A Year of Swiss Bliss (however cheesy that may sound)

This past academic year of 2011-2012 I spent the year away from UAF to study in a town of 30,000 people called Neuchâtel in Switzerland. Here at UAF, a lot of people want students to "Go Away" for a semester or two and to explore the world a bit. Having already been to Russia a couple of times before university, I was already sold on the idea of leaving for a year to see something that I had never seen before.
What a trip. The entire first semester was filled with easy classes that got out before noon, Fridays off, and soirées Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights with frequent trips to the only free boîte de nuit (night club) in town.
In America, we have this concept of going to Europe and doing the Eurotrip to see all the cool things to see that we don’t have in the US; I’m a big proponent of this. Seeing other peoples cultures, trying the food, appreciating the architecture, and getting to understand how people live is quite important for improving the world view we aspire to acquire. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t start my expeditions until Thanksgiving break
I met up with a friend in Dublin and stayed at one of his friends’ places and I saw how Dubliners spend their typical weekends. Introduce the travel bug. From the time between winter break and the end of the year in June, I went to Russia, Italy, twice to France, twice to Belgium, Portugal, and Spain, as well as a few trips around Switzerland (notably, twice to Zurich and twice to the Matterhorn for some winter snowboarding and some summer hiking).
I’ll vouch for the idea of staying abroad for a whole year as opposed to a single semester. Else, I would not have had these great opportunities to visit friends I had made the first semester (who returned back to their home countries for the spring), nor to partake on excursions with my good friends (notably, the trip to Portugal to do some sea kayaking in the south in the Atlantic Ocean).
But this second semester, I took some fairly challenging classes (yes, while I was traveling all over Europe every other weekend). Though one of the coolest classes that I’ve ever taken was a botany class from university, by a professor who was from Fairbanks! Aside from cracking jokes with the professor all the time, I made friends with over half of the people in the class (no small feat in European classrooms). Starting from after Spring Break, the class went on botanical excursions around Switzerland every Friday to “explore the different ecological regions of the country as well as to note the differences in plant variety based on said differences.” So for the first couple of hours, we followed the professor and his assistants around, writing down the Latin names of the plants that they pointed out to us. 11am (the unofficial aperitif hour in Switzerland) would arrive and we would all drop our bags and pull out plastic cups and bottles of wine to pass around to everyone. The remaining few hours of our excursions each week would consist of wandering around in the woods (or the bog), drinking wine, looking at plants, and having a merry ole time in good company.
Now, I’m not saying that every class in Europe is like this, but the classes are fun, the people are friendly, the traveling is exceptional, and the friends are those who will keep in touch with you on Facebook for a long time to come.




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