZIWA five years ago and is now the president of ZIWA for the second year. Welcome to the show.

Karin: Hi, Kathrin. Thanks for being here.

Kathrin: Can you tell us a little more about what brought you to Switzerland?

Karin: Well, it was really a specific decision to come to Switzerland because I've had a very international life living in many countries and in various continents and working, my last role was in, in Asia, and I wanted to be closer to the Netherlands where I'm originally from.

But still have an expat life, and then Zurich is perfect. So, you are quite central in Europe and have still the sense of that expat being, you know, with the French, Italian, German area. So, for me, it was very specific to look in Switzerland, and I looked at several cities and I had friends here in the region, so I came to stay for a few weeks and looking in Bern, Geneva, Basel, Zurich, but I fell in love with Zurich and actually came and stayed.

So, I loved it from the start.

Kathrin: Amazing. And what, now that you're actually here, what do you love about living in Switzerland or specifically in Zurich?

Karin: Well, of course, amazing nature and I'm a nature lover. And what I think, especially in Zurich, so you have the lake, the view on the mountains. People are very outdoors, but you cannot keep up with the Swiss.

So never ask them if a skiing slope is easy. Because chasing down that black slope, but it's just an amazing country and that variety. So, within one or two hours, you can be on the Italian side, the French side and have a completely different sense. So, life feels like a holiday. The quality of life is amazing.

Kathrin: Yeah, I, agreed. Yeah. It's so easy to get around also with the public transport system.

Karin: Oh, yeah, definitely. And works on time. So that's what they’re known for. And this is actually true, but it's also very well connected. I was amazed that even the most remote village, mountain village, it has a really great train and bus connection. So, you can basically get anywhere by public transport.

Kathrin: Yeah, exactly. And if there's no train, you have these nice yellow post buses as well.

Karin: Exactly. Yeah. So even the smallest village is well connected. And I think therefore also for, for hiking and all kinds of activities, it's fantastic. And that also keeps you having the work life balance.

So, because after work within a short amount of time, you can be at the lake or hiking in the woods.

Kathrin: Exactly. Yeah. It's sort of in everyday life, you don't have, to sort of plan a specific day for going outside. It's just integrated.

Karin: Exactly. Yeah. And it's a very much part of the Swiss life. Also, I think, well, Carolina would know more about this, but in school, they also do a lot of outdoor activities.

So, I think already from a young age, that's in their DNA.

Kathrin: Yeah, absolutely.

All right. And so obviously ZIWA is a big part of your Zurich experience. Why do you think it's important for newcomers to join a social group like that?

Karin: Well, I think it's very important indeed to, to connect and to feel at home, the country that you are. Like some of the others came with their husbands, but I came alone and like Carolina also do not have family here.

And then ZIWA is almost like a big family and that's truly what I find. So, it's very, a very warm group.

I joined several groups that are also quite known, Internations, et cetera, et cetera. But what I truly like about ZIWA that it is quite a large group, 500 members, and we have a lot of subgroups, for book clubs, hiking, cultural events, et cetera, but you have a chance to really connect with people on, on more occasions. You know, if you go to an Internations, it could be different people every time and with ZIWA, you, you see the same faces either in the same group or in various groups. And I think that is really great.

So, and that's also why the members are really committed to the group. And I think also the great thing that members, if they think like, hey, but we're missing this or we live at that side of the lake, so we would love a book club nearer to us or a hiking group or initiative. That's what you can do.

And I'm also very happy that we have more younger members joining. Therefore, we do also more activities for younger and working members. And I think that connection with old and young members is amazing. And we can really learn from each other. So, and the older group loves that we have certain events that they can still stay connected with, for instance we were looking at some events more about AI, et cetera.

Yeah, but also the young groups and learn from the people that have been in Switzerland longer and help each other to feel at home here. And I think that's the beauty of ZIWA, that it has almost 50 different nationalities and a lot of different opportunities to connect.

So, you can always find your group of friends. If you are not the speedy hiker then you just create a group of your own that fits the activity of your liking.

Kathrin: Yeah, that sounds great. Really, that initiative that people can also take.

Karin: Yeah, and I think why people feel so connected to the group because it's just a member, that the board arranges the events and activities, but people have really an influence to... and we love that initiative. So, and there's a lot of opportunity to do so.

Kathrin: So, in terms of what to look for in a group like ZIWA... Maybe some people listening are in Zurich and they will be able to join, but some might be in a different city and they might have to look for a different group.

So, as I hear it from you a bit, I think diversity is really important. So younger members, older members and from different nationalities and also a variety of events. And what else would you look for in a group if you were to, sort of, try to find a group?

Karin: Well, I, I think we can really learn from each other and we embrace all the, the different cultures. So, we also have the language groups or country events.

So, where a member can also speak about their country, but still want to have French conversation, Italian conversation, Spanish conversation, that Marta is also a chairlady of is, is quite a large group. And I think that is the beauty. So, a common language in ZIWA is English, but you still have also a possibility to connect and also, of course, the German group because that's a large part to integrate in this country.

And I think when you come new in the country, or even if you have been living here for a while, we have a lot of Swiss members as well, just, just love to create friends or create friends.

And, or if your life situation changed for instance, you were working and now you're not working, or you change the job or you change region. And you want to connect to people. And I think the great thing, it's a very low threshold, so it's very welcoming. And we have also several coffee mornings and shanties where we just, where you can just join.

So ,you don't have to sign up or pay for these events. And you can just find the event of your liking. So, the wide variety. And also, let's say in, in greater Zurich around the lake area, there are so many events and they help you to, to integrate in Switzerland.

Kathrin: Excellent. And yeah, I think I also want to just highlight once again, the point you made earlier about the same people being at the events.

I think that's such a big key because if you keep meeting the same people, you really do get to know them over a time span of a few months.

Karin: Exactly. And we also keep an eye on each other. We also have member care. So also, if we know that the member is ill and then as a group, you can do something, but also as ZIWA, then we do something for the group.

So, we also really pull people in the groups and I think what I find amazing that to keep an open mind. So, people that... normally you have a specific group of friends from either school or work or whatever, and here it's such an interesting blend. But then you when you open your mind, you find amazing friendships and people really look after each other.

And that's what I think is lovely. And I think that's also why it makes my role a little bit easier because of course working full time and being a... ZIWA membership, but we have these great chairladies that do an amazing job. So, the group is really carried by the membership and by the chairladies. Of course, the board has a bit of more of a controlling role and the board members are amazing.

But really the group and the chairladies are equally important.

Kathrin: Yeah. So, this is something I wanted to talk to you about is, so you work and you're also the president of ZIWA, which surely takes up a lot of time. So how do you balance your various commitments?

Karin: Well, I think it's actually indeed the balance that you need and what I look for in, in life.

And like I said earlier, that's also what is easy in, in Switzerland, because a lot of things are at your doorstep, so you don't need to travel for hours to, to find that relaxation and to balance time.

I don't have a family and children and I admire the people with children. I greatly admire Carolina for having a young child and work full time.

I, sometimes I don't know how, how people do that. And I've always had a very international life, but it also means that that gives a certain flexibility. So sometimes you have to work in the evening, which enables you to do some things during the day and, and vice versa, but it is making choices.

And I think also therefore it's great that ZIWA has so many things to offer. There's some, because sometimes you have a group, if you miss that type of event, then there's nothing going on for another month. And then in ZIWA you can choose, oh, but now this Friday then I can join that coffee group or, or hike.

And maybe the other day I'm free on a Tuesday or have some spare time. So, that makes it also easier and also to plan the activities for ZIWA. And of course with the amazing team behind that. Maybe as a president you coordinate and you overlook, but yeah, we simply have an amazing team.

Kathrin: So it’s a massive team effort.

Karin: Yeah, actually. And that's the great thing, you know, that it's not so much top down, maybe as other organizations. And it's also, it's kind of also bottom up, but it's carried by all the people and everybody can have their say in an initiative. And of course, as the president, you represent a group also with the other women organizations.

Like I said International Women has these initiatives in a lot a lot of cities and last week I attended the Hague, which is a large group as well. And also, these international members connect.

Next year we celebrate our 40th anniversary. And then we also invite these groups from other countries.

So then also our membership has an opportunity to connect to these groups and countries. So, it's, it's widely diverse and interesting.

Kathrin: Yeah, exactly. So, it really is an international organization. And what is on the horizon for ZIWA? I mean, you mentioned obviously the anniversary celebrations, but is there anything that's sort of coming up in the next few months or year?

Karin: Well, I think what is really important that we also looked at, okay, what can we offer for the members and how can we make it clear what we do? So,we've been working to renew our website that will go live soon. And again, we've done a photo shoot or gonna plan a photo shoot the coming weeks with the members.

So that's also visible on the website, what we do. So, it's not you know, a very staged thing, but actually the activities that we have with our members and focus more on new members and a little bit younger members. What we love that we have the members that have been there from the beginning, what proves that.

Yeah. Yeah, it has such a warm community but also attracting new, newer members. More of the events are also now focused on late afternoon, early evening to enable more working members to join and also having more workshops and, and speaker events but also, we offer marketplaces where the members can showcase their art and craft or business that they have.

And that's all happening in the next months.

Kathrin: Excellent. And yeah, as you know, I'm coming to Zurich soon, so I can't wait to join in some of the events and I'm sure some of the listeners feel the same. So how can newcomers join and where can they maybe find out more if somebody would like to, you know, find out more ahead of just joining a group?

Karin: Yeah, well, they can go to www.ziwa.com. And there they find all the information and the events and activities that take place and it also has a list of contact people. And they can always write to president@ziwa.com or communications@ ziwa.com for information.

And also, people are welcome to join a couple of times to, we welcome them to a coffee morning or to the Stammtisch to try and feel what it's like to talk to other members before they have a membership.

So that enables them to, kind of, test the waters and see what different opportunities there are. And then maybe even if they want start their own group within ZIWA, if they do not find a group that they think that's, I was looking for, but I want to start a paddle group for instance then they can do that as well.

And what we also do with new members, we always have a city tour where we guide them through the most important things in the city, that kind of helps them land if they're completely new to Zurich. And also, the entire board and chairladies are always there to support any questions they might have.

Kathrin: That sounds really helpful.

And so obviously all of this will also go in the show notes. So, if you want, just check out the show notes and click on the links.

All right, that's it for today. Thank you, Karin, for joining us.

Karin: It was a great pleasure. Thank you so much, and thanks for all the chairladies to join. That's amazing.

Thanks so much.

Kathrin: And thanks to you also for listening. We'll include links in the show notes to our guests and to further materials about some of the topics that we've spoken about today. If you enjoyed the episode, please leave a review on your favourite podcast platform.

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