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Student Blog: Discovering Swiss Culture

03 October 2018

The Swiss Gap Course at Surval Montreux provides an exclusive programme in a unique and international setting for young women, aged 17-19, focusing on Social Enterprise and Charity, Languages, Arts and Culture, and University Preparation. Our Swiss Gap student, Gimena, describes her immersion in the language and culture of Switzerland through the course she is following.

"A different world..."

I really love learning – the feeling of new knowledge finding its place in the garden of my mind. This is why, instead of spending my post-High School year babysitting, having a part-time job or just waiting passively to see what life would bring me, I decided to apply for the Liberal Arts Programme at Surval. This programme, with its central focus on Intensive French and Charity in the local community, seemed to me to be a good place to learn, to think, and to discover. I love travelling, and as Wittgenstein says: “If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world.” And so it is, with the help of my French teachers, I am already discovering a new world here in Switzerland…
When I first arrived here, I knew only basic French: “Bonjour!” “Merci!” “Je suis...” I didn’t have the confidence to say more than four or five words together. Now, after nearly a month of classes, with sixteen lessons per week, and some class trips into the town of Montreux itself, I can say that even if I probably still make a mistake every other sentence, I still have the courage to initiate a conversation in French and try to share my thoughts with the people around me.

This last improvement makes me especially happy because learning should not just be kept to ourselves but shared with others – and this philosophy of sharing is the other essential part of our programme. To me, charity is not just about giving people things but about learning how to share your time, your luck and your life with others who might need your strength – or even just your smile.

Every Friday at 9am, we, the girls of L.A., go on a journey with Miss Drake to Vevey to L’Etape (Ecumenical Welcome Centre), where we spend our morning distributing the donated food to the people who go to the centre. Little by little, as our French improves, we are able to understand these people better, learning through the hours and days about their culture and stories. Each week, our French speaking skills are challenged in new ways – you would be surprised by the level required to simply ask which kind of salad they want (I didn't even know there were so many types in Spanish!) or to carefully check which kinds of food they cannot eat and advise them.

The second place we attend as part of the L.A. course is called “Le Byron”. This is a house for retired people, where we talk and do some activities with them, such as playing board games. After a visit, I am sure that we all can’t wait for the next time: there is something special about the feeling of welcome in their warm, wrinkled hands that do not want to let us go; these men and women who, despite barely knowing us, are waiting eagerly for our return. We promised to sing for them next time so wish us (or them!) luck… 

The final way in which we have been able to immerse ourselves in the experience of discovering a foreign country and language is in the time that the school gives the L.A. students to spend on independent travel. I visited Lucerne by myself, a beautiful city with towers on the horizon and a river bandaged by bridges, where I had the opportunity to try speaking German. In Zurich, I gazed for nearly an hour at the two Monet paintings in the Kunst Museum. 

With each French class, each trip to L’Etape and Le Byron, and each journey to a new place in Switzerland, I am not only collecting memories, but discovering a different world.