Ciara Meneley '18 Queen's University, Arts

Before coming to Neuchâtel I was content, but always longing for something different. I couldn't put my finger on what it was but I knew I needed an experience, something that would change my perspective on the way I see the world, people, culture. All of a sudden, there it was. 
The past month has faced me with one of the largest and most provoking questions I’ve been presented in my life so far: what do I want to do with my life. The question at large is really only deciding where I want to spend the next four years of my life studying. However, I was challenged to think complexly about what matters most to me.
In my indecisive nature, I will always be able to justify endless answers to that question. One answer stands solemn: experience. It sounds cliché but I can’t find a more eloquent way to put it. I value experience and this year has taught me where to find it, what to take from it, and where to apply it.
A family friend had just returned from her Grade 12 year in Switzerland; “the best year of my life”. The decision was an easy one. Here I am with the same question that for a while was so hard, and is now so easy, and it has everything to do with the past nine months of my life.
I had attended the same all-girls school for 13 years, my social network and skills were at most subpar. I made little effort to reach out to others, I was shy, I was sheltered. The thought of attending a school far away where I knew no one never scared me to be completely honest, because I was aware I was in desperate need of change. Now, I couldn’t be more grateful for that single, most courageous decision on my part. The best possible way to describe the dynamic of NJC students and staff is such that Sue Caskey said to me prior to my departure, which I now paraphrase to explain to people who ask:
NJC attracts a certain type of person. One who longs for adventure, experience, and perspective. None of those can be taught in a classroom, and that is something you know when you board your flight to Switzerland. Soon after, you realize that you are about to find your people because you all have this common longing, but each for your own reasons. This makes you equally unified as it does unique. A year full of trials and triumphs lies ahead. Triumphs will be cherished and celebrated by everyone around you. Trials will be overcome together, and you will soon learn the value of these challenges as their lessons slowly contribute to the characteristics that separate you from the rest.
The first major change I experienced, and possibly the most resonating, is my pension. With little French experience prior to my arrival, I was terrified that I would be placed in a pension with a language barrier. I was placed with Lidia Aeschlimann, who although doesn’t speak English, has become a role model with whom I have established a wonderful relationship. Through engaging in dinner time conversations every night, I have been able to significantly improve my French. Similarly, my madame lived with a host family in France with no prior experience or exposure to the language or culture, and exemplifies how each experience contributes to your personal and professional growth.
There is no doubt that NJC gives you freedom to explore like no other school does. In just the past nine months I’ve been to 10 countries, that’s more than some will visit in a lifetime. However, it’s not always an easy procedure. The leadership skills I didn’t know I had came to light as I lead the group through the unfamiliar slopes of St. Anton, the streets of Amsterdam, the maze that is the Louvre, and even to the John Lennon wall in Prague. I’ve realized that no great adventure will be initiated without a strong leader.
Not only through travelling was I able to exemplify my growing leadership skills, but one of my most rewarding experiences was within Neuchâtel. As a camp counsellor, working with and teaching kids hardly feels like a job to me. When I heard of the opportunity to volunteer at the local Montessori school, I accepted the challenges that lay ahead right away. I first thought that I would simply be helping the children with their English homework. Little did I know that I would be learning more than I was teaching; French and German to be precise. A few months later, and I had formed yet another bond that defies language barriers and yet another unique experience that taught me you learn best by teaching others.
As I mentioned before, it takes a certain type of person to come to NJC. Someone who wants to grow intellectually and personally through global perspective. Everyone I’ve met this year shares this common interest, yet each with such unique qualities and characteristics. I could not have made it through this year without these people I feel are now my family, and to which I owe a huge thank you for unknowingly teaching me lessons. My roommate, Allie, who taught me patience and punctuality. All my friends who taught me to make the most of every situation. My teachers who taught me the importance of dedication and balance in everything you do.
Every step further you take outside, the more you widen your perspective. Be it adventure or study, each little experience contributes to your personal development. Whether it’s overcoming life's various obstacles, the patiently-awaited moment when a mistake becomes a lesson learned, creating an unbreakable bond that defies language barriers, or simply ‘stepping outside’. NJC has given me a new outlook on life, one that I guarantee will allow me to be successful no matter what path I choose to take in life. I’m less intimidated by these ‘determining’ questions facing me because NJC has taught me that, through trial or error, I will always acquire the skills to find my way to happiness.
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