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Reflection after the first week
In the beginning, it was underwhelming. That was the only word that I could find to describe the experience. For me, I had been planning my study abroad for a ridiculously long time. Through all this time of planning, I had created expectations. Everyone told me how I would probably be homesick, overwhelmed, and overall disoriented once I got abroad. But, no one described the initial disappointment associated with the reality. The disappointment that came from the letdown of a great buildup of anticipation based on what my peers had said and what I had seen in films. In my head, studying abroad was to be a magical experience full of croissants and me speaking another language fluently in no time. I would easily meet friends from the country and fit in easily with the culture to the point that I would never want to leave. But then reality hit quickly with my first week. Studying abroad is not magical traveling pants or an extended vacation; instead, it is everyday life viewed through a slightly different angle. The first weekend I spent with my host family wasn’t filled with fun swiss excursions, like skiing or fondue, but a birthday. The birthday of my host mother. Sunday morning, we all woke up and ate around the table as a family. That was what killed me, being surrounded by a family when I was so far from mine. Gifts were presented, and she kissed and thanked all of her kids and then they each went to their rooms to complete their homework due the next day. It was then that I felt homesick. I realized that birthdays kept happening. I would be here, in Switzerland and my friends and my family, they would keep having birthdays. I was not on a vacation freezing time. I was in a land of normalcy with things like birthdays but where I didn’t yet know the cultural rules. The other issue was that not knowing was not exciting, but frustrating. The first few days I would try my hardest to understand French and learn the rules of the house. However, so many things went unsaid. Or if they were said, they were said quickly in French. If I didn’t understand right away, my family would speak to me in English instead of repeating themselves. That was the biggest let down. I was constantly disappointed with my French and with their patience.
Reflection from middle
In French class, we did a listening activity where an individual described the smells of Morocco. This was perfectly timed as it was the few days before we left for Rabat. Because of that activity, I was ready to go into the city overwhelmed by the smells. Instead of smells though, I found the sounds the most compelling. Every morning, and frequently throughout the day, a rooster would crow. This was not one subtle cartoon crow, but multiple screechy calls that bounced off the narrow streets. When the rooster wasn’t crowing there were always birds chirping. Coming from the “winter winds that bring spring”, the chirping sounded amazing as no animals were often heard in Switzerland at this time. Besides the birds, there was also the hum from the Medina as people bartered over spices, shirts, and anything else under the sun. From our room, we could also always hear the evening call to prayer and the rumbling conversations that always seemed to follow with it. With all of the sounds, there were also the ones that reminded us we were foreigners. The catcalling from men by just walking definitely grew irksome, but not as irksome as the proposals that some of my peers were getting. The bartering that was done with us also never carried the same commodity but more of a tease. The individuals who owned the shops took one look at our group and knew immediately, either from our clothes or sheer size, that we could be convinced that anything was a small price. It was here, in the Medina, that I also relished in all of the French I heard. Granted, the French was spoken to us because we looked out of place. However, I marveled at how versatile my French was becoming. I used it to barter for carpets and to get directions on a street. I finally felt that I had proof that French was not limited to one or two countries.
Reflection from the end
What I found the most unexpected were the people. I thought that places and institutions were where I’d be learning, but it was really the people. Not just professors and professionals I met, but my classmates. Each of us came from different backgrounds: computer science, anthropology, psychology, and environmental studies. Yet, we were all interested in the same main topic of health. We would hang out together and discuss lessons and add on our own thoughts and opinions. We would build off of each other and go into lengthy discussions that often surpassed the depth we reached in our class discussions. I was also surprised with how well we all got along. The program was 30 girls from different U.S. universities. Somehow, we all became great friends. We would meet up at the library to study and people were always willing to help you with your homework or research project. We were friends outside of class as well. I quickly found out the best and worst of my peers on small trips we would take through Switzerland and elsewhere. It was easy to get to know someone when you travel with them. We got along well and trusted each other so much because we were all going through the same thing together. Something that couldn’t quite be felt by my friends and peers at home. That was another thing I did not realize until the end: how much I missed home. Not just friend and family but the United States as well. This surprised me so much because before my trip I was sure I would enjoy Switzerland more. Instead, Switzerland highlighted all of the things I love the most about the U.S. I was excited to go back and be home again. Not just on the soil but to feel completely at ease as well. I knew I would miss all of the amazing new friends I made and the delicious chocolate from the local swiss supermarket Migros, but I also knew how happy I was to go back. Especially now that I can more fully appreciate the U.S. for its bad and good qualities in a way I could not before.