“Salut”, in French, functions as the equivalent of saying “hi” to a good friend in English, while “ça va” resembles “how are you?”. As you can imagine, this isn’t a phrase that I get to say while I am on Hope’s campus… except to those in my French classes.
In Geneva, this is a phrase that I use often, and am extremely happy to do so. In fact, part of the reason that I chose to study in Geneva is that it is one of the few French-speaking cantons in Switzerland and I knew that I would be able to actively use my French.
So far, I have used my French for the occasional “pardonnez” when squeezing past people on the train, ordering food at restaurants, and talking to French classmates, but also to communicate with my host parent.
To me, immersive language experiences are where I can learn and build confidence with a language – to which I must thank the people in Geneva for their patience with each phrase I stutter. The immersion allows my brain to condition itself to the language and adapt accordingly, allowing me to pick up new vocabulary and sentences along the way. When the immersion sinks in, it makes me appreciate how much I can speak and write in English while encouraging me to learn more French.
Already, the interactions that I have had have allowed my knowledge of the French language to augment, and understandably, the same goes for Swiss culture.
Though the US and Switzerland bear many similarities, there are a few differences that I have adapted to after experiencing them on a day-to-day basis. For example, in Swiss culture, you wait for people to get off the train before boarding, while in the US, it is common to board the train as people are leaving.
After living in Washington for the last 8 months, where rushing to get onto the train was normal, this posed a challenge for the first few days in Geneva. In fact, it wasn’t until I noticed that others didn’t do the same, that I decided to try to wait with the locals. Now, due to actively practicing a folkway of Swiss train culture, I am able to wait patiently before thinking about running from the platform to the train.
After living in an environment in which consistently speaking in French and adapting to Swiss folkways is a necessity, the idea of venturing through a chapter of unknowns has shrunk in its intimidation and grown in excitement. Each day, I remain grateful for the opportunity to learn French and more about Swiss culture. I look forward to telling you about my adventures in Switzerland, soon!
As the Swiss (in French-speaking cantons) say, à bientôt!