Relocation is not only the transfer of personal items, arranging of official affairs and insurances, and of enrolling children in school. Relocation is also an integration process into a new society and culture.
For instance, even if you are just moving from the European Union to Switzerland, people may relate to things differently in other countries. In the end, we will always behave according to our own cultural and family patterns. But for a successful integration, we have to be aware of the different customs and cultural behaviors - even if it is just for the sake of our children's integration.
After the initial relocation fever disappeared, I had some rather eye opening experiences with Swiss culture:
A Day Trip with a Swiss Family
We: Backpacks, sweaters, raincoats, snacks and lots of water.
They: Light shirts ("We will be hiking up a lot, and the weather forecast predicted nice weather for today"), a cell phone and wallet in their pockets and half a liter of water for four people ("There will surely be a Hütte at the top"). Later, of course, we ended up providing water for their children from our bottle...
The Walk to Kindergarten
Our 4.5 year-old daughter started kindergarten without speaking the local language. In Switzerland, children tend to walk to kindergarten and school alone (or with friends). It is an opportunity to learn about responsibility in the outside world - without adult supervision. But my concerns as a parent were bigger than the wish to teach self-responsibility at this early age.
It took me two years to give up my concerns and let her walk to school alone. Still, I will remind her what to do if I am not at home when she returns, who she can go with, or what to do if older children tease her on the way. And of course, my cell phone number is in her schoolbag at all times...
Weekend Scouting Activities
Our children regularly go to the forest with the local scout group. They will play with knifes and set up fires. The leaders are no older than 22 and act crazy sometimes (which is why our kids enjoy these trips in the first place). Their relaxed attitude to fire can really puzzle us as foreign parents. In Switzerland, people are trusted to be sensible about fire, and children are expected to learn this, too. And so far, there has not been a single accident.
School Break Activities
During school holidays, the local community organized a series of sports and cultural programs in various locations. Children got a badge with the dates, times and the locations of each program. Accompanied by volunteers, they were required to arrive at the meeting point on time, and they were released during the lunch break to roam around.
Yet, during the one week program, not a single child disappeared, got lost, was left behind or had an accident. This was despite the lack of constant supervision or "head counting", and with kids commuting among 30 locations in the city.
Swiss Parenting in the Eyes of Newcomers
The Swiss tend to see fewer dangers around them than people from countries with a lesser safety record.
On the other hand, foreign parents seem to overreact or are too emotional in regards to their children's safety. In fact, for those "Newly Swissed", parents here are sometimes considered careless because they prefer not to child proof the environment too much. Instead, Swiss parents might teach their babies or toddlers to keep away from poisonous plants, and to have respect for that glass coffee table...
Having lived here for more than two years, it was time for a safety assessment: To what degree should we maintain our previous vigilance in order to help our children adjust to the new culture? For other foreign parents, this question may pose a great challenge, too, as they adapt to living in Switzerland with their families.
I strongly believe that we have to consider safety. Switzerland has been changing, and the legendary security of the country is starting to erode. The authorities (Swiss still refer primarily to them for support and guidance) have more and more things to do, and they encourage us to take more responsibility for our own safety. While none of us ever wants to find ourselves in danger or in an emergency situation, the sobering fact is that most people will at some point in their lives.
So, the real question is whether or not we will be prepared and know what to do when something happens.
Oftentimes, emergencies are caused by weather: Strong winds, earthquakes, floods, heavy snowing are all emergencies that can strike with very short notice. Other emergency situations can be caused by people: A panic outbreak during a crowded event, a criminal attack, a fire in the house due to a candle left behind. These are extreme emergency situations.
But think of smaller but just as impactful safety issues, too: A broken leg on a mountain trip, a suspicious person around the school, getting lost in the forest, or walking alone to school at an early age.
I strongly believe that it is always more sensible to prepare for everyday common dangers than to suffer from its possible consequences.
Here are 5 steps to family safety in Switzerland:
1. Make a plan
After assessing risks around you, make a plan for how to avoid them and deal with them should they occur. Remember your plans regularly, prepare yourself for every occasion, and think ahead.
2. Discuss the plans with your family, including with your children
Everybody needs to know what their role will be in the case of emergency. Always explain to your children the possible consequences of risks.
3. Rehearse the discussed processes regularly
In our case, we ensure our children know the security password to use in order to let somebody into the apartment. Further, agree on a certain place where to meet when you lose one another in a crowd, discuss and practice how to exit your apartment in the case of fire, and name the people your kids can turn to in trouble.
The plans help not only in emergency situations, but increase the children's self-responsibility while building an attitude of self-protection. Later on, their attitude towards safety will allow them to recognize risks on their own.
4. Put together an emergency set
Smoke detectors in the sleeping rooms, a fire blanket in the kitchen, at least one fire extinguisher on each floor, a first aid kit, a fire ladder if you live higher than the first floor, life vests when you go to the lake, or snow chains, blankets and water in the car if you travel during winter: These are the most essential supplies in order to be prepared.
5. And keep in mind: Stay calm in the event of an emergency!
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(This is a sponsored post written by Judit Józsa from FamilySafety)