Better-than-cashmere family, learning galore, and the best floating sauna ever

  1. Written on Feb. 12, 2018

Allô Bonjour Salut tout le monde !

It’s been a week and a half since I first made the trip from Paris to Geneva, and, believe it or not, I’m already on my way out! As I write this post, I’m sitting on a plane headed to Greece where I’ll stay, along with my fellow SIT participants, for three weeks. While there, we’ll study the Greek financial crisis, as well as some basic Greek language skills, all while exploring Athens and the island of Crete. After those three weeks, we’ll return to our respective Swiss homestays and continue taking classes in Nyon.

Obviously, I’m so excited to go to Greece. But, I have to say, I’m also pretty sad to leave Switzerland so soon, even temporarily. Despite the fact that it hasn’t even been two weeks, I already feel like I’ve adapted — and even become attached — to the new people, places, and routines I’ve come to know.

Let’s start with my host family.

How do I put this?

I thought that I had used up all my luck for the year when the $17 cashmere sweater I found in a consignment store was my size, but apparently not because this family is beyond amazing.

My host mom, Anne, teaches social work at the local university, buys only organic / seasonal / local foods, and hates cow’s milk (cut to seven-year-old me sobbing in class after learning that the so-called “snack” of the day was milk). Anne also has some really freaking cool kids!!! : sixteen-year-old Mael, fifteen-year-old Elias, and twelve-year-old Céleste. Each plays an instrument (flute, violin, and harp, respectively), a couple sports (capoeira, basketball, circus acrobatics, cross-country skiing, and more), and each has an incredible sense of humor. I have had so much fun getting to know them over this past week. The five of us (plus a cat whose name is ACTUALLY “Biotch”) share a stunning apartment in Lausanne with views of Lake Geneva and the neighboring cities. Oh, and they all speak French, allowing / forcing me to drastically improve my language skills.

In Vevey with the apparently too cool to smile Elias and Mael 🙂

Highlights of this first week with them have been a visit to an art museum in the (unrealistically beautiful) city of Vevey, a highly-improvised and very fun mini yoga session with Céleste, and a nighttime run to the Olympic Museum with Mael and his dad.

I was very sad to leave my lil family this morning, even for Greece, and I’m already looking forward to coming back to them in a few weeks. 🙂

In addition to #bonding with these wonderful people, I spent much of this past week in class. “Class” is a loose term here, as it’s so far consisted of seminars featuring highly accomplished guest speakers and excursions to international organizations and NGOs in the Geneva area. It’s all been fascinating.

Among the topics of discussion have been: the causes and complications of Brexit; trade facilitation through both the lens of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and that of the UN (both of which we visited); sustainable investing and green stock exchanges; financial and business solutions to sanitation crises around the world; complementary currencies (we visited an organization which produces a currency called the “Léman,” with a goal to encourage spending at local, sustainable businesses in the Lake Geneva area); economic relations between Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan (we were personally invited by the ex-ambassador of Kyrgyzstan to participate in internships in his country?!?); and more !!!

The coolest room in the Palais des Nations (UN Headquarters), Geneva

Outside of homestay / school life, I’ve had an amazing time exploring Geneva, Nyon, and Lausanne (the three cities on the lake where I’ve spent most of my time). On Friday, a family friend took me to a place in Geneva called “Bains des Paquis” for the evening. And oh my god, what an e x p e r i e n c e !

First of all, this place is located on Lake Geneva — not next to it: on it — because it’s all floating on docks! Though I didn’t know it when I got there, the Bains des Paquis experience involves a few steps. After getting changed into swimsuits (in 33ºF weather !!!) we began Step 1: the sauna. Amazing. Relaxing. Easy. Step 2 was a little harder. A speed-walk down the dock led us to to a set of stairs, which we descended in order to enter the pitch black 6ºC lake !!! (I didn’t even believe my friend when she told me this was happening but it h a p p e n e d). We stayed in the lake for approx. 7 seconds (would have been shorter if I could have exited the water more quickly, but my body froze up almost instantly and really slowed down the whole process), then hurried into Step 3: the steam-room. This is what makes Step 2 so worth it. The feeling of hot steam and warm water thawing your lake-chilled body is seriously magical; so magical, in fact, that we repeated Steps 1-3 once more before moving onto Step 4: the Hammam bath. After coating our bodies in a thick olive oil-based paste, we exfoliated our skin with rough cloths, and rinsed off with warm water. My skin has never felt softer, and I’ve never felt such a strong combination of relaxed and energized before.

In addition to this evening, my favorite moments have been spent climbing to the top of the Lausanne Cathedral (via a very steep spiral staircase — much scarier coming back down omg), walking through the old / winding / cobblestone streets, stopping by the “American Market” where you can purchase a box of Froot Loops for 17CHf (approx. $18!!!), and eating lots and lots of hot liquid cheese. :’)

In front of the Nestle headquarters in Vevey

Every day of this first week has left me exhausted and ready to crash at 7pm, but it’s the good kind of exhaustion that comes from hours of walking, learning, and expanding one’s worldview (!!!). And I love it.

Next time you hear from me I’ll be an expert in all-things Greece (lol), so check back in for that!

Until then, here are two more $MONEY SAVING TIP$$ for your travels to Suisse:

  1. Buy sandwiches ! Food in Switzerland is SO expensive, and it’s not always possible to cook / prepare your own lunch. I’ve found that the cheapest option is a sandwich from Migros grocery store, or even from many of the small bakeries around. Anything in a sit-down place will run at least 14CHf.
  2. Don’t feel obligated to spend money in order to participate in social activities ! I’ve definitely felt a sort of pressure to follow the lead of the group when it comes to buying food and drinks, but it’s super easy to have a great time without spending all your hard-earned franks. :-)))

And with that, I bid you all a good night!

~Ema

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