When you experience a different culture through educational and cultural exchange you gain a deeper understanding of yourself and those around you—deepening your knowledge of foreign cultures and strengthening international relationships. Leaving the familiar behind and plunging into the unknown shows a commitment to understanding other people and cultures; and a commitment to learning about the world in a way that books, school assignments, and a professional career can never reveal.
The canton of Basel-Stadt has long-standing ties to the U.S. State of Massachusetts. In 2002, the canton signed a sister-state agreement with Massachusetts to further the collaboration and exchange between the two states. A yearly high school exchange program has been part of this collaboration since 2003. Every year, Basel high school students travel to the U.S. for several weeks to meet with students. The U.S. students then travel to Switzerland for several weeks to meet with their peers in Basel. Here’s what a few of these U.S. students had to say about their experience in Switzerland.
Among all my experiences traveling to another country, the exchange trip to Switzerland was the most unique one. Besides visiting different cities and beautiful tourist attractions, the highlight of my trip was actually staying with my host student and experiencing an ordinary life in another country. Even on the day I arrived, I started to become familiar with the city of Basel by following my host student to run several errands, taking trams and buses, and walking around the city after dinner. For the next several days, I got completely used to taking public transportation to different places, and I could easily figure out my way in the city.
Another aspect of this trip that made it so unique was the experience of taking classes for two days with my exchange student in her school. I was first impressed by the students’ flexible schedules and the wide variety of classes that they were able to take. Most of all, I was fascinated by their foreign language classes that were all completely taught in those languages, which would be very challenging for me if I had to take classes like these in my school. Overall, my exchange trip was very special to me; I took the opportunity to explore different aspects of life in Switzerland that a tourist would never be able to experience.
Before the trip, Switzerland to me was merely a land of green hills with goats, chocolate, and cheese. But I can truly say, that after my experience in Basel, my life has been changed for the better. I stayed in an adorable apartment on the Rhine River and every day I woke up prepared for the next adventure. From the bright flowers that welcomed you on every street corner, to the bikes perfectly lined up upon the sidewalk, Switzerland was very much a surprise to me in every way possible, and Europe itself was like a little bit of heaven, as I got to experience things that in America would never have gotten to see. My personal favorite food I tried in Basel was the kabob. A number of days during the two weeks I stayed in Basel, I visited a little Turkish food shop at the end of my street, which was only a short bike ride to a delicious treat. It was a memory me and my exchange student will forever share, the days we would go out into the city and explore. My American friends and I were so amazed with the European culture, how friendly everyone was, and how welcomed we were into their country.
When I learned I would be spending two weeks in a foreign land, I was overjoyed but also very concerned. Would I adjust to the culture? Would I have a hard time fitting in? But from the second I landed in Zurich, all my worries were completely lifted and I felt right where I belong. I especially enjoyed the trip my class took to the Alps, where I was nearly 10,000 feet up and all I could see was white. The mountains looked like the pictures I’d only seen in storybooks, and my expectations were completely blown away.
Another one of my favorite days out was in Lucerne , a city in central Switzerland where I spent my day shopping, eating the best chocolates and admiring the beautiful cathedral and river. The Swiss architecture was really beautiful and unique- which was another thing I love about Europe. The looks of the dainty little streets and the cobblestone roads look like something out of a fairytale.
This exchange has opened my eyes to so many opportunities. Other people’s way of life around the world has always been an interest of mine, and traveling has always been a dream. I’ve always known I wanted to visit as many countries as I can when I’m older, and Switzerland was the perfect place to start. Somewhere your dreams felt big, but in reach. A place where one could escape and live a life full of color and hope. I learned a lot about myself on this trip, and thought a lot about where I wanted to live, what I wanted to see, where I wanted to go. In fact, Basel amazed me so much that I am searching for a college in which I can go on an exchange to Switzerland once again, and visit the people I had the pleasure of meeting.
Being able to travel is one thing, but being given the opportunity to understand another student’s culture is not only amazing, but the best learning experience a school can give you. Thanks to my teachers at Reading High, a club was organized to have this breathtaking country presented to me, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the experience and the memories that I will cherish forever.
If you are interested in participating in an exchange program, then check out the opportunities at U.S. Embassy Bern.