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.
When I was preparing for my trip to Switzerland, I probably didn’t do as much research as I should have. I researched logistical things like where I could travel, how much different food items would cost here, and what kind of weather to expect. I didn’t want to have any preconceived notions that might hinder my ability to be open to the new things I was going to experience here.
When I arrived I remember thinking, Is this it? Sure, it’s a beautiful country and the traditional aspects are so fascinating and the architecture is absolutely stunning. What I didn’t expect was for people to dress the same as me, to use similar expressions to mine, and to be able to go shopping and see brands I’m familiar with. I guess I’m learning first hand the effects of globalization. When I expressed this to one of my Swiss classmates, he responded: “Well it’s still the Western Hemisphere.” I guess I feel like certain European countries are very glamorized in Canadian society. This would be the biggest culture shock I experienced here in Switzerland.
As I’ve had more time to think about this, I finally realized what I was expecting. I took Europe from the movies a little too seriously. This isn’t really surprising to me based on the fact that in highschool I thought my parents would buy me a hot pink convertible which I could cruise around town in while I belted out songs with all my friends. Naive, delusional — whatever you want to call it. We see Europe as this super foreign place with people who don’t speak English and are traditionally dressed, and I’m sure that these people exist, but not often in the city centre. For the most part, trees look the same although sometimes pruned differently, grass is just as green, there’s even lots of graffiti on trains, under bridges, and close to the stations.
This has made me realize that life is the same no matter where you live. There is always a team of kids playing soccer on the weekend in the local park, there are young adults struggling to find a job or their identity, and there are senior citizens taking a stroll by the lake Sunday afternoons. Because so much of what is Canadian originated in Europe, I guess I expected society to be more advanced here. At the end of the day, we are all people living our lives trying to be the best we can be and make the best out of what we have.
Another thing I have found interesting in my travels across Canada and abroad is how much of a dominant factor money is for people. It doesn’t matter where you live or what language you speak, capitalism has a pull over everyone. There are often misconceptions, too. Sure there are many very wealthy people in Switzerland, but not everyone is making a lot of money. Their typical starting base wage may be double the B.C. minimum wage, but there are many other factors that need to be paid for in order for Swiss people to have the standard of living they currently have.
As the end of my study abroad time is drawing near, I’m starting to think about the aspects of life here that I will try and incorporate in my life back home. Also as I am coming to the end of my degree I’m starting to realize all of the employment options I have and choices I can make in my life to get me to where I want to be. This experience really makes me feel re-energized about my future and it is an amazing feeling.
I am experiencing many different things here, most of which I can’t really say are better or worse than how they work in Canada — just different. One of the biggest things is air travel. I decided to splurge and spend $300 Canadian to go to Greece after I am finished exams. Well for $310 in Canada, I could fly to Calgary.
On my flight to Barcelona last week, there was no complimentary beverage and snack offered but there was, however, an opportunity to shop on the plane. There was a catalogue full of items from travel safe perfume to lipstick to toys and collectibles. The stewardess strolled up and down the aisle throughout the flight with all the items displayed on her cart. I guess with the flights being so cheap they have to make their money somewhere.
Last week I went to Barcelona for a few days. It rained the first day I was there but it was so gorgeous the second day. It was my first time really leaving Switzerland and experiencing a completely different culture. Although I will admit there were more tourists than I expected, considering I went on weekdays. The Spanish people are very nice, but European tourists are much more disorganized than Canadian tourists, which kind of surprised me.
I decided to take public transit to my hostel because I heard that taxis were exceptionally expensive in Barcelona. It should have taken me an hour and one minute, but it ended up taking me two hours. Their transit system is kind of interesting in that they don’t have one major hub. So some main trains only go to certain stations. I got an unlimited 48 hour transit pass and at one point got myself so turned around I needed to ask a security guard for help to get out of the subway gate. They also have a subway system, bus system, streetcar system, and train system — very confusing.