Weekend in Switzerland

This weekend, I stuffed my giant purple backpack full of the warmest clothes I own, triple checked my paperwork, and headed out for my very first weekend trip to Zurich, Switzerland!

 

Not only did I get to go to SWITZERLAND, but I got to stay with some extended family – Alice and Natalya Stämmer! I cannot thank y’all enough! Even though Natalya and I hadn’t seen each other since we were both babies, Alice welcomed me into her home and spent the weekend giving me a glimpse of their Swiss way of life!

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Here’s how we made the most of my 3 days:

Night 1

My trip kicked off with a couple bus rides to London, Gatwick where I was absolutely blown away by European efficiency. Let me tell you – America is doing it wrong! At Gatwick, you scan your boarding pass and make eye contact with a machine, walk right up to the security scanners where there are 7 mini lines at each station, keep your shoes on, and you’re off to your gate! In the bathroom, stalls are actually big enough to bring your luggage in and each sink has a personal hand dryer. Gatwick gets a 5/5 Yelp review for sure.

Alice was kind enough to pick me up right from the Zurich airport and we headed downtown via train to grab a Swiss meal! This was my first time in a non-English speaking country and I really enjoyed learning about various cultural differences. Switzerland is split into 26 cantons or subdivisions and has 4 official languages: French, Italian, Romansh, and of course, Swiss German which is spoken in Zurich! We ate at a cool casual place with a great view called Sternen Grill where I tried a mushroom veal dish with späetzle (a delicious hashbrown type side!).

Afterwards, we swung by the hotel where Natalya works to say hello before heading to bed.

 

Day 1

What better way to spend my first day in Switzerland than by heading out to the mountains! Luckily, we were blessed with incredible weather the whole weekend. We drove about 2 hours to Shilthorn, a part of the Bernese Alps of Switzerland with a 2790m summit! All bundled up, we took cable cars up to check out the views. At the Birg stop, we went on a Thrill Walk along the mountain’s perimeter. Words cannot describe how beautiful the views were and pictures do not accurately convey how immense these mountains are. You must go check them out for yourself!

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Next, we took the final cable car up to the summit for lunch and of course, the scenic backdrop used in James Bond 007. The restaurant spun 360 degrees as we ate and once again, I opted for a Swiss meal, this time a delicious Schnitzel and a post-lunch coffee with amaretto. Nothing will ever beat this lunch view!

 

Afterward, we walked around the top deck and James Bond tourist attractions. This was a once in a lifetime experience I will never forget.

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On our way back down, we stopped in the mountain town of Murrän, a tiny town with a 1,630m elevation that is completely unreachable by car, yet is complete with its own post office, fire station, grocery store, and church.

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I miss the mountains already! With full hearts and tired legs, we headed back towards Zurich. For dinner, we made a pit stop in Luzern (Lucerne) Switzerland. The architecture here is noticeably different from Zurich and quite lovely! Walking around the little adorable cobblestone streets is one of my favorite activities. Alice took us to a cool penthouse bar atop the Astoria hotel that she’d discovered by mistake one night. The pizza and drinks were good but the conversation and company was even better. Alice and Natalya made me feel comfortable right away and I loved learning about the differences between us and (maybe) more importantly, our similarities.

 

Day 2

You know how you typically Google image search a place before you go on a trip and then end up being disappointed because the place doesn’t fully live up to your expectations? I solemnly swear that this will not happen with any city in Switzerland. Zurich is full of history, cute places to eat and shop, and stunning views everywhere you turn and of course, the lake! Even though it is winter, locals and tourists alike take every sunny opportunity to enjoy the outdoors.

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Natalya and I spent the afternoon just the two of us. Our first stop together was Cafe Felix, an adorable coffee and cake shop with a grand staircase and elaborate decorations.

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For dinner, we cooked cheese fondue together! (Okay, mostly her) before heading out to check out Zurich’s night life.

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Day 3

On our final day, we started off with a beautiful hilly hike in the forest near their home. There is so much nature to be enjoyed in Switzerland and I got just a taste. The hills were full of kids sledding down and dogs happily prancing. Sometimes, you just have to take it all in.

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After our walk, it was time to say goodbye to Natalya as she had to work. It was a sad goodbye! Alice and I finished up our day with a short trip to the nearby Rapperswill! Once again, this small historic looking town had an entirely different look than the others I had experienced thus far. We walked around, saw a castle, and watched the sunset. Alice knows so much about each of these places and the history behind them and it was incredible to have her as a friend and guide.

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After a lovely risotto dinner cooked by Alice, I was off again.

Goodbyes

Once again, I would like to thank Natalya, Alice, and her husband Zeno for being so generous as to host me and spend their time showing me around! It is always so lovely to spend time with family and truly relax for a weekend.

To Switzerland: your mountains, cheese, chocolate, and people did not disappoint! (However, no one would mind if things were a bit cheaper!)

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Study Abroad 2016 Switzerland Trips

My First Taste of England

Let’s be honest – there isn’t a single thing that could replace queso, fajitas, or kolaches, or my family’s Sunday night dinners…but England is trying its best. In addition to eating my way around Oxford, I am taking advantage of my dorm room kitchen that I share with four other girls by finally learning to cook! Luckily, my roommate Tatjana only makes fun of me a little bit when I ask her basic cooking questions.

While I haven’t found the “food of all foods” here yet, I am still on the hunt. Here’s what has stood out so far!

IMy first meal across the pond obviously had to be fish and chips. The green sauce was questionable, but the fish and chips were divine. As of now, my best effort at ordering a drink requires asking what the waiter recommends, but I’ll get there one day.

The food at our Welcome Dinner, hosted by Trinity College, was unreal. Unfortunately, I failed to get a picture of the delicious duck confit. This room (pictured right) is where students who attend Trinity College eat their daily meals. It sure beats Lakeside at Elon!

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British coffee isn’t quite the same as American coffee, but their cafes sure are cuter. Finding little spots around town to study and have a snack has quickly become my favorite afternoon activity. Oxford is the perfect size: small enough to know well, yet big enough to explore.

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Last night, Elon professor Kevin Boyle took all of us Elon students out to a nice dinner at Portabello! Definitely my best dinner out in Oxford so far with great company.

img_0040Best of all, however, has been nights spent in Logan House and meals cooked with Tatjana. This is the salmon and rice we cooked together tonight! We have been meal planning and making shopping lists together which has been so motivating. Having the opportunity to eat together and share stories about our individual experiences, culture, political systems, family, and friends has been incredibly eye-opening. Through learning about others, you really learn more about yourself. Food has an amazing way of bringing people together and making memories!

This week wrapped up with another St. Clare’s day trip; this time we went to Stonehenge! Stonehenge, thought to be built around 2,000 B.C., is a mystery to this day. No one quite knows its true purpose! Located in the middle of nowhere amidst rolling green open fields (full of cute sheep!), the monument is clearly out of place.

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We braved the cold for some photos!

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Transitioning to Life Abroad

LEAVING & ARRIVING

Moving abroad is a huge rush of mixed emotions: excitement, fear, anxiety, joy, worry, and feelings unable to even be pinpointed. While Elon does as much as possible to prepare students, nothing prepares you to fully realize – yes, I’m actually doing this. For me, reality didn’t really set in until I was doing everything at home in Texas for the “last time”. Much too soon, it was time to say goodbye to my friends and family. I’d like to give another huge thank you to my parents for always supporting me and encouraging me to attend Elon and take advantage of this experience at St. Clare’s!

Once I was dropped off at the airport and finally on the plane, most of my anxiety was wiped away. During my flight, I took time to journal, set goals, and focus on the adventure I had embarked upon. After a long day of traveling, I finally arrived at London Heathrow at 6:45am local time (what a crazy airport!) I observed little differences like signs for “toilets” and “lifts” as I maneuvered my way through customs and over to a different terminal where I met my friend Allie.

 

My arrival day was exactly as you’d expect from England: foggy, cold, and rainy, but also quite lovely. A St. Clare’s driver fetched us from Terminal 3 and one hour later, we had arrived!

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Neighborhood near me

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All set up!

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Shared dorm room in Logan House

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Bedroom window view

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Balcony view

As you can see above, Oxford is a quaint town that is already starting to feel like home. I am very proud to say that I am mastering public transportation (although I do miss my little car). One of my favorite parts about St. Clare’s is that it is not exactly a “campus”. Instead, St. Clare’s buildings are mixed into the community. As a result, I find myself having to really explore the area and get more of a bearing. Even walks (or bus rides) to class are exciting!

MEETING NEW PEOPLE

This is probably what I was both most nervous and most excited for. Thankfully, all of the St. Clare’s students are friendly and seem very open to meeting new people and making new friends. I am matched up with a German roommate, Tatjana, whom I adore. This has made connecting to the international community here much easier. Besides Germany, I have met people from Belgium, Sweden, Spain, Argentina, Switzerland, and many others! While there are no British students at my school, the professors at St. Clare’s, the Oxford community, and my school placement offer lots of opportunities to learn more about my new home.

St. Clare’s offers various programming to help us adjust to life here and get to know our peers. Since they offer 3 programs (Liberal Arts, English Language plus subjects, and English Language) they make an effort to intermix the groups as much as possible. This first week, I have enjoyed a walking tour of Oxford, a Welcome Dinner at Oxford University’s Trinity College, a London day trip, and a trip to a London Theatre with my Shakespeare class! These have all been great opportunities to make friends and get to know my cities.

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Kristy and I exploring Oxford

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Centre City, Oxford

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Oxford

Additionally, this Saturday I took advantage of the first day trip opportunity – a free trip to London! London has so much to offer and I have only just touched the surface. Check out my favorite pictures that I took below.

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TIME MANAGEMENT

One of the trickiest parts of settling in has been learning how to manage my time. My classes here will be both challenging and rewarding. Several are taught by professors who also teach at Oxford University! I am enrolled in 4 courses: Comparative Education, Shakespeare Survey, Sociology of Crime and Deviance, and Foundations of Educational Psychology. Additionally, I am interning at Cherwell School each Tuesday where I am paired up with English Language Learners. I sit next to these students in class to assist with their English and help facilitate their learning.

During the week, I hope to get into the swing of things and achieve a good balance between classwork, my school placement, social life, errands, and me time! This will be absolutely necessary because on the weekends, I want to travel! Some weekends will be spent further exploring the UK, but I am also currently planning several trips.

LITTLE DIFFERENCES

Even though England is an English speaking country, moving so far away is still a constant adjustment to “little differences”. Step 1 – the time change. I am 5 hours different than North Carolina and 6 different from Texas! This has required some adjustment both for my body clock, and for my communication back home. So far, I am doing quite well and have finally recovered from my jet-lag.

Little language differences are also quite apparent but also fun for me to dissect (why is aluminum pronounced AL-OO-MIN-IUM?!) Even trips to the grocery store are a new adventure. Newsflash: they don’t bag your groceries and checkout aisles are called “tills”. Don’t even get me started on trying to keep track of dollars, pounds, and euros.

Most of all, I am looking forward to studying the little differences between American schools and British schools. Several of my classes will discuss this within a classroom setting. It is so cool to go out and observe things in the “real world”! Some of my final projects will also center on comparing education systems.

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I can’t believe that I have only been in England for one week! Life has already been so full of new friends, new food, new classes, and new adventures.

Cheers,

Courtney

 

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