Senior Grace Erlenwein reflects on her exchange program in Switzerland
Junior year is infamous for being the most intense year, both academically and socially, for many high school students. For Senior Grace Erlenwein, junior year was just that, except in a completely different country.
Since freshman year, Erlenwein had been planning to do some sort of exchange program through AFS-USA (formerly the American Field Service), is a nonprofit organization that offers international exchange programs. After considering the opportunity, Erlenwein was torn between doing an exchange program in either France or Switzerland.
“I went with Switzerland because it was very different from France. I already had visited France, and going to Switzerland would be new and sort of unfamiliar,” said Erlenwein. Prior to her trip, she had to take an intensive language program online, consisting of mainly the German dialect of Switzerland.
On Aug. 20, 2016, Erlenwein parted with her family and took off on a plane from New York to Zurich, Switzerland. She stayed with two host families.
Upon arrival, she immediately delved into the school system in the town of Wetzikon: a four to six year college preparatory high school. Her classes were from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. with six classes a day, ranging from geography to math.
“We had no school on Thursdays, which was a cool adjustment. Most schools in Switzerland have a four-day school week,” said Erlenwein. Another change that she had to adhere to was the grading system, which was number based, as opposed to letter grades. Grades would range from one to six; one to three would be failing, whereas four to six would be passing.
“It was really nice in a way, because a six was seen as better than a four. Students would just focus on giving their best efforts to pass,” said Erlenwein.
One of her favorite aspects of living in Switzerland was the wide use of the public transportation system. Because of the close proximity to the schools, most students either walked or used the public buses to travel.
Besides academic pursuits, Erlenwein frequently embarked on many sightseeing opportunities to learn about the culture and people of Switzerland. She attended many museums, state houses, and more.
“Doing something out of your comfort zone can really help you learn more about yourself. Experiences like this definitely help you through life, as they can improve your confidence, communication skills, and language skills, said Erlenwein.