Monday, September 23, 2013

days > 40 -- attempting

advice for future exchange students #10:
when your school friends speak a dialect, try to learn it. just try.
you've got nothing to lose besides your pride
and really, if you're on exchange chances are you'll become immune to embarassment sometime.

so with school and everything I basically forgot that I have a blog.

Something that I've learned here: just try things. Try them. Especially since I'm an exchange student and I'm no good at most things, I can step outside my comfort zone and attempt lots of things because I already look stupid am foreign, and thus it doesn't matter. I've attempted volleyball, tabletennis, and handsprings, with somewhat varying levels of failure... I've talked to a dozen people a day in very bad Swiss German... I've tried various different foods and multiple juice/mineralwater/soda-ish drinks... and so far I haven't died.
It's a good lesson for me. Sometimes pride doesn't get you anywhere. And sometimes nothing is better than attempting a new thing, even if you look like a complete idiot. ;)

things that have happened in the past 10ish days:
  • I successfully asked for directions in German, received them in German, and was able to follow them. It basically made my entire week.
  • went to Zurich! It was nice. and expensive. and pretty. and expensive. and we walked a lot. plus, did I mention that it's expensive?
  • School is good. The second day of my arrival, I had a Physics test in German. So... that was interesting...
  • I also took a math test in German last week. I've never been so excited about a A-/B+ (the grades are a bit different here, but I think that's the American equivalent) in my entire life. 
  • Rotary weekends in Switzerland = awesome. I think all the most amazing people in other countries somehow picked Switzerland as their destination? Which means that I get to meet all of them :) hooray!
  • I seem to have come back with a slight Aussie (edit: after a little bit of thought, I've concluded it's actually New Zealander) accent that I can't get rid of. This makes things interesting.
  • The Swiss Rotex find it really funny when I speak Swiss German. So do my schoolmates. I'm not exactly sure if this is a good or a bad thing.
  • I have conquered the chocolate chip cookie. After finding that Switzerland does not in fact have vanilla extract, brown sugar, or chocolate chips, I substituted multiple things, did conversions, weighed everything in my host family's kitchen, and finally ended up with fairly good cookies.
  • popped over to Germany to buy an ice cream. That wasn't really necessary, I just enjoy saying that I popped over to Germany. It makes me feel like a world traveler :)
bis nachste mal,

Friday, September 13, 2013

girl meets world: my first week of school in another country

So, today marks Friday and my first official week of school ever. Plenty of people have asked me what school looks like in Switzerland, so here's a quick rundown of the differences I've noticed:

  • There are two different types of high school: FMS and Gymi, or Gymnasium. Gymnasium is for students to pursue "higher" branches of learning, and FMS is for things like teaching and art and dentistry etc. You can easily get a job coming from either high school. (I got put in FMS... explanation to come later.)
  • You have only one class of students, and you see them every day. Mine is about 17 people, which is the average for FMS--Gymnasium classes have an average of 25 people (but they can't be any more than that, it's illegal.) This is actually really nice, because I have the same kids in my class every day and it's easier to make friends.
  • Every day is not the same... your days are broken up into 50 minute sessions and each day is different. So on Tuesday I have Physik, Musik, Geschichte (history), Englisch, and Deutsch, but on Wednesday I have Klassenstunde (a weird thing that varies from week to week), Musik, Biologie, and Mathematik.
  • This also means that you can take way more subjects than in American high school, simply because you have so many timeslots to fill. As of my last counting, I have 14 different classes. I'm not sure if that's a lot? It seems like an awful lot to me...
Anyway. Now that you know all about Swiss high school, here's an average morning before school for me:

6:00am--wake up. I refuse to wake up earlier than 6 (well actually I normally end up waking up at 5:50 because I have a weird tendency to anticipate my alarm... but I refuse to get out of bed earlier than 6, so). I get dressed, pack my school bag, review my bus schedule so I don't miss the bus again, and do all the normal things that one does in the morning.
6:30am--eat breakfast. It's still dark outside, and cold. Brrrr, Switzerland.
6:50am--leave the house. I have to catch the bus at 6:56 to the Rheinfelden main station, and then take the train from Rheinfelden to Muttenz, and then walk for about 10 minutes from the Muttenz station to my school. Hopefully I don't get lost, because my school is in the middle of an industrial area and there aren't that many people around at 7:30am to ask for directions.
7:50am-- If I'm lucky, I find one of my classmates and we walk to class together. If I'm not, I rush madly up and down stairs in an attempt to find the room. After I've finally located it (I swear the FMS building has no logical order to their room numbers whatsoever) I go into the classroom and we all wait for the teacher, who shows up promptly at 7:55. These are Swiss people, after all.

Voila. And school hasn't even started yet!

But after I find my classroom and my classmates, things get easier. Since we all have the same classes, I can just follow everyone else around and theoretically get where I need to be at the time I need to be. So far it's worked pretty well. :)
The majority of my classmates are really friendly and super nice about showing me where classes are and translating for me when I have no idea what's going on. Also, people keep commenting on how good my German is already, which is not exactly right... but it makes me happy, haha.

I'm currently in Physik, Mathematik, Biologie, Franzoesisch, Deutsch, Sport, Art (which I can't remember the name of in German), Wirtschaft und Rechts (economics), Computer Science (which I also can't remember the name of), Musik, Geschichte, and Englisch. Also my other Deutschkurs, something called PP that I don't understand, and something called Klassenstunde that confuses me.
Because I'm feeling nice, I won't drag you through my entire schedule for the week. You're welcome.


  • Music! We started with music theory (thank you, Animate Studio and voice lessons and voice teacher who gave me two years of intensive theory) and sang in the second hour. Also, the songs were all really old hits in English. Think Moonlight Shadow and House of the Rising Sun. Since I like singing and I could actually read the lyrics, it was a good class for me.
  • The economics teacher told us we didn't have any homework because I was in class and I might not understand it. This made me a lot more popular with the other students ;)
  • For my very first day we had three hours of Art. Hooray for art, it doesn't require you to speak very much and you have plenty of time to draw and think and attempt to translate what the teacher is saying. Probably the best Monday class to have, ever.
  • French is an optional class, because all the teaching is either in French or German and I've had neither of those languages in school. Because I've wanted to learn French, I stayed in the first class just to see what would happen. That said, I was surprised to discover that I actually understood part of what was going on! Language has always been something fairly intuitive for me-- some people get math, some people get science, I get languages. But I wasn't expecting to be able to read and understand very much, as I've never in my life taken French. I think maybe Spanish helped, or possibly my brain was in learn-a-new-language mode... either way, it was a nice surprise :)
In the majority of my classes, I don't have homework (hooray!) This is mostly because my teachers are really nice and understand that I have no idea what to do with written German homework. I do understand what's going on in the class, and I can follow along to some extent. From what I've heard about school on exchange, school is really boring, but so far I haven't found that to be true.

and so concludes a very long probably boring post.
We'll see what happens next week... stay tuned!

in which hannah learns a bit of french, meets a tiger (and a canadian), and eats too much chocolate

So this post is pretty overdue, seeing as I did all of this about two weeks ago.. but hey, it's still an update, right? I'll try to put a ton of posts after this and maybe it'll look like I posted it semi-on-time.

On Saturday, my host family told me that they wanted to take me to see the tiger in the next village over. I was a little surprised considering this is Switzerland and not India, and I wasn't expecting to see a tiger my first month of exchange. But, it sounded interesting and I've never seen a village tiger before, so I said yes.
We drove for about 10 or 15 minutes and then walked for a while. (I'm beginning to realize that most outings begin with a walk, whether you're in Luzern or in Magden or in Rheinfelden or in Basel.)
After turning down a dirt road we arrived at a small farm. It did not exactly appear to be the type of place that exotic animals reside in... but sure enough after [more] walking and a good look around, we located the tigers. Shortly after that, I and my host family and our fellow village people filed into a very large dingy barn and the show began.
 We sat really close to the cage... almost too close for comfort, considering that it was a very old-looking cage... but the animals that filed in did not look wild and ferocious. They reminded me of very old overweight cats, which was unexpectedly funny.
Apparently the tigers are the hardest to train because they are sneaky and not very obedient. In the trainer's words, sie sind listig, which means something like clever/sly in English...
The lions are also hard to train because they are very lazy. (And fat. The lions are really fat. They don't really look like Simba at all, they look more like the weiner dog who used to live next door to me. And they walk like he did too.) They are more interested in the food than in the trick-performing part.
Leopards are the most teachable wild felines. They are small, and quick, and smart, and for the most part clever at learning tricks. They were also the only animals with sufficient grace to live up to my ideal of the jungle creatures :)
Okay, nature lesson over. After the animals were done performing, the man came out and answered a lot of questions that I didn't really understand because they were in Swiss German.
In fact, a lot of time here is spent listening to questions I can't really understand because they're in Swiss German. I think this is a recurring theme in my life.

And that was it for the lions and tigers and leopards... oh my!
Sorry. Couldn't resist.

After this, I met up with Faith (who you already know) and Ryan (who's a Canadian exchange student) in Basel. Ryan is from Fribourg and he speaks fluent French. It makes me jealous just to write about it... but he taught Faith and me some very basic things in Franzoesisch, which makes me happy. I can now say "I love you", "my name is Hannah", and "I come from the United States." Unfortunately I think I have an unbelievably horrible French accent... :/ but oh well.
We bought chocolate bars and ate probably too much chocolate* and laughed and discussed exchange and four-leaf-clovers and Swiss German and trams and a lot of things that I can't really remember anymore but it really doesn't matter because we were in Basel. on a summer day. in the park.

it was a good day.

*I don't think I've ever eaten so much chocolate in one month. you have no idea.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

days > 30 -- learning

advice for future exchange students #9:
be fluent in the language already.

okay, well, maybe that won't work. 
but do work on the language as much as possible.
trust me, it's a good idea.

things that have happened in the past 10 days:

  • I ended Deutsch Kurs. We had a very long test at the end of the four weeks, but thankfully it wasn't that hard and I passed as the second best of my class, which was a nice surprise.
  • I started school. Yaaayyyyyyyyyyyy! (oh yeah. there'll be a post about that later. hopefully. i think. we'll see. maybe if I have time.)
  • I went to my little sister's school. Her classmates were adorable and helpful and very willing to talk to me. I probably learned more that day than I did in a week of German course. Note to self: children are amazing for learning a language.
  • I went to Pilatus, which is a really tall mountain in Luzern. It's absolutely gorgeous. I also roamed the streets of Luzern with my host family, which was pretty cool.
  • Swimming in the Rhine. end of story.
  • I heard my first yodeling! This was interesting.
  • My hosting Rotary club met with a Rotary club from Germany on the weekend, so I came too. It involved food, boats, walking, and a lot of people commenting on how good my German is. This naturally made me very happy. Unfortunately, many of them concluded that I was fluent and proceeded to speak German to me all the time. I felt really guilty every time I couldn't understand what they were saying...
  • I realized that my English is getting worse. Occasionally I'll find myself speaking English in German grammar, or spelling things wrong, or not remembering a perfectly average word. This confuses me.
  • I realized that I have lost a good bit of my Spanish and Chinese. This also confuses me.
this was a rather random and rambling post. sorry. ich hoffe dass die nachste Mal wird besser sein.

tschuess, ciao, adieu, adios, zai jian, goodbye, and whatever else floats your boat,

Saturday, September 7, 2013

a day in augusta raurica

(note: this is the second 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.)

You've just come from dance class, and your host mom wants to know whether you'd like to visit some Roman ruins tonight. To be completely honest, you aren't particularly enthusiastic about the idea. Instead, you're tired, hungry, and ready to sleep... but Switzerland waits for no man, and you don't want to miss a thing here. So you dig out your Converse and your trusty camera. Augusta Raurica, here we come!

Augusta Raurica is the oldest known Roman colony on the Rhine (according to all-knowing Wikipedia, that is) and was founded around 44 BC. The entire colony encompassed all of Canton Basel and a bit more, but it was significantly damaged by an earthquake and some other Roman troops. The parts you're going to are the theater and the main forum.

 Later on your host parents will take you to an Italian pizza restaurant. You'll eat some really delicious pizza, because of course no one makes pizza like the Italians, and you'll have your first drink of Rivella. It's like soda, but with the faint tang of Smarties and the fizziness of sparkling apple cider. (Your enjoyment of this drink will dip slightly once you read the label and discover that it's made of milk serum--what IS that??--but it's pretty delicious.) Meanwhile, you've got all the Roman ruins to explore.

You walk around, take pictures, pose in front of the baths, do all the normal touristy things that touristy people do in touristy places. And then the sun starts to go down and everyone leaves. So it's just you, with the stones and the ivy and the thoughts in your brain.

The fact that you're standing in something so big and old... walking on stones that were laid way before your time... touching the same walls that people touched thousands of years before... it's crazy. Something so long ago and far away.

And yet standing in the half-light of dusk, the night beginning to settle around your feet and the hum of the city lost... you feel so close.
And so you close your eyes.

and you listen to the stories around you.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

a day in the basler munster

(note: this is the first 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.)

So your host family has just told you they're taking you to Basel! You're super excited, because you've seen Basel before but you haven't gotten the chance to really explore. You bring walking shoes and a bag, and of course your giant touristy-looking camera, because Switzerland is beautiful. You don't want to miss a thing.

The day begins with a car ride and a short walk through the streets. (Actually people in Europe are big on walking, so most days begin with a short walk through the streets.) You want very badly to take a picture of everything you see, but you also don't want to look like the Japanese tourists roaming Basel on the weekends or the American tourists taking selfies in front of every Swiss flag on the street.
Finally you pull out your camera and attempt to discreetly take a few shots. Unfortunately, this is nearly impossible because of your giant touristy-looking camera (see second paragraph of this post). By this point you've given up on looking local, because a) you're asian and b) you can't speak Swiss German anyway. You take all the pictures you want.
In front of you is a very old building called the Basler Munster, and you walk in.
The sudden darkness startles you, so you blink rapidly before you can see anything -- and when you can see, what a sight meets your eyes! Stained glass windows arch over your head, and the ceilings are several stories high. Your steps are loud in the silence. It's one of those places where everyone talks in whispers, afraid to disturb the echoes of history.
Your host dad asks you if you'd like to go to the top of the Munster, and of course you say yes. You neglect to ask him how high the Munster is, but that's okay because many people have gone up there and you figure that if they made it, you should be fine.
(Note to self: next time, do inquire about the height of the Munster. Never assume things.)
Anyway, the friendly lady at the desk in front directs you to a set of steps and a heavy door. You and your host family walk through and are confronted with a very small, very dark, very steep set of stairs.
For the first time, you realize just how amazing the invention of the elevator truly was. 
These stairs are steeper than they are wide, slippery, and there's practically no light in the stairwell.

Just stairs...
and stairs...
and more stairs...

Seriously, if the bellringer had to climb so many stairs just to ring a bell every hour, no wonder the Hunchback of Notre Dame ended up talking to gargoyles. At least, I think that's how the story goes.

But it's all worth it in the end, because after about 100 steps you reach the first tower landing and see out. Over the sea of churches and rooftops and markets, you can see forever. The mountains reach into the distance (well, this is Switzerland, so pretty much everywhere you go the mountains reach into the distance. But that's not the point here.)
On the other side of the tower, the Rhine flows towards Germany.
You snap a billion pictures... and then realize that there are more steps.

They are even tinier than before, about as high as your shin and half as wide as your foot. They are also made of stone and probably older than the Declaration of Independence.
But you are on an adventure and so you carry on.

After approximately 125 more steps, you are at the top of the tower.

You've made it.

There is nothing compared to the view of Basel from the top of the Basler Munster, and you could probably live here except for the fact that it'd take you an hour to climb those stairs every day. You lean out the arches and take pictures and try to see your village and take more pictures and pose with gargoyles and take more pictures.
And then it's back down the stairs again, with nothing but photos and sore legs and the memory of standing in sunshine above the rooftops.

the end.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

august's lovely links

here is a site that has new travel photos from all over the world. plus they upload. all. the. time. If you want to travel all over the world, I vote you look at this page.
this article from The Atlantic tells how the author traveled to switzerland to study french. a little old to be an august ll, but i'll let that pass since a) it's a beautiful essay and b) it's Switzerland. and no one writes about switzerland.
somewhat random link: top ten coolest trains in the world.
somewhat random inspiring post: embrace the unknown.
Adventurous Kate writes about her short stay in Switzerland.
a photographer takes pictures of Switzerland out of train windows... I'm not sure whether this is really cool or really mediocre. But I do think that it's an interesting idea, and I like the idea of capturing something imperfect and getting a new perspective.
gorgeous travel photos of the month: and This makes me yearn to travel the world with only a backpack and a camera. That's what post-exchange is for, right?