Monday, February 24, 2014

days > 180 -- seeking

piece of advice for future exchange students #22:
sometimes if you really want something,
all you have to do is ask.

yes, i know i haven't posted in a while.
but unfortunately exchange means that you sort of have a life beyond blog posting... ;)

one thing i've learned here is how to be way more upfront about what i want and how i want to do it. swiss people (well, at least the ones currently in my life) tend to have LOTS of rules and LOTS of ideas and LOTS of opinions on the way you should do things. which, seeing as i'm used to more laid-back Americans, means that all too often i don't know exactly what i want and so i get slightly run over.

guess what?
i don't really like getting run over.

so i've learned to decide what i want quickly and to communicate it right away, which is something i never really had to do in the USA. if i have an opinion here and i want to be heard, i have to MAKE myself heard. and while that sounds sort of rude, it's just what i have to do to keep myself as a person.

things i've done in the past 10ish days (well, 20 days ago... it's been a while, sorry)

  • went to a chamber music concert with some artists from Prague. we sat in the FRONT ROW and it was amazing... also, the cello player's instrument was older than the United States of America. I know that's not super impressive in Europe, but for some reason I couldn't get over the fact that this cello, older than the Declaration of Independence, was being played in a concert hall right in front of me. Oh, Europe. :)
  • Charivari (a pre-carnival show) with my friend Faith! they spoke REALLY strong Basel dialect, which was super difficult to understand, but the show was good anyway. they played flutes and horns and drums and sang songs and acted out skits and it was fun.
  • I saw my first host mum again! we went to a "Nacht der Musicals" because my first host family bought me tickets for Christmas... they know me well ;)
  • snow day with my class in Gymnasium Muttenz. The whole school reserved a train and went to the ski resort and spent the day skiing/snowboarding/hiking/walking/snowshoeing/sledding. (I went sledding.) why do American high schools not do this.
  • met our newbies in Basel-- Vinny, Demi, and Barbara. it feels like such a short time since we were newbies, and now all of a sudden we're oldies with language skills and travel experience and I FEEL SO OLD NOW WHAT IS HAPPENING TO MY EXCHANGE. :)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

einwanderungsinitiative: what an apple tree means to me as ausländerin

in the past couple of months, i've seen a ton of political posters.

this isn't unusual, because Switzerland is a country of "half-direct democracy". As such, it provides the opportunity for a person or political party to propose a change to the Bundesverfassung (Swiss Federal Constitution). After the proposal, they have 18 months to collect 100,000 Swiss signatures-- no small feat when you consider that Switzerland only consists of 8,112,000 citizens, meaning a significant percentage of them have to agree and sign the petition.
If they collect enough, the proposal goes federal and becomes a "popular initiative", which can officially be voted on by all Swiss citizens. These votes are counted by canton (much like USAmerican votes are counted by state) and the majority wins.

This also means that it's in each party's best interest to keep the people informed about the initiatives and to convince them to vote a certain way. Political posters are everywhere-- in gardens, on fences, by the bus stop, in the train station-- normally featuring the name or symbol of the initiative and a big "JA" or "NEIN" telling you what to vote. After a while, you get used to it and sort of stop paying attention.

Which means that I didn't realize how relevant this particular poster was until I'd seen it for the twentieth time.

What the Swiss people are now voting about is whether or not to set a limit on Masseneinwanderung. Translation: limiting Immigration with a capital I. limiting those people working, learning, starting businesses, getting jobs in Switzerland.
people who are not Swiss.

 As a nation, Switzerland is a sort of island in the middle of Europe. It's not part of the EU, it stubbornly sticks to its own governmental system and its own shops and its own currency and its own schools and its own variation of language and millions of things more. The Swiss are incredibly patriotic, with dozens of traditions that vary by canton, city, and village.

But. There are foreigners.
Foreigners basically means "anyone who is not Swiss and/or hasn't got a family tree with at least two generations living in Switzerland and/or cannot speak perfect Swiss German". Foreigner means someone who somehow does not belong.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. I've gotten some wonderful people who like the USA and are interested in it, or better yet, people who like me as a person and are interested in me, not my country. The people here are welcoming, especially if you make an effort to speak German or Swiss German, and friendly. Most of them are happy that a little American girl is trying to learn their language and adapt to their culture. But every so often, I am forced to remember that I am not Swiss.

You see, Swiss like to organize things. Everything, from buses to chocolates to schoolwork, is carefully ordered and put in place. But the problem is that here, there are often only two categories of people: Swiss and Non-Swiss. Swiss people get the chance to vote, to sign petitions, to launch initiatives and referendums. Non-Swiss people do not. Whenever someone who is Swiss gets into trouble and makes the newspapers, he is just a person. Whenever someone who is Non-Swiss gets into trouble and makes the newspapers, he is one of those Non-Swiss People. The People's Party noted that “Switzerland has serious problems with immigration… Almost half of the crimes committed in Switzerland are carried out by foreigners.” (Um. and what about the other half?) Some Swiss people appear to live in the fear that one day they will wake up to find that Switzerland is no longer Swiss.

And really, that's what makes me unhappy. living in Switzerland as an exchange student, I don't care about bilateral strategy or economic decline. I don't care about the job market or about Swiss vs. EU passports. And maybe that makes me ignorant, or inexperienced, or simply just naive.
Because what I care about is my, and others', rights to be acknowledged. As more than categories, as more than stereotypes, and as more than Swiss/Non-Swiss.

What I care about is my right to be seen, as a person.
not just as an Ausländerin.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

5 languages I'd love to learn in the next 5 years

You can survive in Switzerland without German.

It's true. If you speak English, you will almost always be sufficiently equipped for casual and tourist and even some school situations. Knowing the language is not necessary.
But it enriches life. I can't explain how happy I am that I'm learning German, simply because it gives me so many more opportunities. I don't just learn about the language, but about the people and the values and the culture of my host country.
And the more that I practice my German and Swiss German, the more I want to learn. Not only more about the German language or the English language (that too), but about new languages, new cultures. In only 6 months, I've reached conversational fluency* in two languages... and with work and practice, absolutely anyone can do the same thing! Isn't that amazing?

So with that in mind, here are the top 5 languages I'd like to learn in the next 5 years:
  1. French. because it is lovely. also because I just want to be able to speak fluent French. in the next 5 years, I PROMISE myself that I will get to conversational fluency in French. 
  2. Mandarin Chinese. because I want to be able to speak the language of my country of origin, and also because apparently it’s one of the hardest languages for English speakers and I might as well take the opportunity given to me by birth.
  3. Portuguese. because it is quite possibly the most beautiful language ever.
  4. Spanish. technically I’ve already worked to learn this one but I want to be fluent, or at least conversationally so. also it is one of the most useful languages to have in the US.
  5. Romanian. because while I’d like to learn Latin, it really doesn’t help that much (no one speaks full Latin) and people do speak Romanian which is 80% Latin anyhow.

(and some languages that almost made the list)

  • Italian. because who doesn’t dream of speaking fluent Italian, I mean really. it’s like almost more like singing instead of talking, plus you get to wave your arms around and shout at people and no one takes it personally or gets offended. 
  • Afrikaans. because why not. it's one of the newest languages in the world and yet the fourth most spoken Germanic language (after English, German, and Dutch). Also, it's said to be one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn. "Easiest", of course, relatively speaking...
  • Icelandic. just because secretly I've always wanted to be an Inkling (or a Coalbiter).
*note: conversational fluency to me means three things: a) i can successfully get my point across without translating every word in my head first and b) i can understand basically everything the other person says in a normal conversation, and they can understand me and c) the language becomes a default for me (i.e. I exclaim spontaneous things in german and swiss german, often without thinking). I believe I'm past this point, but I'm not very close to native fluency :(

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

one last thought on swiss school: a story

note: at the end of the semester, i saw something that made me think about the exact impact of swiss high school on my friends. hopefully it'll make you think about it too.
one girl in my class has worked ridiculously hard to stay in school. she's studied french and english and even italian as a free subject. it meant so much to her to be in our class, and yet her grades were teetering on the edge. we'd done the math, and so as we all walked into english class and the teacher started announcing the scores, we also knew that this grade was the one that mattered. this grade was the one that would tip the balance.

it sounds funny, even a little ridiculous that so much drama should be attached to one small grade. but it wasn't just a grade-- if her grade was insufficient, she'd have to leave school. she couldn't come back in january, and she'd have to wait till summer and repeat the whole year.

there was complete silence when our teacher got to her name. a group of students gathered around her chair, waiting and hoping and dreading at the same time.

and then our teacher announced the grade, and it was enough. the girl was staying.
she'd made it.

there was a brief pause and then everyone started screaming and hugging her and screaming again and jumping up and down and shouting congratulations. it was crazy, all seventeen of us freaking out over a tiny number on a piece of paper.

so then i looked over at the girl. she was completely silent, speechless, sitting in her chair.
she had the biggest smile i've ever seen,

and tears were running down her face.

thoughts on american, european, and home school

so recently i've been getting a rather frustrating amount of college-related emails. while it's nice to know that they're interested in me (nothing like being wanted) it's a bit overwhelming to realize that i will have to be going home and making school-related decisions AGAIN in about 6 months.

with that in mind, i thought i'd give you a quick glimpse into the three types of school systems i've now gotten the change to see... homeschool, american public school, and swiss school. 
WARNING. THIS IS A LONG AND NERDY POST. (punctuated by random pictures of a french castle. you know, just for variation.)

a lot of you reading my blog know this already, but i've been homeschooled for most of my life. contrary to popular belief, this does not mean that i have no social life or that i am only at home with my parents and siblings all day. in general, i take multiple different classes (spanish, art, literature, writing, debate, science, etc.) outside of the house... there are two or three hours of teaching or lectures weekly and then a lot of homework that's assigned over the rest of the week. so yes, i'm homeschooled, but yes, i have friends. :)
the benefits of homeschooling for me were multiple. 
firstly, i've gotten to "squish" my education around in a way that other kids normally don't-- freshman year of high school i wrote, printed, and sold an advice book, sophomore year i participated in debate club and applied to rotary exchange, and this year i'm spending in switzerland. all in all, not a bad combination.
more importantly, i've become fairly independent. while i may not be an adult yet, i'm pretty self-motivated when it comes to schoolwork and projects and learning things, plus i've learned to be annoyingly persistent. this means that school in general isn't a huge struggle for me... i know what to expect from myself and how hard i need to work in order to get results.
that said, i do wish i'd been more prepared for the world around me. my parents have always encouraged me to ask questions, but unfortunately i can't say that for the homeschooling sphere in general. we might not like to admit it, but homeschoolers (and the conservative church, which is pretty related where i'm from) can be judgmental, closed-minded, and shockingly unwilling to challenge their own beliefs. this was really frustrating for me at the beginning of my year.

most of the kids from the usa that are here were enrolled in american high school. contrary to homeschooler belief, this is not the root of all evils. i promise. 
in my opinion, there are benefits (schedule and structure, more people, school clubs and teams and extracurriculars) that i definitely missed out on. as a homeschooler, i think i've been sheltered to a lot of the world, and so my first few months here were partly spent being surprised haha.
at the same time, there are other factors that i gladly skipped. peer pressure, a bazillion people per classroom, drama, etc., etc., etc. i'm not going to pass judgement on something i don't have personal experience with, but i know people who've gone and stated they were unhappy with the American high school system in general.

swiss high school, at first glance, seems like the solution to everything. when i first got here, i was amazed at the differences... at 16, you have the option of either working as an apprentice or continuing with school. every kid has to make a certain grade point average to stay in the class, and so consequently everyone who's there actually wants to be there. kids study and worry about grades and pay attention in class, simply because that is the way the system works. if you don't want to go, you drop out and start working. it's simple as that, and the benefits are obvious.
what i didn't realize then was that sometimes, school causes problems. there are some kids in my class who are naturally smart and almost never show up in class, and then magically have good grades. there are others who have to work extremely hard and yet still have bad grades. and that isn't fair, that isn't right, and it makes me upset. yet it's the only thing that my classmates have known.

what do you think?

days > 170 -- stalling

piece of advice for exchange students #21:
work with what you've got. ;)

the change of families and villages has practically given me a different life now... i spend my time way differently. one rule that my mum has is that i can't travel outside of the Basel region during the week. Which, considering that i'm used to traveling as much as possible, was (and is) a bit of a struggle for me.

but at the same time, there are multiple things i've learned:
a) if you aren't picky, there's a surprisingly large amount of things you can do to keep yourself occupied in one city.
b) also, sometimes friends are wonderful and upon hearing that you can't go visit them, they will come and visit you. it's a nice feeling to have someone take an hour-long train ride just to come hang out.
c) when your travel days are limited to weekends (and only one day per weekend) and you plan extremely carefully, there's a surprising amount of things that fit into one day.
d) make the most of your days.
because really, they all count. and who knows what the next city or family or life change will look like

things i've done in the past 10ish days:

  • basel has all these little skits/shows/performances that go before their carnival (fasnacht... look it up!) it was surprisingly fun and i was thrilled to find that i understood a lot of it... especially considering that it was all in the strongest baseldeutsch i've ever heard. ever.
  • i went to a snow white ballet. that was lovely.
  • also thank goodness that ballets don't have words because i think i would have trouble understanding a baseldeutsch ballet
  • i went and saw the international balloon festival in the french part of switzerland! it was gorgeous and we ended up accidentally meeting about 30 different exchange students i'd never seen before. that was fun.
  • I saw Frozen with my (old host family) little sister, and I also got to see my old host family again. i miss them a lot, more than i'd thought i would. it was nice!
  • Frozen is, by the way, pretty awesome.
  • also the newbies came.
  • ahhh newbies i'm so excited :)
that's all for now... i did some other things last week, but they'll come in the next update because technically i did them in the 170+ days of my exchange :P