It’s a Tuesday in November, and the sun doesn’t rise ‘til well after breakfast. I take a deep breath on my way out of the house and can easily imagine myself back home in Alaska. The crispness of the fall air is a perfect match. It has always been my favorite season, and I linger on the doorstep to enjoy it — letting my mind wander back to the beaches and evergreens of home.
As I open my eyes to the towering crests that are the Swiss Alps however, I am reminded of the distance. In the valley below me there is no lapping green ocean, but instead the reds and golds of changing leaves, the steady winding of trains, and the endless patchwork of pastures. Cows, newly returned from their summer grazing grounds, dot the fields. The frosted peaks of the largest mountains I have ever seen loom above all, lending magnitude to the quaint scene below.
It is the third month of my latest European adventure, and while transitioning between cultures can sometimes be painful, my stay here in Switzerland has been a fairly gentle adjustment. The differences are subtle ones, just enough to make me smile to myself and take note. Trains are never late, there is no canned pumpkin, and after-lunch naps are a God-given right. Nothing is rushed, because nothing is ever behind schedule. Chocolate and cheese are cheap — a change I have adjusted to happily — while everything else is astonishingly expensive.
My life here is tucked far from the commercial buzz — or even any stores. Since my arrival in July, I have taken up residence at the Ecole d’Humanite, a small international boarding school in the mountains near Interlaken. Switching my role from student to teacher, I have been endeavoring to teach English — somewhat of an experiment, but one that I am enjoying.
Most easily reached by ski gondola, it is safe to say the Ecole (as it is fondly referred to) is remote. Students from more than 30 countries reside here, scattered through the sturdy Swiss houses and classrooms that have contained the school since the mid 1900s. The culture fostered in the school is unique in a way that I never could have understood before I settled here. The small rituals of community life that I have learned as my daily routine are unique in their deliberate and meaningful nature. Each morning the school cleans together, every student begrudgingly hauling trash and shoveling snow. There are goats, a blacksmithing studio, Irish dance classes and a weaving room. On Saturdays before class, the whole school sings — songs from all over the world, the tunes and lyrics infused with ideals of peace, love and community.
The kids are still kids — skateboarding, scrawling crude pictures on chalkboards, skipping class and smoking — but the mismatched intercultural community they create together is different and powerful. Integrating myself into this place has reiterated to me that education is flexible and vibrant, academic and extracurricular.
Though I suppose this time in Switzerland will someday appear on my resume as “teaching experience” I think “learning experience” would be a more accurate designation. From the broken German I now speak proudly at the grocery store to the lessons in patience, spontaneity, and dogged perseverance I have learned from my students, this place has taught me much more than I expected.
Far from home, nestled into these new and different mountains, the winter spans before me. The holiday traditions of old Europe are all around, and I find that I don’t miss candy canes and pumpkin pie as much as I thought I would. Roasted chestnuts, holiday markets, cow-bells and chocolate are proving ample compensation. Standing outside my door, in the fresh fall air, the pull of beaches and evergreens loosens its grip. I am far away, satisfied and still.
• Adrienne Bosworth is a Juneauite currently teaching abroad in Switzerland.