Thursday, May 1, 2014

Crossing the Finish Line

On Wednesday we attended classes with our Swiss counterparts. We had the ability to break down borders and truly see what life is like in school for High School students in Switzerland. Although many of the classes were in German, I believe it was an interesting experience for our students, and one that gave them a better sense of how teenagers live their lives across the ocean.

From there we attended the Tinguely Museum, a space dedicated to the artist/architect who sparked people's imaginations from the 60s to the 90s in Switzerland. Many of the pieces of art were mechanical and could be put into motion by clicking a button. Some of the machines were small in nature, like the one that could draw a picture using a mechanical arm and a market, while the larger ones sort of reminded you of what a life sized game of mouse trap might have looked like. The favorite room was the white walled polka dot room, where stickers were given out to be placed by museum guests.

On Thursday it was a national holiday similar to our Labor Day, so the students had some time to sleep in and begin the long process of packing. We had a farewell dinner in the school cafeteria, where Swiss students cooked all sorts of soups, entrees and desserts. It was a fun way to cap off our program and admire all the great times we've had together. Watching the Swiss and American students interact was inspiring. They have built a strong bond, and hopefully have learned much from each other over the course of the last year Mrs. G and I couldn't have been more proud of the job our students have done soaking in the great opportunity that this has been.

This has been an amazing experience that has touched each and everyone of us. Thank you to the parents for their wonderful job hosting, to the families for supporting us at fundraisers, and to the students for opening their homes and their lives to students from another country. It has been our pleasure to see them through this experience to the end. We are grateful for everything that you all have done. Thank you for helping to facilitate an experience that these students will never forget.

Capital City of Bern

On Tuesday we went to the capital city of Switzerland in Bern. We traded our mountains and nature for Parliaments and architecture. It was a short hour long ride there from Basel and we began our exploring.

First we walked through the arcade with many fashionable shops and souveneir stands. The arcade is a sight to see on its own, with the flags of all the cantons of Switzerland lining the street. It was alive with activity, providing an interesting take on how people live their daily lives in the capital. From there we hiked over to the famous bear pits to see the three live, fully grown bears that have become a symbol for the city. We had a quick lunch and headed on our way.

Next we headed down the banks of the Aare River up to the Parliament building and got to observe its majesty up close. The design reminds of the castles of old, with large green and gold spires. Sadly no tour was available to us, but seeing it was important just the same. From there we went to the large cathedral, and climbed hundreds of steps up to the observatory on top. The view was incredible, seeing the old medieval city built so interestingly into the bend of the Aare, like a large one armed hug. Impressive to say the least.

With time quickly dwindling on our Swiss trip, we allowed the students to do some last minute shopping in the arcade to find keepsakes for family and friends. A nice trip all in all. The next post will be the last one, putting together our final days attending school with our partners, seeing the mad hat museum of artist/architect Tinguely, and breaking bread one last time at the farewell dinner.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Basel City Hall

Yesterday we finally spent a program day in Basel! We first went to their school, called Gymnasium Leonard for a crash course in Swiss history and culture. We read a famous children's story called a Bell for Ursli, took a quiz on the map of Europe (which produced some mixed results), and talked about how the Swiss government works. With this new found information we were on our way to City Hall for a reception with some Swiss government officials.

Upon arriving at city hall, we received a tour from Mr. Inglin, our Swiss school counterpart who moonlights as a member of local parliament. Due to his access and connections, we received a tour that took us to places that most people never get to see, such as Executive Council room, the map room located in the highest tower, and the Parliament room. The Parliament room has probably the most interesting, just knowing how much history has happened there, and how many more important votes will take place there in the future. The Speaker of the House (of the canton of Basel) spoke to us first, giving a nice speech about the importance of cross cultural connections. Next the interim US ambassador to Switzerland spoke about his own experiences, and how our students were very lucky to be able to break down cultural barriers at such a young age. Finally, Karina Vargas and Cam Beebe addressed the audience, eloquently talking about their experience in Switzerland and with their exchange partners. Both students did a great job and made us very proud.

After a lunch hosted by city hall, we were on our way to the Basel zoo, which is the most famous and largest of its type in Switzerland. We saw lions, gorillas, monkeys and many other animals along the way. Of particular interest was the feeding period for the monkeys which was a bit stomach turning, but impossible to look away. It was a nice and laid back way to spend an afternoon, and everyone was in good spirits through out our time there.

Today we are headed to Bern, for a look at the capital of Switzerland. Bern is famous for its bear pit, clock tower, long arcades of shops and its national parliament building.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Lucerne Day 2

Hey everyone, sorry for the delay but here goes. On Friday we went up to Mt. Rigi for what proved to be a picturesque day. The first step of the journey was to take a boat from Lucerne harbor into Visnau, a Sam lake side town. The ship offer really pretty views of Lake Lucerne, the Alps and interesting little villages with traditional style homes. It was breezy, but it was worth the view. From there we took a cogwheel train up Mt. Rigi to the summit.

Having been to the top on 3 separate Swiss trips, I can honestly say this was the best. It was warm and sunny, the snow had eroded into a plush green grass and the visibility was further than we've ever seen before. These students are very lucky to have gotten a weather day like this. Without the ice, we were about to wander down the mountain on to some grass dunes which offered spectacular views over the cliffs of Rigi. The view of Lucerne below spreading out into the distance was special, as it was crystal clear. We had lunch up there and proceeded down the mountain.

Upon return to Lucerne we went to the Angela Rosengart museum of art. She was a famous art dealer and collector in Europe and had a close relationship with many prominent artists, including Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee. Because of this access, her art collection is truly impressive, with 37 Picassos and many other priceless works of art. Whether the student was an at fan or not, it was very interesting and an important cultural experience.

The day wrapped up with some free time in the city and a late night game of catch phrase in the hostel. The whole experience in Lucerne the past few day s really brought our group closer together.

Tomorrow (Monday) we will head to Basel city hall, (called the Rathaus) for a tour that is not offered to the public, just to groups of international students like us. Will be a nice chance to see how government in Switzerland works.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Lucerne Day 1

Today we struck off on our own to the mountain town of Lucerne. Located in the center of Switzerland on Lake Lucerne and bracketed by imposing mountain ranges, Lucerne looks like a postcard anywhere you look. Old town is divided by the Reuss River with medieval buildings everywhere.

We took our city tour of Lucerne, and headed off to the Chapel Bridge and admired all the paintings that we still intact from hundreds of years ago. We crossed the river to admire the Hof Church, (which is the Papal liaison to central Switzerland) and viewed the monument to slain Swiss soldiers, appearing as a giant stone lion who is mortally wounded. We took in the Glacier Gardens after that, which is a geological sight with intact erosion from the ice age, and wandered through the attached house of mirrors. Then we climbed the city walls and took in a dramatic view of the city. It was a clear day with summer weather, all in all a perfect day for exploring.

For dinner we grabbed sandwiches and had a picnic on the river, and ended our day with a late night stroll. Tomorrow we will take a boat cruise across Lake Lucerne and will take the cogwheel train up Mt. Rigi. Another day in Lucerne sounds good to us!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Top of the Alps

Today was a special day for the WHS cultural exchange. We had the opportunity to go to the top of Europe, Jungfraujoch which is the highest peak in the Swiss Alps. At nearly 12,000 feet it was an awe inspiring day.

We got started in Basel with an early train. Heading to the summit of the Alps is an all day journey, so our first leg was to the center of the country at Interlocken. The lakes surrouding the city were a shade of clear blue like you see out of photoshopped pictures. We proceeded to take a series of trains up the mountain, spying friendly little mountain towns like Wenger. The houses were small but picturesque. The altitude proceeded to skyrocket as we went up the mountain.

When we finally reached out peak at Jungfrau, the students lit up in a way that is profound to watch. As educators we strive to see this light bulb effect go off in students. I think today we saw students become inspired by the sights and sounds of our trip in a lasting way. We could see for miles across the peaks of the Alps as the sky was a striking blue with a light swirling mist. From there we observed a few other look out points, strolled through a museum to the workers who built the mountain railway, and got to experience an ice palace full of unique frozen sculptures. It was a day I'm sure will be on the mind of students for days and weeks to come.

Tomorrow we begin our two day trip to Lucerne with the WHS crew. We will be on our own, bonding as a group and taking in Swiss culture and history. Our itinerary includes a city walking tour, with some shopping and exploring sprinkled in. I look forward as well to our big group dinner. Until then!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A walking tour of Basel

Hey Everyone,

We are safely arrived in Basel and after a nice weekend relaxing, spending time with family and adjusting to a new time zone we have finally begun our program.

Today we took our walking tour of Basel and saw some of the important sights around the city. We began at their school, the Gymnasium Leonard where we spent some time catching up and talking about our experiences. From there we wandered off to our first site, the famed Tinguely Fountain in Basel, named after an architect with a flair for the dramatic in terms of style. The fountain featured several water shoots and pistons that spread the water out in an unusual, but futurist and robotic type way.

From there we headed to Basel's oldest and largest church called Munster. It is famed for its sundial clock on the side, and its roof with very colorful shingles. Inside the church there was an giant organ and high cathedral ceilings that gave the experience a grandiose feel. After that we saw centuries old grave markers from wealthy Basel residence who paid to have their final resting spot be in an historic location.

We proceeded to cross the Rhine River on a small wooden ferry and continued on pass many wonderful shops and bakeries until we reached the tri-country corner. Here you can see the shores of both Germany and France from our perch in Switzerland. Each one of these stops we paused to take pictures and get a lesson in the city's history and culture from our exchange partners.

Our day ended on the sixth story terrace restaurant where we had a fine lunch and sent the student on their way for some free time with their friends and exchange partners. A great day by all accounts.

Tomorrow we have been given the green light to head to Jungfraujoch, the highest peak in the Alps to see the most majestic mountains that Europe has to offer. We are quite lucky for a clear day for viewing, and it promises to be a treat that these students will remember for a long long time.