Adventure and Peace in the Skies (Virginia USA)

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IMG_0225There is so much that Our Chalet offers to its guests and staff; of course this includes the peace for the soul and the challenge and adventure that founders Helen Storrow and Falk dreamed of. One activity that I think (surprisingly!) encompassed both was tandem paragliding on a day off with another spring intern: Joanne.

We took the train to Interlaken and sat outside the train station while waiting for our guides. We could see a bunch of paragliders soaring over us and the butterflies in our stomachs flapped harder and harder. We finally met our guides, Werner and Hans, who drove us up to the village of Beatenberg above Interlaken and Thunersee (Lake Thun). After a short walk, they put us in backpack-like harnesses as they unravelled the wings near a cliff’s edge. Werner, my pilot, gave me brief instructions and then we practiced running while clipped together. Then before I could think too much, we were clipped to the wing and running, running, step, step – air! Soaring!

We lean to the left to swoop up a little higher and I heard an instrument begin beeping. “That is a good noise!” Werner assures me and explains that it is his altimeter, or variometer, and that the faster it beeps, the faster we are ascending- maybe several meters per second! We wheel like birds, kettling higher and higher with other paragliders and hang-gliders. We swing in wide loops and climb through the wind and cold air on the sun-powered thermals. Pretty soon Werner and I are higher than all the other wings. His estimate was about 1800 meters or 5900 feet up! Almost as high as the Neiderhorn nearby!

The amazing thing was that you couldn’t feel yourself rising, dropping, or moving sideways as quickly as it was happening. It was interesting to look around and see other gliders in our thermal, or to hear Werner say something like “Oh it looks like he has some air over there,” and we would head for another glider who was looping up and up and up.

Looking down you could see chalets and fields with cows, the different blues of Thunersee, the train and the city of Interlaken. Further out you could see Niesen and the Jungfrau massif. Patches of sun lit the valley and beckoned our sail and our souls.

Virginia ParaglidingThe sun retreated a bit over the city, leaving us searching for the exciting updrafts. We drifted a bit lower as we neared Harder Kulm and the rocky cliffs above Interlaken, doing slow wide circles above a wind sock in the trees. We caught a small updraft before lazily drifting over Thunersee and town. Then it was decision time- do I want to do the “crazy flying?” The “rollercoaster?” as Werner called it.

My stomach seems ok- so I give a hesitant yes. Werner hands me the selfie stick that we are using and suddenly we begin to pitch and roll, wheeling through the sky like a joyful raven as I shriek with fear and glee.

Laughing I finally hand the selfie stick back to Werner as we swoop closer to Joanne and Hans. When I see her practicing running in the air, I realize that we are nearing the landing field in the middle of town. We begin dropping and stretch our feet towards the ground. The grass flies up to meet my boots, and I take a couple of steps before getting whipped around by the wing. We manage to keep our balance as Werner whips the wing down onto the grass.

I am grinning madly as Joanne lands nearby. Hugs, handshakes and thank yous before our pilots are off to pick up another pair of adventurers, and Joanne and I are left laughing and grinning, ready to take back to the skies.

Can you find peace for the soul through adventure? Of course! Because while I doubted it before we got in the air, I soon felt at peace soaring through the sky with the buzzards and the kites. But paragliding was nothing if not an adventure! I think both Helen Storrow and Falk would have been proud.

Virginia Miller – Programme Intern Spring 2016

A Day in the Life of a Guest Services Intern (Georgiie UK)

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6I applied to Our Chalet on a bit of a whim, I wanted to do something different in my year out of studying and wanted to travel and explore somewhere new. I’m not too sure how I ended up on the Our Chalet website browsing volunteer opportunities, but the role of Guest Services Intern caught my eye and I applied. The rest of the application process was pretty quick and at the beginning of February 2015 I found out that I would be the Spring Guest Services Intern starting on Thinking Day 2016 (I leaped with joy, made a little excited sound and cried slightly).

And now here I am I cannot believe how quickly this whole experience has gone. I was incredibly nervous coming here, simply because I was going into the unknown but it has been an amazingly beautiful adventure and I’ll probably shed a tear when I leave.
7The title of this post is perhaps a bit misleading, simply because there’s no way I can describe a standard day being GSI. There are certain things I have to do, but the beauty of the role is that I get to potter about the grounds, take on random requests and interact with all of our guests and visitors. Apart from the first day or two of the month when I close myself away in the shop and count up all the stock I can confidently say I never know what I’m going to be doing each day. I’ll always check and respond to my emails, but after that it really depends on what’s been going on in the Chalet.

If we have recently said goodbye to some visitors I take the time to analyse their evaluation forms and see how wonderful everyone thinks we are, and if we have guests arriving throughout the day I check them in and welcome them to Our Chalet. The one place where I am largely responsible for is the shop; I make sure it’s looking neat and tidy, keep it restocked and when deliveries arrive I have to count it and find a home for it.
062015_Switzerland_new stock at the shopMy job isn’t just counting though; throughout my time here I’ve been a bit creative. I’ve made a Grace Booklet with some traditional and some modern graces, a welcome booklet for vollies and interns, redone some of the signs around the Chalet and I’m currently creating a new poster about volunteering for the WAGGGS room. I’ve also worked towards my staff challenge which has been lots of fun and included jumping in the bins, lighting a fire with only one match and lots more.
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My most favourite random job that I’ve had to do so far is help Stelios (the Grounds and Maintenance Assistant) with the snow BBQ at Engstligenalp. If I were a guest I would find that experience truly magical, and would really encourage anyone visiting in winter on programme to opt for that if they can. On the way back from the BBQ site I got to sit on the large white sledge and get pushed through the snowy forests by Stelios, our grounds and maintenance assistant, whilst I screamed, laughed and felt like a child again.
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I think I’ve covered the big main elements of my job, there are lots of other little things I do and sometimes I muck in with the Vollies and help keep Chalet looking sparkly and clean. There’s no typical day for me and that makes the job even more enjoyable, I get to throw myself at lots of random tasks. If you’re sat there reading this thinking you would enjoy the role then stop reading and go and apply!

Georgina Smith – Our Chalet Guest Services Intern Spring 2016

Thinking Day at Our Chalet – Selina (UK)

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“”We have to make this world a better and happier place and each of you can do that. Your Law and Promise is to help other people at all times. This world needs you,” Olave Baden-Powell.  This quote opened our  2016 Thinking Day opening ceremony at Our Chalet.

As a winter volunteer at Our Chalet, during our time here we get three traditionally big holidays; Christmas, New Year and World Thinking Day.  World Thinking Day, for those not familiar, is a day of international friendship, speaking out on issues that affect girls and young women, and fundraising for 10 million Girl Guides and Girl Scouts around the world. The date, 22nd February, was picked as it is Lord and Lady Baden Powell’s birthday. (In Scouting the day is referred to as founders day).

IMG_0021So as a WAGGGS (World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts) World Centre, Thinking Day is pretty important here at Our Chalet. We are normally a centre for experiencing the international sisterhood of Guiding, demonstrated by our guests and staff coming from all corners of the world, but on Thinking Day we make an extra effort.

Planning for Thinking Day started in January, with a team of vollies, Euge (Argentina), Amy (UK) and me (Selina, UK). We had two nights to organise, one night during the British school half term break when all the World Centres had evening programme in celebration of Thinking Day and a programme for the actual Thinking Day itself.

IMG_0115The theme of World Thinking Day 2016 was ‘Connect’ explained by the WAGGGS World Board as:

“The theme this year is ‘Connect’, and we hope that you will take this opportunity to really explore the connections in your life; connecting with yourself; your friends; WAGGGS and the world. It is a time to remember that we are all connected not only as friends, Girl Guides or Girl Scouts, but as human beings; that we are all global citizens.”

Our evening programme saw about 30 Guides and their leaders complete challenges in order to win puzzle pieces. This started off with a race in the snow testing out WAGGGS, World Thinking Day and Swiss trivia, offering a chance to connect with the culture of Our Chalet and with girls worldwide who are part of the same organisation. This was followed by sampling activities from WAGGGS initiatives ‘Surf Smart’ and ‘Free Being Me’. When the guests finished the activities they won puzzle pieces. The night finished up with the guests coming together and connecting their puzzles and thinking about how they can better connect with their world and encourage others to connect. These were written on hands which connected all around the dining hall.

IMG_0014On Thinking Day itself, we started the day with an opening ceremony where everyone renewed their promised in their home language and then we sang both the World Song and the Our Chalet Song.

The day continued with Thinking Day crafts with a focus on connecting with the other World Centres and activities unique to Our Chalet; igloo building, a trip to the woodcarvers and magic tree hike allowing our guests to connect with each other and the Our Chalet lifestyle.

IMG_0083It was fantastic to be able to celebrate World Thinking Day in such an international setting where Guiding principles underpinned everything we do, meeting new people and sharing the Guiding spirit with our guests.

Selina Armitt – Our Chalet Assistant Winter 2015/16

STAFF : A Year living and working in the Alps – Mara (Finland)

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For me, a few years ago, the WAGGGS World Centres were not a big thing. kelkkailuOur Chalet was a place that my sister loved and kept gushing about, a place that sounded cool and exciting but was still just a place abroad among so many others. In Finland the World Centres are not advertised very widely, for some reason, they are not every scout and guide’s life-long dream destination – in fact, I would bet the majority of the young Scouts and Guides of Finland have not even heard about Our Chalet, and that’s a shame. I, a scout since I was 6 years old, certainly had not heard about them until I was a teenager, when my sister first volunteered at Our Chalet. She fell in love with the mountains, the international guiding and scouting, everything the Chalet is. I could not quite understand her passion and enthusiasm, having never visited Switzerland or any of the World Centres. I was just happy she was happy.

Then last summer, a year after graduating from University, and three years of working for the same hotel chain, I felt like it was time to try something new. I have always wanted to live and work abroad for a while, to get different experiences and see more of the world. So when the position of Guest Services Coordinator opened up at Our Chalet, I just went ahead and applied. It was completely unplanned, unexpected and very surprising to everyone, including me. During the application process I was in a daze; am I really going to do this? But the more and more I researched Our Chalet and chatted with my sister, the more excited and ready I felt. So when I got the phone call, offering me the position in Switzerland, I was jumping with joy. I was actually going!Spring volliess

I have now spent 11 glorious months in the Alps, and I have one more month left to enjoy. Our cyclingChalet is everything I thought it would be, and so much more. It is an absolutely fantastic place to live and to work, not only because it is located in one of the most gorgeous places in the world, but because the people who come here make it so special. There are not many workplaces where you get to do things we do here, have such amazing guests, meet such wonderful people and get away with all the silly business we do. Tonight, as part of my Staff Challenge, I have put up a tent in the Spycher building’s attic with the intention of sleeping there for the night. This is a part of my Staff Challenge, and it gets me much closer to the 100 points required to complete the Challenge.

The year I have spent in the First World Centre in Switzerland has been absolutely wonderful. It has been challenging, fun, exciting, hard, emotional, educating and beautiful, and I have not regretted the decision to come here for a single day. The feeling I get when I wake up and look out to see the mountains in all their glory is incredibly peaceful and exhilarating at the same time. The friends you make here, the things you get to do, see, feel and experience are unlike anything else.20150517_182234

I travel home grateful for this year, and I know this is only a ‘’See you later’’ – not a goodbye. I will be back.

20150627_053426 Marianna Terävä – Guest Services Co-ordinator

Living the Dream Life in the Swiss Alps – Vikki (HK)

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Watching the last Swiss Challenge group of this summer leave Our Chalet also means that the time of me leaving Our Chalet is getting closer. As people say, we are living in our own little world in Our Chalet, not much in the real world worries us, and now it is time for me to go back to reality, and I will miss my times here dearly.

Summer is a hectic season where the Chalet is bustling and full of guests nearly every single day. Then what are our days like on a normal working day? Summer highlighted programmes offered to guests are the Swiss Challenge events, lasting for 8 days, and our working sVickichedules basically are set around it. Either, we will be doing guest services, or leading programs for that Swiss Challenge. Leading programmes are loads of fun and immensely satisfying as well, having to getting to know the guests and watching them challenge themselves through the high adventures and the hikes and grow and develop individually and as a team. It never fails to amaze me how people from
different countries could bond so well just within a week. There are lots of tears shed when the last Swiss Challenge group leave. But I am sure the friendship formed here are lasting and the memories created here are ones that would stay with them the whole life and are life-changing ones. It is intense having to live with the same people and work with the same people every day, seeing them 24/7, especially this season we have people from very different and diverse cultures. I have heard so many wonderful stories from everyone and learnt so much about different cultures, which is both eye-opening and inspiring. For sure, what makes the Chalet so special to so many people
must be the people here.

One of the most important memory during my three months here would be the near shot of reaching the peak of Bunderspitz. It is quite an experience to be caught in a thunderstorm up on a
mountain, hiding behind a wall of snow and waiting for the thunderstorm to pass. The peak is just there! So near yet so far away at that time. Well it is a bummer, but safety first and we hiked back down, slipping and sliding down the slope, which is quite a funny sight, thinking back. It is a pity in the end the weather doesn’t allow me to climb to the top of the Bunderspitz the second time and enjoy a sunrise on top of it, perhaps that would be one of the regrets that would lure me back in the
summer time.

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The other most important memory is the night when I slept out in a bivouac to watch shooting stars (at the same time completing the staff challenge :P). That night is the first time I see actual
shooting stars. We could not hold in our whoo and aaahhs whenever we see some good shooting stars. Then sleeping in a bivouac overnight is extremely cold despite having three layers of clothes plus sleeping bag. But watching the sunrise from behind the mountains, gradually lighting up the whole sky pink from the little dodgy bivouac is immensely satisfying and once again made me in awe of the amazing nature Switzerland had to offer.

Vikki Sunrise

This summer has been a blast for me, trying so many different things, ticking so many things off my bucket list, meeting so many amazing people and hearing so many inspiring stories. Volunteering at Our Chalet certainly has been once in a life time experience and nowhere could have offered the same experience that Our Chalet gave me. Alas, it is time to say goodbye and hopefully, one day, our paths will cross again and I will visit my home up the the Swiss Alps again.

Vikki Shum (Hong Kong) – Our Chalet Assistant Summer 2015

Our Chalet – A place I will never forget – Cathy (HK)

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Hi, I’m Cathy from Hong Kong. I waCathys a summer volunteer at Our Chalet. I could not believe that I have already been here for three months. It was an amazing and unforgettable experience that I have even had in my life. 

Before coming here, I has just graduated from university for a 3-year study of social work. Before finding job and starting work immediately, I want to let clear my mind about what I want and to pursue for my own dream before it’s too late. Therefore, I was here being a summer vollie.

Cathy OC

Our Chalet is an amazing and magical place. It is a place that help push yourself out of your comfort zone and let you unleash your potential. I have done a lot of incredible things here that I have never thought I could do. I am now able to cook dinner for more than 90 people, to abseil in a fast speed without any hesitation, to hike up a mountain over 2500m, to try many adventurous activities and to chat with the foreign smoothly. Many of my first experience also happened here, for instance, making snowman, hiking overnight, swimming in glacier lake, rafting, paragliding, scootering, seeing shooting star, etc.

Within all these, my most impressive moment must be the pendulum swing that I did with other vollies’ support and encouragement. I was really scared and terrified when I need to jump off the bridge. But it was worthwhile! It was so much funCathy swing and awesome to swing in the sky and enjoy the swiss alps surrounding me. Another impressive experience was I hiked four Swiss mountains peaks which over 9,000m in total. I was not a keen hiker and I did not go hiking a lot in Hong Kong. Luckily, I found my hiking buddy, Katie, another summer vollie, so that we can go hiking together often and make me realized how fun hiking is. I enjoyed the journey during hiking and also felt great satisfaction when I stood on the top of the mountain and looking the fabulous view.

Cathy jump

With these experiences, I am now braver and having more self- confidence. Instead of being fear and worried, I am excited to face my next challenge.

Apart from surprised by my own potential, I was amazed how the guiding and scouting make us all gather in the first world centre of WAGGGS this summer and create such a great memory to me. At the very first beginning, when I arrived, I felt lonely and hard to make friends with others. It was hard for an Asian living in environment where most spoke English as first language. I need time to think about how to reply and what to say every time. But, when I stayed here longer, everyonCathy Vollie teame was nice, helpful and supportive.

And I realized that no matter where are you from, what languages you are speaking, how different your culture are, we are all a big family under guiding and scouting. We helped each other, finished work together, hanged out and enjoy days together. All the staff and guests made my days here in Our Chalet and I will definitely remember you all, especially my lovely and awesome vollies, the time we watched Sound of Music in the first moving in day, time that we played “cows cows”, the time we worked hard in cleaning th
e chalet, the time we hiked the thunderspitz😛, etc…Cathy Guests

Just like what Helen Storrow and Falk said, Our Chalet did offer adventure and challenge but at the same time, I could find peace for my soul. I am really happy that I’ve spent my summer here. I don’t know when I will come back, but I’m sure Our Chalet is always my home and I will definitely return

Cathy Steps

Cathy Au (Hong Kong) – Our Chalet Assistant Summer 2015

From China to Switzerland: A Journey back into Scouting – Lauren (USA)

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A cool breeze caresses my face and I slowly begin to regain consciousness. The dew is fresh on the grass, and I can hear water trickling from the fountain near the kitchen. It’s sunrise in the Bernese Alps aPicture 1bnd things are just beginning to stir to life at Our Chalet. Here, the days are strikingly different than what I’m used to. I recently finished a job of just over 2.5 years in China, and it’s hard to accept that this place is so calm and refreshing. China, in all of its exotic wonder is a mixture of people, cars and smells. Street vendors hawk their delicious food and shop owners set their wares on the street to sell. Everyone has a cell phone and is constantly in a rush to get wherever-it-is they’re going. Sometimes you push your way onto a bus or haltingly ride your bicycle in-between cars who seem to forget they share the road. Some days you simply take refuge in Starbucks for a little peace and quiet.

Here is the exact opposite. The mountains are a calming presence, millennia worth of immovable stone there to reassure you that time can wait.  Bees lazily buzz around your morning coffee and the occasional bird soars overhead. It’s idyllic. Even on days that seem incredibly busy either leading guests to mountaintops, or cooking and cleaning bathrooms, it is still peaceful. You sometimes look out a window and ask yourself, “am I really here?”

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Yes, I am. But as Falk, our first Guider-in-charge, would ask, “why am I here?” That is a more complicated question. After so much time in China as a teacher (a job I enjoyed, but is not my passion) I was ready for a change. My educational background is in outdoor youth programs and I served as a camp director, ropes course facilitator, and outdoor program volunteer with my local council. Prior to moving abroad nearly every weekend was spent with Girl Scouts or on a ropes course. I missed fresh air while in big Chinese cities, but in an intangible way that  realize how much until I had the opportunity to be an adventure guide for some local schools in Guangdong province.  I felt a sense of peace that I hadn’t felt in a long time and I immediately knew I needed to come back to my roots.

So, my Chalet journey began. After discovering the volunteer program right before the application deadline, I sPicture 3pent a hectic few weeks frantically contacting Our Chalet, GSUSA, and my references and writing an application. I’d about given up hope when, in the middle of a family visit I received an e-mail: they wanted to interview me to be a volunteer! About a week later I sat in my Guangzhou apartment at midnight answering questions. I felt confident, capable and as though this was going to begin a new chapter, and be the beginning of my return to where I belong.

And, it has been. Over a few months I left my job and apartment, said goodbye to my students, and shipped most belongings back to my parents.Picture 4 In spite of the difficulty of finishing these tasks and parting with friends I never questioned whether this was the right path. Now that I have been at Chalet for two months, I feel at home, home with scouting, with young women, and with such a diverse and wonderful staff team. Yes, we’re different. Our staff members come from 10 different nations and we speak 10 languages between us. Our guests often come from countries which are not represented by the staff team. Sometimes things are lost in translation and there are misunderstandings. Sometimes there’s laughter in our differences, sometimes frustration and sometimes joy.

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But out here, in a place with adventure and “peace for the soul,” there is the Guiding and Scouting sisterhood. I feel it in our hikes and in duties before dinner. I feel it on International Night and at pinning ceremonies. Most importantly I feel it in the daily interactions with my fellow Vollies, with long-term staff, and with guests. As Falk said, “we have all made the same promise.” We are not so different after all.

I can honestly say that here, after nearly three years, 7 countries, and countless adventures, I feel at home. Beneath the roof of Chalet, I havefound happiness knowing that I am part of this family and will carry this experience with me into the chapter of my story.Picture 6

Lauren Reichstein
Summer 2015 Our Chalet Assistant