Christiane-Marie Cantwell ’17 McGill University, Arts

A year ago, I was getting ready to attend Neuchâtel Junior College, unsure of what awaited me there, unsure of how everything would unfold. I was scared, and nervous, yet I would never have admitted it in the moment. I was mostly ready to start anew, and boy, what a start this has been…
A year ago, I was getting ready to attend Neuchâtel Junior College, unsure of what awaited me there, unsure of how everything would unfold. I was scared, and nervous, yet I would never have admitted it in the moment. I was mostly ready to start anew, and boy, what a start this has been…

I could explain how mind-blowing, how incredibly life-changing this year has been, but I will not. To do so would be redundant, and I am sure that whomever is reading this is tired of hearing the same thing over and over again. So I will try my best to relate my experience here at NJC. Yet this will be hard, for language in itself is characterized by its inability to fully represent what we feel, and the NJC experience is not an exception to this rule. In fact, I do not believe NJC can ever be put into words. How can I reflect upon a year that is based mostly upon indescribable scents, sights, feelings? It has been so much more than just 9 months in Switzerland. It is climbing the Austrian Alps on a whim one Sunday morning. It is going to the ABBA Museum in Stockholm, as “dancing queens, young and sweet, only 17”. It is making friends for life. It is the thrill of running for your train - in Bern, Lausanne, Geneva, Zurich, Montreux, Bienne, Verbier, Gruyères…It is sublime. I could go on and on about this wonderful school, and the people who make it great, but nothing, not 500 words, not even 5000, could sum up these past nine months. They have been a blessing.

I arrived in Zurich at 6 in the morning, in early September. I knew no one. I was scared, nervous, and excited. I was about to embark on one of the craziest adventures one can experience. It was the beginning of my life.

I leave Geneva at noon, mid-June. I do not depart the same girl I arrived. I have changed, subtly, but enough to feel like a whole new person. I thought I knew myself pretty well before 'Neuch', as we students affectionately call it. I was wrong. I know now that plans do not always pan out the way you first thought they would, and that is fine. I learned to take it easy. I do not stress anymore as much as I did. I discovered my talent in impromptu speaking, commanding a crowd. I, the girl who declared with some sort of misplaced pride at the beginning of the year that she was allergic to physical exercise, found a newfound determination to hike the Matterhorn, as my father and sister have before me.

I am not the person I was, nor am I the person I will be years from now. But I am me, and I would not be who I am right now without Neuch, nor would future me. My favourite quote (which got me into the impromptu speaking semi-finals at spring NESDA, by the way) is by Maya Angelou. It goes “You are the sum total of everything you've ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot - it's all there. Everything influences each of us”. NJC is now an integral part of my identity, and it always will be. My decisions, choices, even funny anecdotes to be told around a table at a dinner party, will be influenced by Neuchâtel Junior College. I can guarantee it.

I remember applying to NJC, and having to explain why I wanted to come to this school. I said something about how incredible the experience would be, the travelling, how much I would learn. To be perfectly honest, it was a run-of-the-mill essay. Nothing outstanding about it. Yet I remember my conclusion. It went something like this :

“My father remembers where he was when JFK was shot. My mother knows exactly what she was doing when the Explorer shuttle exploded, and when she learnt about 9/11 - she was feeding her toddlers. My sister protested the Vietnam War, and my brother was at Dawson College during the shootings. They lived through world events, and were, are, influenced by them. They were part of history, and I hope that through studying in Europe I will have some of these moments as well.”

I do not remember if I wrote these words sincerely wishing to be part of something so much bigger than I am. Until writing this reflection, I actually had relegated this memory of my essay to the dark recesses of my mind, almost forgetting completely about it. Yet I did not. If I could say anything to 15 year old me, who applied to this school looking to “be part of history”, it would be that I accomplished my goal wholly and completely. As my parents have before me, I can now tell my children what I was doing when the world was changing. I can tell them exactly where I was when Trump was elected: Brugge, in a bus going to Vimy Ridge. I can tell them that I had friends in London during the bombings, that I was in Stockholm exactly a week before the terrorist attack, on exactly the same street, in exactly the same shops. I could tell them what I was doing during the decisive French elections, that I took the St. Petersburg metro a week before the subway attacks. That I saw a procession of Thai mourners, parading in the thousands in Zurich, after the death of their beloved king. The list goes on, and on. Current events are no longer simple news stories to me, but actual happenings that affect actual people. I am now a part of history, something bigger than I am.

I’ve gained many things during my year. I found a family at NJC: two best friends - long lost soul sisters who discovered each quite by chance, two younger sisters - ages 1 and 8, who I, youngest of my family with the personality traits of an only child, will love for the rest of my life, and a traditional father figure, as I never have had one before. But mostly, I have a newfound purpose: I want to change the world. I am determined to make a difference, inspired by the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, the service trip to Portugal, the discrimination still rampant in Switzerland, “the best country in the world”, and the events I have been witness to in the past nine months.

I would not change anything about this year, or do anything over. As the legendary Edith Piaf says: Non, je ne regrette rien.
Neuchâtel Junior College offers the unique opportunity to study Canadian curriculum abroad. While living in Switzerland in a French community, students enjoy an international education through travel and experiential learning in Europe. Gap year and Grade 12  high school students gain international experience and develop independence and life skills that prepare them for university and the global workplace.

A Canadian high school in Switzerland | Grade 12 & Gap