Born and raised in Canada, 32-year-old Robert Woodrich now lives in Thailand, where he runs a business. But because of his Swiss ancestry, he sees Switzerland as a third “home away from home”.
swissinfo.ch: Your name doesn’t sound Swiss. What’s your connection to Switzerland, and when did you start to identify with your Swissness?
Robert Woodrich: I was born abroad, in Windsor, Canadaexternal link – due south of the US city of Detroit. My Swiss citizenship passed to me from my ‘Oma’ [grandmother] on my mother’s side, who hailed from Zurich and Schwyz during a time when women could not yet vote.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of swissinfo.ch.
I learned about my nationality at a young age; my parents used to joke about being able to send me to Switzerland should conflict erupt during the Cold War. I really began to feel a strong connection to the country during my youth, when I visited sites such as the original “Kapellbrücke” [Lucerne’s Chapel Bridge] and later made my first solo trip to visit family in Richterswil near Zurich at the age of ten.
My interest in Switzerland stems from the family connection, of course, but I also find that Switzerland and Canada are quite similar in their federal systems of government, high standards of living, and multilingualism. As a teenager, I became rather interested in politics, and Swiss direct democracy appealed to my strong sense of fairness. Later on, I joined the Swiss-Canadian Chamber of Commerce and I now belong to the Swiss-Thai Chamber of Commerce.
swissinfo.ch: What is your occupation? How did you find your job, how’s it going?
R.W.: My job is to manage a creative digital agency that I co-founded called PAPER & PAGEexternal link.
I first made the move to Thailand in 2013, having been selected to intern in public information and strategic communications with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP). Although I cherished my time with ESCAP and fell in love with the host country, UN interns are unpaid and so I opted to head back to Canada to take a government post.
Fast forward to 2016, when I landed an opportunity to work with an American public relations firm in the heart of Bangkok. This position allowed me to learn about the regional business landscape, network, and start to prepare longer-term plans. After about one year with Burson-Marsteller’s affiliate in Thailand, I made the transition to founding and running my own company.
Less than one year since the founding, we work with brands as big as Hilton Hotels & Resorts, as well as renowned local restaurants and retailers.
swissinfo.ch: Where exactly in Thailand do you live? What’s your life like, and how’s the food there?
R.W.: I live in an area of the city called “On Nut”, which is alongside the “Sukhumvit” line of the BTS sky train. Being here enables me to enjoy a normal life, complete with supermarkets and wide sidewalks, quite unlike what most visitors would experience around such hot-spots as Khao San Road. There are many ways in which I enjoy a higher quality of life in Thailand in comparison to Canada. For example, I can afford to hire a maid who cleans my laundry, and I live 50 metres from a main transit line. Such luxuries would be unthinkable to most Canadian millennials.
The food is absolutely brilliant, although not identical to that found in western Thai restaurants. Green curry and pad thai are ubiquitous, but one dish I had never sampled until moving here is “khao soi” – an egg noodle curry. It’s quite rich, but I would recommend it to those seeking something a little different.
swissinfo.ch: Why do you prefer Thailand to Switzerland?
R.W.: Although I have never lived in Switzerland, I did consider moving before entering graduate school. However, I gathered that my lack of a network and shared cultural experiences (for example, military service) would make this rather difficult.
Now, contrast that with moving to a country on the other side of the world, where I have been able to establish my own firm and meet people from across the globe. There is something to be said for the opportunities available to highly-skilled foreigners in this region.
swissinfo.ch: What’s your impression of Switzerland from abroad?
R.W.: My impression of Switzerland from abroad is probably rather romantic – my fondest memories are from long ago, whereas things have changed since then. However, in a time when European countries lurch from one crisis to the next, Switzerland still appears a political oasis of sorts.
swissinfo.ch: Are you interested in politics in your country of residence?
R.W.: No-one is free to comment on anything pertaining to the monarchy from within Thailand, and yet it is hard to discuss politics without doing so. A point I can make is that it is surreal to live under a military junta, coming from a part of the world where we take liberty for granted. Foreigners are largely unaffected by domestic politics, except for when laws pertain to business, immigration, and taxation.
Yes, I find the local political situation rather fascinating. However, cognizant of my status as an outsider, I make an effort not to impose my views on others.
swissinfo.ch: Do you participate in Swiss elections and votes, and if so, how?
R.W.: I do participate in Swiss elections and referenda, preferring e-voting when possible. While my ballot papers arrived with consistency in Canada, I now seem to receive far fewer. One of the drawbacks of life in a developing country.
swissinfo.ch: Why do you miss Switzerland. a country where you have never lived?
R.W.: I miss Switzerland because of what it represents for me – a time when my family and I all lived together in one place. These days, we are scattered across three continents. On a more practical level, I would certainly appreciate some of Switzerland’s cleanliness, natural landscapes, and political stability.