Last year, I had the honor to meet Claudio Ferrari, a Swiss exchange student. Claudio is a polyglot. He attended South High School, in Denver Colorado, where I currently teach French and Spanish. Claudio was my assistant during my third period French class. He helped tutor many students and he brought a fresh perspective that enabled my students to better understand and appreciate the importance of learning a second language.
I lived in Strasbourg, France with a family while in college, and to this day, I can still draw many positives from that experience. No amount of classroom instruction can replace living in the country where the language is spoken. Before 9/11, I took my students on a 10-day tour to France and Spain. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to take students out of the country since 2000.
Claudio agreed to share with us his experiences living in the United States.
You left your native Switzerland to attend a year of high school in Denver, CO; can you explain why you did that?
The idea actually came from my sister, because she did an exchange year in Norway the year before I went to America. She got me thinking: why shouldn’t I do that; it would be an awesome experience. And looking back, I have to say that it definitely was.
How was your experience living with an American host family?
Well I didn’t really have the classic “host family experience”, in my case it was more like I just had a room to live in at that house. But that wasn’t bad at all, in fact I really enjoyed it a lot because it gave me a lot of freedom to do what I wanted to do and also it forced me to become a lot more independent.
Are there any major differences between a Swiss and an American high school?
There are huge differences, and I think most of them come down to how the schools are organized. In Switzerland a high school works more like a college, meaning it’s not the teacher’s responsibility to make sure the students do all their work, they just have to be prepared for the test and if they fail it’s their problem. I like that system a lot because it makes students more responsible and independent.
I understand you are fluent in four languages, can you explain how you managed to acquire these languages?
In Switzerland you have to learn at least two languages (French and English) in addition to our native language, German. But from my own experience with languages I can tell that it gets easier with every new language you learn, because the blueprint for learning a new language is similar in every language. And also many languages like Spanish and French are related so you can understand a lot without even knowing the language.
Are there any similarities or differences between Swiss and American teenagers?
I have to say I find American teenagers to be a little immature sometimes. But I believe that is because of the way they’re looked at here. Nobody would see a 17-year-old as a grown up person. In Switzerland in a lot of ways you’re seen as an adult. I would say a lot of how you act comes from the way you’re looked at.
Can you elaborate on what you learned spending the year in a foreign land away from family and friends? Was it worth it? Would you do it again and why?
I’ve learned so many things during my exchange year: about America, other cultures, other people, and last but not least I’ve also learned a lot about myself. It’s amazing how much one year can change you and the way you see things. To everyone out there who’s thinking about going to another country for some time: Do it! It’s absolutely worth it.
What are your honest thoughts on American culture?
I’ve seen many things I like but also many things I don’t like about American culture. But what really amazes me about Americans is their way of thinking straight forward, that “you can do anything” attitude. I’ve probably adopted some of that because it’s just a great motto for life.
I want to thank you, Claudio, for taking the time to share your experiences with my readers. I am sure your words will inspire many. I am wishing you great success in your future endeavors.