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Life is a Box of Swiss Chocolates: Living like the locals

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Life is a Box of Swiss Chocolates is a recurring column showcasing the life of a UFV student studying abroad. Jennifer is in Lucerne, Switzerland at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts this semester, and documenting the process as she goes.

Grüezi mitenand! I can’t believe I’m halfway through this experience. I’m starting to fall more in love with this country every day. Part of me wants to go back home to the comforts of Abbotsford, but the other part of me wants to never leave Europe and this fulfilling and adventurous journey I’m on.

I’m finally starting to get accustom to the rules and processes here in Switzerland. In our school orientation week we were warned about various Swiss stereotypes and customs. Although being told these things has been very helpful in navigating some situations and understanding the culture, I think it has been a hinderance more often than not. It could be a generational thing, perhaps millennials just don’t follow the same customs as strictly as their parents or grandparents do. For example, we were told that Swiss people are cold and uninviting. However, my Swiss buddy, Andrina, invited me to stay in her house when she had to go to volleyball practice after only knowing me in person for a week. Almost everyone I’ve met at least tries to speak English to me and is very accommodating. I suppose my being a student and surrounded by people my age who are open minded is maybe why I have been treated this way. If I were trying to immigrate here permanently perhaps I would receive more strife from locals.

Something I have been very pleased with is how Swiss people my age are willing to speak English around me as soon as they realize I don’t speak any German. I made a really great connection with a couple girls I met at a spa night hosted by the university student club. They asked me about my home and we talked about travelling and different Swiss customs and realities I found interesting. Because of what I had heard in orientation week about Swiss people liking to keep their distance, I didn’t bother asking for her phone number or Facebook. I didn’t want them to feel like I was coming on too strong. In Canada I wouldn’t hesitate to ask for their information or add them on Facebook right away. I’ve started to notice how I’m letting a stereotype get in the way of making my experience as full as it can be.

On that note, I strongly, strongly recommend you pay very close attention to the events going on at your home university and university abroad. I try to do this at UFV too, but it’s extra crucial on a semester abroad because you get to meet local students and do things for free or much cheaper than you would if you just went on your own. It’s so easy to just take a peek at the notice boards in the school or follow the student union and university on Facebook, Twitter, or both. A couple weeks ago I saw a poster come through on one of my class group chats about a wine tasting, sushi making, and spa night taking place at a local hotel and hosted by the university student group. I decided to go on my own because the poster was all in German so I wasn’t really sure if I was going to the spa or if I was learning spa techniques. I decided to make the best of it whatever it was. I couldn’t pass up a 25 Swiss franc spa visit, and if it was learning spa techniques, I thought I would just charge my fellow exchange students chocolate for scalp massages or something.

It ended up being that we went to the spa, and it was so lovely. I had a treatment where you lay in a hammock suspended over the largest bronze bowl in the world, and a lady hits it with a log for seven minutes. The vibrations completely relax the body. Afterwards, I went upstairs and spent two hours in the sauna and steam rooms. In between I took breaks to relax and eat dried fruit and nuts while drinking herb infused water and delicious hot tea. I got the Swiss wellness spa experience for half the regular price, and I made friends.

I have been going on dates with a Swiss guy (my “fiance”), Sam. It has been so fun to get a dose of Swiss life from a Swiss person. He invited me to watch his old rugby team’s match one weekend. On the train ride to the rugby match Sam looked at me and said, “I have a surprise for you.” With a huge grin on his face, he reached into his bag and pulled out two bottles of Canadian beer. I was so impressed he was able to find any here. The label said it was imported from Australia, which was kind of funny. Usually I am a Shock Top girl but I very much appreciated the gesture. The rugby game was so much fun, and I’m not used to drinking beer and eating sausages at a game that’s not in a stadium. If you thought Canadian rugby players were fun, crazy, and obnoxious you should meet the European ones. I had the best evening hanging out with them and it’s a side of Swiss people I never would have seen if I hadn’t met Sam. Thank you, Tinder.

Obviously you don’t have to date abroad, and if you’re not ready for the complications or if you’re looking for something serious, I wouldn’t recommend it. I think joining a club or attending a weekly sport can be nerve-wracking but totally worth it because you get to meet locals. Don’t get me wrong, I love my roommates, and getting to live with people from all over the world has been invaluable, but it is quite nice to do as the locals do and get the full experience. You get to see a much more real side of the country you’re staying in.

This experience is what you make it, and I am trying to live it to the fullest and take advantage of every opportunity I get. I don’t want it to end, but I am excited to see what is yet to come!

Tschüss!

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