Our Outbound Exchange Student, Andrew Baker, reports on life abroad:

December 28th, 2015. I was surrounded. On either side of me, a mountain of travel 'essentials' and countless suitcases full of skiing mediums. Any attempt to extend a limb would be futile. Ahead of me, a van—much too small to an American standard—was packed much over intended capacity. At 5pm, all other five passengers appeared to be well at work slowly goading one another into an argument. We are three minutes into the five-hour car ride, and someone has already passed gas. I couldn't shake the feeling that, despite being over 3,000 miles away and on another continent, I was exactly at home.




    Five months in a lifetime, a lifetime in five months. My understanding of time has been incomprehensibly warped since August; it seems as if I got off the plane in Zürich just yesterday. Although I appear physically unchangedfondue and Swiss bread have luckily not yet taken their toll—a part of me has already been altered in a way I will never be able to rightfully explain. Independence, self-responsibility, optimism are the words that come to mind, but I still feel as if something is missing. Something unnameable, something achieved only from a time spent in a foreign land. It's a new mindset, a thirst to explore not only life but something greater. Something I've been longing to find and am beginning to identify through the haze of normalcy and conditioning. However, I don't believe it's acceptable to say I've found something that has always been around, and within myself. I'll never be able to tell you; however, I will try my best to show you.


    I was always very careful to answer when faced with the question, “Can you ski well?” If I were to give too much of an underestimate, I would certainly not have been asked to go with my host family for two weeks to their vacation home in the Swiss mountainside. However, too much of an overestimate would yield at least a broken ego and, at worst, a broken limb. Therefore, I became very good at the art of ambiguity. When the time finally came to face the music and acknowledge that I  had been skiing only five times in my life prior, my host family was not at all surprised, or disappointed. If anything, they were amused to see me slide down the steepest sections on my rump in a last-ditch effort to maintain control. Despite my many assertions that I was more than willing to part ways for the two weeks so that they could enjoy their vacation and I can enjoy survival, they insisted to teach me. It is now the end of day two on the slopes. I have, by some miracle, survived. Accompanied by false courage and optimism, I listened to their advice and followed them headlong down the slopes: first the easiest, then the steeper runs. Patiently, my host siblings waited for me as I slowly and not-always-so-steadily worked my way down the slope. They tell me that my progress in two days has been more than what most students make in the two weeks; however, my participation is not and never was about improving my ability to ski. Skiing during the winter break yields an invaluable opportunity to form closer bonds with my host family, and gain insight into a Swiss life experience to which I would never have otherwise been exposed. At the very least, who could pass up a chance to indulge in the breathtaking Swiss mountain landscape?

    Aside from spiritual growth, I've also acquired practical skills and experience. My proficiency in High German and Swiss German has much improved over the past couple of months, partly due to my persistence to speak the host language with whomever I can and a refusal to speak English. I've been taking private trumpet lessons for the past two months or so at the music conservatory in the city, and am set to play a solo piece at the conservatory concert in February. I have many local friends and acquaintances, and it is starting to feel as if my foreigner status is slowly disappearing. Christmas went quite well; despite being so far from home, I hardly felt like a stranger. Overall, things are going quite well, and I am ready to see what the rest of exchange has in-store.