Kate Prinsloo is the proud mama to two beautiful girls, a highly skilled Android phone photographer, and the creator of the blog Mom in Zurich. She and her family have been living abroad for three years now. First they were in London and then, when the opportunity popped up, they made the move to Zurich summer 2014.
Kate found Swiss Lark and contacted me just as she was moving to Zurich, and right when we were leaving. We quickly became good Facebook Messenger friends, but didn't meet face-to-face until more than a year later when Theo and I visited Zurich last fall! Now, we're meeting up in Seattle in a few weeks. Sometimes the world doesn't feel so big, after all!
Kate is warm and open. She appreciates the beauty of both everyday life and the amazing adventures on which she and her husband take their two daughters. Kate's approach to balancing the exhilarating joys and the plain ordinary of life abroad, straight ahead.
What's the main reason you're living abroad?
Adventure. We both dreamed about living in Europe and here we are, living the dream. We love to travel, to see new places, and to learn. I have learned so much about myself and the world by moving abroad. I think it would be amazing if everyone could live abroad, even for a few months. My husband is from South Africa and I'm from a tiny town between Seattle and Vancouver. I think it's so amazing that we are living equal distance from each of our families now, each a 10+ hour flight.
We went on a holiday in Switzerland before we had children and said if we ever got the chance, we would move here. Even though we were loving our life in London, when the job moved to Zurich, we knew we had to take it and live our dream.
Traveling. Switzerland is smack dab in the middle of Italy, France, Lichtenstein, Germany and Austria. Trains can get to these countries in just over an hour. As a west coast American this is absolutely amazing. We travel every chance we get. Public transportation is fantastic. Also, I'm learning. Every day I'm learning. And come August, I will start learning German. So much learning. It's invigorating.
What's your schooling plan for your children?
(I hope I don't get on a soap box here. Schooling is very personal. To each their own and now that I am happy with my daughter's schooling, everything else falls into place.)
I absolutely love the Swiss school system. Our girls are in the local school system and I love its ethos and its methods on letting children be children. After more than a year in the London public school system, it was far too much too soon for my daughter. In England, they learn to read and write so young and the school days are very long for such young children. Now my daughter only goes to school until noon, comes home for lunch and we can spend the rest of the day outdoors, which is very important in Switzerland.
I love that the neighborhood school children all play together after lunch until dinnertime. Kids are kids here. They walk to school and back, they are independent, they build fires, use knives to cut flowers and carve the Räbeliechtli, and go on weekly walks in the woods with their class. (Things that would have you arrested in the USA!) The outdoors are ingrained at a very early age. Not to mention my daughters are currently learning their 3rd and 4th languages here. And next year my older daughter will be learning French. It's amazing! As an American who sadly only speaks English currently, the fact that my daughter will be fluent in 5 languages in the next few years is absolutely amazing.
As always, schooling is a very personal decision, but as an expat with no contract or timeline to move anywhere else, the local system is vital to me in order to fully integrate into life here in Switzerland. Learning Swiss German as well as High German is so important and will set our girls up to feel a part of this community. If we were only here for a year or two maybe we would have looked into private schools, but my husband and I both went to public school and we see no reason to utilize the private system here when the local schools are absolutely incredible.
Oh, another thing I love about the Swiss local schools is that because the children walk to school together, the "mom comparing" is taken out of the picture. I love that the kids are free to choose their friends and not to judge (yet) based on other factors. I'm sure this will change as they age, but I am so thankful they can be kids for a little while longer. Not to mention having two children in private school would be well beyond our means.
No. My girls are learning so much and they are happy. If that changes, we will look into other options. For now, it is absolutely amazing.
Their grandparents living far away. It breaks my heart every day when my youngest talks about my Mom and walks me through every step of what she will do when the plane lands and we see my Mom. There is not a day that goes by that they don't talk about her. "When we get to Grandma's house we are going to see the animals, Grandma will do this with us," etc. It's those times, each day, that break my heart.
The transition from full-time employee to full-time mom was a big shock and hard to adjust to. I started a blog to continue learning and stay up to date technically while staying home with the girls. I am also helping with social media for a Swiss based website and writing for them. My littlest starts school in August so until then, I am not looking into working. Language is also difficult. Luckily everyone seems to speak English in Zurich and there are so many English speaking expats in our neighborhood. In August I will start learning German.
We still do have a house in the Seattle area. We bought the house the same week we found out I was pregnant with my first daughter. This is where both of my girls came home from the hospital and where our first real home was as a family. I love it, but living in Europe changed my space needs and interior decorating ideas. So looking at it right now, it seems strange to move back to that house after our living abroad. We are currently living in a flat half the size. It's amazing how much space you are comfortable living in. Our house near Seattle is currently a rental.
I think we have a few things in my parent's garage, which that reminds me I should take them to charity when I visit next. If we haven't needed it in over three years, we probably could do without it.
How often and for how long do you travel back home to visit?
So far we have lived abroad over 3 years, returning to the Seattle area once a year for about three weeks and as well as Chicago just for a long weekend. We also visit my husband's family in South Africa once a year for about two weeks since getting married 11 years ago.
What about family coming to visit you?
My father and mother in law visit a few times a year.
No. My mom asks once in a while when we are on the phone if I have plans for how long we will be living in Switzerland, but nothing else. My father and mother in law both love that we are in Europe and enjoy going on holidays with us and coming to visit us at our place. And definitely no pressure from our friends, who were nearly all transplants themselves.
To be honest, I'm not sure right now. We are not on a contract or tied to an American based job, so currently, we have no plans to move back.
What do you wish you had know before living abroad?
Oh, that's a good question. My first instinct is to say that you will need IKEA in your life. You will need to buy lights for your flat! What?! I thought moving into a nice new flat would have canned lighting or recessed lighting like in London. But no, we went to IKEA and bought 9 lights! I wish people could just leave their lights when they move out. You have to have an electrician put them in. Goodness. I have been to IKEA way too many times since moving in.
Oh! And, my first social faux pas was not wearing my swimsuit to my daughter's swimming lessons! So yes, at the Hallenbad, you, the mother, need to put on a swimsuit and go in with your child. In London all the moms sat with their coffees and watched the kids from the cafeteria. But I love that each week we get in our swimsuits and are active with our children, as we should be. I have met many moms through the swimming pool. But it was sure funny at that moment walking into the pool area with all my "street" clothes on. Oops.
If you'd like to see more of Kate's adventures, be sure to follow her on Instagram.
(Photos courtesy of Kate Prinsloo.)