Monday, December 30, 2013

days > 140 -- missing

 piece of advice for future exchange students #18:
most august exchange students say that 
the time between christmas and new year is the 
hardest time of the year after arrival.
work overtime to make sure that that's not true for you.
trust me.

so during the first few days of winter vacation... to be honest, i missed home. i still miss it, because at this time of year i'm so used to being with friends and family. i'm used to traditions and songs and parties and everything. and this time it is not there. and that was hard.
but then i ended up filling my days with stuff. it didn't have to be good or even deeply meaningful stuff as long as it was fun, non-dangerous, and made memories... and kept me from feeling homesick.
and guess what?
somewhere in the middle of all of that, i got my priorities straight.
YES, i am missing major holiday time.
YES, i am missing family and friends.
YES, i am missing traditions and events and parties.
but you know what? I am in SWITZERLAND. and it is amazing.
and i have been blessed beyond all reason, to have so much from home that i can miss. and furthermore, all these things i am missing will still exist when i come back.
so i should enjoy the moment now.

things i've done in the past 20ish days --

  • Christmas! Obviously...
  • multiple christmas dinners and parties and celebrations and gatherings. there was a dinner with my mom's side of the family and then with my dad's side of the family and then with multiple friends and then just a quiet celebration for
    us only.
  • Christmas market in Biel with my friend Faith! it was very cold.
  • Zurich with Sarah, who's currently on exchange there... we had tons of fun. it was also extremely cold. everywhere is cold.
  • Elsass (Alsace) Marche de Noel (which I didn't write correctly because I don't have French on my computer, but oh well). in other words, my host family took me to France!!!
  • I also learned that French people don't eat dinner until 7 or later. This means that for all the punctual Swiss people who wish to eat their dinner at 6 or 6:30, eating in a restaurant is practically impossible because the restaurants are not yet open at 6. The chefs are still at home.
  • I went sledding in the alps!!*
  • I spent time with my new counselor, who also happens to be a nice counselor with a family that reminds me of my own, haha. In a good way.
  • I went sledding in the alps AGAIN!!!
  • We have Christmas Ferien (vacation) which means no school. Consequently, I've had the opportunity to train hop to my little heart's content. Hooray for European rail passes!
  • watched a movie called "Schwarzen Brüder" in which the story is set in Tessin, Switzerland. all the movies I've seen in cinemas so far are always in German, which makes me proud of myself... :P
  • I wrote a record amount of blog posts in my twelve days of Christmas. even if, you know, they didn't exactly coincide with the  twelve days of Christmas.
  • I received mail! Yay!
  • And when I tried to reply to it, I realized to my chagrin that the post office is closed on weekends (well, on Sunday, and then only open in the mornings in Magden on Saturday) and also closed on all the days that I could actually get there because of Christmas and New Year's. lovely.
  • I skyped my family on Christmas!!! and I miss them.
  • in fact, I miss everyone.
  • but I will see them all again. And I am enjoying life here.
*this actually isn't as silly to celebrate as you might think it is. sledding here is hardcore... adults do it too!!
you go up with the gondolas and ride down the mountain on a course, rather like a ski course but on a smaller level. there are hills and jumps and hairpin turns and everything. it's very exciting. :))

bis später,

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

days > 130 -- celebrating

today i remember and celebrate:
the story that started at the beginning of time and lasts for eternity,
the gift that is completely undeserved and unreasonable, and yet given anyway,
the light that shines in the middle of darkness,
the love for a people who were so broken that they are incapable of truly loving,
the life that once gone, lives again and conquers death for all time,

the hope that is given to stay with us,
to be our light and our love and our life

wherever you are, whatever you call home, in whichever language you speak:
merry, merry christmas.

on the twelfth day of christmas

and a new look at bloomability

(and with this post, it draws to an end... )

one of the most important things i've learned here is to live in the present. life is so different when you know that you will only be spending a year somewhere-- relationships are built faster, people change quicker, adventures are made instantly because you know, you KNOW that this time does not last forever.

and that is sad.
but because it doesn't,
it gives you all the more reason to make the most of the time you have.
i have to say that i rely on the "extra" time i have all the time when i'm at home. i say i'll do or make or see something when i'm older, or when i have more time, or when i have more money. and it is easy to say because i know that there is a possibility.
but when i am here, that possibility does not exist.
even when i grow up and if i come back, i will never have a year quite like this again.
it makes me laugh that i had to come all the way to Switzerland to realize this. and yet it's true. i shouldn't base everything on saving money, or on being successful, or on saving time. 
because yes, those are important. but often we place way too much value on them. 
more than they are really worth.

because memories, and relationships, and growth, are also worth a lot.

and so i've learned to live in the moment.
to make every effort i can.
to bloom.

on the eleventh day of christmas

on the eleventh day of christmas
my exchange gave to me
questions to answer more independence long christmas dinners swiss weihnachtsmärkte seven for a family six lovely months five languages four advent days three families two traditions and a new look at bloomability

so one thing that exchange has taught me is that i need to question things. i need to question the things that i have always taken for granted, that have always been a part of me. because other people see the world differently. and meeting those people causes me to get a new perspective on how our world works.
i come from a homeschooled-christian-rightwing sort of environment (although my family has always, always encouraged me to ask questions and challenge them), and so i've been taught ABOUT the world. but that doesn't mean at all that i am an expert on it.
the problem is, reading books about bikes and wind current and the structure of the wheel only gets you so far-- eventually you have to learn to ride the bike yourself, without help.
and it works the same way with the world.
i've met gays and mormons and atheists and catholics and liberals and conservatives now, and what's more i am friends with them. i am friends with them, and they are forcing me to ask questions. i believe in my faith, and i support it fully, but i have to ask myself what to do. how to respond when the world hits me.
and so far i haven't figured out that much that is black and white, exactly right or exactly wrong all the time.
but the one thing that i realize is that at the core,
we are all people.
and meeting these people gives me questions to ask,
and that is okay.

on the tenth day of christmas

on the tenth day of christmas
 my exchange gave to me
new independence
long christmas dinners
swiss weihnachtsmärkte
seven for a family
six lovely months
five languages
four advent days
three families
two traditions
and a new look at bloomability

so here we are. thank goodness this series is almost done, because i'm running out of things that fit into 5 syllables...
one of the main things that i've realized is that i am way, way more capable than i thought i was. in fact, i am way, way more capable than i think i am right now. living abroad has stretched and grown me in tons of ways that i would never have dreamed of at home. 
and before i know what i can do, or even if i think i already know, i can always try.

i remember people asking me last august if i felt ready to go on exchange. my answer then was no.
and you know what? i didn't feel ready. i didn't feel prepared to spend a year abroad, learning a new language. i didn't feel capable enough to live on my own and figure out culture and values and country differences by myself.
but i was.
because i tried.

and being on exchange has caused me to recognize that lots of times, i don't feel ready. i don't feel prepared. i don't feel capable.
but i am.
i just have to try.

on the ninth day of christmas

on the ninth day of christmas
 my exchange gave to me
long christmas dinners
swiss weihnachtsmärkte
seven for a family
six lovely months
five languages
four advent days
three families
two traditions
and a new look at bloomability

swiss dinners can go for an exceptionally long time. however, swiss christmas dinners are unbelievable... yesterday i left the house with my family at 4pm and got home at exactly 12. (of course, that's including the commute... altogether it wasn't THAT long, as european dinners go. It probably lasted only about 6 and a half hours for us, because my little host sister and I needed to go to bed.)

the entire process of a swiss dinner is too long to explain here, so i'll refrain from describing it in full. basically all you need to know is that europeans enjoy talking and food and drink and talking and chocolate and talking and gifts and talking and they could probably happily have dinner for the rest of the week if it were possible.

yet at the same time, i'm beginning to get used to the long mealtimes and the community atmosphere. because for swiss people, dinners are an opportunity to be together. to celebrate. to enjoy each others' company. and so for once, time does not matter.
and that is good.

on the eighth day of christmas

on the eighth day of christmas
 my exchange gave to me
swiss weihnachtsmarkte
seven for a family
six lovely months
five languages
four advent days
three families
two traditions
and a new look at bloomability

i'm eschewing the numbers now in favor of simply getting my posts out there...

christmas markets are one of the things that we absolutely-do-not-have in America. We have Christmas bazaars, yes, which are sort of related, but the atmosphere of a Christmas market is (as I've found) quite different. most of the time they are in the heart of the city, with trees and lights and all sorts of food/drink/handcraft/ornaments that you can imagine.
I've visited tons of christmas markets in the past couple weeks, so many that it's become rather a joke to my host family (they're swiss, so they don't understand why christmas markets are such a big deal to me). but really, I don't go to buy stuff or to eat things or even just to do something. 

i go because for me, the markets somehow hold the memory of holidays.
because for me, the atmosphere somehow reminds me of home.

because, in the middle of people and stalls and noise and light and color, i can find a bit of christmas.

Monday, December 23, 2013

on the seventh day of christmas

on the seventh day of christmas
 my exchange gave to me
seven for a family
six lovely months
five languages
four advent days
three families
two traditions
and a new look at bloomability

so this is possibly one of the few things that has made my exchange what it is, and how amazing it is... it's a quick blog post and a long story.

you see, when i first met all these people, we were in a new country, learning a new language, meeting new families and friends. and to be honest, we aren't really that much alike. we clashed personality-wise and culture-wise and everything. i thought i would never, ever belong to this group, and i wasn't at all sure that i wanted to.
but you know what?
i was wrong. 
and i'm so glad that i was.

today, these seven people make up the rest of my exchanger family. we've gone through a lot, and it hasn't been all that easy, but we share a bond that not everyone is lucky enough to have. it's amazing to me, to realize that i've only known these people for a few months, and yet i have changed so much and they have changed so much, and i can't imagine never seeing them again.

and we are an exchange family.
we are a complicated,
beautiful family.

on the sixth day of christmas

on the sixth day of christmas
 my exchange gave to me
six lovely months
five languages
four advent days
three families
two traditions
and a new look at bloomability

so technically it hasn't yet been six months. and it's not going to be until february. buuuut I'm posting this because really, my exchange began as soon as school ended. my preparations and packing and things started way back when, and so did my blog (yay!). And I'm realizing that when you go on exchange, it does affect a lot of your life. i didn't do a lot of things i could have done last summer and last year, because i was preparing for rotary.
i remember being sort of upset about it, because i was missing birthday parties and summer camps and friends and family and all sorts of things in preparation for a year that i knew almost nothing about. and i remember getting really frustrated one night and telling myself that my exchange had better be worth it.
but you know what?
it is.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

on the fifth day of christmas

on the fifth day of christmas
 my exchange gave to me
five languages
four advent days
three families
two traditions
and a new look at bloomability

what you may not have known about Switzerland:
it has four official languages.

None of these languages are English. Instead, they are German, French, Italian, and Rato-Romansh. However, since English has become the "universal language", many things have translations in English as well. This, together with the fact that Switzerland is in the middle of Europe, means that when people sing Christmas songs, they tend to sing them in multiple different languages... my choir sang three songs in Italian, two in English, one in French, one in Finnish, two in Latin, and the rest in German. (Romansh songs are not popular, probably because only like 5% of the Swiss population actually speaks it...)

Every time I hear Christmas songs, then, I'm reminded that I am in another country. another continent.

but sometimes, that's nice to be reminded of.

Friday, December 20, 2013

on the fourth day of christmas

 on the fourth day of christmas
 my exchange gave to me
four advent days
three families
two traditions
and a new look at bloomability

so the reason i haven't been posting as much is because, well, life.
but seriously, christmastime is crazy. and yet for some reason, it doesn't feel "christmasy" to me... I'm not sure if it's the lack of christmas music, or the fact that lights aren't a big display here, or what. but there is something missing from christmas. hopefully i'll find it by the 25th.

anyway... advent...
people celebrate advent in the USA too, but i remember it being more of a religious thing and not very widely celebrated. it involves lighting a candle every sunday until Christmas, and looking forward to Christmas day, rather like a very long drawnout version of the countdown on TV right before they show the Super Bowl. like "hey, look, we all want to go ahead and celebrate Christmas but it's too early so I guess we'll settle for lighting this purple candle."

but here it is celebrated. my host family has the tradition of giving each child a small present every sunday. other families have daily advent calendars. other families read a prayer and light the candle in a small ceremony of celebratory-ness.
(what is that? not exactly celebration -- celebrationess? celebratorianism?)

and it is sweet, and quiet. that's the thing that defines advent for me, i suppose-- it is not exciting, like Christmas Eve, or loud, like New Year's, or bright, like Easter and Christmas. it is still. peaceful. 
it is not a festivity in and of itself as much as it is the celebration of what is to come.

Monday, December 16, 2013

on the third day of christmas

on the third day of christmas
my exchange gave to me
three families
two traditions
and a new look at bloomability

so this post isn't exactly correct because technically i've only got one family so far now... but i'm thinking in advance, okay?
one unique thing about rotary youth exchange is that the students change families every 4 (ish) months. there are multiple reasons for this rule, but it does mean two very important things: a) your families are temporary and b) you have about 3 (depending on the situation) different families throughout the year.
when i first came here, i honestly thought i would never get used to this. i am living in the house, eating the food, sharing the lives of people who i met less than 5 months ago... and what's more, this arrangement was made before i even met them.
and i know not all host family-kid relationships are good, so i suppose i got lucky. but honestly, my host family feels like a-- well, a family. i ask my parents for advice and i watch movies with my little sister and just basically i am no longer a guest. and as strange as it is, i am now living in a family that i met in august... and it is natural. it is normal. it is my life.
and i wouldn't change it.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

on the second day of christmas

on the second day of christmas
my exchange gave to me
two traditions
and a new look at bloomability

one thing that I've never realized about Christmas is just how BIG of a deal it is for us in America. There are songs and the shopping and the lights and the carolers... they're all little things, things that seem really everyday at home. Normal, Christmasy things.
but then when they are no longer there, you end up wondering vaguely what's missing.
and so I have to say it: I miss Christmas. I miss American Christmas.

but the thing is...
at the same time I am yearning for the Christmas I know, the Christmas I have always known, I am learning to appreciate and love European Christmases, too. There are snowfilled villages and cookies and Christmas markets and songs in French and German and Italian. And that has also become a normal Christmas for me.

And it makes me wonder if I will always, after this, be missing both traditions. If I will always be remembering both types of Christmases. If I will always have a part of me that celebrates in both countries.
And if so,
what will that be like?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

on the first day of christmas

on the first day of christmas
my exchange gave to me
a new look at bloomability

one thing i've learned about exchange is that, well, it changes you. it changes you in a lot of ways.
most recently, i've been struck with the amount of things that my exchange has given me. yeah, it hasn't always been easy or fun, but it's blessed me with a lot already.
and what better time to realize and give thanks for your blessings than christmas time?
so in the next 12 days (countdown till christmas) i'm going to be sharing a picture and listing a short something that my exchange has given me and why. hope you enjoy it. :)

(note: so because my dad happens to be a professor at Multnomah, I guess I can't really get away without a short explanation... for all you church-history people, yes, technically the 12 days of christmas were between Christmas and Epiphany. This means that they were not before the 25th, but after it... 
that said, i don't want to blog through my christmas break, so i am doing it now and putting my own spin on the "12 days" song [which, really, wasn't necessarily that spiritual or church-history related to begin with anyway]. let christmas countdowns begin.)

Friday, December 13, 2013

days > 120 -- familiarizing

advice for future exchange students #17:
you will eventually get to the point where you feel that you belong,
that this is your normal life,
but that point comes mostly when you belong in your group of friends.

I came to a funny conclusion the other day.
I have a very strange collection of various acquaintances and friend groups.
There is my Swiss class friends, and my exchange student friends here, and my exchange student friends at home, and the elderly people who are in my choir, and my debate friends and my church friends and my youth group friends and my siblings and the people who have known me forever.
it's a rather surprising mix. in fact, if you think about it, a lot of my friends would not get along with each other very well.

but the more types of people i meet,
the more i realize that they are just that... people. 
and that we all look to connect with each other.

things that have happened in the past 10-ish days:
  • the upperlevel classes of Gymnasium are taking Matura this week, so all of our classes looked slightly different. This means that we ended up watching Pitch Perfect and Les Mis in class. It was cool.
  • Also I ate "Asian food" in Basel, Switzerland.
  • It was pretty awful, unfortunately. someone please send me the Portland foodcarts? I will love you forever and ever if you do.
  • The days come and I'm realizing that our newbies are coming soon. Which also makes me realize that I have a little over half my exchange left. I'm still not exactly sure where the rest of it went.
  • Rotary Christmas Dinner was lovely! I heard a blind singer and a lot of very classical music... but it wasn't bad, and it was nice to meet all the Rotarians :) Plus I have a new counselor who I happened to meet as well.
  • I've gotten the opportunity to read some German books from my library... and guess what, I can understand them! But really, books exercise a completely different sort of vocabulary than speaking in normal conversation, so it's been good for me to read.
  • I am writing in German. As you can see here. It's far from perfect, but it's a huge jump from what I could do three or four months ago (read: nothing). Also, ich bin stolz auf mich :)
and that's all for right now...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

my life in switzerland -- a german post!

So I wrote something in german while the rest of my class was writing essays...
I'd say that this is a pretty good indicator of my somewhat lacking German skills. (German speaking friends, please feel free to edit this.)
Anyway. Here you go. (And yes, I'll be posting the translation sometime afterwards... but I wrote this in German and so I have to rewrite it in English to post a translation.)
Als ich erst hier gekommen war, habe ich mich sechsmal in zwei Wochen im Bad eingeschlossen.
Alles war fremd... alles, von die Supermärkte zu die Kirchen zu die Fahrpläne, war anders als in Amerika. Ich fühlte mich, als ob alles waren speziell gemacht, um Ausländer zu verwirren. Und vielleicht das stimmt.

Das erste Ding war die Sprache.
Viele Leute haben gesagt, dass Deutsch eine einfache Sprache zu lernen ist. Leider, viele von diese Leute haben Deutsch nie gesprochen. Deutsch hat Aussprache, wer English-sprechende Leute brauchen nicht, und umgekehrt. Die Grammatik ist anders. Und die Artikeln. Und die Präpositionen. Und die Wörter.
Am Anfang habe ich viel gelernt. Ich habe immer Sprachen gern gehabt... aber Deutsch ist nicht wie Spanisch, oder Chinesisch, oder Lateinisch. Und nach den ersten Wochen, habe ich nicht so viel gelernt, weil es war schwieriger.

Es ist immer noch schwierig, und ich muss es jeden Tag schreiben und lesen und sprechen. Jetzt denke ich in Deutsch, aber es immer besser in meinem Gehirn ist, als wenn ich sprechen oder schreiben will.

Das zweite Ding war die Kultur.
Ob man möchtest, extrem peinlich zu sein, 24/7, für die nächste Jahr von sein Leben... er soll ein Austauschjahr machen. Eben, die einfachste Aufgaben waren schwierig zu verstehen, schwieriger zu erklären, und noch schwieriger zu machen. Ich habe immer das Gefühl gehabt, dass all die andere Leute lachen wurden, bei der Amerikanerin, wer nicht wusste, wie man die Bus-Tür öffnet.
Zum Beispiel, Schweizerzeit ist anders als Amerikanerzeit. Der Bus wartet nur eine Minute für eine Haltestelle. Die Züge kommen immer pünktlich (oder wenn nicht, sie sagen das an der Fahrplanschild).
Und noch mehr: Man sagt immer „En Guete“ vor essen. Wenn man zu einer Party kommt, er muss immer alle Leute grüßen. Man liest, schreibt, und spricht Hochdeutsch in der Schule und in formal Beruf, aber spricht Schweizerdeutsch mit Freunden, Familie, und in den Supermärkte.

Und das letzte Ding waren die Menschen.
Meine Klasse ist die beste Klasse der ganze FMS, und der ganze Welt. Aber am Anfang... Sie waren freundlich und nett, klar, aber ich habe immer das Gefühl, dass ich nicht wirklich ein Teil von der Klasse war. Dass ich „die Austauschschülerin“ war. Anders.
Aber wirklich, es war hart. Normalerweise bin ich die erste in meiner Klasse und immer in die Mitte meinen Freunden und Freundinnen. Hier... nicht.
Eine Nebeneffekt, der als peinlich, allein am meisten von der Zeit zu sein. Und so war es, so war es für ein oder zwei Monate oder so.
Und dann etwas ist geändert.
Ich weiß nicht was. Vielleicht es war Deutsch, oder Schweizerdeutsch, oder einfach Zeit. Aber jetzt fühle ich mich wie ein Mädchen wer in der Schule geht, ein Mädchen wer in die Schweiz ist, ein Mädchen wer gehört in meiner Klasse. Denke ich, vielleicht jetzt ich beginne zu gehören.J

Und vielleicht beginne ich zu gehören. Hier.

Und raten Sie was?

Ich habe mich nie mehr im Bad eingeschlossen.


Friday, December 6, 2013

samichlaus is coming to town

"he sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake... he knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!"
(^side note: is that not the creepiest holiday song you've ever heard in your life? I mean, think about it...)

Guess This Mystery Person:

He wears a red suit, a pointy hat, and big black boots. He has long white hair and a beard. He is frequently accompanied by a small mysterious somewhat magical creature. He shows up around December, and he gives good children presents.
Think you've got it?
Guess again, because if you're thinking "Santa" you're wrong. This is not the American Santa. Trust me, despite the similarities, they are very different people.

Meet my new acquaintance:

Unlike American versions, Swiss Santa does not bring the presents on Christmas Eve. Instead, he comes every December 6th for Samichlaustag.
Like American Santa, he's supposed to ask the Swiss children if they have been good or bad. the good ones get a present (normally chocolate, nuts, and oranges.)
The bad children are punished...
...and that's when it starts to get interesting.

See, American Santa gives them coal. Or sticks. Or something, to show that they've been bad and that they don't deserve a real present. (Also, the American Santa gives fancier presents to the children, not just snacks, but whatever. Maybe Swiss Santa has a lower budget.)
But Swiss Santa? Swiss Santa is a little more proactive here. He has an elf... not just any elf. This one is called Schmutzli, or "little dirty one", and he puts bad children in his sack and on Santa's donkey. (oh yes, Samichlaus does not have 9 reindeer. Instead he has a donkey. More proof that Swiss people have a lower budget for Santa.) Then, after loading the children all up, he carries them off in the sack and leaves them in the dark wood.

That's right.

Swiss Santa doesn't give coal and sticks to bad children. He simply abducts them and abandons them in the wilderness.

And people WONDER why little kids are afraid to sit on Santa's lap.

However, there are perks to the Swiss version of Santa Claus. The first is (obviously) the food. Swiss children receive gifts at Christmas too, but those come from a different magical person who does not look like a fat guy in a red suit. So really, Samichlaustag is just an extra bonus day for children to eat oranges and chocolate during the holidays. Sounds good to me.

The second is that Samichlaus comes in a much quieter manner than Santa. I've always wondered why parents think their children will believe reindeer can fly, Santa Claus can travel across the whole United States in one night, and somehow he'll deliver presents to all the children. Very large, sometimes expensive presents. I mean, that's got to be stressful.

Which leads me to the last benefit. I pointed out earlier that Swiss Santa Claus doesn't have so many expenses as American Santa Claus... he gives oranges and chocolate instead of big presents, he only employs one elf, and he eschews the reindeer in favor of a little donkey. In other words, Swiss Santa is way cheaper to employ.

So the next time we're worrying about a debt crisis, there's a simple answer: Let's just stop paying Santa so much.

Who needs reindeer, anyway, when you can have a little dark elf to abduct your children?

(the end.)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

my blog rule-- and why i am now breaking it

gondola ride up the matterhorn
when i first started this blog, i decided to avoid talking about two things:
politics and religion.

the reasons were simple. while politics and religion do interest me (i'm one of those weird people who like to know how other governments and belief systems work) these seem to be the most "offending" things that are presented nowadays. i figured that i'd keep the potentially offensive things to myself, in the interest of keeping my blog relatable.
you see, my blog was originally started to a) update people on my life so they don't have to ask my poor family at home all the time and b) describe the Rotary exchange process personally, to an extent that it'd be helpful to future exchangers and c) generally be a place for me to describe my life and the thoughts and changes i'm experiencing.

politics and religion didn't come into that because they didn't affect my exchange.

but the thing is...
politics and belief systems are a HUGE part of a country. they reflect so much about the culture and people and the values and interests and ideals of that culture. coming here, i've been asking myself a lot of questions about why, exactly, US-Americans do the things they do. i've learned that sometimes we're right, and a lot of times we aren't.

and consequently, they have indeed affected my exchange.
and forgoing all mention of them on my blog caused me to leave out significant parts of who i am and the things that i'm realizing here.

this does NOT MEAN that i am going to suddenly go all "crazy-political-American" on you, not at all. (in fact, going on exchange has caused me to question a ton of my beliefs, in a very good way.)
i still do think that insult throwing and misinformed arguing over politics and belief systems is completely and utterly pointless. not to mention that it makes a lot of enemies very fast.

however, as a representative and ambassador of my country, i am going to share some things on my blog that have caused me to rethink how Americans live. and that includes whatever small political or religious culture shifts i think are worth noting.

i am not encouraging comment wars. i am not changing my blog.

i am simply representing myself and what my exchange is teaching me, and realizing that it has caused me to think about a lot of different things.

and i hope it causes you to think too.

Monday, December 2, 2013

days < 110 -- comparing

advice for future exchangers #16:
you only really recognize your own culture
when you've been dropped headfirst into a different one.

So with the recent holidays and so, I'm realizing just how American and Chinese American and culturally different I am. They aren't bad culture differences... it's just that I never really thought of myself as being distinctly AMERICAN. I don't know if that makes sense or not.
Oh well.

  • Zermatt was amazing! I went with a bunch (read: basically all) of the other exchange students from Switzerland, both newbies (August inbounds) and oldies (January inbounds). And it was wonderful. And the other Swiss Rotary exchange students here are basically some of the awesomest people in the entire world.
  • Aaaand we saw the Matterhorn. Which was lovely.
  • And Advent began! My family has Advent calendars and gifts every Sunday for me and my little sister and decorations and stars and everything. So our house is beautiful now. :)))
  • I went to Zurich with one of my friends and we explored the Christmas markets. Of which there are many. And they are all very pretty. Actually, Switzerland Christmases in general are just very pretty.
  • Basel has a Christmas market too. I went there as well. Because I like Christmas markets.
  • And I gave a presentation to my class about my life at home. My class teacher was especially interested in homeschooling and asked me a LOT of questions about how it worked, what it was like, if I had tests, what American high school was normally like, etc. So that was interesting... :P
  • Bern Bundeshaus lights!!!! I posted a video link to them in my november/october lovely links, if you'd like to see them... they are gorgeous. My goodness.
there was more that happened, i'm sure, but I am too tired to write it down. 
guete nacht!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

october and november's lovely links

yay. i'm so proud of my country. Look how informed we are.
but i guess that the British people are pretty bad at this too. ta da.

my friends and i went to go see this at the Bern Bundeshaus the other day... it was a giant projector on the BUILDING, and it's even cooler in person than it looks. If you ever go to Switzerland while the Bern Bundeshaus Lichter are on display, they are something you NEED to see. (The video is about 25 minutes long... but warning, it's all in Swiss German and the story is very strange. the light effects are lovely, though.)

I'm not sure if this is true, but it's interesting: Choose the Best Airplane Seat.

and this. this is rather scary. maybe when i get home i'll just ban myself from eating... because here are 10 foods eaten in the USA that are banned in other countries...

Okay, these maps are just cool. (note: there are two that are sort of strange and in my opinion unnecessary. so maybe check before you show this to your little sister or something.)


how to pronounce the cantons in one easy map. (except not exactly right if you ask me. but oh well.)

that's all for now! ciao!

Friday, November 22, 2013


i'm walking home from choir, the same thing i do every thursday. there is music singing in my head, notes shining like silver on the tip of my tongue. the village is quiet. 
i'm not sure why... maybe it's the lack of light pollution or something... but there are always more stars than i've ever seen in my village. they literally reach past the horizon, which makes the sky somehow seem a lot bigger than it does in the daytime.  
it's dizzying at first, a little frightening to realize that there are so many different giant burning things in the sky. That our sun is so very small, and our earth is so very small, and we ourselves are practically nonexistent in the universe. and really, why do i even matter?
i remember one of my friends saying she didn't like to think about it. it made her feel too tiny.
but at the same time, it is somehow nice to feel tiny. to look up and feel dwarfed by the stars and to know that no matter how awfully you messed up your language today, they will all go on shining. and that what you do doesn't really affect the universe, not at all. 
the sky is deep and black and filled with stars.
and the constellations look different. they are different. they are not the same as they are at home.
the first time i saw the Big Dipper, i almost fell over because it was in a different place. switzerland is almost the same latitude as portland, so i suppose that doesn't make too much sense. but for some reason all the constellations look bigger, or brighter, or lower somehow. they're almost in the right places, but not quite.  
even the constellations, then, are a constant reminder that i am not at home.
that i am not where i know, where i understand.
that i am not in the place where i belong. 
and yet...
some things don't change. the sky is different, and the constellations look different. but the stars are the stars that i have always seen, will always see.
 the biggest visible things in my life, the biggest things in our universe, continue to do what they have always done. the moons orbit around each other, the planets whirl on their axes, the stars burn bright. no matter what, they stay constant. they don't change.
and so i'm walking home from choir, the same thing i do every thursday. there is music singing in my head, notes shining like silver on the tip of my tongue. the village is quiet.
the sky is deep and black and filled with stars.
and the constellations look different. 
but the stars? 
the stars are always the same.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

days > 100 -- belonging

piece of advice for future exchange students #16:
exchange is not for the faint of heart. if you want to feel incapable,
alone, and generally awkward 24/7 for three months straight, go on exchange.
but you know what?
it gets better.

Something has changed in the past couple weeks. I'm not sure whether it was my 100 days or if it was the fact that I've been learning Swiss German (sort of) or if it was just a sudden, random shift. But somewhere along the way, I stopped feeling like an exchange student.
That doesn't sound quite right.
What I mean is that I stopped feeling like an outsider. I no longer feel like I'm awkwardly on the edge of conversations. I no longer feel like my classmates and friends have to constantly cater to me and my less-than-perfect language skills. I no longer feel like a visitor.
I feel like a part of the class now. 
And maybe that's not quite right, because I know that my communication skills are handicapped and my grades are about average. But somehow that doesn't matter anymore. I'm not sure why. But I don't feel like "the exchange student". I feel like Hannah.
Hannah, who lives in Switzerland and goes to school and learns German.
Hannah, who is finally beginning to belong.

things that have happened in the past 10-ish days:
  • I took school tests. A lot of tests. They were interesting, because I haven't successfully understood a complete test yet... and so lots of times I end up looking at the words I know and guessing at what I think I am supposed to write. It doesn't test my knowledge of the subject as much as it tests my ability to understand what the test says.
  • Oh, and I got a 2 on my French test! This is approximately the equivalent of a D... BUT I'm really happy about it because a) the rest of my class averaged about a 3.5, because it was a hard test and b) my class has had 6 years of French already and I had absolutely none before I came here and c) I wasn't allowed to have my phone during class to translate the words in German or in French, so I was conjugating verbs and finishing sentences without a clear idea of what they meant. Hooray for intuitive language skills! :)
  • thought: I never thought I'd be so happy about a D. Hmm. The things that change on exchange...
  • I received a package from my family! And it had American... THINGS in it! :) I love Switzerland, don't get me wrong, but I do miss the USA a lot. A lot. :/
the end because I am too tired to write anything more.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

language update: stalling

so I have a confession to make.

In the past couple weeks, I haven't really been trying.

But wait, this story has more to it...
You see, I've always been fairly good at languages. They've never been a struggle for me to learn, at least not to the point that I know they are for some people. In general, I can listen and mimic the sounds around me without too much effort, and the grammatical structure of the language makes intuitive sense to me. Something about languages seems to "click" in my head, faster than it does for science or math or computers or history or any other sort of subject.

This does not mean that I am perfect-- trust me, I have TONS to learn and my German is still pretty bad-- but it does mean that in general, both because I work hard and because I genuinely like languages, the learning curve is not quite as steep for me as it could be.
So in the first 6 weeks or so, I was at the "conversational exchange student" level. This means different things to different people, but what I mean by it is that I could say normal everyday things regularly and carry on everyday conversations. By the end of my two-month, I could figure out what the teachers were telling me and what to do. (I was still a lot slower than the rest of my class, but I could do the work and take the tests and everything. I've been taking tests with my class since day 2, so...) I could also ask for help, get directions from someone, and in general function as a normal person.
This doesn't mean that my German is native-level fluent. My grammar is pretty horrible, because I can never remember the articles to anything or the preterit form of verbs. But in general I had a non-distinguishable accent and I could communicate almost everything I wanted to say.
That's when the learning speed started to slow down. For the first 6 weeks, I felt like I was getting better every day, that I was learning more and becoming better at expressing myself in tangible ways. But for some reason, once I hit the two month mark, my German just sort of appeared to stay the same.
I'm not exactly sure why this was. My guess, though, is that after reaching the point where I could express myself, I stopped trying so hard. People can understand me, I can communicate, and in general my teachers are impressed that I've learned so much German in such a short time. My language level is almost the same as some of the Januaries in my area. Why would I need to learn anything more?
I did try to learn Swiss German in the meantime, and that helped a lot. For the past month or so, I've been asking my host family to speak Swiss German with me. I can understand almost everything now, and speak a little. But... and this is a big But... my German, both Swiss German and High German, is far from perfect.
So what I did then?
Well. I'm not particularly proud of it. But for the next two weeks I started to have an irrational fear of losing my English. I holed up in my room and read English online books, checked Facebook statuses. I hung out more with the other exchange students, and we speak English together because not all of us are comfortable with speaking German. English is easier. I stopped studying German outside of school and homework.
Granted, I'm still studying German automatically every time I turn on the television or read the newspaper or do my homework here. It's something I have to do, because I don't ask my family or classmates to speak English. 
But I wasn't studying grammar, or vocabulary, or sentence structure. It wasn't fun and interesting to do anymore, simply because I could already function in my host language. 
And so I fell into a sort of language slump. 
Please don't think that I'm giving up on my exchange... I love Switzerland just as much as ever, and I'm making new efforts to learn the language... but I think it's important for me to talk about mistakes on this blog too, because goodness knows they're a huge part of exchange.
and that is all for now, folks.
byyeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! :)

(p.s. I think you should know that I am now going through my language books and studying German with all I've got. And I'm learning grammar. So be proud of me. thatsallbye.)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

looking back: country fair

so this past weekend we had the country fair.

it was awesome. I remember it being good when I was an outbound, but it is so much better being an inbound... telling people about your country, spending time with the other exchange students, and realizing just how much culture shift you've experienced in the past three months.
Still and all, there is a level of excitement that comes with being an outbound. You're about to make a huge decision--where you spend the next full year of your LIFE--and you want to learn as much as humanly possible. It's exciting and new and a little bit stressful for those of us who have no idea what to do.
You see, at the beginning I knew where I wanted to go. I knew where I SHOULD go. For the past 10 years, I had dreamed of traveling the world. Specifically, Europe. Specifically, France. It was an area that was not up for discussion... I was going to France. Period.
But then I went to country fair, and I decided to reconsider.

And reconsidering turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.

You'll hear more about how I ended up in a country I never would have considered sometime later. But for right now, let's address my original topic: country fair.

In a nutshell, country fair is a way for new exchange students to figure out which country they want to choose.

This means that most of your time as a inbound is spent convincing the new students that your home country is the best possible place to go. And most of your time as a new Outbound Candidate is spent confused and trying to figure out which country really is the best possible place to go.

I remember being really confused at the country fair. In fact, a lot of us were confused. But we had months to make this decision, and it wasn't something that needed to be rushed.

And so if anything, what I learned from the first country fair was that not everything was as clear as I thought it would be, that there were amazing things in every country, and that maybe it was okay to go somewhere I never would have considered. I hope that's what the new exchange students learn too.

Because sometimes things are unclear.
And sometimes, that is okay.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

haiyan: please watch!

so i haven't been posting very much recently.
the reason for this is that one of my friends, Nica, is from the Philippines. and I've been working on something for her. this is my first video ever. it didn't help that I had no camera or recording devices besides my laptop...
but here it is.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

days > 90 -- living

advice for future exchange students #15:
if you make it to the third month, congratulations.
you are exchanging.

I have this theory that life for exchange students gets more dramatic at the third month mark. While I haven't had that much drama as of yet (which makes me rather worried, because I feel like something should be coming), I've observed enough of my friends to conclude that around three months in, something changes.
I talked with some of my Austauschschuler friends about this, and what we came up with was that after three months, you are no longer a guest. You are on exchange-- you have lived in the same house for almost 100 days, you (should) be able to speak the language to communicate, and you are no longer new to school or classes or your village. 
And so you are transitioning.
You are transitioning into living your new life.

things that have happened in the past 10 days:
  • first skype with my family!!! For those of you who didn't know, there is something called the 90-day-rule that my district set up for the outbounds. It basically states that we cannot skype or call home (with the exception of a short call home to tell them that we've arrived) for the first 90 days of our exchange. But... my 90 days are over, and so I skyped home! :) :) :) words do not express how excited I was.
  • I finally got to meet up with one of my friends from Zurich, Sarah. We skyped several times before I left (she is from Kentucky and I am from Oregon) but since she's in a different area and district I haven't gotten to see her very often. It was good to see her and talk and compare lives :)
  • I got an account at the Rheinfelden library. This means that I can check out German books whenever I want for free. Since the library was a huge part of my life at home, it's nice to have an account here.
  • met with my counsellor at Gymnasium Muttenz. We spoke completely in German, which was actually pretty cool for me... while I've had conversations with my host family and my colleagues at school, it's a different experience to explain yourself and ask "business" questions in German.
  • On Wednesday, my whole class had something called a Berufstag (at least, I think that's what it's called). All of the first-year FMS students were required to take a huge long test to see what their strengths and weaknesses and job preferences would be. Then on one day, all of us go and visit places and hear presentations based on what those job preferences are. Each of the different jobs require you to go to a specific type of school where they train you for the specific job you pick. So for example, I went to a pedagogy presentation (which was really boring), an architecture presentation (which was interesting) and a presentation about journalism/translation/communications (which was really awesome.)
  • I've also decided to go to university here.
  • Just kidding. 
  • Except really... there are some very good schools in Switzerland, so we'll see how my German goes and then maybe college in other countries would be a possibility!
the end.

Monday, November 4, 2013

thoughts on switzerland -- 10 non-school things I've learned from school

some (most) of you reading this blog know that I was formerly homeschooled.
This means that my first experience in public school is in another country speaking another language. I find this really funny.
That said, Swiss high school isn't really like American high school for several different reasons. I've learned a lot about both the European attitude towards school and the general Swiss mindset towards the younger generation by being here.

 And so, here are some of the main differences/ideas that I've noticed, as an exchange student, a homeschooler, and a high schooler. (If you'd like to know the facts about Swiss high school and a little description of what I'm doing there, you can read my post here.)

oh, and these pictures don't actually have anything to do with school. they are just pictures of switzerland that I found on my camera. :P

subjects I've learned to appreciate:
  1. science, math, and physics. because they are the same in every language. (also because physics and math are way, way better in the metric than in the english system.)
  2. foreign languages. because it's nice to know that you are not the only one who sounds like a caveman in a language that is not your own.
  3. history. because things are different when you have touched them and heard them and walked inside of them, because events are different when you have stood in the very spot someone else once did, because people are different when they have a story.
people I've learned to appreciate:
  1. teachers. because they really do want you to learn, and in general they are looking out for your best interests. (I know this isn't the same for all exchange students, but for the most part I really like my teachers and I think they like me. then again, I think my class has a lot of the nice teachers.)
  2. people. the people who are willing to overcome not only the normal social walls, but language barriers, cultural barriers, and the awkwardness of an exchange student in order to talk to you.
  3. and of course the other exchange students. because we are a family. :)
things I've learned to appreciate: 
  1. tests. not because they are easy or because I am good at them (on average, it takes me the same amount of time to understand the questions on my economics test as it does for the others to answer them), but because then I am closer to being a normal student. Because then, I can learn for the test and study and pretend that I am nothing beyond a Swiss girl doing school work.
  2. trains. you'd be surprised by how much I like the trains here, because they are on schedule and because they are full of people and because the riding to and from school is, to some extent, a way to prepare and wind down from my day at school.
  3. age. Almost everyone in Gymnasium and FMS Muttenz is between the ages of 15 and 20 years old, which is about 1-2 years older than normal American high school. This makes a huge difference. I'm not sure why, but it's just that the general maturity level is higher... then again, that might also be due to the last point on this list...
  4. everyone who is in Gymi and FMS wants to be there. In Switzerland, you can get an apprenticeship after you turn 15, or you can continue with school. This ultimately means that if you are in Gymnasium, you have the grades and the motivation to stay in. At the end of the first semester (January) those with insufficient scores are dropped from the school. While this initially seemed really harsh to me, I'm realizing that here kids are expected to take more initiative in their own education. That nothing here is keeping them, really, except that they want to be here. And for the most part, it shows.
...and that concludes my rather randomized list of things I've learned to appreciate from school. I'm actually liking this list idea...

till next time,


Sunday, November 3, 2013

october's lovely links

this made me laugh: a map displaying what these countries lead the world in. 
one of my friends posted this on facebook. It's an infographic from Huffington Post which displays 50 facts about the world and its languages. Although, speaking as one who is learning the language, German doesn't actually seem THAT similar to English...
you guys have probably figured out that I am addicted to lovely quotes. Here are 20 inspiring quotes on travel (complete with pictures).
for those of you who enjoy laughing at art (or those of you who actually appreciate it) here is Ursus Wehrli. He tidies up art.
Oh, but if you don't want to watch the 15 minute video, you can read a short article about it here.
I can totally relate to the frustrated-when-people-mix-up-Sweden-with-Switzerland thing, but apparently the Swedes have taken it to another level and are campaigning so that China can tell them apart...
and lastly, I leave you with an Emergency Button. You are welcome. :)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

vienna: in which hannah rode the scariest carnival ride of her life

(so, I'm finally getting around to writing about austria... about a month afterwards... but let's ignore that small fact, shall we?)

The very first day we arrived in Vienna, we went to the Prater. This is an amusement park, famous for its 212 foot Riesenrad (Ferris Wheel). But I'm not going to talk about that wheel right now... because I rode something a little more terrifying.
Its name was EXTASY and it was one of those bright rides with loud music, the kind that you can't help but look at as you pass by. (see the blurry picture to the side.)

As we walked closer, I realized that the seats were spinning. In fact, they were spinning very fast.
They were also sideways.

Well, I tried to see what the other riders looked like (I tend to judge rides based on the expressions of the people in them) but there appeared to be only 4 other kids on the entire ride and they were spinning so fast it was hard to tell what they looked like. They were holding very tightly to their seats, and just as I turned away to talk to my host mom, they started screaming.

In retrospect, it would have been good if I had turned around to see that part of the ride. I did not.

And so when my host parents asked me if I would go, I remembered the exchange student creed "say yes" and did so. I told myself I could handle this easily... tilting wasn't so bad. This was an adventure!
Walking towards the entrance, my host mom pointed out a sign that read "ACHTUNG -- NICHT FÜR SCHWACHE NERVEN" [Attention -- Not For Weak Nerves]. I laughed and took it as a joke.
(Note to self -- Germans don't joke.)

My little sister Delia and I walked through the entrance and into the ride. One of those metal locks -- the kind that goes over your whole body and that they put on loop the loop roller coasters -- came down. Now I was locked in. And it was too late to leave.

The seats began to spin -- and boy, were they fast! They whirled around each other and tilted until we were sideways. And I mean really, lying down sideways-spinning, the kind that makes your stomach forget its rightful place in your body and makes your heart threaten to come out your mouth. It was terrifying and fun and exciting, and all the time we whirled at 90 miles an hour with music blaring like sirens.
Finally the ride slowed down and we were right side up again and my host sister looked at each other and laughed and prepared to get out.

We were interrupted by a happy voice in German cheerily announcing something into the ride. Rather unfortunately, the shock and spinning had driven all German vocabulary from my brain, so I had no idea what was going on.

And then the whole world turned upside down.

It was rather unexpected, but after rudely turning on its head, it proceeded to spin. And spin. And spin. I didn't think it was possible, but we were spinning even faster than before--and all of a sudden someone started pumping blue smoke into the ride--

the rest was a blur of me screaming and Delia screaming and smoke and flashing lights and whirling minds and loud music and I'm pretty sure this machine was a torture device in its former life...

and it was terrifying.

But it was AWESOME.


and then of course I went on a scarier ride about 3 weeks later...
...but that's a story for another time. ;)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

a day in the basler herbstmesse

note: this is the third of a series of posts I'm writing about Switzerland and the places I've been. Solely for the purpose of having fun (and to exercise my travel writing skills) I'm going to write about it in second person. Which means you, the reader, are semi-virtually coming with me. bring good shoes.

No one in Basel has really been able to describe Herbstmesse to you... apparently it's not exactly like anything that we have in America, besides which it only exists in Basel so there is nothing to compare it to in
the other Swiss cities. What you have managed to glean from the various stories is threefold:
1) Herbstmesse is a mixture of carnival, market, tourist attraction, historical celebration, and fair.
2) Herbstmesse is exclusive. Kääskiechli, Rosenküchlein, Messmogge, the Riesenrad... apparently all of them can be found at the Herbstmesse, and only at the Herbstmesse.
3) Herbstmesse is something to which you absolutely, positively, without a doubt, must go.
And so, on Saturday morning, you dutifully lace up your sneakers, grab your camera, and step out the door. You are on an exploration.

Riding a tram into the heart of Basel, you have plenty of time to look around and observe the differences. At first glance, there aren't that many-- it's a normal Saturday afternoon with people and cars and trams ferrying everyone back and forth through the city-- but then you look harder. And you notice the amount of people.

Saturdays are always fairly busy, because most stores in Switzerland are closed on Sundays and that only really leaves Saturday to get weekend-type-things done. But today is CRAZY. There are people everywhere, in the train station and in the grocery store and in the middle of the street (which makes the trams considerably slower, as they have to slow down for every Swiss person who decides to walk over the tram tracks).

As you near your first stop (Barfüsserplatz, for those of you who know Basel), the reason for all the people becomes clearer. There are amusement park rides and cotton candy stands and everything that would normally be at a carnival, except Swiss-ified. This is wonderful when it comes to the food (little cheese pies fresh out of the oven? Yes please!) but not so wonderful when it comes to the prices (10 francs for a stick of chocolate-dipped strawberries? Um, maybe not).
There are multiple different places throughout Basel where Herbstmesse is celebrated. Barfüsserplatz sits in the middle of the city, hawking desserts and balloons and rides. Petersplatz has a market with a hundred or so stalls selling everything from jewelry to food to ornaments to candles. Claraplatz holds the classic amusement park rides, including one for 12 francs that swings you at a dizzying speed over the city. Munsterplatz has the gigantic Riesenrad (Ferris wheel) and can be seen from almost anywhere in Basel. Messeplatz is full of new rides and an assortment of foods. All of them are definitely worth the visit.

Officially, Herbstmesse doesn't start until 12 noon, when a tiny church in the middle of the city rings its bells. True to this tradition, none of the rides are running yet. There are ridiculously long lines of children in front of the biggest rides, because another tradition is that the first ride on each "Bahn" is free. They're waiting anxiously for a signal from the ride operator.

You, though, are looking for something else. And so you climb up the stairs that overlook the square and stand.

And then it comes. The bells... quiet at first, but then louder, more insistent, clearer.
Everyone goes silent for a moment.
Just like that, Herbstmesse has begun!

The rides hiss and clank to a start and the Ferris wheel starts to move and the other clocks in the city chime together and the children shriek in excitement.

And you wait,
listening to the bells,
listening to the rides,
listening to the people.