Moving to Zurich & sending (non german speaking) kids to local school

(23 Posts)
olga1901 Sun 28-Jan-18 15:21:28

We have a potential move to Zurich (for 1-3 years, possibly longer if we want to stay) coming up in the next few months. It's a transfer with my husband's job (he works for UBS in London presently). I'm up for it in general but have reservations about moving our kids there due to the fact that none of us speak German!

We wouldn't be going on a cushy ex-pat package and so no international school fees would be paid (and there's no way that we can afford to pay it!), so we would be enrolling our 7.5 yo daughter in a local school. I have no qualms about her going to a local school apart from the fact that she speaks no German (neither do we). I've read on some online forums that she would be given language support, but was wondering if anyone had any experience of this? I'm excited about the potential move and looking forward to integrating into Swiss society rather than living in an expat bubble (although would also like to be part of an expat community), and I'm assuming that by our kids attending local schools rather than an international one we will have a better chance at integrating.

Our other daughter is 4 yo (and would be due to start school in the UK in Sept 2018), so I'm assuming she would go to kindergarten until she's 7. I'm less worried about the 4 yo as she hasn't established friendships yet or settled into school and I think picking up the language at her age would be even easier than for a 7 yo?

My other worry about the 7 yo is that I'm not sure if she has some gender identification issues going on (it may well be that she's just not a conventional feminine girl, and we are loathe to label her at this young age, so for now we assume that she's just a girl who doesn't like to look particularly feminine and shuns typically feminine toys/interests) . For all intents and purposes everyone who sees her (and doesn't know her) assumes she is a boy and she rarely corrects them. I am happy for her to continue the way she is until she's feels the need to 'come out' (if at all). All her friends and friend's parents are totally accepting of the way she is, but I worry about her settling into a new school in a country where she will not be able to properly communicate at the start. We moved to a new school at the start of year 1 and had a few issues in the initial weeks with people being confused about her gender even though she and her teachers explained that she is a girl! I don't know how we would manage this where it will be difficult for us to explain that she is in fact a girl). I know that many people in Switzerland speak good English, but I don't know about children her age and obviously not all adults will. Does anyone know how accepting Swiss people are in general of non-typical/alternative people/lifestyles etc. My observations have been that they are generally a bit more conservative (apologies if this is a terrible sweeping generalisation).
My only experience of the Swiss is based on a few visits that I had there about 10 years ago when my Dad lived in Zurich for a few years and I had a Swiss German boyfriend about 15 years ago! My husband works with Swiss (german speaking) and German colleagues daily, and visits Zurich occasionally and he thinks we will be fine and that I'm worrying too much!

Sorry for the long post. My main questions are:
1. as non german speakers, would our children be supported in a local school until their language skills improve?
2. are the Swiss generally open minded about non-conventional people/lifestyles?
3. is there a strong and supportive ex-pat community there that we would be able to join to help us settle in?

If you got this far - thanks smile

OP’s posts: |
PeterRabbitsBlueCoat Sun 28-Jan-18 15:33:28

A friend of mine moved to Zurich about 4 years ago with her husband's job, and 2 DCs who were younger than yours (pre-school). None of them spoke any German but they have had a wonderful time ! They've recently decided to settle there & bought a house.

She found it hard initially, but there is a huge expat community in Zurich: if you look on Facebook or Meetup there are loads of groups which I believe she used. She also said that she was able to get free/subsidised German lessons through the local council (or whatever the equivalent is!) to help her integrate.

I don't know about schools I'm afraid as hers just went straight into German kindergarten & learned there.

Good luck though! Sounds very exciting!

LIZS Sun 28-Jan-18 15:37:00

There are fremdsprache classes for those in local school, not sure how early they would start, but children tend to pick it up in the playground fairly quickly out of necessity. However, while they will speak Swiss German , formal schooling is in High German and it is this which ultimately influences which schooling pathway is offered at 11/12. The Swiss are not known for open mindedness or inclusivity although LGBT movement is well established, for example. They are by nature conservative but each region has its local quirks. There are a substantial number of expats in Zurich and Basel but relatively fewer use local schools and are employed on local terms. This can create a difference between the lifestyles they can afford, including schools, where to live and shop, healthcare, activities etc. You really need to ensure that his salary covers what you need it to. Try the yahoo group Expatmomsinswitzerland for specific questions and local support networks.

olga1901 Sun 28-Jan-18 15:50:25

Thanks @LIZS. His Salary would probably be in the region of SF150k +, so we are hoping that this would be enough to live reasonably on. I'm assuming that I won't be working, although I may be able to freelance remotely at some point. I'm expecting that we won't be living in a particularly plush, ex-pat area, but would still like to be able to meet up with other ex-pats. I'll check out the yahoo group for sure. Thank you.

OP’s posts: |
MollyHuaCha Sun 28-Jan-18 15:54:51

Exciting time for your family. I would definitely go! Between now and arriving, I would have some German language instruction for myself and the children so we are able to say a few words upon arrival. I would also play German language songs and TV programmes, and watch familiar films with the spoken language set to German instead of English.

Switzerland is known to be very expensive for housing, groceries etc. so make sure you do your sums before you go.

Sorry, no idea about the LGBT issue. I've known people who've lived as expats in Switzerland and have told me it was conservative. But that was a few years ago. Hopefully they've moved on since then.

olga1901 Sun 28-Jan-18 15:55:20

Thanks PeterRabbit! That's really helpful. I'll definitely look on FB etc for some groups. We won't know for another few weeks if we need to go.
Does your friend still use local kindergartens/schools and not the international ones?

OP’s posts: |
LIZS Sun 28-Jan-18 16:14:50

Remember Zurich is an expensive city in which to live. 150k is probably an average salary rather than a high one and you would need to plan you life style expectations accordingly. and may give you an idea of the rental market (size will be in number of rooms which will include living space as well as bedrooms). Would UBS provide any healthcare or insurance? To an extent provision of German language support and education will depend on the Gemeinde in which you live.


lifeisunjust Sun 28-Jan-18 16:57:10

What you describe is a normal girl. Let her be a girl who is not interested in feminine things. Many grow up into women like me. We're not freaks. And I am definitely a woman, biologically. Mum of 4 kids. Don't be tempted to getting sucked into seeing this as a problem.

The best research on child gender identity disorder comes from Netherlands. It concludes every time the vast majority come to accept biology and just be happy.

PeterRabbitsBlueCoat Sun 28-Jan-18 17:59:06

Yes, my friend's kids now go to a local school. She said the school has been very supportive but I don't know if that means specific German lessons etc or just in general. Her son has a friend who is Swiss-American so is bilingual who helps him a lot.

They now live rurally, but when they first moved out there, they chose the area to live based on somewhere she knew there'd be expat meetup groups. Her situation was different as she was looking for an area with activities for a baby & a toddler, but it's definitely worth joining some groups now & seeking advice from them.

I'm actually in the process of moving to Germany myself, and I've already joined some Facebook groups for English-speakers in my area. The people on there have been incredibly helpful while we've been sorting our move.

PeterRabbitsBlueCoat Sun 28-Jan-18 18:02:32

To echo what LIZS said, my friend did find people quite conservative, particularly the older generation. She had people telling her to keep her children quiet, and also some v specific rules associated with their apartment like no doing laundry on Sunday & no noise on the balcony after 10pm.

But it is most definitely worth it for the amazing quality of life!

Todayissunny Sun 28-Jan-18 18:23:08

I've just skim read..... I'll try to do better later. Language support will be given wherever you go BUT how much and how good it is will depend on the particular Gemeinde/Kreis (village/quarter of zürich) you live in. A russian child who moved to my villaget at 11 is doing really well 3 years later. I can recommend insisting your dd goes into a year below her age to give her a chance to get to grips with German.
Don't worry about gender id issues. In this aspect kids are accepted as they are. There is no big discussion about gender issues here. Like everywhere some Swiss are very conservative but a lot pride themselves on being open and accepting of everyone.
150k is OK. It is way above average salary but on the lower end of ex-pat salaries. You won't be able to live in some parts of Zürich (eye watering expensive places) but it's considerably more than my family of 5 live on. I suggest your dh asks UBS for more though. Depending on what his job is. Salaries here ae coming down so he could potentially get more if the offer is because of salaries coming down.
Check health insurance costs. Healthcare is fantastic but a big chunk of money for family.
There are loads of british here. Easy to connect to get you settled in. Have a look at Facebook site - international mothers living in Switzerland - for a starting point.

LIZS Sun 28-Jan-18 18:29:20

Yes there would be restrictions on the likes of laundry, gardening, car washing, noise and use of water and electricity overnight, weekends and during lunch periods, recycling. Yes there can be an excellent quality of life , but it comes at a high price, hence the advice to check out costs carefully and manage expectations. Skiing for example is not generally a cheap activity, trains may be reliable but tickets without discount passes are expensive. Plenty of people shop in bulk over the border but you have to bear in mind import restrictions. On the other hand lakeside bathing is cheap and many parks and festivals are free entry. It could be very frustrating not to be able to make the most of what opportunities are there.

Todayissunny Sun 28-Jan-18 18:30:24

Just read a bit more. There are rules in apartment blocks about washing on Sunday etc.... Most Blocks have communal washing rooms and there is a rota of when you can use it (ask about it before you move in). You get used to it though.
As for noise - don't move into an old block. The new ones have very strict building regulations to help with sound insulation.
In the wider surrounding area of Zürich there are loads of 'expats' even in small villages.

Todayissunny Sun 28-Jan-18 18:34:17 is a site which pulls on all the properties on the market from other sites. You can also check insurance costs here as well. UBS used to have special rates for health insurance with some companies though.

jelliedeel Sun 28-Jan-18 22:01:08

I've just lost a huge post when I tried to edit itconfused so I'll be brief but feel free to PM me.
My DC went to an integration class in a local school not that near our apartment to begin with for non-German speaking foreign children. The class age ranges are spread over a few years so my 8 year old was with 8,9,10 and 11 year olds. Sometimes they are with younger children depending on numbers. They were taught mainly German in these classes and some maths for six months (up to a year if reqd)until they learnt enough to join a regular class. DC is now in regular local school but still has a couple of hours extra German lessons a week whilst the main class are taught English or maths. The teacher says they are now probably better at German than most of the class.
The kids here are not taught high German until they are about seven so your DD would not be at any disadvantage at all in that respect. Playground communication is in Swiss German and comes really quickly when there's no alternative.
We're in a non-expat area, no other English children or families and I wouldn't recommend it to be really honest. I would try for something of a halfway house with a few expats but that means more expensive areas.

Kids here are not so concerned about appearances and functional clothing means acceptance for your DD could be easy at first. I do feel like I've been transported back to the 70s sometimes and worry that viewpoints may also be from that era. I haven't been here long enough to ascertain the tolerance level when individuals don't conform to the norm although I think things like SEN provision seem many years behind the UK which may be an indicator.

jelliedeel Sun 28-Jan-18 22:08:21

I looked at about 25-30 apartments in loads of different areas if you want any ideas about where to look, although these were all Zurich area up and down the lake and in the city.

olga1901 Mon 29-Jan-18 10:38:44

Thank you everyone! You have given us so much useful info and links. It's reassuring to know that hopefully DD will have no major issues being accepted as she is. I feel that the media etc in the UK makes this all a bigger deal than it really is.

We still do not know for sure if the transfer will happen and negotiating salary will be a big part of that. CHF150 would be at the lower end of the spectrum and so hopefully we would be able to have a reasonable standard of living. Because we probably won't be there more than about 3 years (unless we LOVE it!), we want to be able to make the most of Swiss life, including all the outdoors stuff. We've previously lived in Calgary in Canada (before we had kids) and know how expensive snow sports are to do regularly. I'm a former geologist, so moving near the Alps is like going to my spiritual home!
As far as we're aware DH will be on local UBS T&C's and so medical, insurance, pension etc will be same as for a local employee and we've factored that into our living costs.
I'll have a proper read of all this again later and get back to you individually with any questions!

OP’s posts: |
beresh Fri 02-Feb-18 09:20:10

I'd agree 150k is fine to live on but not generous for an expat salary.

My DD goes to a village primary school near Zurich and for the last 5 years has been good friends with a girl in her class who is always mistaken for a boy and dresses just like the boys in the class. She mostly hangs out with the boys but is also popular with the girls.

I can only think of two times my DD has mentioned her friend having a gender related problem. One time she was told to wear a skirt for a black tie school ballroom dancing show and was very unhappy about this, but in the end wore a heavy long black skirt with a shirt and tie and looked like the boys. Last year some older children kept asking her if she wanted to become a boy and have an operation. This upset her. The school took it seriously and involved the school pastoral worker (Schulsozialarbeit) in talking to her, the older children and their parents.

My children have mentioned very girly girls being teased for being a "Tussi", buI haven't heard of any teasing of

iamred Sat 03-Feb-18 19:23:14

We are in the french speaking part. Local contract, eldest (6) in local school, youngest (4) in local preschool, will start school in August. We love it here.

I’d check out that Zurich canton website for info on things like schooling, as in term dates, starting age, timetable (first 2 years here are part time for example). Where we are lunch isn’t included at school and kids are expected to go home. We pay for lunch club and it’s chf300 per month fir 3 days per week.

Kids clubs range in price. Swimming is chf 500 per child from sept-june (term time). Gymnastics is chf 200 per child. Music lessons are chf 1000 per year.

I agree that chf 150k is not generous, but depending on housing costs is prob ok. Will he be paid in 12 or 13 months? What about bonus?

To give you an idea of other costs, out health insurance is chf 900 per month for the 4 of us, food shop is prob chf 1000 per month. Car tax and insurance (mid size vw) is about chf 2000 per year.

You will need various other insurances too (3rd party liability, household).

Switzerland is beautiful. We are stunned on a daily basis by the scenery. Skiing is v accessible for us but not cheap for a family of 4. We don’t eat out much as it’s exprnsive and not great quality, though I think Zurich may be better.

People are friendly I find (I hear more so I’m the french part than the Swiss German part, but have no direct experience), but conservative. There are rules for everything (no lawn mowing on a Sunday) - Swiss people don’t like being inconvenienced - but its often easy to see the logic in the rules. No idea on the gender identity stuff, but I hear from gay friends that Zurich is way more open on lgbt than other parts of the country. Things are clean, safe and efficient and overall we are very happy here.

Good luck!

BayLeaves Mon 05-Feb-18 22:11:34

We are moving to Zurich soon too and I have an almost 4 year old. I will PM you! I have the opposite too - a 'girly' son so have also been worrying about how my long-haired, pink-loving boy will settle in!

lifeisunjust Mon 05-Feb-18 23:46:07

Gay has no connection with transgender. One is a sexual orientation and the other is a mental health condition, with current climate there is huge conflict with the female gay community where feminist vues are high and pitted in conflict with trans activists fighting for men's right to be in female reserved spaces that exist for personal protection from men, just to highlight the difference

olga1901 Tue 06-Feb-18 18:19:05

Thanks again to all the new posters for the info.

Iamred that's all really useful stuff. I was wondering about general cost of living type things such as car costs and groceries. I remember going grocery shopping in Zug when visiting my dad 10 years ago, and being flabbergasted at how expensive it was!

OP’s posts: |
jelliedeel Tue 06-Feb-18 22:58:33

We don't have a car even though we said that we would get one. Travel is efficient, safe and warm in winterband the buses,trams and trains run to the minute exactly are are very frequent. I miss it for bulky shopping and the fun of just driving around and if I had a pushchair it would be limiting, just as in the UK.
Food shopping is expensive. I shop at Aldi and Lidl most days but other supermarkets are more convenient, larger and more expensive with bigger ranges. It depends how you want to shop...most things I would say double or triple the UK price.

Join the discussion

To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.

Join Mumsnet

Already have a Mumsnet account? Log in