Celeste Ozimek-Newman ’17 University of Waterloo, Knowledge Integration

One year ago, I would have never imagined myself to be happier abroad than at home.
Book I, Chapter IV of the Confucian Analects states “A scholar who cherishes the love of comfort is not fit to be deemed a scholar.” After a year at Neuchâtel Junior College, everyone is fit to be a scholar. When I left my comfort zone, it wasn't so much of a “step outside” as the NJC slogan says, it was more of a dive into the abyss from a ledge of unknown height. I have lived in Florida all of my life and decided to attend after I graduated high school in May of 2016. I was in no way ready to leave the comfort of my suburbia, I wasn’t ready to take this leap of faith, to be submerged in a culture whose language I only knew one word, to live with a pension family of whom I could not communicate with, to make new friends. I wasn’t even ready to leave my own bed. But I did. I left everything I had known my entire life in order to find my own values and culture.

In attending Neuchâtel Junior College, I left routine and replaced it with worldliness and spontaneity. This school has opened my eyes to what life is and what I should work for. Life is a wonderful gamble that you have to jump into with both feet. To work for that jump requires a good education with a sustainable job. Neuchâtel Junior College provides you with excellent education of the highest calibre as well as the windows to jump into worlds with both feet. The amount of educational travel is unparalleled in cultural immersion. To date, I have travelled to twelve countries in my lifetime—at the ripe age of 19. During those trips, I have felt the ghosts of the Holocaust gas chambers, seen the magic of European Christmas markets, brought smiles to the faces of Kenyan children, gawked at the lavish palaces of Russia, marvelled at the triumph that is the Acropolis, and, most of all, I have experienced what used to terrify me.

Since one of my greatest fears is being alone, the idea of being in a foreign country with no one that I knew absolutely terrified me. Neuchâtel Junior College has provided the greatest opportunity for me to overcome that fear as well as provided multiple social outlets with which to interact and express my feelings. The amount of sports that are available for students to participate in is incredible, because not only are the options many, but they all include interactions with other Swiss high schoolers. Students at NJC are able to make local connections that will be kept for life. The school also provides events such as bowling night, trivia night every Tuesday where we never beat Ms. Kleeb, coffee houses to show off your talents, and ping pong tournaments. Every event is a chance for the students to bond. Also, the advisors are wonderful to speak to whenever you feel home sick, stressed, or just need someone to vent to. The advisors also help you stay on track—reminding you of upcoming dates so you are never able to fall behind socially or academically. What surprised me is that the pension families are so eager to accept you into their family. My Madame is widowed with a dog named Tango. Her family often visits, causing a little bit of chaos with how excited Tango gets. With us, she is always attentive, feeds us until our stomachs are full, and waits near the door to make sure we arrive home safely. When I am sick, she is always ready to check my temperature, make foods that accommodate my illness, and serves me chamomile tea as if it were on a conveyer belt. She has truly made my stay welcome, feeling like I am not alone.

Today, I am writing this while sitting outside of my 19th Century school building at a park in the heart of Neuchâtel. The sun is shining, birds are bathing in the fountain next to me, and I have never felt so at home despite being so far away. This may seem to be insignificant to those that have already travelled, understandably, but my world has been opened—almost as if someone opened the blinds of a pitch-black morning on a sunny day. In fact, this is the first year that I have ever seen spring or even endured an entire winter, minus the trip to Kenya. One year ago, I would have never imagined myself to be happier abroad than at home. I would have never imagined myself to be content sitting on a park bench. The French language that surrounds me is intimidating because I do not understand all of it. That is okay. I have grown up more in this year than in my entire lifetime and I have truly realized that I had to first lose myself to find myself. The person I have found is much better than if I had stayed in Florida. The independence, knowledge, and worldliness could not compare to being at home or even having started my first year of university. I now crave opportunities to try something new or experience something different. I have learned through this school year that travelling is a priceless education that will continue to draw me onwards and forwards in life - outside my comfort zone.
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A Canadian high school in Switzerland | Grade 12 & Gap