Being a foreigner in Switzerland has made me paranoid: Exhibit A

September 14th, 2011

The Small Boy came home from school yesterday with a letter requesting parental permission for him to be part of a study on motivation and motivational problems faced by primary school students. If we allowed the Small Boy to participate, he would be asked some questions in October and the same set of questions in the spring. They gave a few examples of the type of questions that might be asked (“How do you think the following sentence applies to yourself: Compared to other students my age, I am good at homework” for example), and they seemed harmless enough.

However. Parents who agreed to let their children participate in the study were asked to fill out a survey – well, I was asked to fill out the survey, as the letter requested that the caregiver who spends the most time with the child complete the survey – and I wasn’t so comfortable with the questions being asked. There were questions about how I discipline Small Boy (the person filling out the questionnaire was directed to give answers that applied only to the child who brought the survey home), whether I know his friends, if I praise him when he does something well, if he stays out later than he’s allowed, if he goes off without me knowing where or with whom, if I play with him regularly, ask about his day at school, and so on. I wasn’t thrilled with a lot of the questions, but I might have gone ahead and done it if they hadn’t also asked for the following: what language is spoken in the home, how long I have lived in Switzerland, the nationality on my passport, and how long the child in question has lived in Switzerland. And so help me, the first thought that popped into my head was how somebody was going to use this survey to complain about how foreigners parent their children and no way was I filling that thing out.

I hate thinking thoughts like that. I hate that I wondered if every kid in the Small Boy’s class got that survey, or just the ones with foreign roots (oh, I plan on bringing it up in casual conversation with a full on Swiss mom when I get the chance). I hate that as a former social scientist myself, I still doubt the motivations behind this survey. I hate that I often wonder if my children are being judged because of me.

Am I the only one, fellow expats, or do you have moments like this too?

4 Responses to “Being a foreigner in Switzerland has made me paranoid: Exhibit A”

  1. wordgeyser on September 14, 2011 7:14 pm

    I’m with you. It’s not paranoia or hysteria but a healthy response based on past experiences! I’d be interested to know how your conversation with the Swiss mom goes . .

  2. Claudia on September 16, 2011 8:42 am

    Good lord, how invasive! To what end will they use such information (your passport number?!!)?
    I’ve not heard of anything like that, but we’re still in preschool. I don’t think that would fly here (Denmark).

    Interested to hear what Swiss mom says. Can you ask those who are conducting the study what bearing that info has on their data? There are so many ways to interpret those things. It seems if they want to know if you, for example, praise your child, then they need to observe you and child in real world situations.

  3. Jennifer on September 16, 2011 10:18 am

    @ wordgeyser – of course, now that Small Boy is walking home from school I don’t chat with the parents much – no convo yet but there is a thing next week I can talk to some parents at

    @ Claudia – no passport number, just nationality, which is invasive enough. Oh, and they asked for family income levels, which I understand is pretty standard in social science surveys but makes me uncomfortable nonetheless. It’s interesting being on the other side of a survey (I used to be in political science) and understanding now the gut reactions why people don’t want to participate in studies.

  4. Elizabeth on September 23, 2011 1:48 pm

    yeah, that would make me squirm a bit too.

    I think expats or no, our kids are always being judged because of us, and us because of them. It’s hard to escape but no less uncomfortable for all that.

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