Katherine- Outbound to Switzerland
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.
Katherine- Outbound to Switzerland
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
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.
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.