This week, my class and I had the opportunity of a lifetime...go hiking in the Swiss Alps. The class is focused on how humans have altered alpine landscapes for thousands of years. Instead of simply learning about these facts from a textbook, we went on multiple excursions to see these effects firsthand.
We stayed at the Schloss Hotel in the town of Leuk, Switzerland. It is a small village located in the Rhone Valley (about 4 hours away from Freiburg). The drive was beautiful and we could hardly believe that this was our final stop when we got off the bus. The hotel used to house nuns, so there is a pretty chapel and stained glass windows. The hotel also hires people with mental dissabilities, a really cool program so that everyone can live as normal a life as possible.
On our hikes, we focused primarily on vineyards, forest fires, and irrigation. We hiked into the mountains to see places where fire had swept through not very long ago. We observed the differences between sustainable, organic vineyards and the methods that more traditional farmers use. We also walked along a 1,500-year-old irrigation system that the Romans first built when they came to the Swiss Alps. It's easy to look at the beauty of the Alps and forget about all the history that they hold.
We also took a couple of fun excursions as we passed them. One was a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The buildings there were built by farmers over 500 years ago, and are still intact today. They used special wood from the region that is extremely durable. We also went into a mountain church that had murals from hundreds of years ago. The paint was covered for many years until accidentally found by people completing repairs. We went to another church as well. This church was a bit spooky as the walls were lined with the skulls of over 12,000 Black Plague victims. As morbid as it seems to us, this was a very respectable way to be honored in those times.
Experiences like this are what set study abroad programs apart. Learning about landscapes and human impacts in the Swiss Alps is nothing compared to experiencing it in person. And it takes a good provider program to integrate these opportunitites into the classroom experience.
My trip to the Alps will forever be the ultimate field trip. Switzerland is such a beautiful country that many overlook because of the big cities that surround it. I cannot wait to do more exploring and see the other places that Switzerland has to offer.
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<p>My name is Sarah and I am studying environmental studies and journalism. Although born and raised in upstate New York, I now go to college in Washington, DC. My perfect day involves eating lots of good food and getting lost on a hike.</p>