A Canadian Thanksgiving in Switzerland – Ashley, Canada

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Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadians! My name is Ashley and I am a Volunteer for the Autumn season. In the spirit of Thanksgiving I want to take the time to look back on all of the things that I am thankful for and share some of the great quality time I’ve spent with my new found Guiding family in the Swiss Alps.

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Guiding has been a big part of my life since I was in Brownies. When I was 7 years old, I learned about the 5 World Centres. At that time in my life I always wanted to visit the Centres, but never thought that day would come. At of the start of this year I got the news that I had been accepted to volunteer at Our Chalet. I was going to Switzerland! I was so excited to experience a new country, meet new people, and see the oldest WAGGGS World Centre. I couldn’t stop talking about my plans for my gap year all spring and summer, but it didn’t actually hit me till I got on the plane. As I arrived to the Chalet very jet lagged and having experienced morning in 4 different time zones, I could already tell that the spirit of Guiding and Scouting burnt so much brighter high up on the Swiss Alps. I was so overjoyed to call Our Chalet home for the coming fall season.

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I am thankful for the amazing staff team I get to share my gap year journey with. In such a short amount of time, I have gotten so close with everyone. From a crazy long hike to the Kandersteg International Scout Centre, dinner clean ups with bangers and mash playlists, and sleeping outside under the stars, I have pushed myself in so many ways in my time so far. I can’t believe how fast the time is going since I first stepped foot on the grounds. One of the most amazing and challenging experiences that I have done was a sunrise hike by myself up Tschentenalp. Waking up at 4am and walking in the dark was challenging, don’t get me wrong, but when I got to the top of the Alp, with the sunrise slowly coming over the mountains, I had found “Peace for the soul” as Helen Storrow once said.

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This week I hosted a Canadian Thanksgiving high up on the mountains. For the dinner I set out maple leafs for everyone to take the time to write down something that they were thankful for. We all had a lovely time sharing what we were thankful. The best part of this year’s Thanksgiving for me is sharing it with my new Guiding family. Taking a nap after all the amazing food I ate was a close second, but in all seriousness, the warmth I felt in the room was incredible. It’s truly a memory that I will never forget.

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So far my time here has been so much fun and one of the best experiences of my life. If you asked me to think of a better way to start my gap year I could try to think of something, but it would take me a very long time. It’s true when they say time flies when you are having fun. With only one month left in the season, I can’t wait to see what crazy fun memories are yet to come.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone from my second home high up on the mountains!

Ashley, Canada – Our Chalet Autumn Volunteer 2018

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My Our Chalet Adventure – Lizzie, USA

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As an avid reader, travelling to Switzerland was a dream come true. Iʼd always wanted to see the majestic mountains so eloquently described in Frankenstein, explore the green alps that could have come straight out of Tolkienʼs Middle-Earth, and participate in the super-secret worldwide treasure hunt called “geocaching” that resembles so many adventure novels. Last but not least, I wanted the chance to work with a unique team of multi-talented folks from around the globe on a mission to save the world with the power of sʼmores. However, unlike something out of Alex Rider or “SpyKids,” Our Chalet and the Girl Guides are very real.

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My adventure at Our Chalet has taught me many life skills to both prepare me for university and to drag me out of my academic routine. I have attempted to solve problems, resolve conflicts, and make sure everybody who comes here has a great experience—from guests, to my fellow staff members, to Skippy the cat. Iʼve learned a lot of interesting facts while here:

  • Itʼs hard to tell things about people from their shoes when they have both indoor and outdoor shoes.
  • Cooking with garlic makes your hands smell like garlic for two days afterwards, but is so worth it because it tastes fresh and delicious!
  • Marmots sound like ghostly, ethereal birds whose eloquent voices follow you everywhere.
  • Raw eggs are not edible, so you should check beforehand to see if they are boiled.
  • Skippy Storrow is the best cat ever.
  • Cleaning is easier when you wear a watch on your neckerchief.
  • Cows can understand bits of Swiss-German and come when called.

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There are so many things to experience and learn that itʼs all a bit overwhelming! Although working on our programs such as the Engstligen Hike and the WAGGGS Stop the Violence campaign is fun, Iʼve gotten to do so many cool things on my days off as well. Here are my top 5:

  • Climb Bunderspitz. You donʼt even need to do it at sunrise for it to be a great experience! There is so much cool stuff to see along the way that itʼs definitely worth it.
  • Hike up to Butschi, the marmot valley. I didnʼt see any marmots, because theyʼre really shy, but I definitely heard them!
  • Hike up Hahnenmoos and across to Silleren. These are some small mountains that are very nice to climb on a sunny day. The Blumenweg (flower path) between the points is not to be missed, and walking through a field full of cows was an unforgettable experience.
  • Take the train to Interlaken. The views are breathtaking and you can go paragliding if you are brave. I did not try paragliding, but one of my fellow volunteers did and she loved it. The highlight of the day was watching her come down with a smile on her face and it was once-in-a-lifetime experience to remember.
  • Take the train to Thun. Thun is also full of gorgeous views and is just a nice place to walk around. Itʼs a great place to sit down with a cup of coffee and enjoy the weather.

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I am very grateful for all the opportunities Iʼve been given here at Our Chalet and wouldnʼt trade them for anything!

Lizzie, USA – Our Chalet Assistant, Autumn 2018

My First Month in Switzerland – Louise, Denmark

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The fact that I have now been living at Our Chalet in the Swiss Alps for almost a month leads to a lot of different thoughts. First of all, I cannot believe that it has already been that long. It seems like I just recently stood in the airport in Aalborg saying goodbye to my family. When walking towards the gate, two and a half months sounded like such a long time, but now it feels like time is passing far too quickly. Yet I have experienced so much that everything before that morning in the airport seems so far away. It is surprising how fast you get used to life at Our Chalet (apart from the view which will never stop being impressive). I remember going to bed on my second day here, reminding myself that I only just got here, and I could hardly believe it.

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One thing that I have learned about Our Chalet is that it is a great place to challenge yourself in many ways. This applies both to the guests who can proudly talk about how they completed their personal challenge, and to the staff. When living and working here, you get the opportunity to be a part of an international team which opens up new possibilities to learn about other cultures and about yourself. We also learn skills that will always be useful such as cooking, cleaning and being responsible and dependable as well as being the leader of a group. Being from Denmark, my time at Our Chalet is also a chance to improve my English.

Not only do we get to make new friends and develop our language and leadership skills, the area is also perfect for challenging ourselves and each other physically. For people who live in countries without any mountains such as Denmark, going on hikes here is very different from what we are used to. But the opportunity to challenge yourself is not enough. You also need the will and the courage to face those challenges and to try something new. For this, I believe that the strong friendships that form here at Our Chalet help a lot, because we do not have to face these challenges alone. I experienced this myself when I went on a cycling trip recently with one of the other volunteers. 25 kilometers in the mountains is very different from 25 kilometers in Denmark. If I had been on my own, I do not think that I would have chosen a route with an ascent of 1200 metres, but that is what we did. With that said, I am really glad that we went. Even though we agreed that it was really hard and probably also harder than we expected, we also agreed that it was worth it!

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Our Chalet is also a place for having fun and for being creative together. An interest that takes up a lot of my time at home is music, but living in the Swiss Alps far away from the choir I usually sing in has not been a limitation. Instead, I get to share this interest with some of the other volunteers, and together we have learned new songs in new languages. This also includes the many new campfire songs that I have learned from both guests and other volunteers.

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I still have a month and a half left, and I am really excited about getting to explore even more of the area, meeting guests and running activities for them, and spending a lot more time with my new friends from all over the world. Being with the same people all the time may entail some challenges since we are all different, but I have no doubts that we will all rise to the challenge and have an amazing season together.

Louise (Denmark) – Our Chalet Assistant, Autumn 2018

What I’ve learnt during my time at Our Chalet – Madi, Australia

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Spending the last three months volunteering at Our Chalet has been an amazing and challenging experience. Switzerland is so different to Australia, and this experience has been very different to anything I have ever done before. As a result, I’ve learnt a lot, and I’ve put together a list of some of the biggest things I’ve learnt during my season!

Kitchen and Cleaning Skills

  • How to fold a fitted sheet – one of those life skills I’m sure will be useful in the future!
  • How to cook, and how to cater for large groups and to many dietary requirements.
  • How to use a meat slicer and how to cut onions.
  • What ‘clean’ really means!

The Outdoors

  • What hiking actually is – Australia is so flat compared to Switzerland that I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into!
  • Hiking socks are actually different to normal socks. As awesome as my Harry Potter socks are, they don’t work too well with hiking boots.
  • How huge and beautiful mountains are. Every step you take here, the view changes.
  • How big the world can be – it took me about 30 hours of travelling to get from Melbourne to Our Chalet! But I also learned how small the world is. One of my favourite memories from my season was spending two days hiking through Liechtenstein. I did however find it quite strange that all it took was a couple of buses and trains and I was in a different country!Madi blog 2

Weather

  • Switzerland is very green! Australia is a very dry country and has been in drought for most of my life. Until I came to Our Chalet I honestly didn’t know how many different shades of green there were, and how bright and colourful the world can be.
  • I should have packed a raincoat. The weather changes very quickly in the mountains, and it has rained most days while I’ve been at Our Chalet. It doesn’t rain much in Australia, and when it rains it doesn’t rain for very long so I didn’t bring a good raincoat with me. This was a mistake! Luckily my friends had a few spare coats I could borrow.
  • To wear sunscreen – the sun is a lot stronger in the mountains than it is at sea level. I very rarely get sunburnt in Australia, but have regularly been burnt in Switzerland!Madi blog 1

Life Lessons

  • What ‘tired’ is, and how to work through being tired all the time.
  • How to get along with people from different backgrounds, with different beliefs, opinions and ways of doing things. As a World Centre, Our Chalet is full of so many different people and cultures. Being here has taught me how to live and work with such a wide variety of people.
  • To take a little bit of Australia with me.
  • To try new things – I have tried so many new activities this season, the most memorable of these being paddle boarding and trotti biking.
  • That it’s ok to be who you are!Madi blog 3

I have met people from all over the world and made so many close friends during my time at Our Chalet. People are amazing.
Madi (Australia)- Summer Volunteer 2018

10 Tips for Having a Great Season at Our Chalet – Nora, USA

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For the past three months I have been a Summer Volunteer at Our Chalet, and I have lived an amazing chalet life! Every day from sunrise to sunset I have been surrounded by a group of my newest friends, and while that can be tiring, it’s always fun.

When I was getting ready to come here to Our Chalet, I was so excited to meet new people and go out on adventures. When I arrived, it was a whirlwind of training, hiking, and cleaning. Never in my life I have I ever walked so far or cleaned so many toilets! As us volunteers like to call it, it was “type 2 fun.” In the moment your feet are tired, you’re tired, and you still have to climb the Chalet hill. But after you put your feet up, you look back and realize that you had fun.

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Between running programs and hiking on off days, you get caught up in the day to day activities. Soon you’re halfway through the season and you still have a million things you still want to do. So after spending a summer here, I have a couple tips for future volunteers.

1)            Make a list of everything you want to do before you come here. There are loads of fun activities, hikes and trips you can do. By making a list you have a rough outline of how you want to spend your time here.

2)            When you arrive, revise this list! When you have been here for about a week you will learn how you want to spend your time, and learn about all the opportunities that are available at Our Chalet.

3)            Accept early on that you will be tired, a lot. Take care of yourself and drink water!

4)            Once you’ve accepted that you are tired, make sure to use your off days! They are limited, even if you are here for a while.

5)            Clean up the staff house. When there are 10 plus people living in a house together, it gets dirty faster than you can imagine.

6)            You will have to clean in the kitchen after dinner at some point. If you learn how to do it efficiently and quickly then you will save a lot of time.

7)            Read the letters around the staff house. They will teach you life lessons and how to best enjoy Our Chalet!

8)            The weather changes super quickly in the mountains. Be prepared for all seasons!

9)            Work on your Staff Challenge early and get activities signed off as soon as possible.

10)          Take lots of photos and videos! Your time will fly by and you will forget about the little moments you share with others. Don’t lose those memories.

These are 10 tips that can help your season to go smoothly. However, the best advice is to speak to former volunteers and long term staff. Our Chalet is a huge family that wants to support and help each other have the best season possible. Talk to each other and form relationships that you can count on. Living with your co-workers is incredible and intense, so help each other and stay positive; that’s the key to having a great season!

Nora, USA – Our Chalet Assistant Summer 2018

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My Top 3 Hikes of the Season – Emma, UK

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I’ve enjoyed walking for a long time, and this summer I’ve had the wonderful chance of being able to do lots of hikes in the Swiss Alps, both on programme and on my days off. When I was little I would always complain when my parents took me out for hikes, but oh, how that’s changed! Here is a list of my top 3 hikes of the season, and maybe you’ll be inspired to try some of them if you come and visit Our Chalet.

  1. Faulhornweg

This 16km, high level hike takes you from Schynige Platte, above Interlaken, to First, above Grindelwald. It was one of the hardest hikes I think I’ve ever done, and it was my favourite of the whole season.

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The beginning of the hike is deceptively easy, but it gets a lot harder after a couple of miles when you’re into the real alpine walking on the route. It’s a varied walk; from high alpine pastures, to snow coverage even in August, to boulder strewn passes and rocky peaks, it has it all. Amongst many other things, I had great views of the Eiger, Monch and Jungrau with beautiful views down passes into deep alpine lakes. I also spotted not one, but SIX marmots!

After you drop down to the busier Bachsee, the route is completed by a gondola down from First to Grindelwald. You can get a special ticket that allows you to ride the cog wheel train up, the gondola down, and the train back to Wilderswil, which makes this route very practical on public transport.

I thoroughly enjoyed this hike despite the challenge, and it’s great if you’re looking for a full day hike in the Bernese Oberland.

  1. Gasterntal

Early on in my season, I went with fellow volunteers Susan and Katie to the Gastertal, a valley just off of the Kandersteg Valley. I knew it was scenic, but nothing prepared me for how stunning it was when we got there. I have a massive advantage of having brought a car to Chalet, so we drove up the road into the valley to Selden. The road is literally hewn straight out of the rock, and is so narrow that it has a one way system which means you can only go up it at certain times past the hour.

We aimed to hike from the village of Selden, further up the valley to the Kander Glacier. Sadly, partly due to the receding glacier we didn’t make it all the way up, but the whole valley was so completely stunning it didn’t matter!

Again, this was a challenging hike but all of us enjoyed it, and it was fun to be pushing myself as part of a group with a similar hiking speed and ability to me. At some point, I’d love to come back and complete the hike, but due to global warming it’ll have to be soon.

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  1. Bunderspitz

As part of the summer Swiss Challenge programme, the chalet runs an overnight hike up to a peak that sits in the mountain range just behind us, Bunderspitz. It was cold, and dark, and steep, but it was 100% worth it for being able to see the stars as we got up in the middle of the night, and watch the mountains lighten around us before the sun rose.

In the evening, we climbed up to Bunderalp to stay in the house of a local cheesemaker, which takes around an hour and a half. After a very fitful ‘night’s’ sleep, we woke up at 2:45am to start our climb to the peak. After another hour and a half and 39 switchbacks we reached the cow shed, which was our breakfast spot. I was very glad at this point that I’d brought lots of extra layers, since it was super cold. At this point it was still really clear, and the stars were stunning. Having grown up and always lived in cities, I always relish the opportunity to really see the stars when I’m in the countryside, but on this night I could see the whole glow of the Milky Way.

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After we left the cow shed, it slowly began to get lighter until we finally made it up to the peak for the sunrise at 6:20am.

Lastly, here are a few of the highlights from the many other walks and hikes I’ve completed this season.

  • The Klettersteig in the Adelboden Valley, up to Engsligenalp. This is one of the few places in the Engslige Valley that you can find Edelweiss.
  • The Lucerne City Walk. I love exploring cities and this was super easy to do in Lucerne. I took in museums, their famous and beautiful bridges, the city walls, parts of the lake, multiple churches, and a shop with free chocolate!
  • Exploring in the beautiful Kiental, home of Europe’s steepest bus route!

Although the hikes in my top 3 are all quite challenging, several in the other highlights were a lot easier. I hope that this will inspire walkers of all levels to come to Switzerland and explore some of what this amazing country has to offer.

Emma, UK – Chalet Assistant, Summer 2018

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What Being At Our Chalet Has Taught Me About Minimalism – Nicola (Canada)

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Before coming to Our Chalet as a Summer Intern, some (my parents) would have called me a hoarder. I kept everything I got my hands on, including books, clothes and even packaging from things I had bought. Having to condense everything I would need for four and a half months down to two bags did put things into perspective for me.

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I left behind all the things I had apparently cherished enough to keep around for years, and life hasn’t been any worse off without those things. I only brought two bags and yet I managed to fill my ten feet by six feet room with all the things I needed. I’m excited to go home and think out all my belongings so I can start living with only the items I need.

Whilst living in Switzerland, I do my best not to be wasteful. At Our Chalet we do a really good job recycling and minimizing our waste. So many things that I would normally throw into the garbage can be recycled or used for other things. I’ve previously caught myself throwing paper away in the general trash but that has definitely changed now. Glass, metal, paper, cardboard, plastic and bottles are all things we can keep out of our landfills! I’ve also done research on zero waste shopping such as buying in bulk, bringing your own glass containers to buy things in, buying fruits or vegetables in fabric bags to avoid consuming single use plastic. In the future, I will focus on only buying the things I need so that I am not keeping around things that don’t give me joy and avoiding things from being thrown in the trash.

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In Canada, houses with two or three floors have three or four people living in them; sometimes even less. Here in Switzerland, I have noticed that houses like this can one family living on each floor. Spaces are shared and used wisely and efficiently. I admire that the normal standard in Switzerland is to make the most out of each space and to get the most out of it that you can.  In Adelboden I haven’t seen any wasted spaces or land used inefficiently. The grass is green, the land isn’t covered in housing and industrial spaces, and the area isn’t overcrowded. There is so much wasted space where I live between parking lots, housing, roadways, and blocks and blocks of retail spots. I’ve come to realize that maybe my dream isn’t to have a giant house on a big property but for my home to be efficient and healthy for our environment. I would much rather do all that I can to make a positive impact on our earth rather than a luxurious negative one.

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I will forever be thankful for what I have learned in my time away from home. Switzerland has challenged me to think twice about every purchase, every belonging, and every item I consider tossing in the trash.  I have found a new appreciation for the mountains, sunshine, and fresh air.  I know now that I could help influence others to spend more time outdoors and embrace the world around us. I am ready to donate my unused items, clean out space in my house and my life, and move on with a healthier and more environmentally friendly lifestyle.

Nicola, Canada – Programme Intern Summer 2018