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. ;)