Home is where your Heart is - Highschool Reunions 2017 and 2019

I started this post two years ago after our high school reunion I co-organized. 

The first part of our get-together was a guided tour of the year round "Home" exhibition that was taking place at our town. 

A special highlight was the Ferris Wheel ride during which passengers are supposed to ask each other questions (check out this website, it's in English) regarding their "home":

  1. What does it feel / taste / smell / sound like?
  2. Does it require tradition?
  3. Is it possible to find a new one?
Of course due to the fact that some of us  - even though this was the fifth time we met since graduation - haven't seen each other for as long as 20+ years, we had a lot of catching up to do and didn't stick to the questions, but I'd like to do so here, and I encourage you to answer them for yourself as well:

I consider Switzerland my home. I was born and raised here, and apart from the too short period I spent in California, I have always lived either in my childhood village, Staufen, or Colin's hockey town, Zug.

Home certainly feels cozy, reliable, familiar, and family and friends play an important part. So much so that after 9/11 I wanted nothing more than to go home - to the people I have known and loved my whole life. With some of them I attended pre-school, Kindergarten, elementary school, high school, even the same college! They knew me when I had braces, crazy hair, questionable outfits - we literally grew up together.

Many said "home is where my heart is", and I think they're totally right. Some of my classmates live in UK, Germany, Italy and Spain today, but they all made it because spending a couple of hours with their old classmates was important to them. Only the one who lives in Australia couldn't make it, and I can't blame her. 

Does home has a smell? I would like to think that Switzerland smells crisp (alpine and all, never mind the crowded cities) with a hint of cow sh** and of course a delicious whim of chocolate - due to the Frey chocolate factory being located only five miles from here! 

Home-home, my parent's home smelled at its best after baking. Think apple pie or chocolate cake or Grittibänze.

Switzerland has certainly a few unique sounds like cow bells and church bells. Our emergency vehicles' sirens sound differently than in the U.S.

Does it require tradition? I guess home is an accumulation of tradition. My friend Annette who moved to Canada in 2013 misses our recurring customs like the youth festival and the turnip parade the most. Tradition, in combination with the people you meet on occasion of  these festivities, certainly contribute to the homey feeling. 

Is it possible to find a new home? To me this is the toughest question. I think whatever new home you make (and it takes a whole lot of positive attitude and hard work), you'll probably always compare it to your first, real home. But personally I do believe that you can find a new home someplace else. Because, after all, home is where your heart is!

Back to the exhibition two years ago. One of the activities was to go from voting box to voting box. Participants had to answer questions on "Swissness". The one that provoked most controversy was "are pasta and pizza part of Switzerland?" Us Swiss thought sure, while Italians said wait a minute, that's kind of our domain!

And here's where I want to pick up on the discussion leading over to yesterday's events. 

Our schoolmate Concetto's parents shocked him and us in the mid 1980s when they decided to leave Switzerland and move back to Sicily where they were originally from. His Dad had a job offer that required them to pick up and leave pretty much immediately. He didn't even get to finish the school year with us. 

Concetto was born in Switzerland, attended Kindergarten and school with us, and while he felt he was considered "the Italian" here, as soon as he arrived in Sicily, they called him "Svizzero" = Swiss guy. He was lonely and felt out of place for quite some time. We sent letters, and he started working for a local radio station where he taped his shows and sent them to us. Just imagine the possibilities today, we could have FaceTimed and sent pictures and sound files back and forth in real time!

Eventually he made new friends, attended university and became what he always wanted to be: a journalist. Today he's married and a Dad to two teenagers, writes for la Repubblica. And he is an author. Even though he has written other books before, the one that was published this year is probably what is called the big breakthrough. 

Concetto presented this book in Switzerland this weekend: an event in Zurich on Friday, and one in our town yesterday.

Former teachers, classmates, neighbours and friends were flocking in, they had to add way more seats, and the location was super crowded.

The book is called «Cacciateli! Quando i migranti eravamo noi» («Throw them out! When we were the immigrants») referring to Schwarzenbach, an early 1970s right wing populists' initiative to, well, throw out all these annoying foreigners - whom us Swiss actually sought after to build our tunnels and streets because in a country of full employment we didn't have enough of our own manpower. 

Italians represented the first substantial group of foreigners to settle in our country, and obviously my fellow Swiss felt threatened.

As a kid I didn't realize this (sometimes not so) subtle xenophobia. Quite the opposite actually! I thought my Italian classmates were much more fun than some of the dull Swiss kids!

Well, today, Italians in Switzerland are the ultimate poster children of assimilated, productive citizens, and the conservative Swiss have found a new group of foreigners to give a hard time to, but Italy itself has its own right wing populist now. His name is Salieri, and he kept refusing authorization for refugees from Eritrea and Somalia to disembark this summer.

While Cacciateli! is sort of a sociocritical, political book, it's also a very personal and touching walk down memory lane including how Concetto's parents met, his Sicilian Grandma who hosted the family during summer breaks and had to let them go back year after year, anecdotes involving elementary and high school - and soccer. 

Looks like when Italy won the world championship in Spain back in 1982, the Italian kids suddenly felt valued in Switzerland. Needless to say the Swiss national team didn't even make it to the tournament! (Plus today's Swiss national team probably includes two or three orginally Swiss players, all the others are secondos, respectively the next generations.)

Not sure if secondo is a know term outside of Switzerland. It's what the kids of immigrants are called. The second generation that attended school here. Most of these kids had to accompany their parents to parent teacher meetings to translate. Typically back then poor  Italien immigrants who found low paying jobs in Switzerland came from remote rural villages and some could barely read or write Italian, let alone (Swiss) German. 

The Italian community did a great job taking care of these families. They ran dopo scuola (after school) programs and offered other opportunities for the kids whose parents typically both worked, to cultivate their language and heritage. (I can only guess that Swiss authorities did little to nothing to help those kids to learn German. Even today these language support programs have to fight for funding. So short-sighted.)

Before this text gets too lengthy (and I have to write my own book, haha) I want to conclude my post by sharing some happy pictures of my high-school mates whom I rounded up for happy hour and dinner following the book presentation. Bonus points for our teacher to join us!

I feel truly blessed to be part of this gang. The food was excellent, too.

Now - you knew this was coming, right - Question: what does home mean to you? What does it feel like, is it possible to find a new home? What does it take? Let me know in the comments down below or on my Facebook post.


  1. This resonates with me so much... even though I am Australian! I went to school with lots of second generation kids from Italy, Macedonia, Croatia, Poland and even Latvia and Ukraine. I know similar stories of kids hanging out with their extended family in Australia but identifying as Italian. But their cousins from Italy always saw them as Australian. I will ask my friend if he referred to himself as a 'secondo'. Home is such a hard question, as an expat married to a foreigner with third culture kids, Suisse Romande feels 70% home. My kids were born here, but they're not Swiss. My husband's family are from just across the border. For me, I miss people in Australia more than the place. The smell is clean and salty. And super bright sunshine. :)

  2. I grew up in Kentucky and lived out in the country. It was 17 miles each way to the store. Then we moved 400 miles away to a big city and it was hard to get used to, but now I can't imagine going back to the country! I would miss the city so bad which is what I thought about KY when we left. I would never move back there now!

  3. I love my high school reunions. Our 50th is next June. Can't wait. But I need to lose 40 lbs! As to your question on my blog. Mall Walking is basically a bunch of old floks doing laps around the mall before it opens. I loved it, but it just got to be too much with my heart problems. Hence the bike attempt.
    I will get back on than thing once I heal.
    Thanks for reading.

  4. I can really relate to your Italian/Swiss friend. I no longer feel completly Australian and I do think I will never be really Swiss. I am coming up to this weird point in my life where I will of lived longer in Switzerland than in Australia. I am not sure how i feel about it. But I do know for sure that as it approaches (June 2020) I am wondering if national identiy really matters

  5. My heart still yearns for the town of my childhood (my parents uprooted all of us in 1974 to move a couple of hours away--I found out much later their heartbreaking reasons for doing it.) I met my Husby after the move and settled down nicely. Then work took us to Northern Alberta and we've been here ever since. Raised our kids here. Now watching our kids raise their kids here.
    This has become home. Cold much of the year. Glorious summer when we can get it. And just perfect for me!
    I'd say that home is where my grandkids are. And if we needed to leave for any reason, I'd just have to take them ALL with me!

  6. I wasn't aware that Italians were the first substantial group of foreigners to settle in Switzerland.

    For me the movement has been within my own country. However, considering India is a like a continent of vastly different cultures, it is as good as moving from one country to another!

    Home is any place where I feel comfortable and I can feel that belong to. It's also a place which when I look back I have loads of memories about.


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