This is a post I should’ve written back in 2014 or 2015…My Swiss professor instead of saying do whatever is your cup of tea he said soup instead.
It was my first morning in Geneva and I stood by the lakeside lost in the view of the sunrise that hadn’t yet shone on the mountains in front me underneath a gorgeous orangeish, bluish sky. I never felt so free. I felt free from my misery of just feeling stuck in a place of self consciousness and self-loathing that had been with me since high school and that partly made my college experience (except for my year abroad) something I want to forget.
Up until I was applying to study abroad I never thought I would actually study abroad, but at that moment the possibility of living abroad long term crossed my mind for the first time. Believe me, I explored pretty much all the options, doing medical school in Europe, doing medical school in the states and then becoming a doctor in Europe, giving up my doctor dream altogether and pursuing public health or global health, etc. It wasn’t just being in a different place that made me feel so free, but it was the fact that I was learning how to be independent and exploring all of the possibilities I came across. I was placed in a host family with a elderly lady who spoke zero English and I was a complete beginner in French. That put me in survival mode and forced me to learn French, but it helped me discover how useful it could be in learning more about the local culture and meet people using French, who I’d otherwise probably would’ve never gotten know.
My Fall semester was focused on global health and it exposed me to that complex and exciting world, medicine related but not clinical practice. And while I loved the idea of developing global health projects, I felt a renewed passion towards my decision to go to become a doctor and practice mainly clinically. My program felt sort of small and sort of large with 30 girls, some days, depending on the day. It was easy to connect to them maybe because we were all American, but also because we all loved the health field, Switzerland, and Swiss chocolate. I became especially close to a couple girls, who were honestly the kinds of best friends I hadn’t had in a long time since high school. It’s hard to explain, but I could sum it up as the kind of friends who you can pretty much go to and talk about anything with, who you could be stuck with in the middle of nowhere and have a blast with, who you don’t really feel limited with.
For a country that I basically only chose because I thought it was the less conventional choice and learning French seemed useful, I fell in love with it so fast and so hard. I loved it so much, I decided to study there a second semester on a whim. In fact, I remember it was the week before the deadline and I was scrambling to complete my application sitting in my host family’s couch in Morocco (a week long excursion that was part of my Fall semester). I had many thoughts of whether it was a good idea, the fact that I would probably just take a gap year after college to enhance my academic record for medical school applications, or was it because I had an extreme crush on some Swiss boy, who by the way I had already lost contact with way before I started my second semester? It just felt right to do another semester, and that feeling has never changed. I landed in the airport at the start of my second semester feeling like I was returning to another home.
My second semester was very different than the first, as I was studying at a large university so I was exposed to way more people and not just Americans. I lived in a flat with a French roommate, I went out to parties and clubs and drank way more than I ever did. For some reason that love for parties and clubs just doesn’t exist when I’m in the States. I had a nice little group of girlfriends and it was great to once again have that go to little home group when you’re out at a party meeting all these new people, you have someone around you who’s there for you. I juggled the minimal amount of French classes in Lausanne along with my internship at the WHO in Geneva, where I commuted to 4 days a week, which took about 3 hours total per day. It was EXHAUSTING, but SOOOOOOO worth it! Where else do you meet with doctors from Liberia who have seen Ebola manifest in their patients with their own eyes come and collaborate on projects on how to work with patients in need of surgery amidst Ebola? Second semester was all about getting out of my comfort zone, while first semester was more about exploring my freedom. As a notable example and lesson learned: if you’re in Switzerland try to go skiing in a place where you don’t have to hitchhike into France and back for. That was an awkward but fun experience, one of countless experiences that make Switzerland my soup….Welllll maybe it was also all the amazing chocolate and cheese I was consuming and all the hot European guys who spoke French to me and melted my heart away 😉