This past weekend my flatmate, Shelby, and I went to Switzerland to work at camp. This camp is a language camp for Swiss-German children, ages 11-16, who want to learn English. We only spoke English at this camp, and I felt comfortable doing that, because I know English!
The camp is in Langenbruck, Switzerland, and it is just as picturesque as the Sound of Music makes it out to be. There were cows roaming the vibrant green pastures, and hills and mountains spotted with cute little cottages for as far as the eye could see.
We arrived a day early for our own personal orientation. We were to speak English, and to not let the kids know that we knew German. This part wasn’t so hard for me, because really, I didn’t know much German anyway. We also got new, “English” names to give us another layer of anonymity. We coordinated activities from different English speaking countries, such as playing the very common basketball game, HORSE, from America, or slang from Australia.
One of the first major culture shocks that Shelby and I experienced was, before going to bed the first night, Kate, the woman who runs the camp, told us that we had to go out and lock the gate. This seemed a strange request—was it dangerous in this picturesque, Swedish hideaway? No, of course not. But in the morning, the cows that we had seen harmlessly grazing in the surrounding meadows would be paraded through the streets, and we didn’t want them getting sidetracked and coming into the house. Apparently this happens when the seasons change, the farmers move the cows from high in the mountains to lower down in the valleys.
Sure enough, that following morning, Shelby and I awoke to moos and bells outside of our window. We saw large beasts with wreaths on their heads and bells under their necks meandering down the road. It was a wonderful procession, but not something I was expecting at 6am—even though we had been warned.
The second culture shock came when the campers told us that they didn’t know what S’mores were. I haven’t really seen any marshmallows or graham crackers in European grocery stores, in fact, even the only peanut butter I’ve seen sold has had an American flag on it, but S’mores, an integral part of my sleep away camp experiences, was elusive to these kids.
Well, in stereotypical American fashion, we had to give these kids a deserved sugar rush. Another counselor and I hiked 5 minutes away from the house to make a fire. We gathered some sticks for roasting marshmallows, and about 20 minutes later, the procession of kids blasting some good old American hip-hop from portable speakers came ambling into the forest. We explained what S’mores were, how to perfectly roast a marshmallow, and what they meant to us growing up. Chocolate? Cookies? The kids didn’t fully understand it, but what kid isn’t okay with a sugary snack?
After traveling to Switzerland, I missed Freiburg. I like trying to speak German, even if people respond to me in English. Shelby and I are planning on going back to work at the camp, but after that weekend, we need some well-deserved ‘schlafen.’