Expat Stories: Meet Swapnoleena Sen

expat stories

About Swapnoleena


Originally from a culturally flourishing, beautiful town (Santiniketan) in eastern India, Swapnoleena lived in different places before calling Switzerland home last year. She is one of those people who is always on her toes and exploring new things.

I believe in constant evolution and realizing true happiness through manifesting our full potential.

Tell us a little about your job

My formal background is in the bio-pharmaceutical domain. Still, the world of visual art engrosses me the most, especially photography.  I never had the opportunity to go to an art school and take up photography specialization. But reading about many great self-taught photographers from around the world gave me the inspiration to cultivate this passion and hone the required skills.

Initially, it had been a passion, but the more I started sharing, the more friends and families wanted me to do it for them.

It took me some time to acquire the confidence to offer my skills as service and gradually start freelancing in Basel and Zurich area.

While the diversity of people and the unique story hidden in each face intrigues; I feel privileged to have stayed in three different continents with extremely varied landscapes and cultures.

Now I do natural light portraits (creative personal portrait, professional headshots, family photo), nature, and art photography (as wall décor prints). I also love to add some creative write-ups or a few poetry lines to some photos to make a unique atmosphere around them and make them more special for clients.

Tell us your story

I had a very modest childhood in a small town in India and grew up always hearing about boundaries; between science and creativity, eastern and western ideologies, and so on, but fortunately, I never believed in them! On the other hand, my schooling at Santiniketan, where the noble laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore had envisioned and established a unique learning ecosystem within nature, exposed me to art and culture in general and ingrained the awareness, respect, and love for creativity.

Despite facing many challenges, I always strived to be independent. I found the courage to chase my dreams, explore more about myself and the world around me. Over the last few years, I moved between different cities in India and later to New Zealand and now in Switzerland to grow as a scientific professional (cancer biology to data analysis and modeling) along with freelance photography.

Contrary to having an outwardly successful career, I used to feel suffocated in the laboratory environment and found solace in creating memories and art through photographs. Apart from mastering creative talent, setting up a photography business requires patience, time, and technical and marketing skills. I am trying my best to imbibe them. Switzerland being an expensive country with complicated cantonal rules and language barriers poses tough challenges for ex-pats. On the other hand, the high standard of living coupled with good value for service or products here, the culture of mutual respect, and fair trade in the society acts as an incentive and pushes one to surmount those hurdles.

A typical day in her life

Last year, I took a difficult decision to quit my earlier jobs and go to university again to make a career transition. So, my day starts with going to work for my master thesis project. I try to schedule photo sessions in the evening (before the lovely sunset light is gone) or at the weekend. I also try to attend social and networking events whenever possible and dedicate some time to learn and improve relevant skills. It’s really a juggle between two parallel careers and different worlds. Interestingly, I get to meet passionate people with amazing ideas in both. Besides, I am a practitioner of a life-changing philosophy called Nichiren Buddhism that revolves around creating world peace, bringing the best of yourself, and supporting others. Thus, I do spend some time every day working on my internal evolution and extend supports to others around me through this practice. And, lastly, the world never ceases to amaze me, be that street-side flowers or the city at different times of the day, so I keep taking photos on the way whenever something catches my eye!

For women entrepreneurs/content creators, what specific advice would you have? 

Since I am still on the path to establishing a photography business, I can share some of the struggles that ex-pat woman business owners might face. One thing is to consider is the language barrier, unless you are comfortable with speaking German (for my area), some networking or clientele restriction is unavoidable. Another important issue worth mentioning is the inherent “imposter syndrome”(feeling of I am not good enough) in many ex-pat women, which is reflected as comparing with others, subtle racial prejudices,  giving up even before giving one’s best try, undervaluing product/services and so on.

However,  as the saying goes, when there is a will, there is a way! And the clearer you are about your potential and limitations, the clearer the path to your destination gets.

You can also follow Swapnoleena’s photography on Instagram and on Pictomyths By Swapnoleena

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