Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Yes, I just quoted David Bowie in the title of this post. But, in my defense, CH are the initials of Switzerland, and I have been trying to make that into a pun for months now. Honestly, it is a little pathetic how excited I was for a pun opportunity. Uh, oh. Emma is making puns and thinking about cliched 70's music. It must be summer time!
Nothing in the world like a Lake Zug sunset
I just switched host families on Sunday, moving from the still snowy mountains of Menzingen down to the populated Lake Zug. It was very strange saying goodbye to the Baumanns, who I have been with since mid-November. Christoph was at work, and Andrina and Micha rolled out of bed at an insanely early hour of 9 am to say goodbye, but then stumbled back to bed. There was no crying or hugs as Barbara drove me to my new home, just some handshakes and farewells, partly because it was just my siblings I was saying goodbye too, and partly because I will probably see them again in a week. One of my good friends Sienna is moving there this Tuesday, and I spend the night at her house all the time. Except next time I do, it will be in my old bedroom, and with my old family, but I won't be their daughter.
My new house! Right in downtown Zug
Barbara drove me down to my new family, the Schwerzmans at around 10 am that morning. Unlike my other two host families, I had met the Schwerzmans many times before I moved in with them, because Sienna lived here from August to January.

I have a host mom and a host dad, and a host sister named Laura who is two years older than me. She is friends with a lot of my friends from school, so I see her often already, and she is very friendly. She spent a year in Ontario on exchange, and her English is perfect, which is an added bonus.
Our dining room
Our living room
Terrace on the lake
As much as I already miss the Baumanns, I really enjoy it here. My host family is really sweet, and I absolutely adore the new location! We are right on the lake, and just a few houses from Alt Stadt. I could  walk to my school, or bike to the train station in 5 minutes. When I was sick my first day here, my host mom even brought me a tray of home made chocolate muffins to me bed. Plus, my new bed is like a bed from a hotel or a chick flick where all the girls jump on a bed in slow motion. Hotel pillows and everything.
My hotel bed :)
I love my new room!
Nothing like waking up to this in the morning...
...or going asleep to this
The seasons are definitely beginning to change as summer slowly melts over Zug like butter in a pan. The temperature has been rising over the last few weeks, topping 70 degrees a few days ago. I am not exactly sure how this can be happening since it is STILL MARCH, but the summer is absolutely starting to be breathed into the warm air, as it blows over the shining lake.

Schön Zug old town
All the students migrate to Lake Zug after school ever day in a mass exodus to the lake's grassy shores. All the teenagers form small circles with their friends on the grass, sharing some Swiss bread and enjoying the beautiful sunshine. It has become one of my favorite moments of the day, and one that I already know I will always remember. How can Switzerland be this amazing?

Swiss friends on the lake
To add to my euphoria from this unprecedented amount of sun rays, yesterday my German teacher was sick, and when a teacher is sick in Switzerland the class is just cancelled. Because of this, I didn't have any lessons for the rest of the day. Phoebe, Sienna and I were wandering through Zug looking for somewhere to eat lunch, when Phoebe mentioned how good pizza sounded at the moment. We all agreed and were about to go to Zug's pizzaria when someone mentioned how much better REAL Italian pizza would taste. We simultaneously looked up at each other and had the exact same thought: why not just get some real Italian pizza?

If any Rotarians are reading this, don't worry, we didn't actually leave the country--we did the next thing better. We all took the train to Lugano. Lugano is at the southernmost tip of Switzerland, and is surrounded by Italy on all sides of it's city boundries. It is only a two and half hour train ride from Zug if you catch an inter-regional train, and the train ride goes right through to Alps, which is gorgeous in itself. We arrived to Lugano at around 3 pm, and even though we got lost, were able to luckily find our way to the lake since Phoebe can speak Italian.
The gorgeous streets of Lugano

Lugano was absolutely gorgeous, and felt like we had suddenly been transported to a different country. The buildings were painted with orange and red hues, and had Rome and Juliet-like stone balconies tat cast shadows over the small alleyways. The lake was bright blue and glistening in the sunlight, and perfect for enjoying our Gelato at. And yes, they had really good pizza too.

Why not? Wieso nicht?

It was an amazing and lovely afternoon spent with my two friends, even though most of it was on trains, we were able to have a marvelous day. We had so many adventures in a mere few hours; like being chased by a man yelling Italian at us, trying to order pizza from a waiter who did not understand what we meant, and taking the wrong train and almost ending up in Italy. And the best part was it all happend on a school day, because we wanted Italian pizza for lunch--so we went to Italy.

Zug Altstadt and Pizzaria
Although today was pretty boring to Monday in comparison, my exchange year is still going wonderfully. Last week I went to a music camp with my class for a few days up in a cabin in the mountains, to practice for our Abbey Road concert. It was surprisingly really fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed singing Beatles songs all day. The Zug Big Band also came with our class, and accompanied us on every song. They were fantastic. It was really interesting hearing Beatles songs arranged to swing music, and they all legitimately sound really good. Our concert is in two weeks, and expected to sell out.

I love my city!
I also have been able to start understanding a little Swiss German lately! My sudden knowledge of Schweizer Deutsch happened so abruptly. As an exchange student in Switzerland, you learn to tune out what people are saying when the speak Swiss German. I automatically stop trying to understand what is being said when Swiss German is being spoken around me, but when High German is spoken my brain starts to listen again, because I can't help but listen since I understand High German. It is kind of weird now that I think about it.

Anyways, I was eating pizza at a restaurant with some exchange students and Swiss people. We were all speaking English, (yeah, dont get me started. We always TRY to speak German with them, but Swiss people 90% of the time would rather speak English with you, because they dislike the German language, and frequently the German people for that matter) and some of my Swiss friends were speaking Swiss German together. My friends Jonas and Yanick were next to me, and were saying "Wow, I feel really powerful. We could be talking about them now, and no one would understand what were saying". I almost immediately said "No way, I understand you", to which they both looked at me with confused expressions. It took me a second to realize they had been speaking Swiss German, and I had understood every word! It was such a great feeling! They both said "You understand Swiss German? What! We better watch what we say now."

I am in no way fluent in Swiss German, but when people speak it around me, I now try to actually listen to them, and frequently, I can understand what they are saying. Does this mean I am slowly becoming Swiss-ier?

My friends from Oregon, Tennessee, California, Kansas,
Colorado, Ohio and Nova Scotia! Exchange students
get around ;)

I can't believe it is almost April; where has the time gone? I am trying to enjoy every last minute I have on exchange here, and to have as many adventures as I possibly can. There are so many things to look forward too--in 3 weeks I have break, Rome and Venice, Paris, Berlin and then Milan! And each of those trips will happen in consecutive weeks, one after the other! When I am finally done with vacations, it will be May 27th! These are going to be some crazy weeks coming up, and I am so excited!

Can I never leave?


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Spring Time!

The snow is finally melting, tulips are blooming and it hasn't rained for over two months. Yes, it is finally spring time over here in Switzerland. When I lived in Seattle, spring was a season characterized by the change of frequent cold winter rain, to somewhat warmer even more frequent spring rain. I never cared for the season, and just saw it as one last obstacle between me and summer. In Switzerland, I am finally realizing why so many poets were inspired by this wonderful time of the year.

Fassnact finally finished in the Protestent Cantons last week, which markst the start of Lent and countdown to Easter. Fassnacht was amazing, hectic, unreal and magical. I spent most of the time with my exchange student friends, taking trains to different cites, and being immersed in the frantic fassnacht experience. Most of my Fassnacht memories are blurred together in my mind, but I remember it all as one of the most amazing times of my exchange. There were so many people, and costumes and traditions, and of course, kilos of confetti.

A crazy day in Luzern Fassnacht
So. Much. Confetti.
We were also able to see so many Swiss parades and costumes during our week of Fassnacht. Here are some of my favorites:
Lions scaring away the winter
"I wont let go Jack!"
But like every great experience in your life, there has to be an end. Without an end, how would you be able to ever fully appreciate it? Fassnacht and Winter break finally finished, and we took up our normal routine of going to school. Although school is painfully borting as ever, I am finding it easier and easier to persevere through the countless hours of class. At the beginning of my exchange year, I would really punish myself for not understanding homework or the lessons, and for just being different than the rest of my class. I have finally been able to mature enough to realize, that I am different than them, and that is something I can not change. 
My school Library, where I have spent countless hours
Learning Trigonometry is hard enough in any language, but learning it in a second language is near impossible. I shouldn't punish myself for not getting good scores on tests, or for not understanding what is happening all the time. The other exchange students in Zug have also reached the conclusion that we will never be exactly like our Swiss friends, but we are all accepting it. We get to do so many things here that our Swiss friends would never dream of! So really, it is fine to be embarrassed getting lost in school or having a teacher have to repeat themselves 5 times for you to understand. School is important, but it is not the most important thing of our exchange years. So even when it is boring having to sit through a lesson you don't understand, it makes it worth it to know during lunch, you are going to go to Lucerne and eat pizza at an Italian restaurant. It is not our school's fault or our Swiss friends' faults, we are just exchange students, and we are not as capable as Swiss teenagers. We should embrace our differences, and try to have the best year we can, because isn't that the purpose of Rotary Exchange?

Walking up 6 stories every day=Swiss workout!
I also have been spending a lot more time with the other Zug girls lately. For the first half of our years, we all made a silent pact to try to make Swiss friends in our classes, so we didn't eat lunch together or hangout during breaks. But now that we are all 2/3 of our way through our exchanges, we decided that we should try to enjoy every moment we still have. Our school classes are made up of 14 and 15 year old girls, so it does make sense that we have all not bonded particularly well with our classes. Don't get me wrong--the girls in my class are perfectly nice to me, but none of my closest Swiss friends are in my class. The girls in 4E are a little younger than me and a little more immature, which was hard in the beginning of the year, but now it something that I don't mind. Now, I eat lunch every day with the Zug girls and some of our Swiss friends, and spend my weekend with my Swiss friends who are a little older, and not in my class. I speak only German with my family, and am learning more and more Swiss German every day. I am busy every weekend, and am beginning to feel like I know every Swiss person in the Kanti.
GA: Our ticket to travel and our existance
I am so happy right now, and have been having nightmares where I wake up back on Vashon, and almost start crying. I can't immagine leaving, and it is so unsettling to even think about. The last months has been so magical in every way. I have had so many adventures and have had moments of laughings o hard my stomach hurt, and be so amazed I felt in awe.

We went on a Rotary weekend to go intertubing in the mountains, which was one of the scariest things of my life. Swiss intertubing should be an Olympic sport. The tubes go down valleys of snow, where you can turn on the walls and speed at lightning pace. It was so much fun, and I am learning that I am a closeted adrenaline junky.
Zug Girls!
I also went to eat at the Blind Cow two weeks ago with my host family, which is a restaurant where you have to eat in complete darkness. I ended up just eating with my hands, which was very interesting, since I orded salmon, and it is has the strangest texture to eat with your hands (random question: is Chinook salmon only from Washington? Because that is what I ordered!). It was also hilarious eating with my family, since a dinner together is never a quiet or ordinary experience.


"Mein Freund und ich treffen sich morgen.."
"Sie ist Katholisch, oder?"
"Ja, aber sie ist immer noch schön."

Translation: "Your friend is Catholic, right?" "Yeah, but she still somehow is a nice person."

 I also had my annual meeting with Rotary, where a Rotary supervisor came to talk to me with my parents and Counselor. It was a little intimidating talking about my year in German for two hours, but I was glad I had my family there for support and to secretly help me when I forgot a word or two. And funny story of the weekend: last night, after coming home from a party with Phoebe, she insisted we take a short cut through a corn field that she knew. We ended up getting lost and walking for an hour in a Swiss cow pasture, and somehow ended up in Canton Luzern. We finally got home to Zug at 12, after leaving the party at 10:30. That was such a typical exchange student moment, and somehow, still a very funny night. Lesson learned: never get directions form Phoebe.
We made it home!
I spent today walking around the gorgeous Lake Zug eating Gilatto with Laura and Sienna, and going to Zurich for some last-minute spring clothes shopping. I have to wake up at 5 am tomorrow though, so I can go with Sienna to meet her parents in the Zurich airport. She is so excited to see her parents and little brother who are coming to visit for the week, and I am so secretly jealous. I miss my parents so much, and my little brother more than anything in the world. It will be nice to see Sienna's family though, since I have known her for 6 months, but have never met anyone who knew her from her life in Switzerland. I would probably be so much more homesick, if I didn't have such amazing host parents right now (who I have to leave in 2 weeks!). It is going to be hard to change host families, but it is a needed change, and I think it will feel right when the time comes.

 I just can't believe I am already changing host families again. Where has the time gone? I am in love with my life right now, and never want this dream to end and have to wake up. When else can I take a train to any city I want to, or eat lunch in Italy within 3 hours? I feel at home here, and am finally feeling like I belong. All the hardships I have hard to persevere through have just made this experience even more unbelievable, and made me even more proud of myself and the things I can accomplish. I feel different here. Like a different, older, wiser, braver, and crazier Emma. And I don't want to let her go. I am just going to enjoy every minute I have left in this beautiful country, and remember this experience for the rest of my life.


Spring vacation: 4 weeks
Rome and Venice: 5 weeks
Paris: 7 weeks
Berlin: 8 weeks
17th Birthday: 17 weeks
America: 18 weeks

Watching this movie in German with my parents, there was something so beautiful about understanding this incredible poem. Through all the challenges I have had to overcome, I was finally able to understand this inspiring piece of literature; not only the language used to speak it, but also the true meaning of it, and how I have grown to live it.

Aus dieser Nacht, die mich umhüllt, 
von Pol zu Pol schwarz wie das Grab, 
dank ich welch immer Gottes Bild 
die unbezwung'ne Seel mir gab.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit, from pole to pole,
I thank whatever Gods may be,
For my unconquerable soul.

Wenn grausam war des Lebens Fahrt, 
habt ihr nie zucken, schrein mich sehn! 
Des Schicksals Knüppel schlug mich hart - 
mein blut'ger Kopf blieb aufrecht stehn!

In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance,
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Ob zornerfüllt, ob tränenvoll, 
ob Jenseitsschrecken schon begann: 
das Grauen meines Alters soll 
mich furchtlos finden, jetzt und dann.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears,
Looms but the horror of the Shade,
And yet the menace of the years,
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

Was kümmert's, daß der Himmel fern 
und daß von Straf' mein Buch erzähl',
ICH bin der Herr von meinem Stern, 
ICH bin der Meister meiner Seel'! 

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.