100 Days

This post is part of an archived series of blogs called The LeVine Line, written by former Ambassador Suzan G. LeVine during her time at U.S. Embassy Bern.

10 September 2014

I arrived in Switzerland 100 days ago.  Listening.  Learning.  Absorbing.  I came in with abundant knowledge gained from briefings, I had traveled to Switzerland twice before, and I had read everything under the sun to prepare.

But there’s nothing like being on the ground – meeting the people, visiting the popular places as well as the not so popular places.  There’s nothing like walking miles around different towns with people who show you the tiny little out of the way wacky place where no one but locals go.  Or driving under lakes to see hydro-electric power facilities that basically treat lakes like batteries – energy storage systems that truly bring to life my 9th grade science classes about potential vs. kinetic energy.

In my first month report – I wrote about the different activities I had already done, the extraordinary team we have at Embassy Bern, and the relationship we have with both the Swiss and the Liechtensteiners.  The subsequent 2 months since then have simply deepened my feelings about the observations I shared in that post.  Since then, I’ve continued to share out the activities I’ve done, ideas I’ve had, and people I’ve been honored to meet on the various websites/social media sites I and the embassy are using (so I’m not going to list those out here.)  Instead – here are those links:

Additionally, I’ll share with you some of the fun numbers of this past 100 days as well as some of the top questions I’ve gotten over that time.

Fun metrics:

  • Travel days outside of Bern: 44 – so that I could meet with people from all different walks of life all across the country.
  • Cantons visited (Not that I’m counting): 13 (out of 26) – plus Liechtenstein
  • Cups of coffee consumed: lots (but all decaf)
  • Rivers in which I swam: 1 (we all need areas for improvement – and this is definitely one of those areas for me)
  • Nerds hosted: around 45

Top questions:

  • What has surprised me?  Well – contrary to what is written in many books – I have found the people to be open and engaging right from the beginning.  People have been very willing to share with me their thoughts, concerns, opportunities, and stories.
  • How have I found Switzerland? With a map and an airplane.  Okay – seriously – I have found Switzerland – or the Swiss – to be encouraging.  Meaning – I have found them deeply wanting to move the relationship between our countries forward.   I have also found them to be incredibly insightful and deep.  It is a country in which people generally read the full article instead of just skimming the summary.
  • What are your priorities?  We’ve been doing a bunch of team planning and have further honed the priorities I enumerated at the outset of my time here.  Specifically – we want to increase shared prosperity between our countries; increase our collaboration around security and development; and increase awareness and appreciation of our shared values.  At our very foundation we also are focused on providing an exemplary consular experience and keeping US Citizens safe.
  • What is your biggest challenge?  Prioritizing.  I believe that organizations run best when they don’t have the resources to do absolutely everything they want to do because it forces them to prioritize and to really think about what they want to achieve. What’s the lifeboat drill on all that which is on your plate?  It’s easy to have tactics in search of a strategy, but it’s much harder to identify and stay true to your vision/mission/goals/strategies.

Fundamentally – it has been an extraordinary first 100 days.  As I look out at the next few years here, I am inspired, humbled, and profoundly energized by the opportunity to work with the incredible team at Embassy Bern to collaborate with the Swiss and Liechtenstein people, businesses, and government to help make the world a better place.  It’s a tall order, but, together, we’ll be able to move the dial – even just a little bit.