When I was sixteen years old, I had the opportunity to spend six weeks in Switzerland with the family of one of my dad’s colleagues. I went to Swiss school, learned an eensy bit of German, and gained a whole new outlook on life courtesy of the very globally-minded people with whom I lived. I could go on for ages about my time there (ask any of my friends and family who’ve had to hear me discuss it forever), but suffice it to say that I consider that experience to be the defining point of my childhood and one of the reasons why I decided to go into International Studies.
Now, five years later, I’m back in Europe and able to return to Switzerland to see the family and friends who welcomed me into their lives for such a short but life changing period of time. I spent the past four days catching up with everyone and trying to soak up as much of Switzerland as I could. It wasn’t nearly long enough to do everything I wanted, but I tried my best.
The moment I arrived in town, it was like I had never left. The babies of my old host family (who were nine months and four years old when I left) are now growing like weeds, but nothing else has changed. As it turns out, sleepy little Swiss villages don’t change much over five years. Everything seemed just as I left it. Just like we did back in the day, the host family ate dinner together and discussed politics, education, my plans for the future, my host brother Leon’s plans for the future, everybody’s stinkin’ plans for the future, and played countless rounds of board games. It was a lovely reunion.
On Saturday, Leon and I went to Zurich for the afternoon. We rented a paddleboat and spent an hour floating on Lake Zurich, then wandered around the city visiting our favorite spots, like Charlemagne’s cathedral and a quiet lookout point from a park above the river. Unfortunately, I spent more time talking than taking pictures, but catching up with him was worth it.
On Sunday afternoon, five of the girls from my high school class met me for a picnic in the same Stadtpark we used to eat at every week. I feasted on Mövenpick ice cream and and a bottle of Rivella, and felt like a true Swiss girl again. If you ever have the fortune to visit Switzerland, you simply must find yourself these three gastronomic delicacies: classic Swiss chocolate (which the world over recognizes as possibly the.best.thing.ever), caramel-flavored Mövenpick, and the original flavor of Rivella soda, which is somehow made from milk and is delicious even though it sounds like it could possibly be the most disgusting soft drink of all time.
In just four days, I felt right back at home. It sounds silly, but Switzerland changed my life, and I suppose it will be an important place to me for a very long time. It was incredibly hard to leave the family a second time, especially now that the little ones are now old enough to understand what “leaving” means, but I made a promise to myself that I’ll return-and this time in less than five years.
Sidenote: Tomorrow I’ll head to Paris to celebrate my 21st birthday with friends! Even though it’s not a big milestone here in Europe, my host family threw me a little fête tonight, complete with candles on a chocolate tarte and a very neat book about the Tours region. They’re too sweet! How lucky I am to have had two wonderful families welcome me into their lives.