Practical experience in a foreign language: four weeks in Geneva
There are no barriers to negotiate when crossing linguistic borders. I did not even notice as I crossed one of them on the train from Gümligen to Geneva. Of course, the on-board announcements and some foreign-sounding fellow passengers made it clear that our destination was in the French-speaking part of the country. I only realised what that meant for me when I stepped out onto the platform at Geneva station. French was the only language I would be speaking for the next four weeks. This came as something of a shock to me, and yet the prospect of bringing my gregarious nature to bear in French spurred me on to make the most of the exchange. I just spoke spontaneously, even though I knew that I was making a lot of mistakes.
The first few days were hard, but not due to the stress of work. I realised that the French-speaking Swiss take a rather more relaxed approach in that respect. It was the many unknowns, such as the unfamiliar surroundings, my host family and a different workplace with a slightly different offering and new colleagues. It was a lot to take in! I was exhausted, and I missed my family and friends a great deal. I had a real crisis on the third day and just wanted to go home.
I called my parents and my mentor. They reassured me and helped me to see why I should grasp this unique opportunity to gain an insight into doing my job in a different language. The parents of my host family also made me feel at home. That was a big help. They took me with them on visits to friends, for example. Once in a while, I went off on my own and cycled to the lake. Looking back, I do not regret staying in Geneva – on the contrary, in fact. The people at work were very welcoming. They showed me around, let me join them on their breaks and asked where I was from and why I was doing an exchange as part of my apprenticeship. They were incredibly patient as far as my French was concerned and corrected my mistakes. One customer was quite nasty about my poor language skills, which upset me, but I did not let it get me down. I am still surprised at how much I learned in such a short time just by diving straight into the language. I made a big step forward. That motivated me, and I am benefiting from my experience in Geneva now that I am back at home. My marks in French at school, for instance, have improved, and I am taking more responsibility at work for dealing with French-speaking customers. I have become more independent, both professionally and personally, and I have a clearer idea of my career goals. I can even see myself spending more time living and working in another language region or perhaps another country.