From the start of my study abroad, I had a list of top places I wanted to visit while here in Europe. Switzerland was close to the top of my list. Everyone here warned me about how expensive Switzerland is and I quickly became discouraged, thinking I wouldn’t be able to make it to the cute little towns my friends back home told me all about. Luckily, I was able to find a cheap flight and inexpensive accommodation, making Switzerland a reality! So I hopped on my tiny plane to Zurich and stepped into the unknown of Switzerland. Zurich was pretty far away from where I was planning to stay in Interlaken so I had to figure out a way to get from here to there without it costing me an arm and a leg. Coming across a train ticket window, I ended up asking a man what the heck I should do to get where I needed to be. Luckily, he was amazingly helpful, he helped me buy a train ticket to Interlaken, converted some of my euros to Swiss francs, and gave me a free bar of Swiss chocolate. Off to find my train platform, I headed down the escalator and realized I had already gone the wrong direction, awesome. Back up the escalator I went, hoping the train ticket guy didn’t catch my moment of immediate disorientation. Finally finding the correct platform, I must have looked like I belonged or had some sense of what I was doing even though I surely didn’t, because a pair of old English gentlemen came up to me, showed me their tickets and asked if they were in the right place. This was a blind leading the blind moment when I told them “yes, you’re in the right place”… “If I’m in the right place”, I’m thinking to myself. On the 2 hour train ride to Interlaken, I realized my phone wasn’t working. Normally I use my Slovenian sim card on all the trips I go on, but the catch is it only works in EU countries, of which Switzerland is not a part of. So here I am, arrived in Interlaken with no clue how to get to my hostel, no matter, it’s just a minor roadblock. Bought a Swiss sim card after a small struggle to find an English speaker and now I was ready to still get lost on my way to my hostel. Eventually, I made it to my hostel, checked in, and walked up three flights to my shared room. So far, I’ve never stayed in a hostel, but the accommodation in Switzerland was much more expensive and it was all I could afford. The hostel didn’t seem so bad the first night because my six bunk room was empty and I had it all to myself, that would soon change.
Today, I had plans to go to Jungfraujoch or “The Top of Europe”. The ticket for the several trains to the top of the mountain were quite expensive, but I was already on the train so there was no turning back now. Getting to the top of Jungfraujoch was worth the trip. Miles and miles of mountains and clouds to the point where the two were indistinguishable. Next, I made my way down to the ice palace. Elsa would have been impressed. There were ice sculptures and ice tunnels, it was pretty cool(pun intended). Desperately trying to keep my fingers from falling off, I kept rubbing my hands together. Perfectly enough, one of the stops on my way back was a town called Lauterbrunnen in which my best friends back home informed me it was their absolute favorite place they had visited on a trip in high school. Lauterbrunnen was a charming little town situated in a valley between two mountains with a stunning waterfall in the center, streaming down from great heights. Living here must be a dream everyday. With the setting sun, I had to take the train back to Interlaken. Walking up the three flights of stairs, I mentally prepared myself to actually have roommates tonight even though I prayed for continued vacancy. Slowly, I opened the door and found four guys who had made their homes in the bunk beds of my room, well our room now I guess. Two of the guys were my age, from Louisiana, and studying in Madrid. They were nice enough but left late to go party and made a terrible drunken ruckus when they came back at 2:30 in the morning when the rest of us were snoozing. After they had left to do whatever it is they did, a girl came in and took the very last bunk right above me. I was relieved there was another girl in the room, but I’m not sure it was worth her annoying phone buzzing against the wood irregularly, keeping me awake. Turns out it was also bothering one of the men at the other end of the room as he audibly sighed in exasperation after every annoying buzz. Obviously much more confrontational than I, he got up, came over and woke up the girl to tell her to turn off her phone. She seemed pretty upset, but the buzzing ceased. Sometimes it’s nice to let someone else fight your battle. Once the confrontational guy fell asleep after the lack of phone buzzing, he was own problem with his resounding snores. Yay, staying in a hostel!
Started my day by dropping my favorite earring in the sink. Frustrated with myself, I went downstairs to eat my free breakfast of toast and yogurt then spilled my coffee all over the place. Off to a great start. Choosing an empty seat, I sat down next to a girl who I found out was in Switzerland to go skydiving. So cool, I definitely have skydiving on my bucket list, maybe not this weekend though. Interlaken is situated between two beautiful lakes and surrounded by mountains and I wanted to explore both while I was here. After breakfast, I got on a bus to the train station to spend a day at Lake Brienz and explore some waterfalls. Giessbach waterfall ended up being really beautiful and there were barely any people there which made it so much better. Looking out from behind the waterfall, I could see the lake, mountains, and hotel Giessbach which was probably crazy expensive, but beautiful. Feeling like I didn’t get the full waterfall experience, I headed down to the bottom of the waterfall and ended up climbing over a few rocks and walking around.Turns out I had too much fun at the waterfall because I missed the bus back to the main train station and had an impromptu hour hike around the lake. It was a long walk, but it kind of turned out great because it was the most beautiful walk through hills and right by the the bright blue lake. I can’t describe how beautiful it is so I’ll just upload photos instead.
My next day in Switzerland was my favorite of all my days abroad because I went paragliding! I met with my paragliding instructor/partner then we hopped in a van with other paragliders and made our way up the mountain. They asked if I wanted the lower or higher jumping point and I chose higher so we kept on driving further up the mountain. Everything happened so quickly, there was no time to build up anxiety or fear. I stepped into my harness, he set out the parachute, and we were all set to go. Defying all logic, we began running toward the edge of the mountain, took two final large steps, felt the wind catch the parachute, and then I was paragliding! It was an incredible feeling, there was no fear whatsoever. I was expecting to feel some sense of panic or uneasiness but there was nothing but pure joy and excitement. Now I know what it feels like to be a bird! Glorious feelings of freedom and wonder as I looked down and out across the stunning Swiss alps and beautiful Interlaken. Honestly there was some point when I felt as though I must be dreaming. There was no way I could be paragliding in Switzerland, it was beyond belief. I’m so grateful for my study abroad experiences, they are once in a lifetime!
Katrena Smith is a junior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City studying psychology. Katrena, a Gilman Scholarship recipient, will spend her spring semester in Ljubljana, Slovenia as part of the UMKC exchange with the University of Ljubljana. There, she will be complete her Sociology minor, adding to her education in pursuit of becoming a Child Life Specialist.
Disclaimer: Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.