Stephanie Züger-Legler loves her life in northeast England, even though the region is confronted with many problems such as homelessness, drug abuse and littering. The 35-year-old Swiss is a big fan of the friendly locals as well as the English school system.
swissinfo.ch: Why did you leave Switzerland?
Stephanie Züger-Legler: I emigrated with my family for professional reasons three years ago.
swissinfo.ch: Do you intend to go back to Switzerland eventually?
S.Z.-L.: We wanted to stay for a year. I was still on maternity leave. However, I was so fascinated by the Northeast that I extended my stay indefinitely. Luckily, returning to Switzerland will always be an option.
The points of view stated in this article, especially about the host country and its politics, are the interviewee’s points of view and are not necessarily in line with swissinfo.ch’s position.
swissinfo.ch: What do you do for a living?
S.Z.-L.: In England, the system of apprenticeships and further education is not as we know it in Switzerland. My qualifications as a businesswoman and management assistant were not really of any use when I was applying for jobs. On top of that, I am now a single mother and no longer have a family to support me in childcare, which makes finding a job even harder.
I wrote around 200 job applications and did odd jobs here and there. I worked as a barista in a bookshop, as a receptionist and in a call centre before I finally found a job as a personal assistant at Newcastle University. I love my job and I hope I will grow with it. I am also doing an Open University course in PPE (politics, philosophy and economics).
However, my beautiful daughter, who started school in September 2017, comes first. In England, children start school at the age of five with maths, reading and writing already being part of their curriculum. These subjects are taught in a very playful way.
swissinfo.ch: Where do you live?
S.Z.-L.: In the centre of Newcastle upon Tyneexternal link, in the north of England between the Northumberland Hills and a breathtakingly beautiful coast.
swissinfo.ch: What is British cuisine like?
S.Z.-L.: First and foremost, I like English pubs, the many international restaurants and the beer. Local ales are delicious and British food is much better than its reputation, especially when it has a modern touch.
The small ‘barrack restaurant’ in Tynemouth, for example, does not sell traditional fish & chips. It prepares simple delicious fish creations with local fresh fish and seafood. Sunday lunches can be amazing.
swissinfo.ch: What do you prefer about Britain compared to Switzerland? What is the biggest difference between the two countries?
S.Z.-L.: Northeast England is pretty poor, and you can certainly feel it. There is an obvious problem with homelessness, drug abuse and littering, which is the total opposite of our clean and rich Switzerland. Many houses are badly built and not very well insulated. I guess these are the biggest differences.
But still, I find living here appealing. I like living with a mix of students and immigrants from all over the world and the friendly ‘Geordies’, as the locals are known. I have learnt that you can achieve more with less. I like the education system, as children, parents and employers benefit from it. The lessons are enthusiastic, individual and playful. I also appreciate the warm-heartedness as well as the versatile cultural programme in Newcastle, especially the great offers for children, many of which are free. On top of that, I love the Northumberland coast and nature, its unique dark skies and the northern lights, which we sometimes get.
swissinfo.ch: How do you view Switzerland from afar?
S.Z.-L.: Living here is a constant reminder that it’s a huge privilege to have been born and bred in Switzerland. Switzerland is a prime example of a well-functioning democratic state with little injustice and bureaucracy. Just as much as my life as a Swiss national has enriched and shaped me, getting out of my comfort zone and finding new paths was very important for me. This has made me mentally stronger. I worry less about the future and am more empathic about different living conditions.
swissinfo.ch: What does the political landscape look like in Britain, especially after Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
S.Z.-L.: Naturally, Brexit is on everyone’s mind. Other significant issues in the North are the big gap between the classes when it comes to political participation and wealth, as well as the north-south divide. I have evolved from being a passive onlooker to being an active student of politics. Among other things, I am keen to preserve the National Health Service (NHS), which I am a great fan of.
swissinfo.ch: Do you vote in Swiss elections or popular votes?
S.Z.-L.: Yes, I do my postal votes regularly.
swissinfo.ch: What do you miss most about Switzerland?
S.Z.-L.: My family, public transport, Migros supermarket and a magic adventure in the snow in Braunwald as well as the availability of reasonably priced locally grown fresh food. And saunas. Being naked and sober are two terms that do not go together in England. For this reason, I don’t visit sauna and spas as often as I’d like.
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Translated from German by Billi Bierling, swissinfo.ch