I thought I knew it all. I had fallen in love and was ready to make a life-long commitment. Apparently, my parents felt differently, when in September 1980 they expeditiously and unapologetically put me on a plane to Toronto, destined for a year’s scholastic adventure at Neuchâtel Junior College in Switzerland.
Students from across Canada convened at Brasenose College in Oxford, to recover from jet lag and meet one another. The teachers and staff must have wondered about the stability of this heartbroken and homesick girl from British Columbia, likely thinking “thank goodness there is only one from the west coast this year”.
It did not take long to be swayed out of sadness by a highly social, hysterically funny, and ultimately thirsty bunch of “Easterners”. After an easy conversation on the Brasenose quad with two loyal Torontonians, the three of us were assigned to the pension Madame Kiburz.
By way of the infamous Bus Number 7 to Hauterive, we arrived at Madame’s home. She did not speak English. Not a single word, or so she said. We, however, remained wholly suspicious, as she scowled at every inappropriate English word that slipped out. Armed with minimal conversational French (quel heure est il?), I bravely, but pathetically, tried. “Madame! Ii pluet sur la table!” I shouted, after spilling tea at lunch. “Zut alors!”
And then, there was the Matterhorn - my rock. The first three months at NJC were the most crucial of my young life. Conflicted between an overwhelming desire to rush home and get married and an unrelenting pull to continue my adventure through Europe, it was a weekend school trip to Zermatt that changed the direction of my life. That fateful weekend, after sitting at the base of the Matterhorn with my best friend, I chose to stay through the year, end my relationship at home, and embrace every aspect of my year abroad. It was the best decision I ever made.
NJC was, however, an academic reality check. I was from Summerland, BC. Exams, provincial or otherwise, hadn’t sullied my world. The first time I looked down at an exam paper? English. Three hours. Praise be to my big-city roomies, who insisted I study.
In no small part, it was my history teacher Mr. Brown (slight man with burly Scottish brogue (be sure to roll the rrrr) who helped me find an academic direction and future passion. Only after he scrawled on a history paper “I see the makings of a writer here” did my career pendulum swing towards journalism and public relations.
Upon reflection, one of the great ironies of my scholastic year in Switzerland was how the life lessons were equally, if not more, valuable than the academic ones. And despite a less-than-stellar GPA, I returned to Canada, graduated with a college diploma in journalism, and continued the adventure of my life.
Today, I am seventeen years married to the love of my life, Geoff, and we have two beautiful children, Sydney and Ben, who are a constant source of love, pride, and amusement.
Even though it was twenty-five years ago, when asked about my education I always say, with pride, I am an alumna of Neuchâtel Junior College, en Suisse.