EDMOND — Take a drive up Durango Way in the Olde Edmond neighborhood and there’s one house you can’t miss. Not for the two-story, red-brick Georgian design with dormers protruding from the gabled roof, nor for the lush landscaping or the basketball hoop in the driveway. What’s sure to draw your eye is a row of Swiss flags bordering the lawn and the 30-foot flagpole flying the white cross on the red field.
But that’s as normal as yards dotted with Old Glory on the Fourth of July; it’s Aug. 1 — Swiss National Day — and this is the home and office of Rico Buchli, honorary consul of Switzerland.
By profession, Buchli is a biochemist and molecular biologist who works as the director of research at Pure Protein in Oklahoma City, a spinoff company from his days as an assistant professor at OU’s Health Sciences Center, which brought him to Oklahoma in 2001.
In 2009, the Swiss government recognized a need for representation in Oklahoma and identified Bulchi as the right candidate; he was engaged in higher education, which gave him the kind of science and research connections the embassy wanted, and he was a Swiss national fluent in English and German.
The consular agency is one of eight in the Oklahoma City metro and one of two in Edmond; two rooms of Buchli’s home are dedicated to the job. Dennis Dunham, whose office is on the UCO campus, serves as South Korea’s honorary consul. France, Germany, Guatemala, Japan, Romania, Spain and Uruguay also have consulate or consulate general offices in the metro; Nicaragua and Norway have representation in Tulsa.
“Having those people here is to serve as a liaison between their governments and the Oklahoma government and can help Oklahoma at several levels,” said Jared Scism, executive director of the Governor’s International Team. “They are especially important for commerce and trade issues and finding ways we can collaborate with those countries.”
Buchli will likely represent Switzerland at the annual Oklahoma Consular Summit this fall, where the state hosts representatives of numerous countries to facilitate international trade relationships.
Scism said that’s an area in which Buchli, head of the Oklahoma Consular Corps, excels.
“He’s very knowledgable in government relations and connecting people from different countries,” Scism said. “He’s very involved in the community. He’s very active and proactive in making Oklahoma a more diverse state in many ways.”
Honorary consuls such as Buchli do not travel on diplomatic passports and most can’t issue visas or passports; the nearest place for those services for Switzerland is the consulate general office in Atlanta, a detail that occasionally comes as a disappointment to those who have sought out Buchli. His job consists mainly of answering questions, giving presentations, and representing Switzerland at local events. A typical week brings two or three inquiries.
“I answer questions,” Buchli said. “Most of them are about traveling to Switzerland, visas, and so forth.”
People ask practical questions about whether a visa is necessary (only if they’re staying longer then three months), how to use the train system in Switzerland, or how to get a fishing permit.
“There are some very unique questions,” Buchli said. “A lot of times I just Google it and translate it for them or refer them to the website so they can do it themselves.”
Oklahoma's cases are pretty typical for an honorary consul, but some are surprised when they come to drop off paperwork and find an Edmond North or Edmond Memorial sign in his yard. Buchli’s daughter, Sheree, now a senior at the University of Kansas, played alto sax in the North band. But the line was redrawn by Edmond Public Schools and her brother, Jamie, a football player, is entering his senior year at Memorial. The rivalry between the two is playful, and Buchli and his wife, Beatrice, are disinclined to take a side.
Buchli’s primary job is to showcase Switzerland. Secondly, he’s there to assist the 200 Swiss citizens living in Oklahoma and often interacts with the 6,000 or so Oklahomans of Swiss heritage. He organizes official visits, frequently working with Oklahoma’s secretary of state and other cabinet members.
“I was very surprised how open everyone is and how willing to help resolve issues,” he said.
That’s in keeping with his impressions of the United States in general and Oklahoma in particular. After a brief time at the University of California Davis, Buchli was on his way to his new job with OU. Near Elk City, his car broke down and, nervous about his infant daughter in the vehicle, he approached a farmer working near the road. The farmer just directed him to the unlocked house and told him where to find the phone.
“I never would have expected that,” Buchli said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t get his name. But that was my first introduction to Oklahoma.”
He was born in Chur, a town of 35,000 people in the eastern Swiss alps about 50 miles north of St. Moritz. He misses the mountains, he said, but he loves Oklahoma’s hot summers and warm nights.
“You step out of your house and you know it's going to be nice and warm,” Buchli said. “In the mountains in Switzerland, you step out of your house and it’s cold and rainy.”