Expat Expo is an exhibition for all English speakers across Switzerland. It usually hosts five conferences each year, in Zug, Geneva, Basel, Ticino and Zurich. The next one for 2013 will take place on the 6th of October in Geneva. The exhibition plays host to over 5,000 people each time, and representatives from local businesses as well as meetup groups, information stands and voluntary initiatives convene for a day of speaking English, networking with other businesspeople and making new friends.
There are more than 400 stands around the conference, with services ranging from babywear to business tax, and if you’ve moved to Switzerland with the aim of starting your own business, this will be an excellent place to make new contacts. The purpose of the event isn’t to make sales, so if you’re running a kitchenware company, don’t expect to sell out of your best products by the end of the day. It’s more of an opportunity to get to know other expats and English speakers in the area, find people with similar interests to you, and work out how to make your life generally easier, especially if you’ve only made the transition fairly recently. If you have children, there’s also a play area complete with bouncy castle and café, where you can meet other expat families and swap tips on how to settle in to your new home country.Expat Expo was started in 2006, in a community centre in Zurich. At the time, the idea was just to bring together local businesses with people who had recently moved to Switzerland, and the goal hasn’t changed much over the years, although the number of exhibitors has grown from the initial 45 to the hundreds of diverse companies who are now represented.
The main focus of the day is business, of course, but making new friends and talking about the joys and frustrations of living in a new country is one of the main highlights of the conference. Advice on increasing your quality of life in Switzerland, working out where the local hobby groups are and which ones don’t overcharge, talking to people about your own ideas and finding common ground with neighbours you might not have noticed before are all excellent ways of making yourself feel more at home.
And the range of services available is huge: not just your usual businesses and insurance corporations, but theatre groups, dating agencies, schools, religious organisations, charities and expat societies are all strongly represented on the day. So if you’ve been missing your church group back home, or if you’ve wanted to know where to do yoga or join an amateur opera society, you should be able to find all the information you need, and perhaps even make some new friends along the way. There are even stands devoted to advising you where you can buy American or British groceries, just in case you’ve been desperately craving Heinz Beans or Tootsie Rolls.
If you’re not around in October, check out the Leman Expat Fair on the 3rd of November instead. Taking place in Lausanne, between Geneva and Montreux, the focus of this expo is more on the creative side of things. There’s an art section, where you can find portraits, painters, art teachers and fashion, as well as hands-on sessions where visitors are encouraged to let their creative side shine. There’s also a book swap, organised by The Scots Kirk Lausanne, where people can donate their own books and take away other English titles for free. DVDs, music and children’s fiction are also available.
As the largest of all the conferences, Expat Expo Geneva hopes to attract up to 10,000 visitors this year, whilst keeping the local, friendly feel. If you’re not a fan of large crowds, Leman offers the same service with fewer people. The expat community in Switzerland is very close-knit, and fitting in can be difficult when you don’t yet know anyone. But once you’ve introduced yourself and made a few friends, you should find a wealth of English resources available for you on those days when you start feeling a bit homesick.
Have we missed any essential expat fairs or conferences? Have you been to Expat Expo or Leman before? Let us know in the comments.