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Family with Local Ties Experiences Pandemic in Switzerland

If living as an American family abroad isn’t enough of a unique experience, consider the lives of Eric and Darien Laird. They are currently living in Switzerland, where Eric works for Google, with their three children. Darien is now six days overdue with their fourth baby. They’re also having to deal with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Eric is originally from Idaho Falls and Darien worked as a reporter and anchor for KIFI Local News 8 after graduating from Brigham Young University. They’ve lived in different cities across the country and now they’ve been in Switzerland for nearly two years on a work visa.

Darien’s Instagram feed is full of picturesque settings in Switzerland and other European countries. Their family is physically active and their community is tight. But when the pandemic hit their area, everything had to change. They are required to stay in their homes and people cannot gather in groups larger than five or else they could be arrested. Because the Lairds have a family of five (nearly six) they have changed what they do when they go outside.

“We typically, when we go out to do any sort of activity or exercise, we will take one or two kids with us at a time and then leave half the family at home,” Darien said.

Darien worries that if they didn’t take the stay-home order seriously, they could get into trouble and lose their work visa.

“For the most part, we just stay inside and stay together,” she said.

Their children who are old enough to go to school have been doing school online for weeks now. Just like American families, Eric and Darien are learning to facilitate their children's learning at home. Their children are in the Swiss public school system and all of their work is in German.

“We’ve definitely relied a lot on Google Translate and calling the teachers and calling the neighbors and people who speak German fluently,” Darien said.

They live about a 3-4 hour drive from the Italy border so their border and schools closed down quickly as the pandemic hit. The Lairds do much of their shopping in Germany and Italy because food is less expensive. They were still planning what to buy for their new baby girl.

“Once that lockdown happened, we realized, ‘Oh, we are not prepared.’ We didn’t even have a baby car seat, we didn’t have all these things that we needed, just basic stuff for a baby arriving,” Darien said.

She said they are getting by with the basics. They now grocery shop at their local store and cannot buy in bulk for their family, which is considered large in Switzerland. Darien did say they haven’t seen the panic buying we’ve seen in the United States because the stores immediately put into place restrictions on how many of each item shoppers could buy.

Baby Girl Laird was due on April 9. Yes, she’s six days overdue at this point. Fortunately for Darien, the hospital is just down the street from her apartment. But delivering this baby will be unlike her first three. Not only is she delivering in Switzerland, but she’s also going to be mostly alone in the hospital. Eric will be able to be with her in the delivery room until the baby arrives. Darien is taking the protective measures in stride.

“It feels comforting, in a sense just because I know that they’re doing everything they can to keep me and this baby protected, but at the same time it feels pretty lonely,” Darien said.

Darien’s family members, who live in Arizona, typically visit during or soon after the birth of a baby. They had plans to visit this one too until they contracted the COVID-19 coronavirus. Darien said her brother, both her parents, the whole family, contracted the virus. They did not have to go to the hospital, though did feel some of the effects. They have recovered at home, but there is no chance for them to come to Switzerland for some time.

“It is kind of funny and ironic just because they were so worried about contracting it in Europe and the reality is, you can just get it anywhere,” Darien said.

Darien said the country’s stay-home order lasts until April 19. The country will reevaluate the conditions as that date comes closer. The schools in the country are year-round, so she said the country is hesitant to put timelines for staying at home too far into the future.

Darien is grateful for the technology they can use to keep in touch with family and friends. They had been using it before the pandemic hit, so their isolation hasn’t been too much of a change.

“It’s interesting that we just are able to still stay so connected at this time period,” she said. “I know everyone feels really isolated but at the same time I feel like maybe we’re more connected than before because of the technology at our hands.”

Darien said the pandemic is helping her family learn new skills, like learning how to help her kids learn online. She also teaches dance lessons online now.

“We’re just figuring out some interesting hidden talents that we never knew we had,” she said.