Natalie Hagglund – an American in… Zurich

In her second post for Volleyverse USA and Volero Zurich libero Natalie Hagglund leaves volleyball aside and goes into details about challenges of living overseas. Struggles, often embarrassing, can come in very different aspects of life. How does Natalie deal with them? Find out!

As you may or may not know, I have been playing professional volleyball in Zurich, Switzerland for the last two seasons. I have been incredibly blessed with this amazing experience and was extremely lucky to be placed in such a beautiful city on such a great team. I would consider Zurich to be one of the more westernized countries that you could play professional volleyball in.

For the most part, USA & Switzerland share a lot of similarities in terms of overall living conditions. In Zurich, you can find pretty much anything that you need in terms of nutrition and food, almost everyone speaks English, the road rules are pretty similar, in house appliances are well kept and up to date… people even know and enjoy American pop culture and sports! Despite some of these similarities, living in a different country still requires a lot of new lifestyle adjustments… adjustments that are usually made after a few months of trial and error… and lots… LOTS of mistakes.

Epic fails

You better believe that I have had my share of epic fails… some that were pretty life threatening, some that were just plain annoying, and others that were extremely embarrassing. You just don’t realize how programmed you are when you live in the same place your entire life. You don’t realize how many of you’re daily actions and tasks are completely unconscious, requiring very little, if any attention at all. You don’t realize these things until you are thrown into a completely different environment.

These once very simple tasks begin to require your utmost attention. And, the best part? If you forget to focus, you will most likely be making a few embarrassing and hopefully not life threatening mistakes…

Take driving for example. Of course paying attention to the road is a must… but for the most part, driving is pretty unconscious, especially if you drive the same route everyday. You stop at the stop signs, you switch lanes when needed, you drive the speed limit, pass slow cars… obviously. But, I made some pretty horrific driving errors when I wasn’t paying close attention to the slight differences in the roads/rules.

I didn’t know that sometimes the road splits off into a ‘tram’ lane and into a car/bus lane. I learned this the hard way when I went down the tram lane and was looking eye to eye with the driver (who was panicking) as he was heading straight towards me on the tram cables. I had to step on the gas and run a red light just to escape the head on the collision.

The challenge of…. grocery shopping

Even one of my favorite ‘at home’ chores, grocery shopping, requires my utmost attention. You don’t realize how easy it is to grocery shop when you know exactly what you want and where it is in the store. Just with grocery shopping I have made mistakes that have had gross, frustrating, embarrassing and even painful consequences. I often times find myself pacing back and forth between the same aisle, contemplating weather to pick the ‘yogurt looking stuff’ on the left or the right. It becomes a little exhausting… especially when you finally make a decision but don’t realize that you have made a big mistake until you take a nice big bight of sour crème in the morning. Ughhh #gross!

Or, it can be just plain frustrating when you realize that you have filled the dishwasher with laundry detergent… and you spend the next hour cleaning all the bubbles off the floor. It can be embarrassing… like when you forget to weigh your fruits and veggies while the entire line waits for the cashier to run through the store and weigh them for you. Or, it can be painful… like when you don’t realize that you have been drinking lactose free milk for an entire year until you return to America and have horrible stomach pains and can’t figure out why. #becuaseyourstomachwassoconfused #duh!

It’s fancy dress….right?

Messages that are usually easily interpreted also require a little more attention. I once misunderstood a German Facebook post about a big party in the city to celebrate Carnival. Carnival is a crazy, dress up party/parade that is tradition in many European countries. I convinced my roommate and her boyfriend to join me in a fun night on the town… dressed up… with ridiculous face paint and all. When we got the club, not one person was dressed up. After numerous stares and laughs, we frantically ran to the bathroom to wipe off our face paint. But, unfortunately I used ‘long lasting’ matte lipstick on my face to create this blood look and the lipstick left a horrible red stain all down my face. Yup… looked like I had a horrible face rash all night!

Not only messages, but simple words that you are using may not even mean what you think they do. A couple of months ago, I learned that the word ‘tschuss’ (pronounced ch-use or chose) meant goodbye in Swiss German. People said ‘tschuss’ all the time… I heard it multiple times a day for an entire year. But, I thought that people were saying ‘cheers’… and for some reason I really liked that. So, I would always raise my glass or my water bottle or pretty much anything in my hand at the time and say cheers back.

Every single day… for one year, every time someone said goodbye, I smiled… raised my glass or hand and said cheers!

Similarly, the things that you use everyday may be different. The gas pump, the stove, the laundry machine… hell even the windows are different. I thought I was going to die the first time I tried opening my bedroom window. If you turn the window handle one way, the window opens from the top. So, I about had a heart attack when I accidentally turned the window handle that way and thought the window was falling on top of me. I even covered my head, waiting for the thing to crash!

Only ever learning experiences

But these are the failures that sort of shape the whole overseas experience and as annoying or embarrassing as they can be… you really just have to laugh it off and hope that the next mistake isn’t as life threatening as running through a red light or forgetting to check for trams when crossing the road. You can learn a lot from these failures and from living outside of your comfort zone if you choose to approach your failures as an opportunity to learn. Among other things, I have learned how to improvise, how to pay attention to detail, how to read people through their body language and facial expressions and how to shake off embarrassment with a simple laugh!

I will be returning home next month with an amazing two-season experience living in Zurich and with a lot of kick ass stories to tell!

Watch out for Natalie’s next story, but meanwhile you can follow her on Twitter @nataliehagglund, on Instagram @nataliehagglund.