To this day, Kimberly Thomas can’t explain why she wanted to go to Switzerland as an exchange student.
“Last year I never thought of myself as someone who would get on a plane, and go live across the world for a year with people I don’t know and a language I don’t speak,” Thomas said. “I really couldn’t tell you why I ever decided to do it.”
Thomas has been living in Switzerland since August of this year. Currently, she is staying with a family in Lucerne, but she also will be spending time with another family in a nearby village named Beromünster.
Thomas, a Grade 11 David Thompson Secondary School student, will be spending almost a full year in Switzerland as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. During her time there she is attending a local high school, where she is improving her German, albeit with some difficulty.
Since the German taught in schools is proper, “high” German, and the German commonly spoke in Switzerland (Swiss German) is more conversational with the occasional French and Italian mixed in, Thomas says that while she has vastly improved her formal German since she arrived, Swiss German still gives her some trouble.
“At this point I can understand most stuff people say when they are speaking with me as long as it doesn’t have super tough vocabulary, and I can also speak,” Thomas said.
“I find that if I’m speaking German in a conversation I start to think in German which is really cool.”
Of course, attending a high school at which you don’t fluently speak the language of instruction can be extremely difficult. Swiss schools have several different levels of schooling, and Rotary has placed Thomas into the gymnasium, or highest level.
She says that while she is unable to do much of the work assigned to her in school because of the language barrier, on the upside, she has become a better artist thanks to her time doodling in class. Also, in Switzerland school runs some days from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., which has also been a large adjustment for Thomas.
“(The school hours) have been a crazy adjustment for me because school in Invermere is from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.,” she said. “Whenever I tell that to students here they are amazed.”
Other notable differences for Thomas include the Swiss propensity for being on time, as well as simple things like food and mealtimes.
Thomas has several goals for her time in Switzerland. Of course, she would like to learn to speak fluent German and Swiss German, but as an avid skier she also hopes to hit the slopes before too long. Thomas also spends her time playing volleyball and is part of a jazz band, which she says is a great way to meet new friends.
“My favourite part has been meeting all the people, and travelling around Switzerland and countries around it,” she said. “The other exchange students here have become amazing friends in the last couple months — I’ve already made an awesome network of friendship that I’m pretty sure will last forever.”
While Thomas does miss her friends and family, she says she doesn’t feel particularly homesick, something she is thankful for.
“I think that I’ve learned that I am a lot more independent and capable than I thought I was, and that Switzerland is an incredible country,” she said. “I have had to figure out so much on my own. I have gone across Switzerland alone on a train which a year ago I never would have dreamed of doing. Sometimes I wonder, if I have learned this much in two months, how much will I have learned at the end of this entire experience?”
To keep up with Thomas and her adventures in Switzerland, visit her blog at kimmissswiss.tumblr.com or visit her youtube channel at youtube.com/smilelifexoxo.