Erika – ECEE Teaching Exchange in Switzerland
Studying abroad in Zurich, Switzerland was an experience I will never forget. I am so fortunate that I was able to spend time learning about the culture of this country and surrounding countries. I learned about the very different education system they have there by teaching and studying in their schools, the family culture by living in a host home with a Swiss family, and to grow and learn by stepping outside of my comfort zone. It was a trip to remember and I will continue to tell stories about this experience for years to come.
While studying abroad, I was given the opportunity to attend a Swiss university level class in the city of Zurich for all foreign exchange students. They had different topics each week and basically taught us about the history and culture of Switzerland. As you may know, this country is one of the most diverse countries in the world. They speak German, Swiss German, French, Italian, and another mountain language depending on what area of the country you live in. One of the classes I attended was the class about the education system and how it is different than that of the United States. In Switzerland, students go to preschool, primary school, then lower secondary school (that was the school at which I was able to teach English to Swiss students throughout my internship). After secondary, they can decide whether they want to go off and find a career to master in and start working; or they can decide to go on to further their education in what would be compared to “high school” here. The teacher my colleague and I worked with told us that most students will go on to start working. She mentioned that only the highly educated would go on to universities to become doctors, lawyers, and other professionals. Most students choose the vocational schools and find a career from there. My host family has a son named Simon who originally went to vocational school for watchmaking. He did that for a while before he realized he wanted to become a teacher. In order to fulfill that dream, he had to go back to school and attend the teaching university to be able to get certified. We discussed this idea in our university class and the Swiss professor believed that if we had this system in the United States, we might not have as high of an unemployed population. It really made me wonder about if that could be true or not. Sometimes people are not able to go to college and these vocational schools would give them a chance at a good career.
As for my host family, they couldn’t have been more welcoming, gracious and hospitable to me during the six weeks I was there. The mother spoke very little English, so I was learning simple words and phrases in Swiss German to be able to have conversations with her. It was very difficult to learn a language from the ground up, but I loved feeling like a part of their world. Simon was extremely excited to have me there, and he enthusiastically took my colleagues and me to the most famous and historic sights of Switzerland. We were able to explore all around Zurich, visit the Alps, see the cantons and city regions of the country, and even travel to Lucerne and Geneva. The overwhelming beauty of these cities and towns left me speechless. The history behind them is amazing and I couldn’t thank Simon enough for being gracious enough to show us around his home country.
This trip gave me the confidence to step out of my comfort zone. Before this trip, I was very reluctant to travel by myself and try difficult tasks I told myself I could never do. A few years ago, I never thought I would go to Switzerland, and speak Swiss German (very few phrases) to my newfound friends, and continue communicating with them through text messages even to this day. This opportunity allowed me to broaden my horizons, and I will take a trip this summer to Cebu, Philippines to do mission work at an elementary schools on one of the smaller islands that has been hit by some massive tsunamis. I truly believe my time in Switzerland gave me the courage and confidence to embark on this trip. I am so grateful to have graduated from Georgia State where I was given the opportunity to enrich my college experience by studying, teaching, and travelling in Switzerland.