Bonjour! Ciao! Allegra! Grüezi!
My name is Mary Cate Duff. I am currently 15 years old and a sophomore at
Bishop Snyder High School. However next year, I will be attending school in
Switzerland! I first heard about the Rotary Youth Exchange when the
Rotarians came to speak at my school. The more wonderful things I heard
about the program, the more excited I have become! I am so very thankful for
this wonderful opportunity offered to me and for all the amazing people of
Rotary who have helped me!
I currently live in Orange Park, Florida. My
oldest brother Timothy is a freshman at the College of William and Mary in
Virginia. My younger brother Ben is 6 years old. Both my parents are in the
military, so I am used to moving around, a lot. I run track and cross
country, although I love all sports. In my house, we are big soccer fans, so
there was a lot of excitement over last year’s World Cup, and both my
brother and my dad have pointed out my future proximity to world-famous
I wouldn’t consider myself particularly frank; however I do believe
compassion and thoughtfulness are the best attributes a person can possess.
My family sponsors an impoverished child in Guatemala. Although we often
write to each other, I feel I cannot understand his daily life, due to my
limited knowledge of the world outside suburban America. I sincerely hope
this exchange will enlighten me in ways not possible in the confines of a
classroom. With the experiences I wish to gain through the Rotary Youth
Exchange, I hope to become a better person, more understanding of
international issues, and thus able to make a positive impact in the world.
When my parents told me stories of their travels abroad, I was always
fascinated, and now I cannot wait to my own journey! I have always loved
learning about places all around the world and have been fascinated by
different cultures and peoples. I enjoy challenging myself to improve in
every way possible, and I would consider myself rather studious. Although I
know this exchange program will be demanding, I intend to dedicate myself
fully to the tasks presented to me. I am so very extremely grateful for this
opportunity offered to me. My parents have been so supportive, as well as my
friends, and for that I am extremely grateful. I honestly have no idea what
to expect, however the Rotary Club and all the people involved have offered
me such an amazing opportunity, and I feel there is no way I could express
So now I have been in Switzerland for about a month now…. Even I can
hardly believe that! There’s still so much I haven’t learned yet and don’t
understand that I think I could spend the rest of my life here and still
learn something every day. But on the other hand, I’ve already learned so
much! It’s the most amazing blend of emotions being here! I couldn’t think
of a more perfect first month!
To start, I arrived here in the middle of August. It was definitely a
little shock for me. Looking back, I’m not sure what I was expecting. For
me, the size of the town was quite….I don’t want to say underwhelming
because of the negative connotation but quite different than what I had
expected, only about 2,000 people. There are a lot of little shops, a
little church, a tower (the reason the town is called La Tour-de-Trême – the
Tower of the Trême, which is a little river which runs through the town) and
no supermarkets. On Sundays everything is closed, and nothing is ever open
all night. My host parents have showed me the town, and together, we have
visited several other nearby towns. My favorite was Gruyères. It’s
actually the most visited village in Switzerland –it is the most picturesque
little town I have ever seen in my life. It’s nestled in the Pre-Alps and
offers visitors a panoramic view of the mountains. The town is full of
little shops, and it even has a castle! It was quite funny though. My host
parents had told me in the morning that we would be going to the fromagerie
that afternoon. Since we get our milk from a farm about 5 minutes up the
road by foot and our bread in town from another little shop, I figured we
would just be walking to a cheese shop in town. They told me we were taking
bikes, but I still thought it would be less than a 5 minute trip. The 5
minute trip I had envisioned turned into a 25 minute ride with lots of hills
– my favorite. We made it to the fromagerie, saw a lot of cheese, and then
continued on to Gruyères. Quite an experience :)
Another thing that is quite different here is the cuisine. All the people
I’ve talked to seem to have a garden, however it’s not like the gardens in
America with pretty flowers and maybe an herb or two, but only for show.
Here people use their gardens for actual food. Instead of buying lettuce at
the grocery store, my host mom and I will go out to the garden and cut the
lettuce from the plant itself. Then we wash it and have it with dinner!
One thing I have learned is that it’s best to just always be honest with
your host family when it comes to food. There is a plum tree in the
backyard, and my host family left the plums on the tree so now it’s a prune
tree. Now I tend to be a little picky when it comes to food, but I had
vowed to be more willing to try because after all, I’m only here for one
year. And so, one night, my host mom offered me some prunes. I ate them,
and she asked me what I thought. I, not wanting to be difficult, told her I
liked them. Now these prunes were nothing special, and I didn’t
particularly like them. However, I have since learned that there are
perhaps hundreds of ways to prepare prunes. I’ve had prunes over oatmeal,
prune cake, prune jelly, prune juice - really and truly a lot of prunes. I
even had prune parfait with “nature” flavored yogurt – which just means that
it has no sugar – never again. Luckily, the prunes are all finished now,
but still I think I could go my whole life and never want another prune.
One thing that has been difficult for me is the language. I really believe
no amount of practice could have prepared me for the speed at which people
talk. My first few days here were … certainly not the best of my exchange
so far because I was literally lost in the conversations I was hearing.
It was quite difficult. I had a solid grammatical foundation, but with
conversational skills…rien! However, slowly but surely, with a lot of
patience from my host family, I have improved. I was actually able to
relate a story to my host mom in one try and without either of us getting
frustrated by the language barrier!
Other things I have learned about Switzerland.
1. When walking down the road, you will greet almost everyone with a
Bonjour or Bonsoir depending on the time of day. However, if you say this
with a smile, people think you are a tourist.
2. Many Swiss consider it a responsibility NOT to drive a car. For
immediate needs, everything is within walking distance.
3. There is a way to ride a bike like a tourist.
4. Being environmentally conscious is a way of life. My host mom hand
washes all the dishes to save energy. We have four different trashcans
depending on the type of waste material.
5. Geneva is incredible!! I’ve been 3 or 4 times now at it’s just an
amazing city! I’ve also been to Berne, Zurich, Fribourg, and lots of other
little villages around my town.
6. Public transportation in Switzerland = amazing! It’s always timely,
clean, modern, accessible, just wonderful!
School starts soon, and I’m sure that will be … certainly eye opening. I
can’t wait! :) I am so thankful for Rotary for sponsoring me and preparing
me so well for this experience! I go to bed every night excited for a new
day here in Switzerland!
first Swiss train ride with my host mom
host sister and I
January 17, 2012
The last 4 months of my life here in Switzerland have been…. Everywhere
to absolutely amazing to extremely difficult! Every day I find myself facing
new challenges and reaching new milestones.
I started school in September. To start, school here is run very
differently. I am in the college – which is highest level of education
offered, so everyone takes their studies seriously. My first day of school
started out much like any other. My host mom woke me up, we ate the standard
Swiss breakfast of bread and jam, and I took the bus to school with my host
sister. It turns out that my class is actually one of the classes considered
bilingual, so half of the courses are in German and the other half are in
French, little did I know. So when the teacher started speaking to me very
quickly in German, I was more than a little lost. Luckily I was in class
with one of my friends from the local track club that I have joined, and he
was able to explain to the teacher that I hadn’t understood anything she had
said. Things are all worked out now, I don’t have classes in German anymore
(not going to lie taking Wirtschaft did sound interesting.)
But, as I said before, all the students here are very serious about school.
I have tried explaining to my classmates that it would be much easier if
they didn’t stress as much, but some of them still are convinced that they
need to have learned the material by heart at least 2 weeks before each and
every examen. Other than that, I love my school. I am taking 13 classes I
think, and there are days when it is a little overwhelming. I got very lucky
with my class however, and everyone is always wiling to help me understand.
To describe an average day, I get up at about 6:45 every morning to a
wonderful breakfast of brown bread and homemade jam. After getting all ready
for school, my host sister and I take the city bus across the wonderful
little town of Bulle and arrive at school promptly before the first bell,
which rings at 8:10. Each day of the week I start with a different class,
and I am still walking around with my schedule to remember which room I am
in (or just following the people from my class.) My host mom packs me a
delicious (usually-when it’s not prunes) Tupperware lunch every day. I
usually finish school at 4 o’clock except for Mondays and Fridays. As for my
classes, I enjoy most of them. It is funny however, my history teacher
usually starts each class with some political remark and gets completely
sidetracked from the lesson. Here, there are no lesson plans, so it is up to
the teacher to decide what to teach. He assigned an exposition in the
beginning of Octo ber, however, because of his lengthy commentaries, to this
day, only 7 people of the 24 in the class have presented their projects. In
my French class, my teacher enjoys asking me my opinion on the analysis of
French literature. Actually, we each had to learn a classic poem by heart.
To my luck, the poem I had to learn was riddled with “r’s,” which any native
English speaker with knowledge of French knows are very difficult to
pronounce. So imagine my gladness when I recited to my class “frous-frous
frêles.” Everyone told me it was the best recitation of poetry ever, but I
ended up not being able to finish the poem because I was laughing so hard.
The exchange students in Switzerland are very lucky in that the Swiss Rotary
buys for each exchange student an Abandonnement General – which allows us to
use ALL public transportation in Switzerland for FREE! So, I have been able
to do a fair bit of travelling within my country. I cannot even begin to
describe how absolutely gorgeous it is here. I have ended up just bringing
my camera everywhere because it seems that whenever I don’t have it,
Switzerland surprises me with yet another breathtaking view.
I am quite happy to say that I have had multiple dreams in French, and,
better yet, I actually understood what I was hearing. I am at the point with
le Français where I can understood almost everything I hear (in context,)
and I can usually express myself. I am now able to tell my host mom stories
at the dinner table about school with minimal grammatical corrections. At
school, during our many free hours, my friends have started notebook for me
with some of the more practical phrases in French.
My experiences with Swiss culture – My host family has been wonderful about
showing me the local cultural events, things you can only experience in
Switzerland. For example, we went to 2 Dèsalpes – a Swiss tradition where
the cows descend from the mountains, walk through the towns dressed up with
flowers and giant cow bells, and are led to the pastures down near the
villages, which is accompanied by a little fair. I don’t think anyone could
ever understand how many cows I saw. Literally. Two consecutive weekends of
cows. Now, there are more and more “Marchés de Noël” – Christmas Markets
–which are just adorable. My friends did end up taking me to one, and it was
so nice jsut to walk around looking at the little stands and drink hot
chocolate in the snow.
Naturally, I have been slowly eating my way through Swiss chocolate, but it
is very hard to gain weight when you are eating the healthiest of your life
at home. It is amazing to me the lengths at which Swiss people go to make
sure that their diets are organic. I am a believer in healthy eating, but I
find here that many people lack balance in their diets in their attempts to
remain the most ecologically-friendly possible. The idea of being
environmentally-friendly transitions into my school life as well, and we
often have class with the lights off to save energy. It is amazing to me how
conscientious everybody here is.
For the Christmas holidays, my host family took me to Italy with them to the
little town called Livemmo where my host mom grew up. It was so different
there even from my life in Switzerland, and it was sweet because my host
mother wanted to share with me her childhood. She told me all about her
favorite places to go, and we went walking around in the Italian Alps. But
the little town that I was in, Livemmo, has a population of maybe about 150
people. Almost everyone is cousins or related in some way, and the first
night there I got showed around to everyone, where I said “ciao” a whole lot
and didn’t understand much else. After that trip, my host family took me for
cross country skiing for the first time – epic fail – but it was a lot of
fun. My host sister spent a lot of time laughing at me, and I spent a lot of
time in the snow… but it was still a great experience. Now I have changed to
my second host family, and they have signed me up for real ski lessons for
Where I am right now, I can think back to who I was before. I know I’m the
same person, but I have just had my eyes opened to so many new ideas and
opinions. I cannot believe that I was lucky enough to have received an
opportunity like the one I have right now. Thank you Rotary once again for
all you have done for me through this amazing exchange!