Wednesday, August 28, 2013

days > 20 -- adapting

advice for future exchange students #9:
at the beginning of your exchange, you will probably have nothing to do. fill that nothing up with food, language practice, traveling, and getting lost in cities. oh, and more food.

things that have happened in the past 10 days:
  • After my first 10 days, my host family stopped speaking English to me. Now it's about 90% Deutsch (and 10% of what my host mom calls "emergency English": explanations, clarifications, etc.) Not surprisingly, I've learned a lot of German in the past couple weeks.
  • In fact, I've learned more German in the past 20 days than I did Spanish in the first year. And my Spanish class was exceptionally good. I think this has more to do with the constant immersion than it does with my actually being good at the language or learning anything from the German class...
  • On the 18th, I had my first Rotary Youth Exchange conference in Switzerland. We had the introduction, some rules, and the D-lecture (which I have basically memorized by now, haha) but it was fun to meet the other exchange students. Plus... PINS.
  • I successfully went shopping in a Swiss mall. Granted, I didn't say much except for "hello" and "thank you", but I did teach myself the names of a lot of new trends. No idea how that could possibly come in handy, but hey, it's language practice.
  • My Deutsch Kurs "field trip" was a trip to the Basel zoo! It was fun. Pictures to come, but there are quite a few so I have to sift through them (unless you'd care to see several hundred pictures of depressed-looking fish).
  • I started dance classes officially last Friday... and I'm constantly amazed at the generosity of the wonderful people around me. 
  • It's now my third week of German class. Not exactly sure how I feel about this?
  • Watched Ich-Einfach Unverbesserlich 2 (translation: Despicable Me 2) in German in Deutschland as part of my little sister's birthday party. She turned 11!
  • I don't understand how anyone, anywhere, could possibly dislike Swiss/German/French bread. Have they no tastebuds???
  • Speaking of which, I have now had multiple Swiss foods including Biberli, Leckerli, Luxemburgerli, and Apfeltaschen. They're a bit hard to explain, so I'll save that for another post... but all you need to know right now is that they're delicious. :)

Friday, August 23, 2013

note to self: do not miss the bus

I missed it today by one minute, which is why I'm now sitting at the bus stop writing this. Swiss buses are always -- always -- on time, meaning that they leave one minute or less after they arrive and if you're 30 seconds too late the bus will have cheerfully departed without you on it.
I would like to say that I immediately resolved to be on time for everything and never to miss anything in my schedule ever again. 
I didn't. 
Instead, after 3 minutes of hoping against hope that the bus was late and 2 minutes of inspecting the bus schedule to verify that the next bus was, indeed, 29 minutes later, I sat down and began to complain. Not out loud, mind you. It was in my head -- and what a lot of complaining I did! In 15 minutes I had blamed the bus, my village, the time on my cell phone, the class time change, the day, my shoes, my alarm clock, and the transit system in general. I'm very efficient that way.
And then I realized. 
You see, in Rotary the consistent thing they tell you is that it's your exchange. Yours and nobody else's.
And many times before today, I'd appreciated that the buses came and left on time, that there was always a connection, that I never had to doubt the train system or the consistency of the bus. And so, if I miss the bus, it's my own responsibility, my own fault.  
Mine and nobody else's.  
And as I stepped onto the bus and sat down, I realized just how ridiculously selfish I was being. Everything that I was complaining about was a gift: the class, the teacher, my cell phone, my village, the day, the GA for the transit system, and way more. And all of those were a part of one big undeserved gift -- the fact that I was on exchange. In Switzerland, no less. 
And so that's what I've been telling myself today. That every day is a discovery, that every hour is a gift, because I am in SWITZERLAND, on my foreign exchange. 
and nobody else's.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

days > 10 -- adjusting

advice for future exchange students #8:
 DO learn the language before you come. Lots of American (USA) people say on Facebook that they didn’t practice anything and they learned the language in the first month. Yeah. Either they’re delusional, they’re lying, or they went to Australia.*

Sorry I've been MIA for the past couple days. I meant to post every 10 days, I really did, but unfortunately I didn't take into account that I would be busy with so many things. The first 10 days have been undeniably a part of the honeymoon stage.** I've been to more places than I can count and my days are sort of blurring together, which is why I only just now realized that I should be updating. So here I am (right now I should be eating breakfast, but instead I am writing on my blog. this must be quick.)

The language immersion has actually been much easier than I thought it would be, hooray! I would definitely recommend learning the language before your exchange, because I do think it's harder for the exchangers who haven't... people in Switzerland do speak English, for those of you who are wondering. That said, I think it's rather annoying to keep asking people to speak English, and learning German is part of what I came here to do, so why not just work hard at it in the beginning when you have time?

anyway, things that have happened in the past 10 (ish) days:
  • a few days after I got here, we went to Rheinfelden and walked across the bridge to Germany! It still boggles my mind to think that I am so close to so many other countries... Switzerland is much smaller than the USA.
  • I started my Deutschkurs (German course) shortly after my arrival in der Schweiz. So far it's been fairly good, although the lessons are pretty easy. A lot of it is review of what we were supposed to learn in Rosetta Stone, but it's helpful to get in some practice I suppose. It's also nice to spend time with the other exchange students in my area.
  • After my first day of German class, I asked my host mom to speak mainly in German to me. After the first 10 days, my YEO told my host parents to only speak German to me. So far it's been a little confusing, but really good as far as language immersion goes :)
  • I went to an FCB (Fussball Club Basel) game the first week of my stay. It was SO HOT in the stadium, but the game was exciting. We were sitting less than 20 rows away from the players, which was also pretty amazing... my host family and I all wore FCB shirts and hats, and the people in the stands were going crazy.
  • Went to Augusta Raurica and saw old old OLD Roman ruins. We also went to a restaurant in Augusta Raurica and had pizza. It was delicious.
  • I met some of my host sister Alessandra's (she's my age, but spending her exchange year in Australia right now) friends. They're super nice, and they'll go to my school so I may see them more often.
  • I now have a class list. Unfortunately it's in German, so I only sometimes remember which classes I have. Hopefully I'll remember enough to get to my classes on time.
  • We went to the Basler Munster last Saturday and explored the rest of Basel as well. Pictures to come soon, I just haven't uploaded them to my computer yet :)
And that concludes my rather rambling, hard-to-follow post. Bis bald!


*I do think that Australia is an awesome exchange destination, and I would love to go if it were offered in my district. It's only that I don't think you learn another language there if you're from the USA. Just to clarify :)
**if you're wondering what that is, I mentioned it earlier in this post.

Monday, August 12, 2013

update -- and pictures!

I woke up this morning to the sound of bells.

Outside my bedroom window I can see to the other side of my village. It's a small village, about the size of my entire neighborhood back home... of course, that would make sense considering that Switzerland is about 1/6th the area of Oregon. In fact, everything in Switzerland appears to be smaller than back home. The cars are smaller, the streets are smaller, and even the chairs and tables appear to be shorter. Which makes me very happy, because sitting at my desk here I can comfortably extend my feet to the floor. At least size-wise, I fit in here perfectly.

Of course, there are other ways that I feel distinctly different. I happen to be Asian, which isn't a big deal in the middle of hipster downtown Portlanders where there are much stranger things to be stared at. And I don't identify myself as a different race by default... I am Hannah, I am a girl, I am American.
But here I have seen absolutely no one who looks like me. I'm not sure how much I stand out, but I know for a fact that I do not look Swiss.

The language barrier is interesting. Most of my peers take English in school, and my host mom speaks fluent English. This is nice when I am trying to get my point across but not so nice when I'm trying to practice my language skills :P However, everyone has been super nice about helping me practice my German, and there's plenty of language immersion everywhere :)

In addition, the German that I've learned so far is High German, Hochdeutsch, while the German that's spoken here is Swiss German, Schweizerdeutsch/Schwyzerdüütsch. Swiss German is a very strong "dialect" of German that doesn't really exist in written form. Some people say that when you go to Switzerland you learn two languages--Swiss German and High German--and it's so true.

Where was I? Oh yes, my village. Every hour the church bells ring, and during dinner today we heard alphorns. Yes, real alphorns. Told you Magden was small :) but still, it's ridiculously adorable. There are flowers everywhere, the houses have little peaked tile roofs, all the windows have colored shutters (and window boxes with flowers in them). Sheep are grazing in the field behind the backyard, and I've even seen horses walking down the main street! The entire town is like a picture from a storybook.

Proof? Look at the pictures. I took these... unedited... in half an hour... walking around my village. There are more, but I figured I might overwhelm you so I've kept it to a minimum. I seriously can't stop taking pictures here-- there are so many things to see and love and be interested in! I'm obviously still in the "honeymoon" stage of my exchange :P
But honestly, Switzerland is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my entire life. There's so much history--Magden is 1200 years old, and Switzerland is full of lovely old castles and churches and fountains and bridges. It makes the Declaration of Independence seem practically new!

Also, today I started German language school, or Deutschschule. There are eight other exchange students in my class, all of us at varying levels of German. At the end of four weeks we take a test, and if all goes well I will start "real school" in Gymnasium Muttenz the week afterward.

Now the alphorns are finished and the bells are ringing again--22:00--so I'd better go to sleep. Gute Nacht, Schweiz.


"The plane swooped over jagged snow-covered mountains and landed without crashing in Zurich, Switzerland. A foreign country."
--Bloomability, Sharon Creech*

*this book is good. I recommend it.
in fact i recommend it so much that i named my blog after it.
you'll be seeing many quotes from it in the future, trust me. ;)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

saying goodbye

i promised myself i wouldn't cry.

and i didn't. i didn't cry at the end of school. i didn't cry at my goodbye party. i didn't cry when all my bags were packed, or when we left the house, or during the car ride.

except then i said goodbye to my family, and that promise basically flew out the window.

it was hard to say goodbye to my grandparents and my aunt and my parents and my sisters and my little brother. still, they know that i will only be gone for a year.

but how do you explain exchange to a two-year-old?

my littlest sister doesn't know that i'm leaving for a year. she can't comprehend that i will be in another country. she doesn't understand that when i leave, i will be living on the other side of the world.

and so i look at her and tell her the things i know to be true.
"hannah is going
 far away,
and you will not see her
for a long, long time.
but you know what?
hannah loves you,
and she's coming back."

"i'm coming back."

Thursday, August 8, 2013

days < 0 -- arriving

piece of advice for future exchange students #7:
you are going. you are going because this is an adventure and it is worth it.
stop panicking.

I'm here!
that's it. I'm too tired to write more. :)

august's lovely links -- pre-exchange favorite posts

this "lovely links" is a bit different because I'm going to post my favorite pre-exchange links from this blog. in case you're just beginning to read my blog and you don't want to read through everything, I'll also explain some of it throughout this post.

also, Sound of Music isn't from Switzerland, it's from Austria. But I couldn't resist using some of the lyrics anyway.

let's start at the very beginning:
I first applied for the Rotary Long Term exchange program in the fall of 2012, and I was accepted as an alternate (a replacement, if you will, for the primary candidate). I went to the first Rotary week in January, and they still didn't know whether I would be able to go. about a week before the Rotary Youth Exchange weekend in February, I received an email saying that they found a slot for me and that I was accepted into the program. I screamed my head off.
That week was crazy. We talked to people and learned about countries and went through culture training and finally received our country selections on Saturday. I started my blog back in May, after the district conference. This post describes the process a little more clearly, and the following one is what happened between the February weekend and the May conference. :)

a very good place to start:
My feelings were basically all over the place. the exchange seemed surreal and the preparation was rather overwhelming. in addition, I knew I'd miss everything at home --- exchange wasn't an escape for me. but I knew that this was something I really, really wanted. and so the months went by.

when you read you begin with:
German is a difficult language. if you have an extra half hour, you should look up "the awful German language" by Mark Twain... the language isn't actually that bad, but the essay is funny.

Also during the summer, I answered a lot of questions. a lot.
a LOT.

when you exchange you begin with:
as the day came closer, it began to sink in that I actually was going. I had the whole summer to think through why I wanted to do this seemingly crazy and potentially overwhelming thing, which helped. I also realized that I'd be saying goodbye to a lot of things (that seems really obvious, now that I think about it.)

favorite post so far, though, goes to stamps. it's a short description/story I wrote on the fly, and I'm surprised that I ended up liking it so much. hopefully you will too?