The past three months have been a whirlwind of excitement, emotion and adventure as I took on my first summer away from home. Coming to Our Chalet I truly didn’t know what to expect, I just knew that I wanted to spend my time here exploring the beauty of the Swiss Alps. Little did I know that I would walk away with so much more than just some pretty pictures and cool souvenirs.
Working at Our Chalet has been my first true job. Although I introduce myself as a “Summer Volunteer,” working here has been exactly that: work. Coming out of training, I feared all the hours I would be scrubbing toilets, cooking meals and giving tours. But it has truly taught me the importance of teamwork, efficiency and a positive attitude. Of course there were moments where tempers were high, sleep was deprived and we were all tired of doing the same jobs as yesterday and the day before, but as a team we always pulled through. Service with a smile was natural most times because, although on some days we had to clean and fold over 100 towels as well as set all 74 beds, just looking outside and reminding myself that I am living in paradise was enough.
Not every day seemed like work, however. When on program, we had the opportunity to lead girls on so many adventures from canyoning to zip lining to an overnight hike to see the sunrise from atop a mountain. I expected to love program purely because of the exciting activities we lead, but what I actually enjoyed the most was getting to know the guests on these long excursion days. Talking to the girls about their interests and seeing their passions was inspiring to me, and their humor just added to the fun. Every group was different, with unique personalities, fears and strengths. For me, helping others conquer their fears and encouraging them to push themselves was the most rewarding part of program. A common phrase throughout the past three months has been “I never thought I could do that.” It is truly one of the best feelings to see someone accomplish something that they never thought was in their sights.
Throughout my time at Our Chalet, I was able to go on some incredible excursions on my days off. I traveled around to different Swiss Cities such as Bern, Lucerne, Geneva and Zermatt to see the Matterhorn (with my parents!). Hiking was also a very popular activity. I had the chance to hike six of the Alps in our valley, even competing in a race to the top of one with another volunteer (no level of training would prepare one for that). I also traveled to four of the five neighboring countries to Switzerland. I went on an excursion early on in the summer to Milan with my roommate, I met a friend who is from Spain in Paris for my three days off and went on a hiking trip through Liechtenstein to Austria with a fellow volunteer. Of course, with each of these trips there were complications and lessons learned, but that’s what this summer was all about. Being able to plan and explore in an unfamiliar land was empowering, now I fell as though I could go anywhere and do anything.
But lastly, I am so thankful for the memories I have made with my new and unforgettable Chalet family. Living with twelve other people from seven different countries sounded completely overwhelming at first, with the possible culture clashes, but these humans have taught me more than I could ever read about in a travel book. Without even leaving the staff house, I have felt the generous nature of Sri Lanka, tasted the hot spices of Mexico and laughed with the sarcasm of Nigeria. My roommate was from Australia and although we are from opposite sides of the planet we quickly found out that we have a lot more in common than just our messiness. We were definitely the loudest in the house, and being roomed together did not particularly help those who wished to go to bed at an early hour. We loved the same TV shows, had the same sense of humor and really understood when the other was stressed out. It was crazy to think that I found someone so similar from so far away. I never hesitated to go to anyone in the house for advice, it was really interesting to hear how other cultures handled different situations. But although there were so many differences in all of our lives and cultures, we thrived by embracing them and learning from each other.
Basically what I am trying to say is, I never knew I could feel so at home while being almost 4500 miles (7000 km) away. The landscape is breathtaking and the people adventurous. It is crazy to think that I have already spent three months in my own little paradise; travelling, hiking and exploring on my days off. I know I will never forget my summer spent in the Swiss Alps, but more importantly I will never forget the bond that I have created with the rest of the staff here. I could not be more thankful for my time here and I will definitely return some day.
Lindsay Schwartz – Our Chalet Assistant Summer 2016