Jerry Li '14 Claremont McKenna College, Philosophy, Politics & Economics
My experiences this year laid a sturdy foundation that I can build upon in the future, and I am forever thankful for the wonderful people that I was able to share this experience with.
I guess it’s finally time to write my year-end reflection; I had been putting this off for as long as possible because I knew that as soon I write this, the reality of leaving and the feeling of closure will hit me like a fleeting Swiss train. Winnie the Pooh describes my feelings best: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so difficult.” Words simply cannot describe how grateful I am for having this ten-month whirlwind adventure in Europe. I became more aware. I changed and grew as a person. I learned an incredible amount of knowledge about the world as well as myself. My experiences this year laid a sturdy foundation that I can build upon in the future, and I am forever thankful for the wonderful people that I was able to share this experience with.
Intellectually, my travels have allowed me to synthesize what I learned in the classroom with real world experience; the feeling of being able to see and touch what I learned in the classroom is incredible. From walking through Auschwitz to visiting the Canadian cemetery in Normandy, my intellectual gain was no longer only passing facts in the classroom, but lasting memories of travel and experience. After visiting Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, and Russia, I did a cross-curricular presentation on the Aftermaths of World War II, with a focus on Eastern Europe. Through conversing with my pension family, examining reports publicized by the Swiss government, and researching surveys done by Swiss institutions of higher learning such as ETH Zürich, I was able to, in French, write a dissertation on how Switzerland was able to maintain neutrality during the Second World War. These are just two examples of how the travels have positively influenced my intellectual growth.
Personally, I have learned to adapt. Moving to Switzerland forced me to change; I adopted a new diet, a new sense of time, a new language, and new rules and laws. I realized that, however, this adaptation did not only occur in Switzerland. Whenever I visited new countries, I tried to fit into the local context by adapting myself; I indulged in new dishes like goulash in the Czech Republic and wore fur hats in Russia. I learned that it is impossible to expect every place and culture I visit to bend and adapt to my needs, so it is crucial for me to learn to adapt in order to thrive in whichever environments I am tossed into. Adapting to different cultures also allowed me to learn more about myself; I realized that I am an incredibly liberal person who appreciates the differences in people. I also learned that the world is not so much like me; while some places I visited, like Amsterdam, were incredibly open-minded, other places, like Russia, were not. This substantiates the notion that it is imperative to be flexible because I should not expect others to believe and act the same as I do.
I have always been an independent person, but this year challenged my independence. I realized that despite being independent, I still have a penchant towards home cooking and my own bed at home. I gained appreciation for my family and my home, and I realized the importance of valuing every second with them. This also includes my pension family; the connections with every single member of the family were critical to my stories and lessons learned, and I cannot imagine saying goodbye to such a solid support network that I was so lucky to have.