Leaving St.Gallen

I’m sorry to say that after many years in this beautiful little town I am moving on. It has been a pleasure to be able to provide this blog and I hope that people to continue to benefit from it for years to come :-). I won’t delete any content, but I’m afraid that eventually most of the information will become out of date.

But who knows. One day I might move back and I will for sure start to blog again. And thanks to everyone who followed the blog and all of the e-mails of support I received.

And if you ever decide to move to Frankfurt next, why not take a look at my new blog: www.frankfurtexpat.wordpress.com

As if I would actually stop blogging entirely ūüôā

Enjoy St.Gallen!!


Surviving in St.Gallen without speaking German

I have been in St.Gallen for quite a few years now and have heard the following comments regularly:

“Its not possible to live in St.Gallen without German”
“Its not possible to find a job in Switzerland without German”
“Most Swiss people don’t speak English”
“Its really hard to fit in without speaking Swiss-German”

All of which are complete rubbish. The one thing all of these statements have in common are that I heard them exclusively from fluent or native German speakers who have never tried to get by without German and assume it can’t be done!

Firstly, I know many people who have found gainful employment with no more than basic German. There are a lot more opportunities like this down the hill in Zurich, but if you find something in St.Gallen, don’t worry about being isolated. I find that many people, especially those with higher education, will speak perfectly functional English. They normally voluntarily switch language when they hear how bad your German is!

Here are the key times when language has been an issue for me:

1. Secretaries and receptionists. Going to the doctors, dentists, schools etc. is normally fine for the actual appointment as the professionals always seem to speak excellent english. The trouble tends to be booking the appointment as the receptionists struggle with  high German, let alone English. Best technique is to book appointments in person with a pen and paper ready. Or get some one to phone for you!

2. Tax Office. The officials in the tax office speak English fine, but they are not (or they said they weren’t) allowed to give out official advice in English. They were however totally happy for me to write to them in English and they answered in German. Happily I solved this with a very useful tax advisor who does everything for me now.

3. Work HR. Why is it that so many companies fail to employ an English speaker in their HR teams and yet want to employ international staff?! Your co-workers will get you round this minor issue.

4. The Hauswart. This is the person who sorts out all of your problems in the flat on behalf of the Landlord. This can be an issue, many don’t seem to speak English. Find a friendly neighbour who does and ask them to help. Or only rent an apartment if the Hauswart speaks English. Mine does ūüėČ

Lastly, don’t ever worry about phoning emergency services. Speak slowly and clearly and they will understand and help. They speak English! ¬†As do many banks, the telecoms, the insurance companies etc. Basic rule though is, before you sign up, check that their helpline works in English. If it doesn’t, don’t sign!

Even the local kids speak English to me…!

St.Gall Toastmasters

The good news is that a new chapter of Toastmasters has just opened up in St.Gallen and is conveniently located in the market place at the Marktplatz restaurant. If you have heard of Toastmasters before then you need no further explanation other than the link below.


But if you haven’t heard of it before, Toastmasters is an educational collective that gives you the chance to improve your public speaking skills and confidence. It is also a great way to meet up with other English speakers for a reason other than drinking :-). The aim is to encourage a bi-lingual club so if you are also looking for an outlet for your German practice, then this could be the chance.


10 things I wish I’d known before moving to St.Gallen :-)

1) Just because French is an official language that they all learn at school, doesn’t mean the locals are happy to hear it! If you can’t speak German, try English next ūüôā

2) The Swiss are different from the Germans and Austrians. And that is the only thing they want to hear you say. Never group the three into a single statement!

3) Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because Switzerland is a rich country, that all¬†accommodation¬†is 1st world standard. Take no basic service for granted!

4) Swiss don’t seem to cook at home. So prepare for a small, inconvenient¬†kitchen even in the largest of flats.

5) “Switzerland has high quality education” does not equal “all Swiss schools are good”.

6) Most Swiss people use public transport, not because it is so good (which it is), but because owning a car is so bloody expensive and inconvenient!

7) Figure out how to shop over the border in Austria. For everything. Its all a lot cheaper.

8) Don’t expect to ever be invited round to a Swiss person’s house. ¬†Be happy when it happens, but prepare for it never happening.

9) Working from 9-6 is unSwiss. 8am is already late in the office.

10) Plan your life around the shops opening times. You’ll save much stress…

German language schools

As long as you aren’t relying on German skills to get a job, then it is very easy to survive in St. Gallen without good German. However if you want to do more than just survive and are maybe looking to stay longterm then you should probably consider a language school.

There are to my knowledge 5 language schools offering adult courses and I have personally studied at 4 of them and know plenty about the 5th – unfortunately the 5th (AIDA) was only for women…. I have added in example costs for guidance only, so check their websites for up to date info

Klubschule Migros
Located in the Hauptbahnhof building, the Kluschule has probably the most reliable set of teachers and courses. This was the first place I went and didn’t appreciate the value of well trained and stable teachers until I tried a few other places and ended up coming full circle to Migros.
Cost: CHF 1000 for intensive 20 day course (60 hrs)

Only a couple of minutes walk from the train station and fairly good reputation. They have a number of good teachers but the turnover is higher than Migros and atmosphere wasn’t very conducive to non-German speakers – ironic for somewhere teaching German!
Cost: CHF 1400 for intensive 20 day course (100 hrs)

Not a bad choice, but a little off the beaten track. The school is near St.Fiden train station close to numbers 9 and 3 buses not not close enough to any to be convenient. Felt like there were too many people on government benefits studying there so motivation levels weren’t so high.
Cost: CHF 1680 for semi-intensive 10 week course (112 hrs)

Again a good location, a couple of minutes from the main station. InLingua has gone through a number of changes including of ownership and has had a high turnover in teaching staff. Ironically, I thought the teaching material was the best of the schools I went to and I had a good teacher at the beginning. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t stable and reliable. Since I went, there has been another change of ownership and the website certainly looks nicer….
Cost: CHF 1580 for intensive 6 week course (90 hours)

This school is a few minutes from the city centre near the main UBS and Credit Suisse and is exclusively for women. ¬†It actually has a really good reputation for the education and price, but I just couldn’t get in ;-), so I am taking someone else’s word on its quality! Classes are specifically organised to fit around school times and school holidays.
Cost: CHF 990 for 1 semester, Aug to Jan (roughly 20 weeks) 2 hrs per day,days a week (120 hrs)

Private Teachers
If you are interested in having private individual lessons, most schools offer individual lessons for about CHF 80-100/hr. ¬†If you find a qualified teacher independent of a school then the going rate is from about CHF 60-90 per hour. I’m not going to recommend anyone in particular though as it is an individual choice and depends on who you feel comfortable with.

Good luck with your studies!

Local schools for non-German speaking children

If you are planning on staying more than a year or if the starting fees for international schools of CHF 20,000 a year are out of your budget, you may want to consider going local.

The St.Gallen city authorities support non-German speaking children by providing free ‘Integration Classes’. ¬†These are available at three designated schools from Primary level upwards. ¬†The schools are Rieth√ľsli, Lachen and Spelterini. These three schools cater for all children residing within the city limits whose German level is below that required for regular class. ¬†Once a child is assessed as being good enough at German, they will be transferred to your local school, but with additional teaching support (ISF teacher).

Which school will you be allocated to?
St.Gallen runs a catchment system where you have to live in the local area of a primary school to be able to attend.  If you live in a different catchment area from these three schools you will have almost no influence over which school your child is sent to and it will not necessarily be the closest. If you live in the are of one of these schools, it will be likely that you child goes there, but not guaranteed.

For how long?
There is no minimum or maximum length of time that your child will go to Integration Class. It depends on how quickly they learn German (which may be age related) and on the time of year. It is normal to wait until the start of a new year to transfer children. I have heard of anything from 6 months to 2 years in Integration Class.

School is compulsory for all children from the age of 3 (yes even for us foreigners!). Integration Classes only start from the age of 5 – year 1 of primary. Kindergarten level children are expected to go to the local Kindergarten (again based on catchment area) where they are educated entirely in Swiss German and are expected to pick up the language. After Kindergarten, they may or may not be sent to Integration Class depending on the teacher’s (and possibly the city’s child psychiatrist’s) assessment.

Extra help
Ask the school for recommendations for help.  There are many ISF teachers around who are often willing to provide additional language support for very reasonable rates at lunch and after school.

Outside the city?
Beware! Outside the city limits is a wild and unforgiving place ;-). Seriously though, this is very hit and miss. Each village and town will have a slightly different system depending on how many foreigners they have and how big and well organised the schools are. Some will simply have no support at all. They are regulated by the Kanton and not the city and the support is not as reliable.

Next steps
First choose which school you want your child to go to longterm. Not all schools are equal in quality (in spite of what locals may tell you!), so plan the school before you get your accommodation. Then contact the headmaster who will refer you to the city authorities for support in getting into Integration Class. After about a year of commuting, you will then have  a nice local school ready for your child.

My kids followed this system in different ways are now relatively well adapted, settled and integrated. Most importantly, they have lots of friends locally and know their way round…