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 I won’t delete any content, but I’m afraid that eventually most of the information will become out of date.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!!


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…

School System

Someone at the Stadt had a very clever idea: draw a simple diagram explaining the structure of schooling in the city. ¬†This wasn’t available when I first arrived, but makes it all look so simple!

So, before they change their mind and remove, I’ve nicked it:


It is available here with all of the associated links.

For anyone thinking that their children might go to university, either here or overseas, you should absolutely avoid the ‘Real’ schools and aim to get them into the Gymnasium at all costs ūüôā

Any questions on the different elements, let me know.

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…

International Schools in St.Gallen

A common question for non-German speakers is about schooling options for their children. St.Gallen is not particularly well served for English schooling for a number of reasons. First, it is a small town with a limited number of companies that would bring in non-German speaking employees. Second, the city provides quite effective integration classes for non-German speaking children which gets them into the regular school system fairly quickly. Lastly, the fees for international schools in St.Gallen are high. Really high. Which makes it an unaffordable long-term solution for many people.

Institut auf dem Rosenberg (Rosenberg Institute)
There are two possibilities in St.Gallen for schools, the most famous of which is the Rosenberg. This school is well-known in elite circles and is predominantly for full-boarding students often sent from overseas. The tuition (2012) is CHF 75,000 Рclose to the average national salary ;-). The location, facilities and views are exceptional, but it is hard to argue that the teaching is really that much better from a good state school. Still you are paying for the complete education solution.

International School St.Gallen
The second option is very new and is located only about a kilometer from the Rosenberg and is right next to the University (motives are clear!). The ISSG¬†was only founded in 2009, and serves the lower end of the market that can’t or don’t want to afford the Rosenberg. ¬†Tuition fees aren’t published publically (available on request) which shows that as a young school they are still flexible on fees while they establish a reputation and steady flow of new students. The school itself is in a large converted residential house with a regular garden – not immediately obvious that it is a school until you see the sign. ¬†Good location, unknown quality, but still likely to set you back a 5 figure sum every year.

Other options
Something that many people look to is the Swiss International School. This is actually a chain of international schools with locations in Chur, Winterthur and Zurich. This will mean that either you or your children are going to be commuting (or both) but at least you have a reliable English speaking option within reach that won’t cost a fortune (roughly CHF 20,000 per year).

Where to live

When you are looking at where to search for a house/appartment in St.Gallen you are probably going to end up on google maps or similar pretty quickly. ¬†Most likely you have already been there. ¬†The reality is this is great to look at but pretty useless when you are actually considering what is important for your surroundings. ¬†So below you’ll find a map of the city districts in St.Gallen and a brief summary of the area.

Now strictly speaking St.Gallen is a town, and not a particularly large one at that, but in Switzerland it counts as ‘the largest city in Eastern Switzerland’. ¬†The city is long and thin and rest along the centre of the valley with housing areas going up the hillsides. ¬†The egg-shaped old city centre is underneath No.10.

First a disclaimer though.  Switzerland on the whole is a very safe place to live and bring up children.  There are good and bad places to live, but everything is relative.  I was told when I moved here (by locals) that every school is good because it is Switzerland and that people just send their kids to the local school. This is not true. However a bad school in St.Gallen is not the on the same level as a bad school in the US or UK.

1) Schoren
This district is entirely hillside behind the main trainstation and includes the exclusive Rosenberg Institute, an English speaking private school.  The housing here is mixed, going from the very cheap to very expensive.  Not really an area that is suitable for children as there is little open flat space.  This is a fairly good place to look for student accommodation as the distance to the University is not far.

2) Rotmonton
Home to the University of St.Gallen‘s main campus and Executive Campus. ¬†The primary school is located directly between these two campuses which could be good or bad, depending on who you work for! The school here actually has an excellent reputation and is nicely situated. ¬†Depending on your background, though it may not be ideal as the school population is overwhelmingly white. ¬†The housing lives up to the expectation of a good school area by being overpriced. There are some affordable places though and students manage to find plenty of spots here. ¬†Biggest drawback is the lack of grocery shopping. There are few shops so you either need to head out of town (Neudorf/Abtwil) to a large store, or head into town. Highlight for the kids is going to be the fact that if you just walk over the hill a little, you are in a really nice green valley with Wildlife Park Peter & Paul at the top and a river at the bottom. Great for Summer walks.

3) Oberzil/Krontal
At the far end of the city near the private hospital (very nice if you can get it on your insurance). The school has a nice feeling and there is plenty of affordable housing.  There are lots of large blocks of flats though and the distance from the city can leave you feeling a little remote even though it is only 15 minutes by bus. Highlights for the kids include the Botanical Gardens, but to be realistic that will only keep the kids happy for a couple of visits at most!  You will probably want a car if you live out here, irrespective of your family situation.

4) Halden/Neudorf
Halden is a good place to live for young families but less so if you are single or a student. The area is fairly open with lots of green spaces and home to the second of St.Gallen’s good primary schools. ¬†The housing is more affordable than Rotmonton and comes with the added benefit of the only indoor public swimming pool and Gallusmarkt (the city’s large Coop superstore). The school has a good reputation but is also very mixed in nationality and social groups reflecting the range of housing options available.

5) Grossacker/St.Fiden
Grossacker has a lot of a affordable, albeit old, housing. The buildings are fairly tight although you will find plenty with private gardens or enclosed shared courtyards/spaces. Interestingly there is a large Italian population here and when you go to the local Migros, you’ll hear Italian more than Swiss-German. ¬†The school’s reputation is not as good as it used to be, and could be due to the increased number of non-german speaking immigrants to the area (not being racist, since this includes me!). ¬†The area is well served though for shops, has multiple bus lines going through, and its own trainstation (St.Fiden). Good choice for working couples who want to be in town in under 10 minutes.

6) St.Georgen
This is the last of the areas recommended for schooling. St.Georgen is more like a village stuck on the side of St.Gallen. ¬†It lies in a small off-shoot valley going out of the city and you need to hike up a pretty steep incline to get to it – so don’t count on walking home from work ;-). ¬†Not good for students as you’ll have to go down one side of the valley and straight up the otherside! The village has some really nice housing once you get up there, both cheap, expensive, new and old. Excellent for both adults and kids are the ski-run for beginners and the three lakes. The lakes are regular summer swimming hotspots and have ample green space for picnics, out-door get-togethers and frisby…. School-wise, good choice for a state-school (again very white though), and also has a nice little Montessori School.

7) Rieth√ľsli
Next off-shoot along from St.Georgen is Rieth√ľsli. ¬†More like a poor cousin or just somewhere you want to get through on the way to Teufen (very nice village if you want to live out of town). ¬†The primary school is not great and suffers from being attached to the large vocational secondary school. ¬†Strangely, someone in the city decided this would be the best place for an Integration Class, so if your children don’t speak German, they could end up here for their first six months. ¬†More about Integration Classes later. You may guess that I don’t think much of this district, and you’d be right.

8 ) Lachen/Bruggen
Good location here for people working in the city but housing and schooling is an issue. If you have a look at Lachen school results they are some of the worst in the city.  The housing is a mixture with some new build but tends to be on the old side.  As you get further away from the city, so out of Lachen and more to Bruggen, both the housing and schooling improves.  Nicest thing about this area is that you are within a few minutes of the city and easy access to the shopping an leisure available in Abtwil at Säntis Park. The area is also very well served for bus lines.

9) Wolfsganghof/Winkeln
The far end of town to the West has some really nice affordable housing, but is fairly inconvenient. You’d think that being close to IKEA and S√§ntis Park would be useful, but it doesn’t seem easy to get to and there is no direct bus route. ¬†If you have a car, then this is a great place to be though as the area is quiet and calm with plenty of space for children.

10) City Centre/Spelterini
This is probably the best location for a student or childless couple but steer clear if you have kids.  Housing varies, but there are plenty of bargains to be had for students and many live around the city above ground floor.  There are also some really nice plush appartments for professionals, and all of the shopping and social benefits that you would expect from a city.  The primary school, Spelterini, is one that most people try and avoid, so be warned!