My name is Sina Schmid (pronounced Cena). I’m an exchange student from Switzerland, 16 going on 17, and I’m a Senior at ERHS. I’ve been in Alaska for almost 10 weeks, and I’ve never been in the USA before that. When I get back to Switzerland, I will have 2 years of high school left before I can attend college. In Switzerland, kids have to go to school for 13 or more years before they go to college. My school is called Kantonsschule Wettingen and the building is an old monastery. In this article, I will tell you a little bit about Swiss high schools compared to ERHS.
When I came to ERHS for the first time, which was during summer break, I immediately fell in love with the view we have on the mountains.
At the activities office, to join Tennis, I had to go through never-ending steps of different documents, signatures, and tests, which is something we don’t have to do in Switzerland or Europe in general. Before we join a sports-team we don’t have to take a physical, nor a concussion test.
When my host sister gave me a quick tour of the school, which is a lot smaller than the ‘Kanti’ (Kawnte) as we call our school in Switzerland, she hugged Miss Lahn, which would be a taboo at my school. Teachers hugging a student would be seen as a sexual harassment. I have one teacher, a German, who sometimes hugs us, but every other teacher wouldn’t dare to try.
What I absolutely love about the teachers at ERHS, is how they really have a connection to the students. Teachers in Switzerland care about their students as well, but here it is on a much deeper level.
Lunch is also something that is completely different to the Swiss system: We never eat lunch in classrooms with our teachers. We either go to our school-park or to the cafeteria and sometimes, on special occasions, we eat in the city of Baden. The good thing about that is that you often eat with a lot of people rather than just your own small group of friends.
At my school, only a few people have lockers. We only have a small number of lockers available and we carry our school supplies for the whole day around, because we don’t have school in only one building but in many different buildings, so we have to switch from building to building after almost every hour, which doesn’t give us much time to go to our locker. The furthest one of the school-buildings is away from another is around 7 minutes of walking, which is why we have a passing of 10 minutes rather than just 6.
The school system:
I was thrilled when I heard that at ERHS, students only have school until 2 pm. In Switzerland, 4 out of 5 days a week I have school until 5 pm, and I get home from school at 6 pm. I often have 9 hours of school a day, which is extremely stressful. We also have 12 different classes rather than just 6, and they are distributed over the whole week, so I don’t have all the same classes every day. The bad thing about having school until so late in the day is that we don’t have a lot of time for our ourselves, friends and family during the week. The good thing about it is that we don’t have a lot of homework, which we do have here. We also don’t have a school mascot nor spirit colors. Students usually don’t take any sports at school but at clubs in their own towns and cities, which brings us to another different thing: at my school, we have students from over 10 different towns and cities, whereas here most students are from Eagle River. Students also don’t come to school by car and they most certainly don’t get a ride by their parents, and if they do, it’s the exception. Our public transport system in Switzerland is so good that there is no need for people to drive themselves. A reason for students to take the bus or train is also that we are legally allowed to drive when we’re 18, compared to Americas driving age of 16, so most of the students can’t even drive while they’re in high school.
Something that surprises a lot of Americans is that I speak 5 languages, but most of the Swiss students speak 4 or more language because our schools emphasize on learning different languages early on. Our English classes start in 3rd grade and our French classes start in 6th grade. I grew up bi-lingual because my father is from Switzerland and my mother from Croatia, which is why I speak one more language.
Everybody in Europe always wonders if the American high schools really are as they are portrayed in the movies, and I can confirm that most of it is true indeed. I can definitely see a lot of similarities, for example football players walking around in their jerseys, or the cheerleaders being the popular girls. And I also can confirm that there is a popular high school diva nobody really knows why she is that popular.
When I tell people that I’m an exchange student from Switzerland with a Croatian mother, they are very interested in the culture and differences, something I like talking about. But I’m often surprised by how little American teenagers know about Europe and also about topographies in general.
Compared to Swiss-Teenagers there are a lot of similarities when it comes to how they act and talk and what they like. We swear a lot too, we like to party, listen to music and dance and drink. The only difference is, that we do it legally and American teenagers don’t. Our legal drinking age is 16, compared to the American legal drinking age of 21. Drugs are also a common thing for the Swiss youth, their preference would definitely be marijuana. I myself am an exception, I have never smoked cigarettes nor marijuana, and I’m the only one of my closest friends in Switzerland to be able to say that for myself.
A big difference is also that a lot of American Teenagers are in youth groups or go to church every Sunday, something not a lot of Swiss teenagers do.
Style is something that is different in Alaska as well. In Switzerland, not many students dare to show up in sweatpants at our school, because they may be judged as weird.
Our stores close between 6 pm and 9 pm. The only stores that are allowed to work until 9 pm are the ones at train stations. All businesses and offices but the ones at train stations are closed on Sunday and on holidays, and we have a lot of holidays. People can get fined for mowing their lawn on a Sunday because it could cause distress of a neighbor who wants’s to enjoy his day off.
I really enjoy Alaska and ERHS, as well as the American culture and people so far. I don’t appreciate loads of homework we have here, but only having school until 2 pm makes it a lot better. As far as from the perspective of an exchange student I think it is great for every person, who is able to, to go on an exchange. Not only will one learn a lot about a different country but also how to adapt to a completely new environment.