Swiss reflections

Hi everyone, I got back to Florida on Thursday, and I’m hustling on those secondaries since I completely ignored them during my last week in Switzerland. Florida has been good: Dad and I have been playing tennis, I’m running (unfortunately on a treadmill to get that incline training since FL doesn’t have hills), and I’ve (FINALLY) been able to practice piano! But here I want to write some of my reflections on my time in Switzerland.

Classic examples of the Swiss culture

  • Swiss transportation is top of the line. I was going to one of Amélie’s choir concerts in a little village called Ependes. Getting there was easy. I simply took two trains (a RegioExpress followed by a Regio train) and I magically found myself in a village with an estimated population of 50 people and 150 cows. Getting to podunk places like this in the States definitely requires a car. Amélie told me the concert was in a building next to the church, but I couldn’t find the concert location (I walked the whole village and found an empty building next to the church)…Well, when I got home and had access to wifi/WhatsApp, I found out I was in the wrong village. I was in Ependes in Vaud, not Ependes in Fribourg.
  • Swiss people vote on everything. They vote on referendums that range from increasing the minimum wage (to 22 CHF/hour; they voted no) to limiting immigration (putting Switzerland and the Shengen area on uncertain terms with respect to free movement of people; they voted yes) to the practice of preimplantation diagnosis (allowing couples and scientists to test for genetic defects in embryos conceived in vitro; they voted yes).
Advertisement at a train station for a referendum vote
Advertisement at a train station for a referendum vote
  • There’s a laundry schedule. In some apartment buildings, each apartment is assigned a laundry time (e.g. Wednesdays at 14h or Saturdays at 8h) and you can ONLY do your laundry during your assigned laundry time.
  • Trash bags are expensive! 50 CHF for 5 garbage bags…and you are required to use these trash bags. High price of trash bags is to reduce trash and encourage recycling.
  • On that note, recycling is king. After a little learning curve, I came to love my five recycling bins (paper, aluminum, PET plastic, hard plastic, and glass) AND (bonus round) the compost bin. Packaging is designed so that the paper label on the outside can easily be peeled from the packaging underneath (e.g. plastic yogurt cups, aluminum tins).
  • Name your chalet. The people who have chalets in the mountains love to name their second home. I guess it’s the same for people with boats in FL.
  • Quietness is bliss. On the trains and in public spaces, people speak quietly and respect the communal silence.
  • Refraining from nailing things to the walls. For all of us renters in Switzerland, we hesitate to nail things to the walls because you pay quite a hefty fee for ‘damage’ done to the apartment. My friend’s friend rented a studio for a year. The inspection upon her move-out took 2 hours (FOR A STUDIO!!) and was hit with a CHF2500 bill for ‘damage’ aka holes in the walls and dirt in the grout. She was able to fill the holes herself and scrub the grout to reduce her bill, but still…
  • Military service is compulsory. Despite Switzerland’s famed neutrality, males older than 19 are required to serve in the military.
  • Dogs training is mandatory. In Vaud, dogs must be trained within a year and be able to understand and follow a specific set of commands
  • Finally, one of my favorites: SBB hired sheep to mow the lawns. Yep, the SBB (train service) hired 80 sheep to eat the grass near train tracks. Don’t worry about the safety of the sheep though: there’s an electric fence preventing sheep from wandering onto the tracks. Gotta love Switzerland.

Some favorite Swiss memories

  • Attending Amélie’s concert in a school gym somewhere in Valais and eating raclette after raclette.
  • Climbing at the rock wall with Hadrien and Séverine, and eating biscuits and apple juice after tough climbs.
  • Swimming, picnicking, and BBQing by the lake.
  • Making Thanksgiving green beans but failing to actually make it to the dinner.
  • Canyoning in Interlaken.
  • Snowshoeing and eating cheese, sausage + other cured meats, butter, and bread on Rallye du Goüt.
  • Running in Zermatt.
  • This one isn’t in Switzerland, but still a favorite: swimming in the mediterranean sea and making lemonade in the villa in Amalfi.
  • Anything and everything about the mountains!


  • Not having a data plan was both freeing and inconvenient. It forced me to focus on the present rather than checking social media. I felt less scattered because my attention wasn’t constantly being divided. However, it was a hassle at times, like when I tried to meet up with someone but couldn’t reach them/be reached. Data plans should be a tool–something that can allow us to connect with other people–but they shouldn’t run our lives (aka usurp the lunch or dinner table conversations or activities at hand.
  • Always take pride in my work and work seriously (what’s that quote? “Take your work seriously, but never yourself”). I’m guilty of not doing this–I prioritized travel over work. I don’t regret this, however I do believe that I should’ve taken my work a little more seriously during the week. I did some quality work in June (after my marathon months of traveling in April and May), and by the end of June, I made significant progress with my project. If I had worked as hard as I did in June during the other months, I think I could’ve done a lot more with my project. Alas, this was a lesson for me to learn to balance traveling/having fun with producing quality work.
  • Sometimes you have to give up on things, and that’s ok. No judgement. I just have to do what works for me.
  • Learned to let go of FOMO. It doesn’t really bother me if Dukies are getting together to do this or that. I’ve learned to be happy doing whatever it is that I want to do, which is adventuring hard.

I felt really sad to leave Switzerland, but during my last week after I finished work, I did not miss the office at all. This indicates to me that it was a good idea to not remain in the lab, even though it would have been a guaranteed salary and extended time in Switzerland. I think being sad to leave a place indicates time well spent. It means that I’ve made meaningful relationships and had fun on the journey. People will come and go; nothing lasts forever. What’s important is that the friendships and experiences were there when you had the opportunity and that it meant something to you at the time.

I’ve learned how to do a lot of things solo this year, from traveling to eating to running. It’s nice to be able to do whatever you want with no fear that your travel buddy is hungry or tired or cranky. Although it’s always fun with company, I’ve been able to have time for self-reflection as well as grow comfortable in my own skin. AND, I’ve been able to read SO MUCH.

I’m really grateful for this opportunity to work in Switzerland. When I got the Whitaker, I kind of took it for granted. But I’m thankful that I was able to simply pick up and move to a different country for a year. This has been R&R from Duke stress, while learning things all the same. This year has also very much been a selfish year: I’ve been generous to myself, spending time and money on my own travels (Switzerland, France, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Hungary, Czech Republic, Croatia, Greece, Scotland, Austria, & Denmark). I’m ready to re-start living and doing things for other people. I’ve learned how to be okay with doing me and not necessarily what other people think is ‘right’, how to be open to change by pushing myself outside my comfort zone (asking strangers for help, trying to communicate in french, not being ‘good’ at something but still doing it anyway), and gaining a better idea of what I want in my own life (producing quality work while still enjoying and living in nature, esp. the mountains). I’ve also learned about attitude and how one’s attitude can completely change a situation. I strive for a positive attitude in all my endeavors and believe that channeling inner peace and positive energy about where I am and where I’m going will yield benefits to me and those around me.

Finally, some random things and French phrases

  • Jokingly calling our lab the Laboratoire Spécialisé en Bricolage Ingénieur
  • Tip top
  • Ça meule = mountain term for it’s cold
  • On bouge = let’s go
  • Greeting people with 3 kisses and saying ‘goodbye’ with ‘ciao’
  • Goûter is an afternoon snack. I learned from Sév and H that they like to eat (or used to eat) a baguette with butter and chocolate shavings or a chunk of chocolate. It’s delicious. Try it.
Now I understand why they put chocolate bars next to the bread section

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