First Day of School!


Today was my first day of school. There were countless amusing events. It’s different here. You have one class, of approximately 25 people, who have all the same classes. Your class is all in the same stream. I’m in the Economics stream. In Sion there’s a music/art school, and a math/science school. I lucked out. I’m in the math/science school. DUR. I had five classes in the morning, then three in the afternoon. Each day is different. It’s way different than having the same three classes every single day.

This is the view from my bus stop. Anyone jealous? It’s so nice here. I know that we don’t get pink skies at night quite like I love, but it’s a fair trade, instead we get pink mountaintops. To the right there are vineyards which will soon be green, I’m told. It reminds me a little bit of the agricultural innovation of Machu Picchu. They have stone walls every 15 meters, and small plateaus of vineyards. It’s so cool.

My first class was a math class. It’s so difficult here. We were doing vectors and stuff. I think that if this was my first language, and I’d been raised here, working up to this, I would thrive off of this, but, as it stands, that prof mumbles in French and writes messily on the overheads. It’s difficult for me, but my brain is working so I’m happy.

The next class was a French class. It took me so long to figure out what subject I was being taught. The teacher was nice, she talked slowly, so I understood almost everything. She’s going to let me bring a book in French and work on vocab. I’m happy about that.

Then I had an economics class. I had a hard time figuring out what it was. Their books said Commercial Arithmetic. When I introduced myself to the prof, she asked the class what the word in English was for it, but no one knew. They’re all really kind to me. Everyone is asking my partner where I am and how I’m doing. I’m like an exotic import, I think. They treat me a little bit like a new pet who doesn’t understand human speak.

After that I had an English class. The teacher is so funny. He speaks British English with a European accent. To me, it sounds like no specific dialect, just a very comical person. Believe it or not, I do learn English in these English classes. I learned that “tragicomic” was a word, much to my disbelief at the time. I can also pick up some little sensitivities of the English language, like it being bad to refer to a movie as sad, because sad usually describes a person’s reaction to a thing, rather than a thing itself. My English prof is great. He looked over some french writing of mine and helped me rewrite it. He was also able to explain to me some grammar things in English which was a bonus. He’s funny.

After that I had another class which I have no idea what the subject was. Maybe visual arts? Maybe? I doubt it though, because there was nothing like that going on. We just had computers.

Then, (and this is the best part of school here) we went home for lunch! The bus takes everyone home at 11:30, and we don’t start school again until 2:00. It’s awesome. I love coming home to a meal on the table and a Mom in the kitchen. It’s so cool. She said, “Sorry it’s not sandwishes like Canada”… lol it’s  so much better having beef, and scalloped potatoes. I’m so digging the Swiss cuisine, and the Swiss mom more so. My laundry comes to my door, washed, dried, folded, with a knock on my door and a smile. I just can’t get over that. It’s amazing.

At school again, we first had physics. Oh gosh. It’s so complicated. I think that Europe is way ahead. That’s just me.

Then we had a German class. I’m not allowed to go. 😦 I have to go work in the library instead. The library was closed, so I went to the cafeteria. I bought myself an apple there from a vending machine. It’s so cool how they sell apples in vending machines for .5 Franc. My friends laughed as I took a picture of a vending machine. I know, it’s ironic. Of all that Switzerland has to offer I’m here photographing a vending machine.

After that, we had some class which I think was law. I really couldn’t understand what we were being taught. We just kept talking about society and rights and things like that. So, that was 8 classes for me total for the day. Every day each week is different. Every Monday is the same, and so forth.

The marking system is different here. You get any number from 0-6, with one decimal place, and that’s your mark. Another difference: you need a four or higher to pass. If you fail one year of school, you repeat that year. If you fail more than one year you’re done. You can’t come back to school. There are some really sharp teeth to this school system. It shows. The students are much better behaved. I saw ONE phone out in class, and the girl was hiding it so carefully behind her pencil case, flat on the desk as if it were a calculator. People are RARELY late, and they always arrive with a desperate kind of apology. Apparently here, if you are two minutes late, you get a detention. Immediately. A two hour long detention. If you don’t show up to class, they call your parents. If your parents tell the school that you’re not at home sick, they phone the police. It’s a missing child. Hence, there’s no skipping here. The admin is way tighter. They just don’t let their kids seep out around the edges. And I hate to break it to you, my herbal loving friends, they’re not smoking up between classes. My exchange partner tells me that no people in her school smoke weed. As much as that’s hard for me to comprehend, I think it’s true. Where would they? There’s no woods. There’s only bustling streets of people. And indoors? You’ve got to be kidding me. This is Switzerland. It’s so clean. They even have carpets in their classrooms. Not to mention that they simply don’t take the risks of being late. My exchange partner’s eyes grew as wide as the rings of Saturn when I broke the news to her that approximately 1 person per class deals. I don’t think she knew that when she was in Canada, which is just as well.

I must admit, my confidence got boosted a lot today. Each time I told my professors that I had been learning French for only one year, they were shocked. Really shocked. They say I speak really well for having only one year. I’m glad to hear that because sometimes I think my French is atrocious. Thankfully I have the habit of premeditating 90% of my actions, so I make the most of my mistakes in my head. I mean, you can’t just accidentally tell a person their French is empty when you meant to say it was fast, just like you can’t say, “tomorrow I will reminisce about my dictionary” when you mean, tomorrow I will remember my dictionary.

By far the funniest part of my day was this (I’ve exerted much self-restraint in saving it thus far). People everywhere love to practise their English with me. I tell them that they can speak as much English as they want, and I will help them, but for me, I speak in French only. One guy took his liberties with this. (I think there’s something funny about Tenthorey’s in general. No matter where they live.) “Oh you’re from Canada? How are you darling? You are so so beautiful! I think I like you! You are very pretty today. You know you don’t have any photos of you on facebook! Now that I meet you I think you’re a little crazy but I think I like you. You are more pretty than I expected!” (I guess I have another creeper). I just kind of laughed and caught up with a friend I hadn’t talked to since the landing. The minute I look over my shoulder he winks at me and continues, “You are so beautiful! I’m sure I like you! I’m f***ing you tonight!” I bristled a little bit with that comment. I’m truly better behaved here, otherwise I think I may have smote him over the head. It seemed a little too casual to say that. Turns out, it is a casual thing. Like, so casual that they don’t even know what it means. He had said all this in English, and I guess it’s just another English thing that they’ve adopted and proceeded to forget the meaning. I have him on facebook, and he seemed like an okay (but crazy) person. Facebook is great because if you have me on facebook, you won’t really know too much about me. He would have no idea I’m Protestant like him, because according to facebook, I’m a Neoplatonist currently attending the Church of the Lowhanging Spaghetti Monster. Not to mention I’m a 92 year old man, who gets his friend-adding privileges taken away sometimes because he has too many teenage girls as friends. Nevertheless, now the guy thinks I was a little sour to him for no good reason. He doesn’t know he escaped the same wrath that made the Canadian boys ask if I own a gun.

I got my first Swiss handshake today. I think that guy in my class was aware of the fact that for a Canadian girl it’s really really strange for me to meet the boyfriend of one of my exchange partner’s friends and then immediately he’s in my facial space kissing me three times. It’s different.

In the cafeteria, this is hanging on the wall. Why? I don’t know. This is a very Catholic town, but it’s not a Catholic school. I had to explain to my exchange partner wha Good Friday was. But Jesus is here hanging on the wall. It’s cool to live in a place where there is religious cultural history. When driving up the mountainsides and entering smaller towns, there will be the usual “Welcome to Wherever” sign, and then a crucifix beside it.

The paper here is different too. It’s longer. Not legal sized, but longer. It’s all graph paper. For every subject. Apparently, lined paper is available, but I haven’t seen anyone use any. There’s my English prof’s writing in pencil.

6 responses »

  1. The picture of the apple vending machine really threw me for a loop when I was scrolling through this page. At first I was not sure if I was seeing things right and had to go back and read your entire post just to make sure late night homework had not finally fried my brain. It’s nice to know I saw right. Though I wonder, do the apples get bruised when the are dispensed?

    I enjoyed reading about your cultural experience overseas and to know that a fellow Canadian has the same shocked reactions to European culture is a comfort. During my own time (ten days, really brief) overseas in England, France and a quick layover in Germany my travelling group and I experienced some interesting moments with the locals. But while you were being called beautiful we had large men calling us “fast food” and drunk men jumping over tables to try and kiss us in the less then kind parts of Paris. The women were nice though. Even the cross-dressing bunny outside the bar offered a smile as we walked by. Culture shock can be thrilling and scary at the same time.

    Back to the point of whatever I was trying to make, it was interesting to read the differences between Canada and Switzerland. It sounds like an amazing place, I have always wanted to go. But as a guest, not a student. While the extended lunch break sounds nice the workload seems impossible, especially to a procrastinator like myself. I am jealous of your ability to speak French though, and graph paper instead of lined paper? I might just have to try that at some point.

    Going through your blog and looking at all the amazing pictures and reading about your experiences have made me want to travel again. While my time overseas was rough and exhausting, it was fun and amazing. The university I am going to offers an aboard studying program in Florence for a year and though it is expensive I might look into it more now.

    Your blog is funny and inspirational, I will continue to follow your progress through life.

    Thank you

    Leah S

    • Well I can answer your question, Leah! The apple vending machines operate a little different that what we’re used to. You put in half a franc (1 coin) and then a window opens and you reach in and get it. The apples are re-loaded bi-weekly. I found this out because I had to sit in the cafeteria during my German classes.
      It sounds like you’ve been through some of the hairier sides of culture shock! I think you should definitely aim to go on an exchange – everyone I know who’s done so in university has recommended it BIG TIME and I myself am also planning to exchange as well in a year or two! Plus, learning Italian would be a blast too – it’s a really phonetically consistent language, compared to English – so once you get used to the way the language sounds and is written, you can easily pronounce and spell the words.
      Another thing – the Swiss people are very, very proud of their graph paper too. They think of it as twice as useful as lined paper because you could write in either direction! The Swiss are all about efficiency. I love that mindset and it’s a major reason why I’d love to live in Switzerland! Do me and you a favor and GO ON AN EXCHANGE! YOU WON’T REGRET IT!

  2. As I was streaming through your blog, I found this post captured my attention the most. I was interested because I saw that the date you posted was on February, with the title “First Day of School!”. I was confused at first because I thought school would usually begin in September, or January.

    Anyway, I really liked how you added pictures to compliment your post. If it was not for the picture of the apple vending machine, I would have thought you were lying. I actually stared at the picture for a good five minutes, trying to see if it was photo shopped. I just hope those apples are sanitary!
    I also really liked landscape photograph, with the mountains. I think if I had that view near my school, I would do school work outside. And of course take a million pictures since I absolutely love photography.

    I really enjoyed learning about the contrast between the American/Canadian and the Switzerland education system. I think that the Switzerland schooling sounds very similar to Asian schooling. Coming from South Korea, I know for a fact how strict the schools can be like in Korea, even though I was never enrolled when I lived there. My mom would continue to lecture me about how schools in Canada are so much easier on the students, and there is definitely less stress. But I was shocked to hear about the fact that someone would be considered “missing” ,and the police would get involved if they ever skipped class. Let’s just say if that was to happen at my school, there would be a lot of “missing” people.

    I could not help but laugh out loud at the part where you mentioned the boy who tried to speak English. It is always really interesting to hear someone that can not speak your language proficiently, say things that would be totally creepy, and weird, but nevertheless it is always just for jokes though, right?. If he did that to me, I would probably be speechless, or laugh in front of him. I just hope he will learn the actual meaning of what he had said to you soon, before he gets slapped by a person who can not take his humour.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this blog post. I hope to read more posts that would teach me things and make me laugh, just like this one did.


    -Hyemin J

    • Hyemin, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Canadian schools are much easier than Asian ones! The international students that come to Canadian universities often have us totally beat – especially in the programs like math and economics… Not to generalize, but most of them come from families with very, very strong work ethics!
      The reason I entitled this post “First Day of School” is because it was my first day attending a Swiss school. So, it was the first day of school for me, but not the other students, who I pity because they only have a 6 week summer, and they start mid-august. On the other hand they also get more time off during the year, especially around Easter, so it evens out!
      Like practically everything in Switzerland, those apples are sanitary! 🙂
      I’m also glad to hear you liked my pictures! At some point I’d really like to learn a thing or two about photography and improve my skills!

  3. Why does a vending machine full of apples seem to be such a strange sight to us here in Canada?
    Jennifer B.

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