September 23 Journal
I’m going to start my first journal entry off by saying this:
I'M FINALLY AN INBOUND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
AND there is ABSOLUTELY NO way on earth I will be able to explain these past few months, there is NO possible way to bring justice to what my life has become in this country that’s too spectacular for words. I have been here for almost 2 months now. I can understand mostly everything anyone says to me, I can communicate what I need to say. I have been to so many parties, met so many people I can’t remember the names of, made so many close friends I will carry in my heart for the rest of my life, and have a place to stay in almost every country I’d want to visit. Brazil, Italy, Mexico, Canada, Japan, California, Argentina, Romania, Australia, and of course…Switzerland. I have many Swiss friends already. I’ve started school and have absolutely NO idea what they’re saying in Math….Do you know what a “durchmesser” is? Because I have Keine anhung!! (no clue)
So this is my experience of airport life: I woke up at 4.30am to drive to TIA and catch my plane that wouldn’t leave until 7.30am. Still half asleep, my parents made me “find your own way to the check-in and gate because you’re going to be on your own this year, no mommy and daddy to help you.” (Like I wasn’t fully aware, and fully excited for this!?) So I found it, checked my bags, and said goodbye to my family. First it was my brother, then my step dad, then my mom, and then came my dad….my teary-eyed, sniffling father…Yes, my dad is the one that brought me to tears. Very brief tears that lasted until I got on the tram to get to security. Yeah I cried for about 2 minutes as I said goodbye to my family for a year. Then I thanked God that I was saying goodbye to my family for a year. (just kidding, I love them….really.)
Security was easy, smooth, and quick. Got onto the plane and set off for Detroit. Once in Detroit, I got a wonderful 6 hour layover. Thanks Bokoff Kaplan. I walked around for two hours because I had nothing to do. Then I found my gate. –Okay, so I know how ridiculously hideous, and hot these lovely Rotary blazers are….But OH MY GOD, WEAR YOUR BLAZERS WHEN YOU’RE TRAVELING. It’s one of THE best sights when you see someone wearing one. Especially when you’re wandering around the glorious “Olten, Switzerland” for half an hour trying to find the Inbound welcome meeting. They are actually very amazing!!!!- So I wait in Detroit for 6 hours, and make friends with girls from New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Texas. And Emily from New Hampshire has ended up being my best friend here. So Detroit was boring but painless. Then the 7 hour flight to Amsterdam….That was fun. I watched some French movies for a while. I mostly slept. Then the most fun part…Amsterdam International Airport. First of all…we had about half an hour to catch our connecting flight into Zurich. Secondly, this airport is by far the most confusing airport I’ve been too, especially when the signs are in God knows what language. Thirdly, it took us about an hour to get through passport checks, and customs…which Emily managed to leave her whole suitcase at, and didn’t realize it until we got half way to our gate. Fourthly, NO air-conditioning, and running, in huge hot blazers, and 50 thousand pounds of luggage. SO MUCH FUN. The good part was after you’ve been on a plane for 7 hours, running feels good. And also an hour flight feels like 10 minutes.
Upon arrival in Zurich, I was greeted by two of my host moms. They were waving furiously, trying to get my attention, trying to hurry along the obnoxious process called “The Baggage Claim.” Finally found all my bags and went to meet my family. They were both incredibly nice and told me it was time to go to a party….really? I’ve been traveling for two days, am completely jet-lagged, and we’re going to a party?! AWESOME. I fell asleep sitting up at my counselor's house. It was a lot of fun though, I got to meet my future host siblings, my counselor's sons, who I’ve gotten pretty close with, and my host families.
My first night in Switzerland I got taken to some wild crazy dance disco street party with my counselor's son and my two host sisters. We danced until 3am, and finally came home. Now that stupid Black Eyed Peas song “Tonight’s gonna be a good night…” will forever remind me and my host sisters of my first night of the best year of my life.
My first Rotary meeting was a little intimidating. It was 3 days after I arrived, so I spoke little to no German whatsoever. Not that that would’ve saved me anyways since they ALL spoke in Swiss-German, which I’ve found is by far, the most annoying thing here. No matter how much High-German you learn, you will still have no clue what they’re saying, unless you ask them to speak “Hoch-Deutsch bitte?” Which they will for about 2 sentences, forget what they’re doing, and start all over again in Swiss. In the end, the meeting was a success. My President asked me to come to his house for dinner with his family; his son had just arrived back from Chicago on Exchange so he could help me out and what not. His son Alex invited me to another party the next weekend. All in all, I LOVE my Rotary president and his family! Actually, in general I've found the Swiss to be incredibly relaxed friendly people. As much as they keep telling us they're strict and not friendly and work all the time. It seems to be a perfect balance of "work hard, party hard."
My family here is AMAZING. I’ve gotten so close with all of them, especially my mom since she speaks hardly any English at all, we’ve made so much progress with learning each other's language. My host dad is always sarcastic and making fun of my mom and sisters, so needless to say, my house is always laughing about something. My sisters have been a really big help to me also. Besides taking me to SO many parties, introducing me to SO many people, and showing me around my HUGE school, taking me bridge jumping into the FREEZING COLD river, they’ve been there for me if I’ve ever had a problem. Same with my counselor too. She’s an amazing woman, she’s helped me out with any little thing I need for school, she invites me to lunch at her house all the time, and we have a really great relationship. They all say they love me and I’m a million times better than their last exchange student…I think he got sent home early actually. So I’d hope they like me better!!!
The first day of school was amazing. We played Hockey in PE, and Rugby. My class is all younger than I am, except one boy who is 18. So they’re all REALLY immature, but sometimes it’s very relaxing to just let the paper airplanes fly.
The stereotypes I get are really entertaining also. Like for example, I come from Florida so I get “OH YOU COME FROM MIAMI!??!” and “Is life in America just like American Pie?!?!” and “Are school lockers really that big?!” and “So you go to California like every weekend right?!” Those questions are always fun!!
As far as being homesick goes…I miss my car, and I miss the beach. And…Nope, that’s all. I actually haven't even called my parents....this whole 2 months...and I don't have Skype...so basically I've emailed them a few times...
Like I said before, there are not enough words to explain my experiences here so far. No one word can sum up these past 2 months of my life. If I had to pick words to describe Switzerland they would be: perfection, self-growth, unexplainable-beauty, and “my-head-hurts-from-thinking-about-what-I-have-to-say-all-the-time” and I couldn’t love this place anymore if I WANTED to!
November 11 Journal
I am in the 4th month out of 12.
I have been here almost 14 weeks.
I have been here almost 100 days.
I have seen some weird things.
I have tasted some interesting food.
I have met some amazing friends.
I have encountered some creepy train riders.
I have experienced the best 4 months, the best 14 weeks, the best 100 days of my life.
In 3 weeks I'll be switching families, I'll be moving to a new home.
AKA: I'm leaving my HOME.
Yes the world "home" has taken on a whole new meaning.
And the phrase "home is where you make it" has really started to apply to my life.
Because "home is where your heart is" just doesn't work anymore.
My heart belongs to two different countries now. My heart has been split down the middle.
On one half, I live in the sunshine, in the sand, in the HUMIDITY;
I belong to innisbrook and starbucks everyday after school;
I belong to driving my car, and going to work;
I belong to the little Greek town with epiphany, and sponges, and family friends, and church, and fourth of July parties, and Tarpon Springs High School;
I belong to fighting with my brothers, and climbing on the roof when we aren't allowed to (sorry mom);
I belong to surfing at honeymoon beach without a wetsuit in the winter and being the only girl there;
I belong to checking surf report every single day hoping, praying, wishing a swell would come so I could have a good excuse to skip algebra 2;
I belong to my family, to my town, to my state, to my country.
I belong to Tarpon springs, to Florida, to The United States of America.
On the other half, my heart belongs to the Alps that stare at me through my bedroom window,
I belong to the little train running through Solothurn;
I belong to the rainsnow that stings your fingers when you're riding your bike down the giant hill you have to take if you want to catch the train;
I belong to sprinting furiously to CATCH that same train;
I belong to the Aare River, and the Jura mountain;
I belong to bridge jumping, fondue eating, and cowbells;
I belong to being used to not understanding a word people are saying around me, but finally being able to understand a lot;
I belong to Kantonschule Solothurn, to playing indoor hockey, and rugby in school;
I belong to weird Swiss keyboards that are impossible to type on!!
I belong to learning 3 languages (German, Swiss-German, French), and hoping I don't forget my mother tongue! (American....NOT English. Americans do not speak English.);
I belong to two dogs always barking, and two sisters always laughing;
I belong to my family, to my town, to my Kanton, to my country.
I belong to Oberbipp, to Solothurn, To Switzerland.
I'm not on vacation. I will not "come back home," I will not remain the same.
Change is the only consistent thing in life, and that is what I'm counting on.
This is what has been going on in my home of Switzerland:
I've been in school for a while now...I'm in a math and science profile... I HATE math and science.
Math teacher "I've noticed you are not very good at math?"
Me: "No. Not even in English."
Math Teacher: *smiles nicely and gives up hope for me...now he ignores me everyday.*
Me: *thank God.*
Example 2 of how well school's going:
German Teacher: "Annelise, do you know what a prenommen is?"
Me: "No. Not even in English."
German Teacher: *Slightly annoyed at the stupid American and continues to try to make me understand all of the insane German words I've never even heard of that are coming out of his mouth*
This is what kids in my class think is fun every day at lunch:
Let's play a card game and try to make Annelise understand the point, even though there is no point, there are no rules, and we change the name of the game every freaking day. (So yes, Rotary....when we had our orientation in Florida, and you made us play a card game, and everyone had different rules of how to play, and you told us this is what our exchange year would be like....yes, you were absolutely correct.)
This is my English class: (we're talking about what we would do if we won the lottery.)
Boy in my class: I would go to America!!
Teacher: WHY would you go to AMERICA?
Me: Why WOULDN'T he go to America?!
Teacher: oh...hah....Annelise....I forgot you....umm...America is a beautiful country, lovely choice. (I skipped his class "on accident" the next day. This was our next conversation:)
Teacher: Why weren't you here yesterday?
Me: You insulted my country, I couldn't come back. (we both laugh.)
This is my history class: (We're talking about the difference between the North and South of the USA Mainly about slavery.)
Teacher: Annelise, where are you from again?
Me:.........Florida. (needless to say she didn't ask my opinion; bad timing to be from the south; whole class laughs.)
This is a conversation I had with a group of kids in my class:
Me: School's over...why are you still here?
Them: Oh, we have a test in two weeks.
Me: so...why are you here?
Them: we're studying.
Me: oh. What are you doing Friday night?
Them: Studying together at Fabians house, would you like to come?
Me: ........I have a Rotary event, I'm sorry.
Them: Maybe next time!?
Being an American High school student....I was confused. And needless to say...I'm switching into an Art profile next week. (My math teacher advised this of course)
So as you can see school's going wonderfully here!
Besides school I've been incredibly busy. A few weeks ago a few exchange students decided we needed to have a Halloween party since Halloween isn't really celebrated here. It consisted of this: Fondue, bread, "hotdogs", weird Swiss candy, a tiara, some devil horns, a way too revealing speedo on my guy friend, a movie about gay people, and my friend's host parents insisting we drink the "orange juice"....it was NOT orange juice.
If our Thanksgiving goes anywhere near the same as Halloween...well...I think I won't attend anymore make-shift American holidays in Switzerland.
Not that much has been going on. Life's starting to become completely normal now. Between school, learning German, hanging out with my two best friends....it's going really well.
I don't think anyone could ask for a better exchange than mine. I've met so many different people from different places. And with every new person I meet, I realize how different everyone is, how different every country is, and how amazing those differences can be when they come together.
The fact is that we're all so completely different, and at the same time, we couldn't be more alike. No one in the world can know how we feel except each other. No one could possibly understand what we're going through, and when something bad, good or indifferent happens here, they're the ones there to hold your hand, and tell you everything's alright...even if we don't speak the same language very well. Even though our skin isn't the same color. Even though our clothes are a little different, and our music isn't the same.
Everything gets stripped away when you're in a different country. Everything that makes you comfortable is taken away, and you're left to survive with only your mind, and your language skills. Everything about you in this country is foreign. So when you meet another foreign person, that automatic judging mechanism most people have...has completely disintegrated and you're left to solely understand, and make friends with that person. I now understand what Rotary was talking about when they said the point of this exchange is to make cultural understanding. To create peace between nations, as we live as an ambassador for our own country, we learn the golden rule all over again. To treat people as you'd like to be treated.
So next time there's someone that doesn't speak your language, or is lost because they're unfamiliar with the country, or town, instead of automatically judging... there will be automatic love and understanding. One day you could very well find yourself in the same situation. Someday, you could be that lost confused girl in the classroom, and one person will smile, and give you a helping hand, and that will completely make the difference and change your life. The best way to understand is to live and experience. To keep an open mind, and shut down judging at a glance.