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#WeAreSwissAbroad – Sabrina Maniscalco ‘If you are open to change, everything becomes simpler’

Swiss photographer Sabrina Maniscalco has lived in several different countries - she now resides in Lisbon, Portugal. Far from Switzerland, the 31-year-old has discovered that, despite cultural differences "we are all alike". What were your reasons for leaving Switzerland? How did it come about?

Sabrina Maniscalco: After completing my university studies in Lausanne in 2014, I got the chance to work as a camera assistant in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on a documentary about a football team, Atletico Mineiro. I had never been to South America – so I jumped at the chance. 

After that, I continued working as a stills photographer, and worked with a humanitarian organisation in Senegal, Africa, on a photography project about public schools. 

Then I returned to Brazil and lived with my boyfriend for about a year on a farm in the middle of the forests in Minas Gerais, 250 km from Brasilia. There, I did a photography project about local farmers. After Brazil, I lived in Madrid where I completed postdoctoral research in documentary photography; I now live in Lisbon, Portugal.

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’s position.

end of infobox Are you gone for good, or do you intend to return to Switzerland sometime?

S.M.: I don’t think I’ll return to live in Switzerland. Can you describe your current work?

S.M.: I am a photographer and right now I am working on a personal project, while I work part time in a publishing house for photography books. Occasionally I work as a stills photographer on film sets or I give language courses. It’s not always easy to make ends meet, but if you are flexible it can be done. What can you tell us about where you are living right now in terms of the lifestyle and cuisine?

S.M.: Now I live in Lisbon. Life here has a different rhythm and a different quality. The best thing about Lisbon is that it’s a small city, but a big one at the same time. The cuisine is quite amazing. I eat fresh fish just about every day, and the light in the city is just indescribable. Do you prefer living in Lisbon compared to Switzerland?

S.M.: No place is perfect, and depending on your personal priorities, a particular place may or may not meet all your needs. Here in Lisbon, what matters most to me is the quality of life: the climate, the food, the sea always just around the corner – these things belong to the kind of life I was looking for. It’s a very relaxed and easygoing environment, even though it’s a capital city. What’s your view of Switzerland, seen from afar?

S.M.: I recognise Switzerland's prestige due to its public institutions, its institutional features like direct democracy and its high degree of organisation, despite it being divided into different language regions. 

On the other hand, I have always thought of Switzerland as a place that seems perfect on the surface but where there are plenty of serious social problems hidden underneath. Travelling in other countries, and living with people who are much less well-off, I have come to realise how in Switzerland, despite its high standard of living, people are often depressed and stressed out trying to attain financial or professional goals. 

Everyday human contact is very limited and formal, and I think people often feel lonely and under pressure. For this reason, the high rates of depression and suicide in Switzerland don’t really surprise me. Where you live do you often feel like a foreigner or are you well integrated?

S.M.: I think that feeling well integrated takes time and effort. And I think everyone has their own approach to feeling part of a place. I don’t find it hard to integrate, mostly due to my contacts with people. It’s clear that moving somewhere else means making an effort to get used to things, but if you are open to change, everything becomes simpler. The first months are the hardest, then gradually you find yourself getting into the rhythm of a place, and you get to enjoy the little things that make up everyday life there. What cultural differences give you the most trouble?

S.M.: I don’t really have problems. It’s more a question of differences that take time getting used to. I still have some trouble with punctuality, which is seen as less important here than in Switzerland. What do you enjoy most about your life abroad?

S.M.: I like being able to speak another language, discovering new places from day to day, or just being able to go for a walk by the sea – but most of all realising that even though you are in a different country and there are cultural differences, that in the end we’re all alike, wherever you go in the world. Contact with people, and discovering how we can learn from one another in different places is really amazing, and gives me faith in human nature. Do you manage to vote in elections and referendums in Switzerland?

S.M.: When I can, I vote by post. What do you miss about Switzerland?

S.M.: My family and friends. But actually, with distance, you come to value your own close bonds more, and – even though I miss those people very much – whenever we manage to meet, we have real quality times together.

Are you a Swiss citizen living abroad? If so add the hashtag #WeAreSwissAbroadexternal link to your photos on Instagram. (the interview was conducted in writing)

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