From Switzerland to Toronto; "I Just Loved the City"

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From Switzerland to Toronto; “I Just Loved the City”

After a crisis in life, a new beginning.

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Sabine Buhlmann. Photo by Stephen Thomas

I was a high school teacher in Zurich. I taught French and German and history. And I loved it. But there was always a voice in the back of my mind saying, “Sabine! You should teach them how to be happy.” Because nobody teaches you that in school—how to live a good life, a happy life. Don’t teach them French!

I was 30 when I took six months off teaching and got an around-the-world ticket and came here, to Canada. I went to a whale research camp on the St. Lawrence. Just helping, researching whales. Then I wanted to see the Gaspésie—the very east point of Quebec. There was a lighthouse at the ocean, and there was a Swiss couple there. They said, “We live in Toronto, why don’t you visit us?” So I did. I was only going to stay four days at their place. But then I spent three or four months. I just loved the city. I thought, “I wanna live here.”

So I went back to Switzerland and applied for immigration.

But I didn’t do it right away. In fact, it took me eight years, because I had a really good job. I was teaching at an amazing school—the dream school. Great parents, nice kids, an amazing team. I thought, “I don’t wanna go to Canada. It’s too scary! I feel so safe.” But then after a couple of years, I was sitting in my classroom, and I had a beautiful view of Lake Zurich, with the mountains in the background, and I thought, ‘This is all so perfect. But something is missing. I have to try it out—I have to move.” So I asked for one year off from teaching to try it out.

When I arrived, I lived with my friends from the lighthouse. That was 2010. In the summer. It was that first year that I decided to start working as a life coach. Because I thought, “I am a life coach. I can do it.”

It was always a dream of mine, to teach meditation and to be a life coach. I did some training already in Zurich. In my late 20s, a long relationship ended, and I was in crisis. When you’re really down, you think “Why am I here? What is all that? What does all that mean?” Nobody could give me answers. I always felt drawn to self-help books and meditation, but it was considered hippie, and I thought, “Oh my God, now I’m doing that weirdo thing.” I hid all my spiritual books so none of my friends could see! But there was always something in me that said, “Search for that.” I call it your “inner GPS.” It knows where to go, but we were never taught to listen to it. So it was initiated through a crisis; that’s when I really started listening.

And now I do that. I live my dream—teaching mindfulness and coaching people.


Immigrants of Toronto is a weekly feature celebrating Toronto’s diversity as a vibrant city of immigrants, refugees, and newcomers, as told to Stephen Thomas.

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