Our Path to Studying Abroad in Switzerland

Our decision to study abroad in Luzern, Switzerland, began with roasted marshmallows– like so many big life decisions do.  Josh, my husband who is now a 3L, met Jennifer, a law student from the University of Luzern, in one of his classes at the University of Oklahoma College of Law.  Jennifer was visiting OU Law for the fall semester, around the same time we were beginning to think about studying abroad. 

We invited her over for a traditional American dinner and were captivated by her descriptions of Switzerland.  She talked about the mountains and glacial lakes, a slower pace of life, quick access to nearby countries by train and, of course, chocolate. Jennifer offered us a box of Swiss chocolate as thanks for the evening, and our daughter, Ava, insisted on melting the chocolates into smores.  As we stood around the flame watching the puffy marshmallows caramelize into delicious goo, Josh and I exchanged a glance.  He had a determined gleam in his eye – a look I hadn’t seen since he decided to attend the University of Oklahoma College of Law.   Within a week, we applied for our passports and began talking with the study abroad office on OU’s main campus about our plans to travel to Switzerland.
On Sept. 12, 2011, Josh flew to Switzerland to begin a German-language course.  While his classes would be taught in English, our everyday interactions would be in Swiss German.  On Sept. 22, Ava and I joined him in a land more beautiful than I ever imagined.  Clouds hung low in the mornings, but each afternoon the sun would prevail and peek over the Alps, highlighting the crystal-blue snow melt of Lake Luzern.

We quickly adjusted to a lifestyle of walking everywhere.  The entire city of Luzern is 15.8 square miles – for comparison Norman, Oklahoma is 184.9 square miles.  We traversed the city daily, walking to the grocery store, tourist shops, farmers markets, boutiques, and the famous Chapel Bridge.  Josh walked to and from school each day.  There was no reason to feel guilty for eating our weight in cheese and chocolate, because we walked everywhere.

Another aspect of Swiss living that took some adjustment was the recycling system.  While we consider ourselves “green” at home in Norman, nothing quite prepares you for the Swiss expectations.  They do not kid around about trash. We were required by law to recycle. Non-recyclable trash items were placed in special bags that cost about as much as a small house back in the states. These bags were sorted through after pick-up, and if we threw away items that could have been recycled we would be fined. Paper, cardboard, and compost were collected on our doorstep. We took glass and aluminum to bins at the park, and all plastic went to another bin at the grocery store.  Ava thought it was great fun to sort the glass by color and listen for the satisfying crash when the bottle hit bottom.
Glass recycling was not allowed on Sundays, as it was too noisy.  Sundays are quiet by law in Switzerland.  No vacuuming, mowing, music playing with the windows open, or large groups of friends at your house unless all of your neighbors say it’s okay.  At first we laughed about the “Silent Sundays”, but we grew to love them.  The already-slower pace of life ground to a near stop on Sundays.  Stores were closed and people spent time with family while resting up for the coming week.  The gift of lazy Sundays is at the top of our list of things most-missed about Switzerland now that we’ve returned.

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