Discovering the Magic of Our Chalet – Sarah (USA)

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A year ago I arrived at Our Chalet, eager to start in a new role as Programme Coordinator, after falling in love with this place as a volunteer. Even though I had spent a couple wonderful months here previously, nothing could have prepared me for what I have experienced since my return. This year has been unbelievable; full of adventures and new challenges. I learned to cross country ski, made dozens of igloos (which was very strange for this Florida girl), rafted with a group of hilarious teens, went canyoning, met hundreds of very cute cows, let a llama chew on me, spent a few nights cuddled above a cow barn with my co-workers, climbed countless mountains, turned Skippy Storrow (arguably my favorite creature here) into a superhero, watched the sunrise over the Alps, ice skated on a lake, and ate more cheese and chocolate than I would like to admit.

My friend Jenn always says she feels like her best self here at the chalet. I don’t think I ever understood how a place could have that kind of effect on a human until I experienced it for myself. I find that the person I am at the chalet is kinder, more patient, more adventurous, and stronger than the person I am anywhere else.  It not just in myself that I this; it seems like no one leaves the chalet unchanged. I’ve watched girls push themselves to try things they never thought they could do, from hiking the peak of a mountain to watch the sunrise, snow tubing down an Alp, or abseiling into a gorge. I’ve seen leaders leave filled with pride after watching their groups take on every challenge side by side. I’ve been inspired by my chalet family who all have left their homes and families to share and learn from one another. Our Chalet has this uncanny ability to challenge each person to discover their potential.

I joke that at the chalet you are never really alone. While at times that can be the most frustrating feeling, it has become one of my favorite things about living here; it is constantly teaming with life. I’ve shared the staff house with 5 different seasons of vollies, and even though chaos reigns 90% of the time, I love the constant stream of people coming through every door and the laughter the always follows. I have met some of the most amazing women who support each other through every challenge and are always there to celebrate any win (even if that win is staying awake for karaoke in town). Our Chalet is my home and I am so glad I get to share it with all these crazy humans.

Guests regularly ask if I get tired; tired of the views, tired of the people, tired of the same adventures week after week. My answer is always the same: how could I? While in theory many days are the same (because the route up a mountain rarely changes), in reality no two days are ever are. The light on the mountains and valleys is always changing, each group brings new energy, and every single person who enters through the chalet doors changes it in some way. How can a person tire of these adventures?

This year, as we celebrate the 85th birthday of this amazing place, I can’t help but think of those who have come before me. What were their experiences like? Did they share the same sense of wonder and excitement upon arriving? Did they create memories filled with a sense of pride that they did things they never thought they were capable of? Did the relationships they began here last for years to come? How did Our Chalet change their life?

Before I came here I was told that there was something magical in the air that I would never be able to forget, and I wouldn’t agree more. Our Chalet has forever changed me and continues to make me the person I want to be, and I can’t wait to see what my future here holds.

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Sarah Wach – Programme Co-ordinator January 2015 to present

STAFF: International Day of Happiness – Bethanie (UK)

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Friday 20th March is International day of Happiness, a day dedicated by the UN to improving and celebrating people’s happiness globally. So we decided to make the day as happy as possible. We started off with chocolate in Morning Meeting (which makes everything better), listened to ‘happy music’ while washing up in the kitchen, and in the afternoon, we had a workshop led by Victoria (the marketing and communication intern) about happiness. We learnt about the ‘Action for Happiness Campaign’ which is a movement which “helps people take practical action to improve mental well being and to create a happier and more caring society.” They have some key points on how to lead a happier life, and we did activities to learn about each one.

10 Keys to Happier Living (and how we can achieve them at the Chalet and in real life)

    • Giving – doing things for others makes us happy! Whether it’s making your friend a birthday cake, or even just helping somebody carry laundry upstairs, even the smallest things count!
    • Relating – spend time with people. Sit with guests at dinner, or have evening chats with your friends that last long into the night.Social isolation causes as many early deaths as smoking. And the loneliness epidemic is twice as deadly as obesity!
    • Exercising – Walk the chalet hill every time you need something from town. Climb mountains, splash in a river, ski, sledge, dance!

    • Appreciating – Take some time out of your day to look at nature. It’s easier for me, living in the mountains, but even if you live in the city, take the time to count the spots on a ladybird, the petals on a buttercup. Notice the world you live in – it’s beautiful.
    • Trying out – even if you’ve left school, keep learning new things! I skied my first ever blue run, which was the most terrifying thing ever. I’m attempting to communicate in Swiss German more, and I learned that if you want to make egg mayo salad, you most defiantly do not try to microwave eggs!

      (Editors note: Bethanie was attempting to make an egg mayo by making scrambled eggs, here it sounds like she meant microwaving whole eggs in case you were concerned…)

  • Direction  – This one is about looking forward to things. It’s great to live in the moment, but by thinking about what you want in life, you feel more secure and have a greater sense of purpose. For example, I sorted my student finance, and have been thinking more about university, and what I might want to do after.
  • Resilience – Life is hard – it can be stressful and sometimes all you want to do is stay in bed. But finding ways to cope can really improve your happiness. Talking to people, going for walks, keeping a diary, cuddling a kitten.
  • Emotion – Trying to be optimistic, and letting yourself feel positive emotions has been shown to have long term effects on your health. If somebody compliments you – accept it. Don’t try to brush it off or make yourself seem bad. Feel proud of yourself, because you’re an amazing person!
  • Acceptance – In society, and especially at school, we are always told to better ourselves. Get an A*? Resit for 100% Have a really good work out at the gym? You’ll do faster, higher, stronger next time. And although it is really good to want to push ourselves, at some point you have to be happy with who you are! Be kind to yourself, don’t dwell on your faults and accept yourself!
  • Meaning – Being part of something bigger is great for making you feel less alone. I’m part of WAGGGS, I’m also part of the church, but any organisation counts. Join a charity or a club!

If you want to find out more about the action for happiness campaign, and how we can be more happy check out the website. There’s also some good advice if you’re struggling to be happy for whatever reason…

http://www.actionforhappiness.org/

Don’t forget to look at Bethanie’s own blog

Bethanie Pelloquin
Our Chalet Assistant – Spring 2015

GUESTS: To the memories that last – Irene and co. (UK)

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We have just returned to the busy world after having spent a few magical days at ‘Our (beloved) Chalet’, 2 – 6 March 2015. It was my doubtful privilege to lead a motley group of exceedingly senior past leaders, over whom I had absolutely no control at all. We are all still active in Guiding from the South West England Region of UK.

Altogether there are 10 of us; we met for the first time in Sangam 1st March 2011.  8 of us sharing the same dormitory all of a similar age, and 2 youngsters who befriended us or was it vice versa. However we seemed to gel and beginning of March each year since we try and meet somewhere. This year 7 of us who managed to join in our reunion and visit Our Chalet and we are very glad we did, it is Magic. Here are some of their comments:-

From Hazel

The arrival at Our Chalet was a joy, set in the snowy landscape with mountains towering all around. Finding our 4 bedded dormitory and clambering into the top bunk provided an interesting challenge! Eating and sharing evening activities with the young Spring Vollies who were as new as we were at Our Chalet was inspiring and fun, helping us to realise that Guiding will carry on down the generations as it has in the past century. Above all fun and fellowship with Guiding friends unknown to me before Sangam 2011. Delightful. What a great last evening enjoying campfire singing with the Vollies. We had SNOW so we could PLAY….even at our age!”

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From Carmen

Our Chalet was just as I imagined it, warm as toast, in such a beautiful setting. I kept thinking I was in a picture postcard. The bunk beds were fine once you finally managed to climb to the top of the ladder and get your leg over the bar…I might have managed the easily 20 years ago! I felt so comfortable there, as if I had been there many times before…or was it just the company of the staff, the volunteers and of course our little group.”

From Ali

The opportunity to go up Tschenten and enjoy the view, food and fun with good guiding friends. Building a snow lady and having a snowball fight at the chalet in deep soft snow was a bonus having had no snow where I live. Reminders to bring home included badges and woggles from the woodcarver and the memories made to last a lifetime.

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From Jane

The Chalet was everything I expected and more, the mountains in front of our bedroom window, and the stillness and peace there. We had a wonderful time playing with the snow, and found the staff, so very helpful. We had new volunteers in our week, I think we shocked them in a nice way, and we learnt from them and they from us. This is what our founders and the first committee wanted and it is still happening.

From me, Irene

On our arrival the staff, who were soon to become friends were warm and welcoming, and very helpful throughout our entire stay. On our first evening we met and mingled with all the new Vollies, at the beginning of their 3 month stint, and we wish them all well and hope they get as much enjoyment out of Guiding as we have.

Finally I would like to quote from one of the early Guest Book pages in the Golden Book in the WAGGGS Room. The page was titled ‘Take Time’ and I thought the following lines were as relevant to us all today as they were then.

Take time to be friendly – it is the road to happiness.

Take time to laugh – it is the music of the soul.

Take time to think, it is the source of power.

Take time to play – it is the secret of perpetual youth.

The memory of  my stay will linger forever as will the sweet voices of Staff and Vollies as they sang their haunting song of farewell:-

And when days have passed, to the memories that last,

Sisters come back again.’

We will return, if only in our hearts.

Irene and co.
Guests 2-6 March 2015

STAFF: Ballad of a Vollie – Rachael (UK)

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Hi blog readers. I’m Rachael, I’m from the UK and I’m here for the winter season as a volunteer. Life as a vollie is varied and challenging, with different things happening every day. I’ve written this poem to give people interested an idea of what we do on a day to day basis.

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Sarah, Mel and Rachael at the Ski World Cup

A Day as a Vollie

My alarm goes off at 7 o’clock
I wake up my roomies with a quick knock knock
I shower and put on my uniform necker and hoodie
And say farewell for the day to our staff house Stockli

As vollies our days are rarely the same
If we’re on programme there can be a hike, onsite day or game
Off to the woodcarvers, sledging or even bbq in the snow
Our guests can also give skiing or snowboarding a go

For those on guest services breakfast helps our visitors to start their day
To get it ready in time we put coffee on straight away
A full stomach and caffeine boost is good for our guests
To allow them to enjoy their day of activities to the best

As our guests leave for activities we put things back on the shelves
Next up is morning meeting where we discover today’s plan for ourselves
Sometimes we play games or have a laugh
But mostly it’s a chance to discuss things with all staff

The vollie on duty shares out all jobs and tasks
Whether it’s shovelling snow or finding ski masks
We spend a fair amount of time in the laundry room
Or sweeping the floor with our trusty broom

Cleaning is a well planned task we all do our share of
It can be hard work but it’s a labour of love
There’s red cloths and cleaner for those cleaning the loo
But for everything else the gloves are yellow and the cleaner is blue

It’s very important to clean rooms and make beds
Because it gives our guests and good impression and somewhere to rest their heads
There’s sheets, duvet covers, towels and pillows
We also dust and clean mirrors and windows

It’s our job to prepare lunch for everyone else who working
Usually it’s left-overs or treats that are lurking
We all sit together and discuss our day so far
Or talk about things that to others seem quite bizarre

After lunch we usually have two hours of break time
Where we complete staff challenges like writing poems that barely rhyme
There’s always a chance to play with our cat Skippy
Or if it’s snowed enough we can sledge – yippee!

We prepare dinner which is often an authentic swiss meal
There’s salad to make, meat to cook and veg to peel
We put all the plates, glasses and food in their place
And our guests start the meal by singing a grace

After dinner we may run a campfire with songs or chants
Or an international evening with a variety of stories and dance
Everyone loves a chance to swap badges and pins
Or a games night of challenges where only one team wins

Every day at the Chalet is different and it’s a very special place to be
For 3 months it’s home for the rest of the vollies and me
It can be a challenge but it’s always a laugh
So why haven’t you applied to join our team of staff?

Rachael (UK)
Our Chalet Assistant – Winter 2014-2015

GUEST : Sixty Years of waiting – Sally (UK)

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Sixty years ago, I was researching information about “Our Chalet” as part of the preparation for my Queen’s Guide Award. I had been a Brownie from the age of eight in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, where I lived with my parents, and moved up into Guides in the same town when I was eleven. This research was to make a booklet about the Girl Guide and Girl Scout Movement as it was at that moment, 1954, and for one section I was writing about the existing Guide Centres, national and international. There was obviously no Internet then, so I found magazines and newspaper cuttings to make up my articles, including some on “Our Chalet”.

Sally 1954

I could not keep my booklet when finished, as it had to be sent to a Girl Guide or Girl Scout in another country, to help promote international relations, particularly within the Movement. Mine went to a South African Girl Guide, Adèle, who sent me a gift for my Company in return; I’m sorry to say I can’t remember after all these years what it was, but the link was really interesting.

What was exciting was that my Guide penfriend, Adèle, wrote to say she had been offered a trip to England, as a reward for her Queen’s Guide Award, and would be visiting London soon! So my Mother and I took a trip to London, and met Adèle in the Girl Guide Headquarters, where we also saw the Chief Guide, Lady Baden-Powell. We then visited nearby Westminster Cathedral, particularly interesting for Adèle as a Roman Catholic, including climbing up the tower for a splendid view over London. As she already had a busy programme for her few days in our country, we then had to return her to her group at Headquarters. We kept in touch for a while, but with the busyness of life and studies from the age of 16 onwards, our correspondence soon lapsed, which I regret – a continuing link could have been most informative in the subsequent years. I joined our small local Land Ranger Unit, but then went to King’s College, University of London, which meant that I met less often with the others, although we managed to win a Suffolk Trophy!

My particular interest in “Our Chalet” was increased by the fact that I studied for a Degree in French and German. In 1957 I worked as an “au pair” for a few weeks in a family in Fribourg, but I never visited Adelboden or “Our Chalet”, probably not realising how near they were! After University I worked for two years as a Secretary, during which time I served as Brown Owl of a Brownie Pack in North London.

In 1962 Peter and I were married, and we had four sons, so life was busy. We lived near London at first, and then moved to Hertfordshire. Our sons have all been Cub Scouts and Scouts, and both our granddaughters Brownie Guides and Guides. Since 1996 our eldest son, David, has been living and working in Basel, Switzerland; we generally visit him once or twice a year, with walking expeditions in various parts of your beautiful country. For many years I have been a Tutor in French and German – very useful for our family visits to Switzerland! We have often mentioned the idea of visiting you all, and once even passed the end of the road with a large trefoil signpost, which we saw from a Postbus on our way back to Basel. This year as usual, David asked if there was anywhere special we would like to go, so I replied that I would really love to visit “Our Chalet” before I get any older. David said we could easily visit you, if I would arrange it.

I suddenly realised it was just 60 years since I wrote that article for my Queen’s Guide Award, so we could celebrate my own special Guiding Diamond Jubilee with a visit at last!! One question puzzled me – on arrival should we introduce ourselves in English, French or German? It turned out to be English!

So that is how I came to Our Chalet this summer, with my husband, Peter, and our eldest son, David, when we were all made so very welcome!

Sally Aknai and son David

We had a lovely wander round, and were all really impressed by the whole site, and its facilities, as well as by the two main buildings that we could visit. The friendly atmosphere was great, and it was good to make ourselves tea, and eat our picnic in your dining room, as it was fine and sunny but chilly outside. We then set out on a short circular Alpine walk – in a shower but still attractive!

Sally Aknai and husband Peter

I bought some interesting souvenirs for myself and gifts for our family in your shop. The gifts you have received over the years, including everything from badges to furniture, and the many written messages, are amazing, and truly international, and must contribute significantly to peace in the world – so very necessary now, as always!

Sally Aknai at reception

I do hope this small contribution will be of some interest, after our really enjoyable day with you. Thank you all very much indeed!

Sally Aknai (née Page)

Sally Aknai

STAFF: The Bucket List – Hilary (NZ)

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   Attention People of the Internet: if visiting Our Chalet is not on your bucket list – it should be!

I write this as I am in my fourth week of working at the Chalet here in Adelboden, a town in the Bernese Oberland of Switzerland. But excuse me for not introducing myself- Hi, I’m Hilary, I’m from New Zealand, and I’m an Autumn Volunteer.  This is the way that we introduce ourselves at the beginning of each event, before we raise the WAGGGS and Swiss flags, and then conduct our pinning ceremony.  In this pinning ceremony each person who has never visited Our Chalet before, receives a special pin that you can only gain when you visit.

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So far, this has been a busy few weeks. I arrived on Saturday the 30th of August, before training began at 9am on Monday the 1st of September. Our first event, Alpine Adventure Week, began on the 3rd of September. During this week I was able to participate in events such as International Night and Swiss night. I also went on multiple hikes including a hike up Chuenisbargli (1739m above sea level) where the Ski World Cup weekend is held every January, a hike to the woodcarver’s, and an overnight hike up Bunderspitz (2546m above sea level, where we arrived at the top just in time to see the sunrise). I met amazing people from all over the world including the Maldives, Greece, America, England, and Costa Rica.  I definitely improved my fitness by hiking up mountains, and decreased it, by eating lots of Swiss chocolate! The closing campfire was most definitely a highlight. All seven of us volunteers officially completed our training, and were presented with our Staff Neckers by Tanya, the Centre Manager.

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Just two days later our next event, Walking Week, began. This was as equally enjoyable as the Alpine Week. I was pleased to be able to lead a hike with another of the volunteers, Zoë, to the woodcarvers. I enjoyed getting to know the women on International Night, where we shared food from each of our respective homelands (Girl Scout cookies, Girl Guide biscuits, mushy peas and mint sauce, rock candy…).

Life at the Chalet isn’t confined to the Bernese Oberland however. Each week, we get two days off, and I have enjoyed travelling to Interlaken – where some of the vollies went paragliding, and others, including myself, instead chose to go white water rafting.  Another day, Beckie, Hana and I went to Bern. We explored both the Einstein Museum and the Bear Park, as well as wandered around soaking in the sun in this beautiful old town. Tomorrow I depart for Munich to visit my cousin and take in the sights of the city and Oktoberfest. I’m also excited for next month when we get to bring a group to Thun and take a funicular train up the side of Niesan Mountain.

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The awe of waking up with a view of the mountains has also inspired me to begin my bucket list. Although it only consists of a few items so far (such as walk the length of the Great Wall of China and finish the Duolingo Spanish course), I will definitely be continuing to add to it in the future.

Our Chalet, as the name suggests, has definitely become a home away from home for me. The welcoming LTS (long term staff) and the way that us seven Autumn vollies have just clicked, has made this place warm even as the weather begins to get colder. I have now had to add “Visit the other three world centres” to my bucket list. If they are anything like Our Chalet, I know that I will find three more homes around the world.

Hilary Kento-Peachey (NZ)
Our Chalet Assistant – Autumn 2014