With under a week until I leave Switzerland for the UK, I thought it was time to start the reflection process. I am actually sad about it. Yet part of me wants to make a prompt exit because of the all things that went wrong: Basel has become associated in my mind with those screw-ups the process of leaving is the also the process of making a clean break. Here are all the good, positive things I gained from my time in Switzerland…
- Professionalism; carrying oneself with dignity and behaving with utmost respect is something that I think is very important. It is important for me as a young adult to master, and it is important for me to hold myself to a high standard in the workplace. It is most important for fostering good professional and personal relationships.
- There are some parts of my personality that I don’t like and wish I could change. Parts like the introversion and social awkwardness. The fact that these parts have been with me since primary school mean that they’re at the core of who I am. I can cover them, I can learn ways to get around them…but I can’t erase them. And I shouldn’t regret them.
- Things will screw up. They will be delayed. They might have been completely the wrong direction to take your life. It doesn’t matter: gracefully accept the challenges and move on.
- If you have a problem, think up one or two solutions on your own before asking for help, then suggest your solutions. You aren’t as powerless as you think.
- Take full responsibility for your mistakes. This doesn’t mean “blaming” – it means accepting that the buck stops with you.
- My sense of humour is the most vital inter-personal and social skill that I have. Humour works like magic for diffusing situations and for expressing/making sense of feelings in a positive way.
- The Swiss and the Germans have a reputation for being humourless. That is a complete lie propagated by the people unable to detect their fantastic dryness. Swiss-Germans are good at detecting humour, they enjoy “British” humour, and excellent at delivering funny lines with a straight face.
- The Swiss-Germans come across as stiffly formal, reserved and a bit…well, uptight when you first meet them. Give them some time and they are as capable of relaxed warmth as everybody else.
- The relationship between Swiss-German dialect and the high German (spoken in Germany and written in newspapers) is analogous to Scots dialect and English. Native speakers are very proud of their rich dialect, to outsiders it is incomprehensible, crude and “not a proper language”.
- For all it’s reputed cleanliness and efficiency, the country is a conservative one: there is on average more religiosity in Switzerland than the UK, all shops are closed on Sundays and don’t stay open past 6pm on the weekdays.
- In Swiss sauna complexes everyone is naked. In Swiss sauna complexes men and women are in there at the same time. None of this is “dodgy” or “awkward”: they really couldn’t care less about your body. So just relax for a few hours and enjoy the saunas. Oh, and the Aufguss (infusion ceremony where scented oil is poured on the hot stones and increasingly hot air is distributed around the sauna) is a cruel and unusual form of relaxation…
Exploring Europe Lessons
- Zurich is at its most beautiful at night.
- Prague is far less enchanting when you factor in the pressing hordes of tourists.
- Vienna is my one of favourite European cities, if only for the majestic coffeehouses that I could waste hours in. It’s one of the few European cities I want to go back to immediately.
- Overnight trains are THE ANSWER.
- The sight of the Swiss Alps usually makes me scream with delight, they are that amazing.
Language Learning Lessons
- Learning a foreign language effectively can only be done by stepping outside your comfort zone. It can be undignified, embarrassing and get you into awkward situations…but if you don’t stick your neck out and take risks, you won’t make progress.
- Speaking is the quickest way to learn a foreign language – not reading, not studying textbooks, not passively listening. Speak and you WILL learn.
- It will probably take you more than a year to pick up a new language. Understanding and ability will fluctuate a lot during that time, too. Just be patient.
- Reading newspapers & magazines, watching films and listening to the radio are far more interesting ways to learn a foreign language than via textbooks or classes. If you’re interested…you stick at it longer.