My eyes widened as I stared out the window of the train. In just an hour, I was taken from an industrial Italian city to the incredible Swiss Alps. Gazing at endless snowcapped mountains, green valleys, and rushing waterfalls, I thought to myself, “Is this really going to be my home for the next few weeks?”
I was sitting by myself on a train in a bundle of nervous excitement. Nervous because I was traveling alone into a foreign country with 100 pounds of luggage. Excited because I knew I was about to embark on a long-anticipated adventure that had been a dream for many years.
I volunteered at Our Chalet from May 1st to July 28th in the summer of 2006. My time in Switzerland was the extension of a wonderful semester spent studying abroad in Rome, Italy. I fell in love with the idea of working at an international Scout Center during a previous European trip to Pax Lodge in 2003. After planning my semester abroad, I applied to work at Our Chalet. Soon after, I received an e-mail saying that they had a summer position for me.
During the first few weeks in May, I participated in the “Ready Steady Go” program at the Chalet, where I joined a dozen other volunteers from places such as England, New Zealand, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Australia in preparing the buildings for the busy summer sessions. Day-to-day work included moving boxes, gardening, and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning! Although the work was never-ending and at times exhausting, I had a great time. The beauty of Switzerland is incomprehensible. Even after many months spent in Adelboden, I was taken away nearly every time I stepped outside or looked out the window. It was literally like standing in a post card or a painting.
Whenever I felt tired or frustrated, I simply stepped outside, looked at the mountains, and was quickly reminded why I was so happy to be there.
Then, my real time as a housing volunteer began. Quickly, several other volunteers arrived and stayed for as short as two weeks or as long as four months. The girls (and one boy) that I worked with were from every corner of the world: Denmark, Honduras, Mexico, Poland, Finland, Argentina… just to name a few.
I cannot pinpoint the moment it happened, but I came out of the mountains a changed woman. I spent my days cooking and cleaning until I was blue in the face. My days off (two per week) were spent sleeping, hiking by myself up mountains and around the valley, and simply sitting in town observing the locals interact and go about their daily life. Sometime amidst all of that, something changed.
Now, I am not afraid to immerse myself into a strange, uncomfortable situation. Now, I know what I am capable of, such as planning and making a meal for 120 people and hiking up a Level 7 mountain at 2 AM to catch the sunrise. Now, I have adapted a much healthier, active lifestyle, inspired by struggling to walk up the hill to the Chalet and being on my feet from 7 AM to 10 PM. Now, I have a much more focused knowledge of what it means to be a Girl Scout and why that is an integrated part of my identity. Now, I have a greater appreciation for the world, its people, and its immense diversity.
I could not have had the same experience at Our Chalet without the following people, which I would like to express my gratitude for here:
To the Chalet staff, my sisters and brother: thank you for being YOU! Each of you brought something unique and wonderful to the Chalet and together we were an amazing team. Each of you will be forever in my heart and I think of you every day.
To my Mother, my troop leader of over 12 years, and to Mrs. Giblin, my kindergarten teacher and troop leader: thank you for introducing me to such an amazing organization and showing me that with Girl Scouts, really anything is possible.
To Mrs. Helen Storrow and Falk: thank you for having the inspiration to found the first international Center for Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. In Adelboden you can find “peace for the soul,” you said. Thank you for providing this amazing peace of mind and happiness.
If the thought of working at or visiting one of the four Scout and Guide Centers around the world, go for it! It all starts with a dream. In Switzerland I learned that dreams really do come true.
Annie Mueller (USA)
Our Chalet Assistant, May – July 2006