"I left the United States at 27 to go to Ecuador — at the time, I was driven by the need to experience new cultures and see the world. Since then, my travels have taken me to many places including Switzerland, where I now live. When I first arrived in Switzerland I found the people here very reserved and distant. I noticed that people did not look each other in the eyes very often. People would avert their eyes, especially in public places. I felt quite isolated.
Living here has afforded me a different perspective; I now appreciate that the Swiss respect people's space and privacy, and this is reflected in their choice not to stare. The Swiss culture values respecting everyone’s personal space. This realisation was all a part of my cultural education, something that every migrant has to go through. To help others adjust to their new surroundings the way I did when I came here, I co-founded the Refugee Cultural Festival, which focuses on small actions carried out by locals and migrants to encourage intercultural exchange.
The principle that underlies both migration and the festival is this: migration means the desire and quite often the need to move to new places. Borders are just something to be crossed to discover new things on the other side of the world and about oneself. The festival is also a means for long-term residents to give newcomers a chance. Even if they are here for a short time, they also have something to contribute.
Feeling a part of the community here was a challenge at first, and this was also an opportunity for self discovery. I believe I bring a different perspective and creativity that makes the community richer as all diversity does, and I do my best to pay this forward. Of course I miss a few things about the U.S., like the fact that people smile at each other more often. Geneva is happily my home now. It is where I have the people I love and am doing the things I love. Everyone should have the opportunity to experience this if they choose to. I would urge everyone to get out, travel and see the world. Mark Twain spoke of travel as the greatest cure for prejudice and ignorance.”
This story is brought to you in partnership with The Refugee Cultural Festival, 2017 edition. The festival was launched to encourage small, local actions to embrace diversity and support those forced to leave their homes due to war, famine and climate change. Learn more about the festival and donate by clicking here.