I will never regret having spent my junior year of high school abroad. The genuine friendships and valuable skills I picked up as an exchange student have allowed me to become the person I am today.
While living with a host family in a foreign country for an entire year is not everyone’s piece of cake, several hundred students flock to Switzerland each year to get a taste of just that. Coming from all corners of the world, these youth with Swiss roots will spend two weeks with a Swiss host family while attending a full-immersion language program.
To provide an insight into the truly mutual benefits of the youth program by the OSA (Organisation of the Swiss Abroad), two Swiss host families have shared their experiences with me. Over the years, these families have hosted an impressive number of close to 30 teenagers with Swiss roots. And they are not planning to stop anytime soon!
Both families agreed that hosting a couple of students at a time has several benefits: They can entertain each other by playing sports and support each other in doing homework. In one instance, two weeks was all it took to bridge a seemingly impossible cultural gap between a devout Muslim and a punk rocker. While the two appeared reserved in the beginning, a friendship started to form and all parties involved ended up benefiting from this vivid cultural exchange.
Every morning, students will pack up their bags and head to Bern, Fribourg, Lausanne or Zürich to attend language classes. Depending on their preference, they can sign up for a French or German intensive program designed for beginners. At the end of the stay, many students are motivated to keep pursuing an official Swiss language back home.
And sometimes, the dinner table can appear like a session of the UN General Assembly as German, French, English and the students’ native languages are used to convey a message… While this can lead to a case of “Lost in Translation”, it mostly puts a smile on everyone’s faces. “Laughing brings people together”, one host wisely stated.
On the path to discovering their Swiss roots, students usually go on several field trips. Some are by the initiative of the families, while others are part of the OSA’s program. For instance, the 2012 class had a chance to visit the United Nations and the facilities of CERN in Geneva! For many, exploring the serene beauty of the Emmental with its popular cheese or cookie factories is among the highlights of a home stay - not to mention learning to cook, dance and play Jass!
One thing all visitors have in common is their Swiss heritage. But both host families agree that many students are unfamiliar with Swiss foods like boiled potatoes with cheese (Gschwellti und Chääs) or the irresistible meringues with fresh butter cream... "There is no better reward for a home cooked Swiss meal than a clean-licked plate and a genuine Merci! or Danke villmal!"
(Pictures copyright OSA)
Being a Host Family
Both families would not miss hosting an OSA student for the world. "You will be confronted with other mentalities and learn about other cultures and customs. What’s two weeks in a lifetime? We can only recommend this experience."
As one host mom put it: “You are literally bringing the world to your living room. It’s a very enriching experience for those who cannot travel abroad and want to escape from the everyday life for a while!”