It is unreal to me that I have been here already for eight weeks. I continuously keep track of the length of time that I’ve spent here, because whenever I meet someone, especially if they are Swiss, one of the first things they’ll ask is how long I’ve been here. With each passing week, as that number has grown larger, the question started to come up as to whether or not I was homesick at all. My answer? Nope, not really.
Switzerland certainly is a different place than the United States, in very simple ways. What I would normally use at home for a sandwich, for example, was called “sacrilege” by a Swiss friend, since the Swiss standard of bread is much higher than my own. It’s also starting to strike me just how old certain things can be here. While walking through the city, I could pass a site built in the medieval ages, any number of castles, or even a site with Ancient Roman Ruins! When I think about the fact that the first British settlers in the United States arrived in the 1600s, it is really quite impressive to think what an “old” building means to a European compared with me, as an American!
The variety of languages here never ceases to amaze me. Switzerland itself recognizes four national languages: French, German, Italian, and Romansh. But it doesn’t end there. Swiss German, I have been told, can be spoken differently depending on what region you are in, sometimes even by mountain valley. Swiss Germans write in High German, or standard German, but all speak differently. It is as if they could almost form 26 languages of their own, I have been told. But then it gets even more interesting to see the fact that in the Swiss Parliament, laws are written in French, German, and Italian. When I was doing a project for my Swiss Politics class, I had to learn about a law that was assigned to my group. I discovered that one word in the French version of the law, just in the title of it, was the subject of debate, at least among the francophone members of the Parliament. I wondered to myself if this happens in all of the languages, and if it does, just how amazing that truly is that the country can still function as smoothly as it does with all this diversity of language and thought. With diversity of language always comes diversity of culture, so it is an amazing feature of this country to notice the differences between all the different types of people that are here. I definitely came to question whether the political system in the US could handle something like two or even three national languages being used in the Congress, but given the drastically different size of the country the situation is entirely different.
Language is definitely one of the things that fascinates me the most about being here in Switzerland. I share a flat with a girl from Australia, another American, and then a girl from France and a Swiss guy too. As there are some differences between the French spoken in Switzerland and the French spoken in France, as someone learning the language I absolutely love listening to my flatmates point out their differences, just as I would when talking to someone in the states about the word “wicked” or “y’all”. One big difference in Switzerland is the way that they say numbers. The Swiss have a different way of saying 70, 80, and 90 than the French do, using a much shorter word for each. All of us exchange students really appreciate it because it can be a lot easier for us to say! But again, listening to the exchanges between some of the Swiss and the French about the nuances of their respective languages is always a great opporutunity for me to pull out my phone and continue adding to the massive list of words and phrases I have learned since I got here. If I don’t do that I usually forget, so with each day this list keeps expanding!
So going back to my question of whether or not I’ve missed home: I would have to say it’s hard to miss something that I’m so used to when I’m constantly exposed to new things, interesting people, and can practice my language skills. I’ve not been here long enough to find the mountains that lie just across the lake to be any bit normal, so whenever the sky is clear, they always remind me of how lucky I am to be in such a beautiful place, in a way that is completely different than what I have in Richmond. Am I starting to get adjusted to the life here? I don’t think it’s really possible, when each day comes with new challenges and new adventures and opportunities to learn. I think that is probably the most consistent aspect about life here. No matter what, I am always learning, and no matter what, I love every minute of it.