Wow I cant believe the time has finally come to write a journal! I remember at the interviews when Mr. Jody asked me how often I will be writing! I have officially been in Switzerland for five days and I have had such a wave of emotions. I never thought it was possible to feel so many different emotions at once! Leaving my parents and friends at the airport was the hardest thing I think I’ve had to do so far. Just walking away and going on the plane was sooo hard! Even though I know everything will still be there when I come home, it doesn’t change the way I feel. I felt excited once I met the other exchange students in Washington DC. But after a long plane ride over I felt more and more nervous! I was excited but didn’t know what to expect! At this point its Saturday morning and I haven’t slept for almost 24 hours! so I was feeling very unstable. I was greeted at the airport by most of my new family members and was happy to finally meet everyone in person!
My counselor took me to her house to stay with her until Monday evening, when she would then drive me to my first host families house, Iten. On the drive over I didn’t feel tired I was happy to see everything. The farm land, the different cars, the cows, and the mountains. It almost felt like a dream. After trying to imagine how that drive home would feel like at that moment it just felt normal. But once I got some rest I started to feel sad. Everyone was so nice to me and tried to make me feel comfortable, but it was hard to adjust. I knew I would feel homesick and miss my parents, but the way I felt at that moment was something you really can not prepare for. I missed my parents sooo much it hurt! I would give anything to hug my parents one more time. But what I also missed and wished I felt was that comfort. The comfort of your room and just feeling relaxed. At night or when your not busy little things like that just pass your mind and makes you miss home even more, but you just cant think about it. The more you do the sadder you get. So honestly this is how I felt the first few days here on exchange and after talking to my friends I felt better. But I think you can always have a little homesickness in your heart through out the year, not as harsh like this, but you cant just make it go away. I know I am gradually getting better and it will get better so I just need to take it one day at a time and make the most of it!
After arriving to my first host family with my new host mom Ulli, host dad Walter , host sister Irina (leaving to Ecuador on exchange in less than two weeks!) , and host brother Florian I feel better. I have become really close with Irina and we went to see our school yesterday and go shopping for her shoes in Zurich. We spent most of our day looking for her shoes which she finally got! Staying busy has helped me out a lot and joking around with her has made me laugh and feel sooo much better. I’m going to miss her when she leaves! But I promise I will write more about how everything is going! I have language camp next week and then school probably not for another 8-10 weeks because of holiday. Thank you so much Mrs. Paula for giving me advise and Rotary for preparing me for what’s to come ! I have much to look forward to!!
I remember before I left I thought I would have written a million journals by now.. but to be honest you get so busy, and after time goes by you have so much to say you cant type it all!
So here it goes, my story after just 2 months in Switzerland! My last letter was truthful and so will this one. I can honestly say now that I love it here. I will pick up where I left off, I went to my language course near Zurich for four weeks everyday during the week. And I can never fully describe how it is when you meet other exchange students and you have that instant bond with them. We are all like one big family! And I love them all soo much! When I came here I didn’t know any German, and the language course helped with basics, but it wasn’t enough, so I am interested in taking another one. I need all the help I can get! I can understand things now, which makes me feel much better! I have had so much fun traveling with exchange students and just having friends again, because you do have those socially awkward moments haha.
But after the language course I had school for one week. I was just introduced to the classes and people, so I cant say much about it. Except that people were very helpful with explaining things and showing me around. After that week we had a social/work week where everyone in my class went to Tessie (Italian part of Switzerland) and we helped “clean the forest”. I am not really a nature person, so I didn’t like the bugs. But it was good to get to know the kids in my class better and just goof around.
I start school again Monday October 18th. We had three weeks of vacation, which was great! I traveled to the capital and other day trips with people. All the RYE exchange students here get a card called the GA which allows you to use all public transportation for free. I don’t know what I would do without it! Having this allows all of us to travel see everything!
What I am so happy to have is a great connection with my host family, I couldn’t have imagined it better. Before I came I didn’t know what to expect of the family and how it would feel, and it feels so normal for me now. I like them so much and they have been such a key part of my experience already. I remember rotary saying your host parents will be interested in what you think and talk to you about anything like politics and just see your way of thinking. And I was nervous because I don’t know as much as I guess I would like to so I was curious to see how those conversations would go. Because I didn’t want them to think I was stupid or something hah..yes I do over think things like this. The night before you leave your country for a year you think about stupid stuff like this haha. But anyways I went out to dinner with my host dad and we had those conversations and I didn’t even realize it was happening! It was interesting to see what he thought because we would think the same way about things and sometimes we would see it differently, but acknowledge the other persons point of view. And when he said he liked the way I saw things, it made me so happy!
Exchange is an experience you go through where you as an exchange student experience a new way of life, but also the host family benefits from it. If you each are open to new things and points of views then you both benefit entirely. I would like to host when I come back home because I would have my experience and it would be such a great chance to see another culture and way of life once again. My mom would joke around and say is there a program like this for adults?…yes mother there is...hosting!
People here ask me why did I chose Switzerland? Why German here when everyone speaks Swiss German? Why leave your friends and family for a year? What are the major differences between the US and here? Do you live in Miami and eat McDonalds everyday? I like to get questions because it makes me think too because wouldn’t think twice about my normal life back home and here even if it’s a stupid question its still very interesting for me.
One thing I’m happy for is when I can change the stereo types, the “way of life” that America has received isn’t completely true haha. But when I can inform people about things they didn’t know before makes me happy, because at some points you think your culture isn’t as special because most people have learned about it. But I have to realize that there are still cools things I can share! Because I love my home and I want people to see the good and bad and then make their judgment. You do get people who have a bad impression of the US, and that’s okay, but when the reasons aren’t entirely correct then I find myself having to prove myself more to them. Some people expect something which I’m not, and its hard to explain because its not always like that obviously. But whenever it does happen its nice to know that they are open to hear what I have to say. This happens everywhere but its difficult because I have never had to do it before, stick up for the type of person I am and where I come from. So it was different but also interesting for me to see how we portray ourselves and to be able to look at the US from another point of view. Which is what I wanted, I wanted to experience a difference and be able to take it with me wherever I go. What I think is best is what I can experience here that is different to things back home. And wouldn’t have the chance to see if I would have stayed in Florida.
There is so much to tell and I wish I could write it all but I cant. I honestly think that if exchange is something people even considered well then they should further look into it, because it truly is something special. I can see the good and the bad and there is more good for me so far ! Around this time last year I was thinking about what I wanted to do and filling out the forms and just being ...well really confused. My dad just recently went to a Rotary presentation (the one I went to last year) just for informing kids who were interested. And my best friend back home went because she’s interested in exchange. My dad asked me to write a brief thing for him to say from my experience so far. And I didn’t realize until the end of the email that I wrote an entire page. Its crazy to think that my experience is being shared already to kids who were just like me last year! And all I want to do is share! Because it’s something you will have for the rest of your life and you gain so much.
People said you will come back as a different person, and I don’t see it like that. You will always be you, I will always be the Shannon Rogers people knew before. That basic foundation you have as a person cant be changed into something else. But I have added to that foundation. Those gaps I lacked like self confidence, independence, and maturity have been filled little by little. And now I can feel I have changed, but only changed for the better because I soak up everything from living here and I grow from it. I like what I feel and how I have grown in such a short amount of time. I know I am forgetting things I wanted to say but there’s so much going through my brain right now and I cant share it all. So what I really want to say is that last year when I was confused with deciding and what to do it helped me to read the journals.
So if anyone just wants to ask a stupid question ( I had many last year and still do hehe) or just talk and doesn’t have anyone to ask or something then just ask me! I am happy to help :D that’s what I wanted last year. And it helped me! So I will write again soon! Thanks to all my friends and family who have been there to talk to me throughout everything, it really means a lot.
As of February 7th I have been in Switzerland for 6 months!! :D The experience I have gone through already has been so many things, exciting, scary, nerve-racking, remarkable, original, and well…the life of an exchange student! I am at the half way point and still can’t believe it. I have only half a year left but what’s more bizarre is that I have actually been on my exchange for half a year already. Time seems to zoom by and sometimes it feels like time just… stops. During exchange you learn a lot about yourself (I know I have). Again I want to say that I can really only speak on behalf of my exchange here. Even though exchange students are linked with a special bond you can’t really explain, everyone’s exchange is different and unique. And after leaving everything I knew to go live in a different country and with everything new and different it somehow changed me along the way. One of the most frustrating things for me so far has been the language. Before coming I knew I should learn German to help get the learning process going, but honestly the best learning process is actually being around people who speak the language you are trying to learn. In the beginning it’s so helpful to just begin hearing the language even though you don’t understand a word. Eventually you find yourself understanding a few words then a few sentences then small simple conversations. But everyone’s pace is different, and the country and people you are around make a huge difference. I came into this thinking if I dedicate myself I will be able to speak German in 4 to 5 months like rotary had told me. But I found that the worst thing I can do to myself is to try and put a time limit on learning a language or comparing myself to the other kids on exchange. Here in Switzerland in the German part they speak Swiss German. I knew that before coming but I read about it being a dialect and that in school they speak German and write in German. But for me it’s my biggest impediment. To me Swiss German isn’t a dialect (technically it is) for me it’s like another language but with no rules no grammar no correct spelling (write it how it sounds). Yes some words are similar to German but when people speak it’s all jammed together that I can’t fully understand what exactly is being said. In the beginning I didn’t know any German so when people spoke Swiss German around me I understood why they wouldn’t switch to German. I completely understand that German is not their first language but I realized I’m going to need more time to learn.
Exchange really isn’t for everyone and I did have my doubts if I was going to be able to handle the obstacles that do come your way. You just have to come to the realization that this is your life in a completely new world and you just need to make the most of it, even on those harder days. So when I saw other kids on exchange understanding their host languages faster than me and able to speak the language sooner than me I got worried that I will never be able to learn German as well as I had hoped I would. But my exchange is different from theirs and I’m in a different country so I need to do what’s best for me and not compare myself to the others. I am happy with my improvements and that’s all that matters to me. I didn’t come here to only learn a language, I saw learning German as a benefit of exchange. I wanted to experience variety and culture and something different from my everyday life back in Florida. I wanted the life I have now, Swiss friends, Swiss food, Swiss culture, and Swiss families. So now even with people speaking Swiss German I somehow was able to learn German and understand some Swiss German along the way. I went to a language course in August and I am in another language course now which I think will help me. In school the teachers speak German and I’m able to understand more and more with time and with my second host family and friends at school I speak German with them (still hard to believe I’m able to say that now)! Now with being able to understand German (not all of it of course) I expected there to be less Swiss German with kids at school or in class or simply when we’re hanging out. But if I don’t keep reminding people that I don’t understand they switch to Swiss German automatically still. And I absolutely understand why they do that, it’s their first language. And even though they can speak German it’s just not normal for them to speak to their friends in German. It’s hard for me to come up with an example to explain how it is with the language but the only thing I can think of is if an exchange student came to your area and was trying to learn English but with a British accent. We know what that accent sounds like and we can imitate it (some better than others haha) but it’s just weird because we don’t speak to our moms and dads with a British accent. But in my case the British English and the American English sound like different languages. So the learning process for me is slightly different but not impossible (surprisingly) haha.
Someone asked me why didn’t I go to another country where it would have been easier to learn the language like my second choice to go to Argentina (my mom speaks to me in Spanish so it would have been easier to learn Spanish) and if I regret coming to Switzerland. If I had the chance to go back in time and change anything that I have done I would definitely make the same decisions all over again. I don’t want anything else then what I have established here. I do not regret anything...I can honestly say I love MY life HERE. I have a life waiting for me back home in sunny Florida and I have an irreplaceable life here in Switzerland that I myself have called my home for the past 6 months. I love my host families, friends, culture I was able to experience, and the exchange students I’ve met. I have two lives now and it’s completely amazing! It’s really up to you and what you make of your exchange. I hope the new outbounds can read our journals and prepare themselves for what’s to come. I can tell you now that it’s not easy but it’s not impossible and it’s entirely up to you to make the most of every little thing that comes your way. I write these journals for other exchange students and future exchangers. I know I haven’t written in a while but it seems around the holidays time just sped up for me. I’m still in utter surprise of how well my exchange has gone so far and how quick it can really go by when you’re not paying attention. So to you new outbounds you’ll soon be in a similar place to where I am right now and be able to go through your own special RYE adventure.
So onto my new holiday experiences! Ill begin with my sixteenth birthday!!:)) It was the best birthday I have ever had…I am being completely serious! It was a surprise party thrown by my exchange student friends in Zurich, and I couldn’t have wished for anything better. I haven’t seen all of them since the language camp and some trips here and there so it was extra special to see them all again! The exchange students here are one big family so it meant a lot to me that they threw the party…I was truly shocked! My Sweet Sixteen in Switzerland was truly amazing! And then in the end of November rotary set up a weekend trip to see the Matterhorn. It was sooo much fun...BUT... extremely cold!! We took these never ending steps to the top to see it but it was incredibly foggy, snowy and blizardy! So we couldn’t see anything but fog and our freezing comrades! So once we came down to eat we can see it outside with all the snow. And then in early December I switched my host families and that was especially hard. I got a long really well in my first family so it was hard leaving. But I was looking forward to something new and different. Your back to that feeling you had in the beginning with another new surrounding and new people to wake up to every morning. But after almost 3 months of living here with my new family I couldn’t be any happier! In the beginning of December I went to the One Republic Concert in Bern with exchange student. That was so cool, we were in the front row!
Over the Christmas holidays I went skiing with my host family! Let me tell ya it aint easy! I’m not used to walking in ski shoes, or on little hilly mountains… let alone THE ALPS, skiing, and snow! It was all really new to me but it was great! Being able to have the opportunity to go skiing in the Alps in SWITZERLAND for 2 weeks was unbelievable and learning how to ski was scary but so much fun! The mountains and all the big fat piles of snow everywhere were truly remarkable. Here Christmas was very different for me. Back home I usually force my mom to put the Christmas tree up by Thanksgiving and I only listen to the radio station with all the Christmas music. But this year I didn’t have my Christmas tree up and decorated until Dec 24th. And instead of electric lights we had candles attached on the little tree in the living room. I almost bumped into it once and that gave me a scare alright. Imagine your exchange student lighting your house on fire on Christmas Eve because she crashed into the Christmas tree!! Definitely not the impression I want to leave. So I steered clear of the tree until the candles burned out! We put it up and decorated it before everyone came over for dinner. And then opened presents afterwards and had desert. We had lamb with spicy peppers and rice, it was so yummy. And for desert an orange tiramisu and Guetzli (of course!). Usually I’m in the Christmas spirit all during December, but this year it didn’t really feel like Christmas until a week or so before.
We got out of school right before the holidays too which was another difference. Then on the 25th I went with a friend shopping and walking around the city Aarau (where my school is). And then we had dinner with my host dad’s family because the night before it was with my host mom’s family. They are all really nice and it was fun, I was glad I felt comfortable with them and had a good holiday. Because you do get a bit homesick when you hear the plans back home with your family and knowing you won’t be celebrating with them this year. Here Christmas is celebrated a bit differently too which was really cool because I was expecting it to be celebrated the same, but to my surprise it wasn’t! Here Santa Clause is separated from the “Birth of Christ” on the 25th. So from what I understood is that in the beginning of December they have Santa Clause day and what you can do is hire someone to come to your house dressed as Santa Clause(or a family member well dressed in disguise so the kids don’t notice) and give mandarins and nuts to the little kids. So no big presents or chimney sliding for Santa here! And on the 24th and 25th it’s about family and depending if your religious or not, other things like going to church (my current host family isn’t). They also had a day were in the old part of my town in Lenzburg they set up little stands selling traditional foods, souvenirs, and treats. I didn’t have school this afternoon so I went to check it out and it was so cute! They had food stands, deserts, and little trinkets. Some funny furry hats and stuffed animals, I got a ceramic little angel for my grandmother and a dream catcher. But what I loved most about spending Christmas here in Switzerland was baking Guetzli! Guetzlis are the best cookies in this entire world! I made soooo many! You have jelly in the middle with cookie cutters in interesting shapes and powdered sugar on top! Delicious!
Then right after the holidays I went to my host family’s house in the French part of Switzerland and spent the rest of the holidays there skiing and eating fondue and raclette! I am obsessed with all foods cheese related haha! My host mom taught me how to knit and I began knitting a very colorful scarf. At some points I thought I would never finish because I was so slow and the scarf I was planning on was a little on the long side. But my host mom finished it when we got back! So not only did I learn how to knit over the Christmas breaks but I tried skiing. I freaked out at the steep parts and when I would find myself going down too fast I would be screaming like a baby! Others found it a little funny but it was a lot of work to do the pizza all the time! But it was fun once I got the hang of it. It was actually quite pitiful my skiing thank god there is no video evidence. I would be going down the steep parts slow and careful not to break my pizza/curve stance and go head first skiing down! While other little 5 and 6 year olds where racing down the mountain and zooming right past me! So it’s safe to say that skiing just isn’t really my thing hahah! And they also celebrate three kings like I do back home on January 6th. But here you have a loaf of bread with a king or camel inside and everyone breaks a piece off in hopes of finding the camel. And whoever has the camel is king for the day! I was lucky enough to get the camel and I didn’t have to do the dishes and I could choose dinner!
So then we had about 3 more weeks of school after these holidays and then we had another 2 weeks of vacation! The system here is awesome you have vacation weeks spread out over the year but summer break is only 4 weeks. So the first week of this sports holiday I was sick…not so great, I out drank myself with tea and soup broth! But the next week was great! We went back to Zinal (French Part of Switzerland) and spent the rest of the vacation there. This time I didn’t ski but I started knitting a cardigan which I’m hoping I finish before it starts getting warm! And my host brother has all the James Bond movies so we were determined to finish watching all of them this time around. We started the big marathon over Christmas break. I love how we both share the love for movies. I could seriously watch movies all day long if I could! I think in total there are 23 or 24 James Bond movies…well at least I’m pretty sure something along the lines of that. Either way there is a ton! So that was really fun! Now I’m back in school and counting down until my next break (less than 8 weeks now)! You have to stay positive ;). I wanted to wait to write everything over the holidays and I hope I crammed it all in. These past few months have been everything I truly hoped I would get to experience while on my exchange…diversity, comfort, and a new place to call my own.
The last part of my exchange was one of the best times all year I think. I can’t say that I think like a Swiss person or feel like a Swiss person. But I found my place in the culture and with the people, that it really didn’t matter. I had my best Swiss friends, my exchange friends, and my host families. I made a life for myself there, that when it was time to come home I didn’t know what to feel. Am I happy? Or sad? It’s more like a bitter sweet. What I do know is that leaving Switzerland to come back to my life in Florida was harder than leaving in the first place. When I left I knew for a fact that I will be coming home in a year. But now I have no idea when I will get to see all these amazing people again. I’ve been back for about two weeks and I miss my life there already. I can never sum up my exchange with journals. Or answer those questions that you get when you come home, like…
” How was your trip?” … (Like I just left for two weeks and hit up the touristy places)
“What did you do there for a year?”
… Or my favorite…
“What’s the point of doing an exchange year?...I mean, a year is a looonngg time!”
“Sweden is beautiful isn’t it?!”… ?...
Exchange is something you want, you create, and you live. I’m really sad my year is over. I have already had some culture shocks haha! For example, FOOD! I miss Swiss bread, cheese, Rivella, milk, and yogurt! This American crap doesn’t even compare to it. With time it gets better, like not thinking in German so much, or filtering what I want to say to make sure it makes sense.
I’m happy to say I am a different person after this year. That’s kind of what makes it so hard for me being back. But it’s all worth it, the emotions, the energy, and those things you end up sacrificing in the end so you can have the best year you can. I thought being home and having things go back to the way they were was one of the most important parts in the end. To make sure nothing changes. But actually, it’s my biggest problem. I feel so different and coming back almost feels like my life in Switzerland was just a dream. And that feeling of accomplishment almost is not there anymore.
I thought I took those foot steps forward and being here again feels like I just took twice as many steps back. This feeling will go away…I hope. I got to see so many amazing places.
Pretty much all of Switzerland thanks to the GA. And when my dad came to visit in April and we went to Italy for two weeks. It was so different from Switzerland. The trains would come 40 minutes late and actually wait on the plat form for 10 minutes before taking off. And in Switzerland if a train is (God forbid) 10 minutes late… all hell breaks loose. And the cleanliness, the people, the food, and just the atmosphere were different in Italy. All in all I loved it! I’m really sad this part of my life is coming to a close. I guess it just gives me the opportunity for the next thing to come along. My dad keeps telling me that if coming home was difficult, it just shows how successful your year in Switzerland really was. I couldn’t have asked for a more rewarding year. Thank you so much Rotary!