Why don't people stop moving to Florida

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More than 10 years ago, Norwin Voegeli from Bern decided to settle in the USA with his family. He lives in Florida and works as a freelance entrepreneur in the railway and signaling technology. swissinfo.ch met the 53-year-old Voegeli - in the USA, Vögeli became the more easily written Voegeli - during a study trip to the US west coast.

This content was published on November 9, 2017 - 1:20 pm

swissinfo.ch: Why did you come to the USA?

Norwin Voegeli: For me it was always a dream to go out into the world. As a mechanical engineer, I've traveled a lot internationally since I was in my mid-twenties, especially in Asia. At some point came the idea of ​​being able to live outside of Switzerland. We discussed this in the family and came to the conclusion that we should take this step. It didn't work for Asian places like Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok, but then in 2005 an offer came for New York. It was an adventure that we wanted to embark on.

swissinfo.ch: Your roots are in the Bern area. Where exactly?

N.V .: I grew up in Münsingen - between Bern and Thun. I moved from home while studying at the Bern University of Applied Sciences in Burgdorf. At the time I thought I would return someday. But that never happened. On the contrary. I kept moving further and further away. First to Zurich, then to Braunschweig in Germany, where I worked for Siemens. Then - as I said - I came to the USA.

swissinfo.ch: What do you do for a living?

N.V .: I have been working in the signaling technology sector for around 20 years. The railway sector has always been of particular interest to me. And in 2012 I started my own business in exactly this area. Self-employment has always been a dream of mine. Because I had the feeling that as a self-employed person it was easier to implement my own ideas than in a huge company. And I'm satisfied: It's going great today.

​​​​​​​swissinfo.ch: How difficult is it to take such a step?

N.V .: I knew the business in the USA because I was already working here without being self-employed. So I knew the market. But in the beginning it's very tough. For a while I didn't even earn anything. Emotionally you go through ups and downs. Depression can even occur.

swissinfo.ch: That means: there were moments when you thought you might return to Europe and Switzerland?

N.V .: Yes, there were moments like that. But with the help of my wife, I was able to persevere. We said to ourselves: we want to make our dream come true.

swissinfo.ch: Are there any advantages to working as a Swiss citizen in the USA?

N.V .: Not at all. There is no Swiss bonus. Nobody cares here which schools one has attended in Switzerland. Only performance is of interest here. And you have to beat the competition. This is tough.

Swissinfo.ch: what is the difference between doing business in Switzerland and in the USA?

N.V .: The business is very different from what we know in Europe and Switzerland. Americans think differently. It is arguably a mistake we Europeans make in thinking that Americans are ours just because they look the same and have European roots. The mentalities are very different. It took me a long time to understand that. And of course the language was added. English is not my mother tongue. In German you communicate very directly, in English you talk a bit around the subject, so you have to be able to read between the lines in order to understand the nuances. All of this has to be learned.

swissinfo.ch: Switzerland is known as a railway country, the USA actually not. Is that even a market?

N.V .: The rail market in the USA is a huge market, especially the passenger transport in the big centers is an issue - "mass transit", as we call it here. Just think of the huge cities like San Francisco, Chicago, New York or Los Angeles. The traffic there has become unbearable. The need is therefore huge to expand local passenger transport capacities by rail and to modernize the technology. There is also potential in freight railways, but to a lesser extent.

swissinfo.ch: One question arises: Has the election of US President Donald Trump changed the business?

N.V .: There were changes in the short term because some project budgets were stopped. But many budgets have now been discussed again. I can say: For me personally and for my business, the election of Trump has no significant impact.

swissinfo.ch: You moved to the USA with the whole family. Was that easy with the children?

N.V .: We lived as a family in Braunschweig for two and a half years before we came to the USA. At that time my daughter was six years old, my son three and a half. In New York, my daughter started first grade straight away. She had problems. But after three months it was fine. She even received her own tutoring. After a year, both were fully integrated. Today they are more likely to be young Americans than Europeans.

swissinfo.ch: But don't you speak German at home?

N.V .: Yes. But the children always answer in English. They actually only use German when we are visiting families in Switzerland or Germany.

swissinfo.ch: And what about the relationship with Switzerland?

N.V .: Switzerland is my home. I grew up there. When I'm in Switzerland, I feel at home straight away. For example, when I rent a car in Zurich, I feel like I've never been away. And then when I'm back in Florida, I have the same feeling. For me I can say: I have two homes. Switzerland and the USA.

swissinfo.ch: You haven't forgotten how to hear Bern German ...

N.V .: ... of course not. I think that you never forget the language you spoke until you were 20. On the other hand, I will probably never be able to speak perfect English. I will probably keep my accent even if I speak English and think in that language myself.

Swissinfo.ch: Are you perceived as Swiss?

N.V .: You are perceived as European, not as Swiss. Many Americans confuse Switzerland with Sweden anyway. My wife is German. It's a little easier. Germany is of course a household name.

swissinfo.ch: But do you feel integrated?

N.V .: Absolutely. In the Ponte Vedra Beach neighborhood near Jacksonville, where we live, we have a fantastic relationship with the neighbors. Everything is much more open than we are used to in Europe. There are parties and celebrations. And you are invited everywhere.

swissinfo.ch: Do you also have relationships with other Swiss people?

N.V .: I know a few people at the Atlanta Consulate, which is responsible for us. And there is a Swiss Club in Saint Augustin, Florida. At the beginning I participated intensively, now less. The reason is that most of the club members are retirees who have a different schedule than me. In addition, many Swiss are married to American women. English is therefore almost always spoken at the meetings. But when I go to a Swiss club, I just want to speak my mother tongue. Otherwise I don't necessarily need this club.

​​​​​​​swissinfo.ch: Florida stands for the sea, palm trees, sandy beaches and eternal sun. Are there any Swiss things that you miss?

N.V .: As an avid kite surfer, I love to live by the sea. I'm also more of the beach type than the "mountain biker" and that makes Florida just perfect. Of course, every now and then I miss the mountains, snowboarding, skiing, mountain biking and hiking. But that can also be compensated for in the USA. Since my wife is also from Europe, we tend to have European cuisine at home and find all the ingredients local, so to speak. Even fondue and raclette are possible here.

swissinfo.ch: At the end we want to be a little curious. We have never heard her name Norwin. Where does this name come from?

N.V .: My parents liked this name. It comes from Old High German, a combination of "nord" - north - and "wini" - friend. So it means: friend from the north, Nordic friend.

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