Expat groups: 'Vitamin B' is good for your career and social life
Joining a community or service club in Switzerland is a great way to get your recommended dose of ’Vitamin B’, a phrase you may hear in the Swiss workplace.
In German-speaking Switzerland when you hear people talk about ’Vitamin B’ in business conversation they’re usually not referring to the nutrient you get from eating Vegemite that your dad told you would 'put hairs on y’ chest.
For one thing, I haven’t met many Swiss that go for the salty spread we delight in smearing our toast with down-under – I’m pretty sure they’d be even less swayed by the hairy chest rationale than I was.
In this case the ’B’ actually stands for beziehungen – connections, referring to the line of thought that 'it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. This is of course a familiar concept everywhere in the world, but particularly strong in Switzerland, often making life even more difficult for newcomers. But joining a community or service club is a great way to get your recommended dose.
Many expat women in particular may think it is not possible or important enough to make the time amongst family and work commitments to devote to service clubs or networking associations, but such community involvement can have untold benefits.
Joining such a club may not be something you considered in your home country, but when you arrive somewhere new you leave behind all those old ties and relationships built up naturally over time through your wider family, their friends and associates, your children’s activities, long-term neighbours, the local cafe owner and so on. Of course it can happen again organically in your new home town, but until then you may feel socially isolated and on the outer.
It’s not always easy to integrate into a new community. And in Switzerland especially, while you may meet a lot of different people in your day-to-day activities, you will often find that you stay on a ’polite conversation’ basis with the majority for a frustratingly long period of time.
At many clubs and organisations the social barriers are broken down somewhat, and there are often set rules precisely for the purpose of making casual interaction easier. Ironic as it may seem that more rules should make things more relaxed, it is often the case in Switzerland. For example, it may be set down that everyone uses the informal ’du’ (German) or ’tu’ (French) forms in conversation, such as at several Swiss Rotary clubs.
And it’s not just the social aspect that makes joining a club so beneficial – getting involved with worthwhile organisations and contributing to helping others will certainly enrich your life.
Making useful contacts and opening up more opportunities for yourself career-wise are also potential possibilities.
Two worthwhile women's service clubs that are well-established nation-wide in Switzerland are the Business and Professional Women's club (BPW), and Rotary’s Inner Wheel. There are also many regional/nationality specific clubs offering a range of services, as listed below.
Business and Professional Women
While the Business and Professional Women (BPW) association was founded in the US in 1919, BPW International was founded here in Switzerland 11 years later. It was set up in Geneva for women around the world in middle or upper management. The philosophy is that through the club they can help each other and themselves in their professional lives, and try to break through the restrictions that are often placed on women in such roles. This is particularly applicable in Switzerland, where there is still widely known and undisputed discrepancy between the wages of men and women doing the same jobs in top-level positions.
BPW members have the opportunity to launch business ideas, win support for projects, or find confidantes. The association aims to help women to take on greater responsibility in economic, political and social life.
It also does work to advance the situation of women in South Africa, Pakistan and South America and to give women’s voices and issues all over the world a better hearing.
For more information see www.bpw-international.org.
Inner Wheel International is a service club committed to improving social problems. An NGO, it was set up in 1924, with the aim of changing lives for the better through “friendship, service and international understanding”.
Although it developed from Rotary Club for the wives and family of Rotary members, it is a free and independent organisation in itself.
Inner Wheel International is devoted to educating the underprivileged, and caring for the aged, sick and needy, focusing on women and children in particular.
For more information see www.innerwheel.com.
The American Women’s Clubs
There are American Women’s Clubs in many cantons in Switzerland. Non-profit, volunteer organisations, they help American women, as well as non-Americans with close ties to the US, to integrate into the Swiss community and offer support and friendship.
For more information see:
- www.awot.ch (Ticino)
Zug International Women’s Club
The Zug International Women’s Club understands the difficulties of being a foreigner and a woman in Switzerland. It offers newcomers in the area support, friendship and information, and members aim to enrich each other’s lives, and most importantly, have fun together.
For more information see www.ziwc.ch.
The International Mums and Kids Club
IMKC is a non-profit organisation set up for English speaking families with young children. The club offers activities for mums and kids keen to meet in a social and learning environment.
For more information see www.imkc.ch.
The International Women’s Club of Nyon
English-speaking women in the Nyon region can make friendly contacts with women of all nationalities and partake in a range of activities from cookery and culture, to sports and languages, with the International Women’s Club of Nyon. It aims to help newcomers settle in and enhance the lives of all its members.
For more information see www.iwcn.ch.
Zurich International Women’s Association
Bringing together women of all ages and nationalities, ZIWA celebrates different cultures and aims to expand its members’ viewpoints, and build friendships. There are a range of interest groups within the organisation, from book clubs to hiking groups, with the common purpose to have fun!
For more information see www.ziwa.com.
Anna Tuson / Expatica
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