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 and 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?”
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 spent 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. 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.
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 have found happiness knowing that I am part of this family and will carry this experience with me into the chapter of my story.
Summer 2015 Our Chalet Assistant