BENGALURU :One of Sebastien Hug’s earliest memories of Bengaluru is about being overwhelmed by the city’s traffic that he encountered on the way from the airport to his hotel. Now, two years later, you can say namma ooru has grown on the Swiss Consul General, who says Bengaluru reminds him of Boston, thanks to its “entrepreneurial young people and dynamic vibe.” Hug, who was born and brought up in Fribourg, adds, “Now, when I go back to Switzerland, I sometimes find it too quiet there.”
He calls his foray into diplomacy an “unconventional entry,” adding with a laugh, “You could say it was love.” The journey began when he was studying history and political economics, and moved to Paris for an exchange year. “I met my then-girlfriend, now-wife, Sulini, there. And when she moved to Canada, I did too,” he says. Hug then applied for an internship at the Swiss embassy, where he spent five years working with the ambassador on a range of issues, from human rights to Olympics.
“Eventually, I got involved with topics like research and innovation, and moved to Boston to be a part of Swissnex,” recalls Hug, who is also the CEO of Swissnex India, explaining that the consulate is a special one, which focuses on science, innovation and technology. The Swissnex network is located in Boston, San Francisco, Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro and Bengaluru, which is what eventually brought him to India.
“The network is set up in the innovation hubs of different countries,” explains Hug, who now lives here with his wife and two daughters, Aisha and Zoë. Making the switch from Bern (Hug’s previous stint) to Bengaluru was, however, not easy. “We miss being able to step out into nature. In Bern, we used bicycles or walked everywhere. Here we have two cars,” he says.
Finding a new rhythm took six months but the family eventually did, with spaces like MTR, Coconut Grove, Bhimas, Cubbon Park and Sankey Tank finding a soft spot in their heart. “The other day, someone told me something that describes Bengaluru well: It’s like India for beginners. Metropolitan and yet Indian enough,” he smiles. “I know words like bhaiyya and didi, thanks to my younger daughter. Aisha goes to an international school and carries an American accent. Zoë, on the other hand, goes to a local daycare and has an Indian accent,” he adds.
Now halfway through his 4-year stint, he says one of the aims of the consulate here is to change the perception of Switzerland as being just a country for chocolate and cheese, since it can also be a suitable partner for science and innovation. Efforts are on to drive similar messages back home as well. “We’d like the people in Switzerland to know that India is more than yoga or the pollution in Delhi. Bengaluru is contributing to the technology scene. So there are many opportunities for the two countries to engage in,” he says.
Growing tourists to Switzerland
Think Switzerland, think Bollywood. For many Indians, their first (virtual) visit to the Alpine country was through Yash Chopra and Raj Kapoor’s films. While Hug does not watch too many Bollywood films, he doesn’t deny the impact the film industry has had on the country’s tourism. He reveals that Switzerland offers exclusive tours to the spots where these films were shot, and even has a lake named after Chopra. “In the 2000s, we had about 1,50,000 Indian tourists. By 2018, the number grew to 8,00,000,” says Hug. And with actor Ranveer Singh’s appointment as the Indian ambassador for Switzerland tourism, these numbers may only grow more.