Monday in my Swiss Politics seminar, I gave a presentation with a group for the first time since I have been here in Switzerland. Our presentation was only fifteen minutes, and was on the topic of a law that we had been studying for the past couple of weeks, and honestly it was one of the most interesting experiences I’ve ever had. I wouldn’t call this just any presentation, however I would instead refer to it as the presentation of realizations: realizations not solely focused on the topic of our work, but realizations really for me that this is not some fantasy land here, but it is real life. Real studying, real learning, real people seeking their degrees, real people working. Real people are living here doing normal every day things in Switzerland, just like what happens at home in the US.
Sometimes life here can honestly feel like I’m in a dream world that doesn’t really exist. Among some of my other exchange student friends, we often joke that Switzerland is just too perfect of a place. In fact, when I had first arrived here, I saw the water in a river by the university and it was so blue that I actually questioned whether it was highly polluted. The reality is that it is a great deal cleaner than what I’m used to seeing. The scenery is as picturesque as one could ever imagine. On a clear day, when walking pretty much anywhere in the city, just one look to the south and the view of the lake and magnificent snow-covered mountains just takes your breath away. The buildings in the city are real too. As an American, I’m used to really only seeing this style of architecture be replicated in places like an amusement park, or maybe more authentically in a major city. However, the medieval European style is everywhere here, as it is something we just try to copy in the US. Even the money here, being different and far more colorful than what I’m used to can sometimes feel fake, and just as if it’s out of a game like monopoly (this is not to say that I’m spending as if I’m in a game- Switzerland is too expensive to do so, and I’m not trying to run out of money to buy food). And what’s more is that again, people aren’t speaking the language that I am used to hearing. However, it is a language that I truly love and still feel in disbelief that I’m actually able to use it as a means of communication, not just something to study and enjoy hearing in a song or reading in a book, for example. So as foolish as it can really sound, the life here can honestly feel like I’m still asleep and just living in a European fantasy.
However, I think today when I presented in front of an audience of Francophones, it really hit me that no, this is real. I don’t know why it was speaking in front of a class that made me finally realize this. I’ve given countless presentations in my time as a student, however they’ve always been in English, or maybe French to an audience of other Anglophones learning French just like me. So when I was speaking today and opened with, “Sorry if my French hurts your ears” and was luckily greeted with some laughter and some compliments afterwards, it hit me that this time it was real. These people grow up thinking in this language, not in English. It is French that is the little voice in their head that shapes their thoughts and perceptions, not English like mine. It is French that shapes their personalities, and the way that they express themselves, not English like me. Just the thought of how something that we take so for granted each day, our simple means of expressing ourselves orally or written for so many different purposes, has such a profound impact on who we are. Again, language is something that truly fascinates me. The fact that I’m not yet at a level of French where I feel like it is true French, not just a set of words formulated into a structure very much like that of my own language, that I speak on a day to day basis, really struck me today when I was speaking in front of this class and realized that this was finally me using what I’ve learned to speak and present information to people whose minds speak to them differently. I hope this makes sense; it really has to do with thinking of how you speak to yourself in your head that amazes me, and to think that there are countless ways to do that is an idea that really came to light today.
SO I guess maybe after finally realizing that this is all real might mean that I’m officially habituated or adapted to the life here in Switzerland? I’d say no. Again, every day brings new experiences, but in a way that makes me excited to get up every day and go out exploring. It’s constantly learning time here, with the world around me as my classroom, library, or any other place you could think of as a place of learning. It is incredible, and again, I am so truly lucky to be here.