Almost one year ago today, I made one of the most difficult decisions of my life. My bags packed and I was in possession of a one-way ticket from New Zealand to Switzerland. I said my goodbyes to family and friends, then set off on a 19,000 Km journey half way around the world.
Once the arrival fog had lifted, it became clear that there would be many challenges to overcome before this strange land would feel like home. The language difference was not the vast problem I had initially anticipated. While official documentation was (and remains) difficult to understand, you cannot underestimate the value of a good kiwi smile. The majority of people that I encounter tend to be helpful. They will endure my broken attempts at speaking German before replying in English, while sporting a smile.
I soon settled into a daily rhythm as the weeks became months and time flew by. All the while my daily dairy intake was increasing beyond any level previously experienced.
As my second year abroad begins the true challenges such as friendships are beginning to present themselves. My thirst to escape the islands had been quenched, but my river of kiwi contacts was supplemented by a mere trickle of Swiss people. To start this torrent flowing I made the ambitious goal of meeting one new person for every day, for the year of 2014. Achieving the daily goal required strict criteria to be met:
- The person must give you their name;
- A smile must be exchanged (harder than I had thought);
- People met on one single day can be drip fed into the pool (up to a total of 7). This means that meeting a group of people in one evening can supply up to one week of new friends.
The one aspect of this challenge that I had not anticipated, was the diversity of people that I would meet. In New Zealand it was my impression that we had a diverse range of ethnicities. I soon discovered that this is a drop in the ocean when compared the ethnic diversity in Switzerland (specifically Basel). I have met people from Eastern Europe, Africa, Scandinavia, Asia, and everywhere between.
By employing this technique combined with a healthy habit of saying “yes” to things out of the ordinary, I have begun to develop a good foundation of friends. I have also ended up in some interesting situations. While it can be a little taxing on the liver I must admit that it was one of the most positive and rewarding resolutions that I have ever made.
- Ben Kepka