Written by Pauline Werner
For would-be junior Caroline Dickens, April marks eight months into her foreign exchange year in Switzerland. The transition from life in Leawood to life in a small town in northern Switzerland has not been an easy one.
Along the way, Dickens felt the need to detach herself from and let go of her life back home in order to fully orient herself there.
“It’s just too hard if you’re trying to live two lives at once,” she said. “Here, it’s about the people who are really interactive.”
This was the best way for her to be successful abroad. Time is wasted, she said, when you are looking back when you should be looking forward. Since then, she has settled herself down and is having the time of her life.
Changes in her experience tend to come in small things; weather it be the first time she overheard and understood a full conversation in German without trying to, meeting her best friend’s older brother who would become her boyfriend, or finally letting go of her old home to focus on her new, temporary home.
While she does attend school, the primary focus of her program is not on academics, but rather on the culture she absorbs and the relationships formed while abroad.
She maintains a very close relationship with her current host brother. So close, in fact, that before school they have a race to the bathroom to see who will get to shower first before setting out to school on their bikes. She will also have coffee with her host mom over a breakfast of bread and Nutella.
“They put Nutella on everything. Like, they have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” she said.
Her school allows about two hours for lunch, so she usually goes home and eats lunch before coming back for about two more hours of school. When her school day ends, she goes home and hangs out and eats dinner. The shows she watches include a lot of American shows like “How I Met Your Mother”, “Big Bang Theory”, and “NCIS” dubbed into German. Dickens said that it’s very weird to watch shows like “SpongeBob” and not hear the squeaky voice she grew up with.
Then, at precisely 9 p.m., she eats Oreos with her host brother, Laurent, as their evening ritual. After this, she watched “How I Met Your Mother” with him. Then, she will either Skype with her mom or watch a movie with her host mom.
“My host mom and I are really close; she’s really, really sweet,” Dickens said about her host mom, Michelle.
The thing she misses the most from daily life at home is the food, namely the fast food.
“There will be times where I just start craving Taco Bell,” she said.
The one thing she wishes she had brought from home that she left is her pillow. This is the pillow she brought back and forth between her parents’ house. It’s home to her. The pillows in Switzerland, she added, are lame.
Some of her favorite memories include the one day a month all of her exchange student friends will pick a day to not go to school and go spend the day in Zurich. They all went to a park and had a picnic by the lake.
“My best memories are with all these people,” Dickens said. “The awesome thing is that you have all these people that love you for who you are.”
Her first time snowboarding was in the Swiss Alps, where she went with her boyfriend’s family. While he was attempting to get her down the mountain, her snowboard broke and he gave her his huge one while she essentially slid down the mountain on her backside while he takes her little, broken one.
“It was like the hardest and the funniest thing I’ve ever experienced,” she laughs.
This past Friday, she went out to the French part of the town and sat on a beach with her best exchange student friend, Veronica. They sat there and talked for several hours over champagne, a loaf of bread, and some chocolate.
“The coolest thing is that I’ve gotten to know like hundreds of people that I would never have known otherwise, “ she said. “The people that I’ve met have really been amazing.”
East Student Reflects on Year Abroad
Written by Pauline Werner