My Swiss Story is a series that looks at life in Switzerland.
We recently met Sergio Bianchini. His passion is long-distance swimming – for himself and for others. As well as swimming all year round in Lake Geneva, he has crossed the straits of Gibraltar and swum from Salvation’s Islands to the South American continent to raise money for people in need.
Born in Paysandu in Uruguay, he now lives in Anières near Geneva with three of his four sons. In Uruguay he worked as an aviation technician for the military, but in Switzerland he is a care assistant for the elderly, work he finds deeply rewarding because “in a society where things are moving increasingly fast we tend to forget how important it is to talk to each other and show compassion”.
What brought you to Switzerland?
I have always been curious to see how people live in other parts of the world. So, in 1988, when I was 24, I left my home country with only a backpack and a little money in my pocket. I came to Geneva where I stayed with a friend before traveling to Italy and France. But I immediately loved Geneva, so decided to come back.
What do you like most about your life here?
Most of all I appreciate the tranquility and security of life in a country where I don’t have to work 17 hours a day simply to survive, and where I can walk down the street at night without fear. I also love how I can pursue my passion for long-distance swimming in Lake Geneva – even in cold weather with a group of people who swim together in the lake all through the winter.
What was your greatest challenge after arriving in Switzerland?
The language barrier was certainly difficult. When I arrived, I spoke no French. Also, I was lonely and had to make myself reach out so I wouldn’t feel isolated. But I embraced those challenges. I still do. That’s what people who are driven to travel and explore other cultures do. This gives me the feeling that I am constantly growing as a person.
What surprised you about Switzerland?
Sometimes people say that Swiss people are not very warm or open to strangers. That was not my experience at all. I was surprised and happy how warmly I was welcomed by the first Swiss people I met.
What do you miss from your life before?
Nothing really. My life in Uruguay was great, but I love living in Switzerland. And with modern technology I can easily see and talk to my family and friends in Uruguay.
What would you miss most if you left Switzerland?
My family and I left Switzerland a few years ago for one and a half years when my four boys were young. It was a great adventure, but life was much harder than in Switzerland. And we missed the friends we had made here and the life we had built.
What’s next for you?
My friends and I continue to swim in Lake Geneva through the winter. If anyone wants to join us contact me. In February I plan to become the first Swiss national to swim 100 km down the Uruguay River to raise money and awareness for an organisation that helps people with multiple disabilities.
Interview edited by Bill Harby