How do I explain the best two and a half months of my life in one journal entry? It almost seems impossible to me that it has really been two and half amazing months in Switzerland. It feels like it was just yesterday when I arrived in the airport to meet the family that I would be living with until December.
When I said goodbye to my family in Jacksonville I didn’t feel as sad as I had expected. I knew I was about to begin an adventure unlike any other. However, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t nervous. The flight was long and really tiring. But I was really lucky to have Matt from Connecticut to fly with me. When we got off the plane we were both beyond freaking out. I was so nervous to meet my host family and see my new country for the first time. When I walked out into the main part of the airport I was feeling so overwhelmed. I was trying to push my 3 suitcases on a cart that was taller than me; therefore it was really hard to see anything. I couldn’t really hear anything either because everyone was shouting. My head was spinning and I felt like I was in a movie or something, then all the sudden I heard someone call my name and I saw my host parents for the first time. They were holding a sign that said my name and they looked really friendly. When I walked over to them they each gave me 3 kisses on the cheek. In Switzerland the kisses are really confusing. Close friends give one kiss on the cheek, family gives three, and then other people sometime one, two, or three. Therefore in the beginning I always found myself dreading the hellos and goodbyes because I was always unsure of how many for each person. But after a couple months I got completely used to it and it seems weird to not do it now. With my host parents in the airport were my YEO, Bernard, and my friend Nina, who was an Inbound to Florida last year. Bernard was extremely nice and it was so good to see Nina again. Having Nina there made me feel so much more comfortable and it was also cool to see her in her native country. In the airport was the first time I tried Rivella and I’m not going to lie it was a bit strange at first. Rivella is a fizzy drink but Swiss people drink it like Americans drink Gatorade. Now that I have had it a few times I love Rivella and I find myself drinking it really often. My first impression of Switzerland was that it is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. Literally you can go anywhere and everything looks like a post card.
My first encounter with difference in Switzerland was the doors. In Switzerland the doors are very different. They are a little bit difficult to close and they have an extra piece that covers the crack between the door and the wall. Then, when I try to lock them I have to do it with a key and it doesn’t always work... Then to unlock them it doesn’t work as well so I can find myself helplessly locked in the bathroom.
• Everyone here drinks water with bubbles and most people think that natural water is gross. However, I think water with bubbles is the so disgusting and personally it hurts my throat.
• Everyone here smokes… really everyone. It is impossible to walk down the street here and not smell smoke.
• There are cows everywhere in Switzerland and I have a strange fascination with them so every time I see one I always want to go up and pet it and for Swiss people the cows are like no big deal. Also the cows wear bells so you always hear cow bells everywhere you go.
• Bread and chocolate are their own food groups in Switzerland and naturally they’re delicious.
• Hiking is huge in Switzerland and biking as well. I have been warned that biking is really intense here so I haven’t gone yet. But I have gone hiking a few times and I don’t think hiking and I are the best of friends... All the time I see really old people on the bus in hiking gear and I always wonder how they do it... Swiss people are like superhuman.
• Nobody can really say my name properly here so it has turned into Kyleen
• Everything is really small and close together here which is much unlike the U.S.
• Public transportation is huge here and one of my absolute favorite things. Switzerland is known for their excellent transportation system. I can reach any village in the whole country via public transport so cars are almost unnecessary. The trains and buses are extremely clean and comfortable so there is no reason to not use public transport. Rotary Switzerland purchases a GA for all exchange students which allows us to use all public transportation in the whole country for free. That has been one of the nicest things for me here because it makes it extremely easy to make day trips to see all of Switzerland.
• Public transport in Switzerland is also known for being extremely punctual. Therefore, absolutely everyone in Switzerland must wear a watch. People are always in a bit of a rush here to catch the next train/bus/etc.
• I think that for me the biggest difference between Switzerland and the U.S. is the people. In the U.S, I see so many individuals. There are so many different races and people with different styles of clothing. But in Switzerland most people look relatively similar and dress more or less the same.
I have been extremely lucky with my host family in Switzerland. They are so wonderful, I really love them. I have a host sister who is currently doing an exchange year in Peru and I have a host brother who is doing his Swiss military year and is home on the weekends. In Switzerland every male is required to undergo military training but since the Swiss military in not active all of the men in training are allowed to come home on the weekends. My host brother is in a special part of the military that plays music because he is a really good saxophone player. So he trains for military while also doing all the military music concerts. When I first found out that my host brother would only be home on the weekends I was a bit nervous because I have never been an only child before and I thought it might be a bit awkward. But I couldn’t have been any more incorrect. I like my host brother, but I’m glad that I have had the weeks with just my host parents. It has gi ven me a better opportunity to form a great relationship with them. My host family is quite special because on the right side of our house is my host dad’s father’s house and on the left side are my host dad’s uncle, aunt, and kids. So I really feel like its a little family community here. Also every Saturday the whole family gets together and has coffee. I really like this tradition because I have gotten to know the other family members as well.
School here is good. It is really different. In school I was able to pick what my main subject would be so I chose economics and law. I have 13 subjects which include Chemistry, Biology, Geography, History, Math, English, French, German, Sport, Art, Media, Economics, and Law. In school here I stay with the same people for every class which is kind of nice because I have gotten to know all the people in my class really well but it also not so nice because I haven’t gotten to meet very many other people. My class was really welcoming and nice. My host sister from my 3rd family is in my class so I have gotten to know her quite well so now when I live with her it will be nice because we already know each other. School is a little difficult especially in the beginning when I didn’t understand anything, but I had to give a presentation for a project in German for Biology. That was embarrassing to say the least. In the very beginning of school I had a German clas s that I attended for 4 weeks every morning for about 3 hours and then I went to normal school. I found that really helpful because I could learn German and still make friends with my class mates.
Learning German in Switzerland is really difficult because they don’t speak the normal High German, they speak Swiss German. Swiss German is basically High German if you take out all grammatical rules and say words however you feel like with some throat noises thrown in there as well. Now that I have been here for two and a half months I can understand almost everything when people are speaking in High German and I can understand some things in Swiss German. However, speaking is really difficult and that is something that I am really going to have to work at. It takes so much courage to say anything and that is something that I definitely wasn’t expecting.
I live in Zug, Switzerland and it is a bit different than other cities in Switzerland. Zug is really international so when I walk around the city I always hear other foreign people as well. I like it because it is different but it can also be a little bit annoying because absolutely everyone speaks English here. Zug is also really small and there is only one high school so all the exchange students are in the same school. There are 11 of us in the same school and that has been really nice because I have gotten to know people from all over the world really well and we are like a little family. I have also made many Swiss friends in my school and on the weekends everyone hangs out by the lake in Zug, which is really beautiful. I was surprised at how quickly I made Swiss friends because before I came I was told that Swiss people are more reserved and harder to make friends with but I didn’t really feel that way. I felt immediately welcomed so for that I am really lucky.
My Rotary club is here was also really welcoming and nice. My Rotary club is a bit different than a typical Swiss Rotary club because the club is entirely couples. I think it is really cool to have a Rotary club of couples because it gives the couples something to do together for the benefit of society. I have been to my Rotary club meeting twice and the last time I went I was invited to the Swiss National Circus and I am really looking forward to that.
I have had the opportunity to do many awesome things while I have been here such as:
• I went on a boat ride on the lake of the Luzern with my host parents and then we rode the steepest cogwheel railway in the world up the mountain Pilatus. From there I walked up the rest of the mountain and I could see what seemed like the whole country from the top. It was really beautiful.
• I went on a cave tour with the other exchange students and a Rotarian. It was really cool to see the inside of the cave which was under a mountain. The cave is always ten degrees Celsius and being a Florida girl, I was freezing.
• I got to go to the French speaking part of Switzerland to see my host brother perform in a military concert. It was really nice to see the French speaking part because it is an entirely different culture than the German speaking part even though it is in the same country. People in the French speaking part are a little bit more go with the flow than in the German speaking part. My host brother’s concert was really cool because he performed with bands from Russia, Scotland, England, France, and the Netherlands. At the beginning of the concert they started to announce things in French and I was thinking to myself oh no… But then when they started to translate into German I felt myself really relieved. It was a weird feeling to be relieved that the announcements were in German because before German seemed so confusing. That weekend my host family and I stayed in a hostel which I thought was really cool because I had never stayed in one before.
• I have already had one Rotary weekend where I hiked up a mountain with 60 other exchange students and then stayed in a house on the top. That was one of the best weekends of my exchange because I got to know all of the other exchange students and the view from the top of the mountain was breathtaking.
• During the fall break I got the chance to go to Italy, which has always been a dream of mine. The food in Italy was so good and the culture is quite different as well. While I was in Italy I saw the leaning tower of Pisa, soaked up the sun at the beach, went to Florence, went to Portofino, and went to Genoa.
• I also had the opportunity to go to Germany. I toured the beautiful city of Frankfurt and had the chance to see my German friend that my family hosted last summer. Germany felt the most similar to America that I have been to yet. It was really nice to hear High German everywhere because I could understand almost everything that was going on. While in Germany, I went to a blind museum. It was such a cool experience. In the museum they gave me a stick and then told me to go into a room with nine other people that is completely dark. Then they simulate it to make me feel like I am in a train station and other normal daily activities. The blind museum was absolutely terrifying because well obviously I couldn’t see anything but I also couldn’t communicate very efficiently either because the whole tour was in German.
Being away from Switzerland made me realize how nice it is. Switzerland is the closest to perfect I think a country can get. There is very little crime here and the country is so clean. It is now the end of my fall break and I will return back to school tomorrow. In November I will take a trip to the Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland and in December I will move to my second family.
Thank you Rotary for giving me this opportunity of a lifetime!
So much happens in one year, especially in one year away from the place I have been for my entire life. This is experience brought wonderful people, experiences, and a new country into my life. I have eaten Italian pizza, seen the Berlin wall, and hiked in the Swiss Alps. I have been to more places than I ever thought I would be able to visit at age 17. I have gotten to know a new culture that I respect and love. I spent Christmas away from my family. I have gotten comfortable speaking to people in a language other than my own. I have made friends who live all over the world and also a close group in Switzerland. I have learned that in many ways people are the same and also very very different. I have been shown how accepting people can be to strangers by the ways home were open to me with welcoming arms. This experience has taught me to appreciate my own family so much more and to really enjoy every moment of time. Not every moment of any year is sunshine and butterflies and of course there were some low points, but I know that the low points were almost more important than the high ones. I have gotten to know the world a little better and I can now walk around with a sense of confidence that I can always find my way. I am no longer nervous about new experiences and instead accept new challenges with ease. The time goes ever too quickly, but I know I will return someday soon to my now second home. I am really excited to see what is in store for me going ahead and I will take allI have learned from this year with me into the future. Thank you to all the people who made this experience possible for me and supported me when things were hard.