Stories From Abroad: A Diplomatic Semester in Switzerland

Returning from Winter Break is always coupled with the gross repetition of “How was your break?”, as if anyone will ever say anything other than “Great!” For me, my return to campus has been filled with not only this question, but also with the incredibly dense inquiry of “How was abroad?” This question has been posed to me nearly every single day since I’ve been back in Boston, and I often just say something along the lines of “Amazing, but I’m happy to be home.” This actually is not an untrue statement, although it is intentionally brief because I think the last thing anybody wants to hear while rushing to class is the intricacies of my few months away.

It seems to make the most sense to start with the “amazing” part of my blanket response. From this past August until December, Geneva, Switzerland was my home. I lived in an apartment building on Rue Muzy that offered an unobstructed view of the world famous Lake Geneva (or le lac Lèman, as they refer to it in Geneva). In total, there were 37 of us that called Rue Muzy home for the semester, although my two roommates and I were the only males in the entire program. This imbalance served as a challenge for me, considering I have no sisters and suddenly found myself living with 34 girls. This turned out to be a major part of the “amazing” though. Living in a situation like this allowed me to gain a completely new perspective on just about everything in life. Sure, being tortured by the Knicks would have been a little easier with my roommates by my side, but I would not trade my housing arrangement for anything.

The location of my apartment was ideal not only because of the picturesque views it gave me, but also because of its location in the city. My home was a five-minute walk from the “Old Town” in Geneva and a 15-minute walk from the international sector. This allowed me to go visit an 11th-century church in the morning and make it to the United Nations for an afternoon meeting with ease. My building was also next door to a pizzeria, which may not sound like a detail worth sharing, but the owners of the pizzeria ended up being great friends of mine. I would eat at Chez Marino at least twice a week (normally when I was too lazy to cook) and was always greeted with uninhibited joy. I found that it was moments like this with locals that made me feel comfortable in the city, and turned Geneva into my third home.

Another major reason my time in Geneva was “amazing” was because I was fortunate enough to have an internship for the last two months of my stay. I worked at the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), which is an international organization that works in security sector reform. I was also lucky enough to have been given access to the United Nations on a few occasions, and sitting in on those meetings is something I’ll never forget. My DCAF colleagues were among the most interesting people I’ve ever met, and were kind enough to let me leave early on Fridays in order to travel. I did not waste a second of this gifted time. I traveled to nearly 30 cities in six countries, and can only count a handful of weekends spent in my apartment in Geneva. I crossed off all the cliché study abroad locations—Barcelona, Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin—but also made sure to see as much of Switzerland as possible. I would argue that my day trips to places like Lausanne, Bern, and Basel, were actually my favorite excursions because they gave me an opportunity to fully understand the country I lived in.

I’ve heard a lot of my friends who have spent time abroad wish that they were back in their adopted homes, but I am truly happy to be back in America and at Boston College. There are a lot of downsides to a semester abroad that I don’t think are ever properly addressed. Personally, I felt the most homesick when I spent my Thanksgiving at the office, conducting research from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. It was also a particularly bizarre time to be away from home, considering the incredibly unorthodox election season we had. The anger and confusion held by a lot of people felt multiplied for me because of how distanced I felt from it all.

I also learned an unbelievable amount about myself during my time in Switzerland, and being home has allowed me to put everything into practice. Going abroad allowed me to break bad habits, find out more about what makes me happy, and put my life back home into perspective. Sure, this fall I drank champagne on top of the Eiffel Tower, hung out on the beach in Barcelona until 5 in the morning, stood atop the Alps in France, and watched the sun set over the Grand Canal in Venice. I even got to cross off some bucket list items, like when I was given the opportunity to sing a few songs with my guitar in a local bar. But none of those experiences can even begin to compete with how great it was to come home for Christmas and be around my loving family for the holidays.

So how was abroad? It was amazing, life-changing even. But I am so happy to be back.

Featured Image Courtesy of Alec Rescigno

January 29, 2017