I hesitated for a long time before signing up to the exchange year between the Frauenfeld and Yverdon-les-Bains grammar schools. I was unsure whether it was the right decision for me, whether I was up to the challenge. I finally put my name down at the last minute, thinking that it might help to sharpen up my poor French skills. The two head teachers – Beat Brüllmann of Frauenfeld Cantonal School and Eliane Stucki of Yverdon Grammar School – took charge of the arrangements and made for a smooth start to my linguistic and cultural exchange back in August 2012. The adventure was to last until the end of June 2013.
The first step is always the hardest, as they say, and it was no different in this case. I could barely understand a word to begin with, either in lessons or in conversation with others, but constant contact with a second language helps you to pick it up quickly. After a couple of months, I was already feeling confident enough to discuss quite complicated topics, and lessons were scarcely more difficult for me than in German. In spite of the fast progress I had made with the language, it took over half a year before I was more or less settled into my class. My host family, on the other hand, were much more welcoming and approachable. Both comprehension and spoken French had become second nature by the end of the exchange. I still have the odd little problem writing the language sometimes, but I am more than capable of writing up my coursework in French and putting my point across in e-mail discussions on natural science subjects.
This exchange year also aided my personal development by making me more independent and allowing me to make some friends in western Switzerland. The biggest measurable advantage the year brought for me is obviously linguistic. I learned to live and breathe a second language, which is not something you get from just taking lessons. I definitely made the right decision.