Intensive Language Learning and Endlich, Sommer (Finally, Summer)!

A lot of things have happened since I last wrote. Perhaps most importantly, I feel like I live here and no longer like I’m on holiday. Well, maybe a little bit; July brought a lot more hot and sunny days, which made it feel more like summer.

On weekdays, I learn German. I began taking an intensive German course towards the end of June; now, I am one week away from completing my second intensive course (A2) and will soon reach the B1 level! Here, language levels range from A to C, with B being the intermediate level. Because I am in the intensive course, I attend every morning for four hours and finish just prior to lunch. Because we are in the German-speaking region of Switzerland and there are people from all over the world in my class (Tibet, Syria, Afghanistan, Portugal, Philippines, Thailand, Cuba, and more), we do not use English as a common language, but rather German.

Most days, I speak no English until F gets home from work in the evening. On a couple occasions recently, I have found myself mixing the languages or saying strange phrases. For example, I called something “altmodisch,” which means old-fashioned, while speaking in English. Sometimes, it feels as if my brain is pushing out my English skills to make room for the German. I’m actually curious whether I will actually become altmodisch if I return to the United States after a long time, after not being exposed to the new words and slang that develop, especially as technology quickly changes and our vocabulary adapts. A former colleague of mine, who is originally from Ethiopia but was raised in the US, said that people told him his Amharic sounded “old” when he later returned to Ethiopia to work.

Overall, improving my German skills has been extremely valuable to me. The Swiss are a bit distant sometimes towards foreigners, in my opinion, although I’ve met a few exceptional cases. Instead of immediately asking “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” (do you speak English?) in a public place, I now feel confident enough to communicate mostly in German. Although I probably make mistakes and have a foreign accent, most continue to speak with me in German instead of switching to English, which gives me an opportunity to practice. I find that they are a bit more open and willing to help when I try my German with them.

Weekends are another story. There are SO many nice things to do outside when the weather is good. The Swiss seem to place much importance on enjoying and experiencing the outdoors, which was what I definitely missed while living in New York. Central Park is great, but it didn’t suffice for me.

In July, I spent two weekends carrying around a small backpack through the mountains and sleeping in alpine huts (“berghütten”). There were concerts of snorers and lots of random sweaty people crammed into the bunkbeds, but it wasn’t a huge problem because our surroundings were beautiful and peaceful and I was in great company. Side note: I’d recommend this article to anyone who wants to know more about the importance of nature to human wellbeing.

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Our mountain hut, called “Schönbielhütte”
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View of the Matterhorn from our room in the Schönbielhütte

The berghütten are definitely not for high maintenance individuals. There is limited electricity and most have sinks, but no showers. This means after a full day of hiking, you WILL remain stinky, sticky and sweaty. The next day you will wake up and hike more and add to the layers of grime mixed with sunscreen, because most of the huts are only accessible by foot. Additionally, there were no toilets inside the Schönbielhutte. Instead, we had an outdoor latrine – a concrete building with a hole in the ground. Secretly, I was slightly delighted, because this brought back memories from my two years in the mountains of Lesotho, during which I used nothing but a latrine.

The food was also…different. At one place, we were served ground beef in tomato sauce over instant mashed potatoes (maybe they ran out of pasta?), and at another, we were served a typical Swiss alpine dish: Älplermagronen. This is a dish of macaroni, cheese, potatoes, apple sauce, and topped off with fried onions. I must admit, I love carbs on carbs on carbs. It was actually very tasty, but perhaps it wouldn’t have been as good if we had not hiked the whole day.

With the two weekends added together, I’d guess that I hiked around 40 kilometers (about 25 miles)! This is probably among the most adventurous things I’ve ever done, and I think I’ve found myself a new hobby.

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