Switzerland, well there are some things Americans should know. First, peanut butter and jelly is not a common or even thought of food combination. Second, the parents here don't ask where you are going if you approach the door. ( Explanation, whenever I say I'm going on a run or something they look at me like "okay, why are you telling me?".) Third, when you sit down to eat it is really a rule that you don't eat until everyone has food, and then you wait for someone to say it's okay to eat, and they always eat with a knife and a fork and they are very dexterous with them. Fourth, everyone here speaks at least a little English. Fifth, it does get hot here. Sixth, riding a bike uphill is WAYYY harder then it seems. Seventh, people here will help you if you ask, no problem. Eighth, EVERYONE here smokes.. all the time. It is rare to find someone here who doesn't smoke. Ninth, if you see a little kid at the train station or bus stop all alone, it's okay, that's normal. Tenth, get some good sunglasses, because every one wears them here.
I have learned all that in the first two months of my exchange. Another thing I learned, this is for future exchange students, learn some German BEFORE you get here. I dual enrolled in college level classes, which gave me German 1 and 2 during the 12 weeks of summer. I'm not saying you need to do that. But get down some key questions and answers. (1. where do you come from? 2. where do you live in "host country"? 3. how old are you? 4. How long are you staying here? 5. How long have you been here? 6. Do you have siblings? 7. Are you hungry/ thirsty? 8. Where is the train station? 9. Does this train go to "where you need to go"? 10. What's your name? These questions I asked and answered so many times it's not even funny so get them down before you get here.) Most of the students here come with 0 German and struggle for the first half of their exchange, it would be so much better if you could cut that time down because when you can communicate you can make friends, go on trips, and feel confident going places by yourself.
My experience so far:
In two months I have gone to Bern, Basel, Rheinfelden, Adelboden, Luzern, Brunnen, Muttenz, France, and Germany. It has been really cool because I have been able to see so much without going all that far, that's the good thing about Europe. I went to Bern with my Language course to see the bears and government building. It was great because we met up with a bunch of other exchange students and walked around the city. Then a few of us separated and looked at some of the shops. I found a watch that I really want to buy but it was 200Fr. so I have to think about if I want to buy it or not, but I think I will. I went to Basel with my host mom shopping, and saw the Rhein river and the shops and a flea market where people were selling all sorts of fun old things. I live right by Rheinfelden and have been there many times, but the best time was when I went swimming with my host dad and brother with some of the family friends. I jumped off the bridge and then floated downstream. It was really fun. I went to Adelboden to visit their grandmother who was super nice, and to see the mountains. On the drive there I was looking out my window at all the mountains going past and said how beautiful I thought they were. My host sister then said that those weren't mountains, those were hills! To the Swiss everything is a hill but the Alps which qualify as mountains! I went with my counselor to Luzern for the day where I went tubing on the lake and then ate pizza at a restaurant. On the drive there we saw all sorts of cool things, like water wheels, and he told me all about the mountains and the story of William Tell. I had also seen a play about William Tell with my host family. It was cool to see where the events really happened. I went to Brunnen and climbed the Rigi on a Rotary trip with all the west Swiss exchange students. That was really amazing because we got to see the sunrise and the expanse of the lake in Luzern. Muttenz is where my school is, s o I go there every day. I went to France with my host family and their friends who have a house there. We were there for two days and it was super, but too short. We visited an old hospital. And Germany I when to when I did Slow Up. That is a day were a bunch of people ride their bikes on a path. It was also really nice, fun, and amazing! I love this exchange and am so thankful for this opportunity.
December 28, 2012
So now that I have been here for 5 months I have learned a little more about what is different that americans should know. They are all about the HOLIDAYS!
The first holiday was my birthday, that wan't too too bad because I had only been here for 2 months and was still liking switzerland as much as a tourist, (most of the time).
scale of 1-10 homesickness is about a 2.
The second was Halloween. Now the Swiss only started celebrating Halloween officially 10 years ago, so it isn't a big holiday. We had maybe 10 or 15 kids come to our door, all below the age of 10. Some parents don't think it is a valid holiday and don't allow their kids to dress up and go trick or treating. There are minimal decorations and the candy isn't so free flowing. They adults defiantly don't dress up either. Not really home sick for that one either, just sad I didn't get a chance to carve a pumpkin and dress up and go tricker treating.
On the scale it is about a 5 or a 4.
The Third holiday was Thanksgiving. I cried some and went home from school early because I was so homesick. Thanksgiving is a REALLY tough on to get through. My host family was great though. They helped me cook and I had another exchange student from America come over with her host family and she helped cook to and we had a real Thanksgiving. The food was fantastic as it should have been and the atmosphere was achieved. It was great, just before and a little after was when I was homesick. The day before and thanksgiving day was the worst. We celebrated it on Friday so they could get home from work early and help cook. It was a dinner meal but still great.
But on a scale of 1-10 for home sick that was about an 8.5 or 8.
The last holiday was Christmas.
Christmas is celebrated on the 24th of Dec for one. That means you open you presents that night and then you say the next day is christmas, but that just means you go visit family and stuff. Also Christmas doesn't feel like Christmas in the US. There isn't a ton of lights (which by the way cost 50Fr. per string so no WONDER there aren't a lot of them) no child like behavior and jumping around, no real atmosphere of christmas. This is good because it means I wasn't home sick, but bad because it felt like I missed out on christmas. The scale is about a 4 to 6.
My general state of homesickness is about a 3 right now. I feel like I am living here and that is okay but I would much rather be living with MY family here.
There is one other thing that is a gigantic difference from here and in the US. THERE ARE NO CHILDREN!!!
I am being perfectly serious here. Yes there are people who are under the age of 12 but these people are not children, they are mini adults. I have, in my 5 MONTHS here, only heard ONE child scream or fuss. I have baby sat two kids twice. They are 4 and 6, they are so sweet, but they don't act like children as we think of them. They play make pretend and play with blocks and cars and stuff, but there is no yelling of excitement, no cries of sadness, no running in the house, no fighting, very little pouting, and no arguing. It is like some how the swiss have managed to create a way of parenting that takes away kids childhood without their knowing! Or it is genetic, which is also quit possible. I also went to the Gymball, that is like the school prom, but they only have one dance once a year. there was an actual bar, and drinking. (because at this point it is legal) and a dance floor and a sitting area. At the beginning there was hardly anyone dancing, and the type of danc ing was the stand and bounce a little. The DJ was only playing electronic music, nothing that we could really dance to or sing to, which made it kinda lame, and despite the alcohol no one was dancing. It took till 12am for people to get onto the dance floor and start really dancing. Some of them did attempted to grind, unsuccessfully. There was a lot more of guy on guy then I expected, which was interesting. Oh, that makes me think of something else. You know what they say about Europe and there is a lot more nakedness; well they are right. There are adds in the newspaper with bar chested women in slutty out fits. Free porn is everywhere on the internet, (sometimes I am looking at something like a webpage about an art museum I want to go to, and BAM up comes a porn add. I close all of them and don't look at anything, don't worry Rotary and parents). But that is something kids coming to Europe need to know I feel. Also about movies, there are no ratings like P_PG_PG -13_R_NR-17 and so on. There is some type of thing on the box that tell something about what ages are appropriate, but I don't get it. Because of this they don't consider lion king, Narnia and Finding Nemo "Kid movies". My host father was watching lion king just the other day. I mean really watching it, like a sit down movie type of thing. It just ties into what I said before about there being no kids.
March 20, 2013
So, hello again!
I have now been in Switzerland 7 months. In the last 3 months I have been to Fasnacht in Basel, learned how to ski the Alps in a Ski Schule, switched host families, and have FINALLY got to know myself again.
Basel Fasnacht was AMAZINGLY FUN! It started on Monday, February 18th at 4 am, and ended at 4 am on Thursday. I went with my friend from school, on the Morning strike. My host sister took me on Tuesday night, and a friend of the family’s did on Wednesday. During this time Basel was full of confetti, loud marching bands in different colorful costumes, and lots and lots of rotten fruit and trash on the ground. It was super fun and the thing I can best compare it to is a mix between the Macy’s New York Thanksgiving day parade, Halloween, and Gasparilla parade in Tampa. There is lots of great food, and you should defiantly go with Swiss friends, they can show you around and help you experience Fasnacht to the fullest.
The week before, I was with my new host family in Scoul for a week. My host dad had problems with his knee and couldn’t ski and and my host mom didn’t want to leave him all the time alone at home, so they enrolled me in a ski day camp. I was with 8-11 year old children and had a hard time. I missed my first host family, was sleep deprived, learning a new sport, and my confidence was crushed plus I was in a different climate, and having to deal with a foreign language, people, devices, culture, and all the usual strains of being an exchange student
Switching families is hard. My first host family was: experienced, warm, short, welcoming, sweet, not too athletic, musical, and quiet. That was nice, but when I first arrived there I didn’t think so. I missed the chaos of my natural family. But after the first 3 months it had grown on me and I learned to love my host family. They were open minded, creative, welcoming, helpful, and just plain NICE people.
I came from that environment, where I was the tallest, most athletic, and of the same general "meinung", to an environment where I was the shortest, fattest, most radical and youngest person. That flipped my universe upside down and trashed my confidence. My new host family is: efficient, tall, big, SUPER health and fitness oriented, sometimes REALLY loud, other times deathly quiet, perfectionists, and blunt. I didn’t know the rules of this new family or what they thought of me. And I missed my first host family because I missed who I had been with my first host family.
From this experience I advise future exchange students to try and not compare your host families. Take your new host families as who they are and try not to expect what was normal in your first host family. I know you will think to yourself, “well they can’t be all that different; I mean they are both from the same country...” That is what I thought at any rate. Now after 1 month I have gotten used to it, and have learned their rules, unspoken and spoken, and their schedule.
(MORE ADVICE: So I know you will think, “hey I don’t really have to work hard at school because it won’t count anyway, and so I can stay up late and watch movies when I should be getting sleep”. Well you do need sleep. For a long while I was depressed and angry and feeling very alone in the world, then one night I had a REAL nights rest. I’m talking 10 hours, maybe 11. That morning and entire day I felt AWESOME, that is when it hit me that I needed sleep. Also the quicker you figure out that you are here for a FULL year and will get a chance to taste everything, and don’t try and eat everything the first 3 months, the better. Eat a balanced diet and keep reminding yourself that you will get a chance to try everything. That is why exchange students gain weight, myself included. Our excuse is, “oh, I’m on exchange I need to eat as much as I can and try everything because I won’t have a chance to eat it ever again!”. Well after the first 5 months you start to realize you could have waited and didn’t need to try EVERYTHING in the first 3 months. It is the basics that are important to survive this exchange. Get enough sleep, eat right, and try your best. If you do that then you’ll be better than average).
Now the last bit: I finally found myself again. It took me 7 months to do it, but I finally feel “normal” again. I think it has a lot to do with re-establishing good eating habits, getting enough sleep and working out more. A healthy body makes a healthy mind. I know that sounds very “parenty”, but it is very true. I also am painting again, and doing the stuff I would normally be doing if I were really living here with MY family and not on exchange. In short, I finally got out of exchange mode and back into normal life mode. Now my life here seems normal. It makes me kinda worried about going back and having to deal with changes back home again. For the time being though, I am happy that I feel normal again. Exchange mode is fun when you are with other exchange students and having a good time and all but when you are feeling homesick, or struggling with weight gain, or making friends, or having family problems, it is better to be in normal mode to deal with those things. I have found my balance.
June 19, 2013
My exchange will be over in two weeks.
It is a weird feeling. I know I am going home, but now the word ‘home’ doesn’t describe what I am going back to. During this year I have accomplished what I set out to accomplish at the beginning. What I didn’t realize is how much accomplishing these things would change me.
One of the most important things that I have gained from this exchange is a global perspective. I've learned to see the world, not just as an American, but as a human being.
Analogy: You are looking at some object, say a pencil. But you only see it from one stand point, lets say you see it looking straight down so that all you really see is a circle with a dot in the middle.
Now other people are standing around this pencil and you can ask them what they see, but you can’t see it yourself, and so all you have to go on is what they tell you, and your own imagination.
Exchange allows you to switch positions with one of these people and see the pencil from a new stand point/perspective. Say now you get to see it at a right angle from where you were. Now you see the pencil as a long rectangle with a point at the end.
WELL! Now you realize what you were seeing before, AND you understand what the other person was talking about, AND you see the pencil as a 3D object instead of 2D.
The world is the pencil, and each person is a different culture. The world is made up of these different cultures, ONE WHOLE, not different entities. Going on exchange shows you that your perspective/culture, is just one view of the world. The circle with the dot is not a different thing than the long rectangle with a point on one end, it is simply a different view of the same thing.
I also wanted to see who I was without my family. Because I was homeschooled my whole life, my family was a very large part of who I was. It was important for me to understand myself as a separate person from my family. To see who I was without their influence, or judgments or rules.
I learned that I was not as good, or honest, or as hard working a person as I was with my family. I learned how much I needed my family. Being on exchange gave me the chance to work on myself, for myself, as myself, without the influence of who I had been before. I learned more about what type of person I wanted to be, and I learned more about how far away I was from that goal.
I am happy to say that I have made some progress during this year, and that I am happy I had the opportunity to become an independent person. I still feel like a part of my family, but now I understand that we are all individuals that make up one family. (The opposite from the world. We are not all one pencil, we are all different colors in a picture. Capable of painting a beautiful picture by ourselves, but making a more colorful one together).
My final goal for this year was to become bilingual. I have my test tomorrow for the certificate, but that is just proof for the colleges and jobs. I know I am bilingual, and I am thrilled to have been able to accomplish that goal. It is very interesting learning another language, because you also learn HOW people say things, and that is a part of the culture and perspective as well. In German for example, they don’t have as many words as we do in English, instead they just have a LOT more conjunctions, prefixes and suffixes.
Take jealousy for example. First you have the word obsession, or addiction. ‘süchtig’ Then you have the prefix ‘ein’ that means one, or a. Then you have ‘für’ that means for. Jealousy in german is ‘eifersüchtig’. So you are literally saying, ‘one for addiction’, which means ‘something worth obsession’, or ‘a feeling that comes from the obsession or addiction to something’. Comparing that with the english word jealousy which means, ‘to want something that someone or something has’. It is amazing. I love language because you can learn so much about how a people/perspective/culture understands/knows/perceives the world around them.
So after accomplishing my three top goals for the year, and living through the ups and downs of exchange I have become a different person, with a different understanding of the world around me, and people ask “Are you excited to be going home?”
I answer "Yes and no, Yes to see my family again, no to leave your beautiful country."
I don't explain that I am not going "home", that Florida is no longer my home. I don’t feel like I am just an American, I also don’t feel like I am Swiss. But I am home. I will always be at home, because now my home isn’t a country, a culture, or a building. My home is the self that I have built. A self that can adapt to new climates, cultures, learn new languages, and can exist independently of familiarity and family. I am deeply grateful to my families, and Rotary, for giving me this opportunity.