Penny Keeling is on a Rotary Youth Exchange to Switzerland. She has previously written of such adventures as fire breathing, hiking with mountain goats, and now she reports further:
 
26.11.2020
 
Hi all,
 
I’ve been in Switzerland for over ten months and somehow I have less than two months to go!!?! The last couple of months have gone by incredibly quickly, mostly being filled with school along with two weeks of holidays and a few other activities here and there. 
 
School has been fun and although the days are still long, it's a bit less boring now as I can understand a lot more. In biology, we’ve been learning about Sars-CoV-2, and through this, we’ve been learning about viruses and immune responses which I find quite interesting. The other week, my friend’s biology class got to dissect a real lion. I have no idea where they got it, but it looked pretty cool. In English class, we’ve read a book made up of “Colonial and postcolonial short stories”, which has further convinced me that we are only ever able to read depressing and/or boring books in English class - regardless of the country or school. Apart from the fact that the stories are short, I’ve found that what we’re reading is on a very similar level to what we read in NZ English classes. In sport class (which is compulsory) we’ve been ice skating a couple times which was super fun, and we’ve also done trampolining twice along with various other sports. 
 
Only two or three kids in my class have had to quarantine over the last few weeks, no one has actually had Covid19 and the entire class has actually been in school this week. We are a rather “unaffected” class, most classes have a couple of people quarantining at any given time. Some classes have had more than half the students in quarantine at a single time, or have had two or three or four subjects taught online because the teachers were sick or having to quarantine. We have biology online which is harder, but not too different from the teacher actually being there as we still have to sit in the classroom. A couple of weeks ago, Switzerland had the highest rate of new infections in Europe per 100,000 people (I think maybe even the world), yet we didn’t get a lockdown at all, they just belatedly set a few gathering limits. I’m not exactly sure what Switzerland has done correctly, but somehow the infections are going down and there are less and less new cases every day. Our hospitals are completely full though, so I guess we just have to wait and see. 
 
In the first two weeks of October, we had the autumn holidays. My host-parents were working and my host siblings had online-uni so I ended up doing mostly day trips by myself or with friends. I visited; Schwyz (a town with Switzerland's founding documents), St Gallen (near the border of Germany and Austria with a really old church and one of the oldest libraries in the world), Liechtenstein (a tiny country between Switzerland and Austria), Lugano (in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland), Einsiedeln (a town with a massive Abbey) and finally, I went to Zurich a couple of times. 

 

In the middle weekend of the holidays, I went with my family to the west half of Switzerland where they speak French. We visited Montreux and Lausanne which were both very pretty and cool. In Montreux, they have a Freddie Mercury statue because he lived there from 1978 and also recorded six albums there. We also visited Chillon Castle, they don’t know exactly when it was first built but the first written record of it is from 1095. I found it really cool because we could go mostly everywhere in the castle and it was in almost perfect condition. We also went to the Cailler Chocolate Factory and Gruyere cheese factory which were interesting as they were both (obviously) very Swiss. On the last day of the holidays, we visited the Jungfraujoch, its a mountain that’s 3,500m high and you catch a train up to the top so now I can say I’ve been to the highest altitude train station in Europe :) We also went on a walk at the top which had some uphill sections so by the end we were probably about 3600m high. Its definitely much more tiring and puffing to be walking uphill at that altitude. It's highest altitude I’ve ever been and its pretty crazy when you think about how they literally have a train going up all the way to the top as a tourist attraction, they started building the railway line in 1896(!!!!!???) and in 1903 it opened all the way up. 
 
Last Saturday I visited Bern and Thun which were both very pretty. Bern is the capital of Switzerland and is a city with 130,000 people. Thun is a bit smaller but really old and with a lake.  
 
It's crazy to think that I only have 4 weeks of school left and then I’m completely done. Our Christmas holidays start on the 18th of December and then I fly home at the beginning of January just as the holidays end. The year has gone incredibly fast and it's trippy when I think about how long I’ve been away from home for. If I’d known that there was going to be a world-wide pandemic, I probably would have done my exchange last year, but nonetheless, I have had so many new experiences and learnt so much that this year was definitely worth it. 
 
 
 
This is what it was like yesterday morning (The buses were still running even though there was lots of snow and the road is relatively steep) there’s a tiny bit more now 
 
From Penny