Chocolates, Watches, and Knives, OH MY!

Posted on January 25th, 2012 by

Switzerland, U.N., and Red Cross flags lining a street in Old Geneva.

Hello to friends, family, and everyone else reading this! I’m currently sitting on my bed, in my host family’s flat, in Geneva, Switzerland. Actually, I’m in Nyon, a suburb-like town of Geneva. I’ll explain more about my living situation later (so stick around, because it’s pretty unique).  I arrived in Geneva on January 18th after three layovers and what felt like an eternity trapped in a giant metal tube thousands of miles in the air.  I feel obligated to preface this blog by telling you all that I am, at times, an exceptionally awkward person. Particularly, when I deal with strangers or unfamiliar situations. So, being in a foreign country should provide ample opportunity for me to handle myself with a refined sense of elegance and culture.

I’m studying through the School for International Training (SIT), which is a study abroad program with bases or offices in countries all over the world. Different countries host different SIT programs, I’m on the International Relations and Multilateral Diplomacy Program.  On my Geneva program, there are about 28 students and we take all of our classes and attend all of our seminars together (except our French course, which is divided based on language proficiency [note: I don’t speak a word of French]). The last month of our program is spent researching a topic of our choice (but related to the program) and writing a 30 page paper… an aspect of this program I’m currently trying to pretend doesn’t exist.

With that, lets talk about what I’ve been doing since I’ve been in this beautiful city! The first few days we spent in a hostel in the city of Geneva. We filled out massive amounts of paperwork, toured Geneva, and took a French proficiency test. For myself, and 7 other students who also have no knowledge of the French language, the proficiency test included a 1-minute interview where they asked us our name, and where we were from. I’m assuming we all failed because we are all now in the beginner’s French course. And by beginner’s I mean, the other day we learned our ABC’s (seriously)….I expect to be fluent any day now, really.

Dogs are everywhere!..and people just tie them up inside the building.

On a similar note, my lack of French has made the transition into this foreign culture all the more difficult. Perhaps it was my ethnocentrism coming through clear as day, but for whatever reason, I figured (knowing French was the dominant language in Geneva) English was everyone’s second language and I would be just fine without knowing any French. Well, for the record, English is not everyone’s second language, and if you think you can get away with pretending how to read French -you can’t. Without an adequate understanding of how the French alphabet looks, sounds, and reads it is near impossible to feign literacy. Luckily, as I already mentioned, my class just learned the alphabet, so things are starting to look up (small victories).

The tour we took of Old Geneva (compared to the part of Geneva with newer buildings, Trams, architecture, infrastructure, etc. ) was actually pretty interesting. A few of the more important things I picked up from our tour guide include: Geneva fountains are all potable, unless otherwise noted; 40% of Geneva’s population is foreign-born; and the city/metropolitan area of Geneva is in the shape of a peninsula jutting into France; The city really only shares a 5KM border with the country of Switzerland.  I’m sure there was more I could have learned, but it all honesty, I was too distracted by my surroundings.

We moved in with our host families last Saturday. I live with a Brazilian mom of three boys, ages 5, 12, and 21.  I expected things to be relatively calm and orderly around the house. Well, to my surprise (and genuine excitement) there are more people living in her flat than I was originally told. Along with my host mom, her three sons, and myself, there is also a Ukrainian couple, and another Brazilian woman. So that’s 8 people, in one flat, with four bedrooms. It gets better, and I’ll try my best to explain it in simple terms. The Ukrainian woman (having lived in Portugal for a year with her husband) speaks Portuguese.  So the three women, when conversing with each other, speak Portuguese. The Ukrainian couple, when talking to each other speak Russian. The two youngest boys only know French, so when anyone speaks to them, it’s in French.  And then there’s me. The Ukrainian woman, my host mom, and eldest host brother all know English, so that’s how we speak to each other. And sometimes Spanish is thrown in the mix just for kicks.  It’s fantastic.


This past week was our first week of classes. We spend the first 2.5 hours of the day in an international relations seminar, two hours for lunch, and three hours in our french class. The Swiss-French take their meal times very seriously. Offices shut down, work gets put on hold, and everyone flocks to restaurants or other food establishments to share a meal and drink and and spend the time engaged in intimate conversation.  A huge difference from my life back home where I try and stuff my face as quickly as possible while on my way to my next class. As different as it is, I find it quite enjoyable.  Another big difference I’ve noticed is the smoking. Everyone here smokes, it’s apparently the thing to do. So America, you’ve got it wrong. With those words of wisdom, I’ll end this post. I’m sure there are a million more things I could say, but I won’t, because it’s 1am here and I’m exhausted.  I promise to be more detailed next time!



Despite painfully obvious warning signs, everyone still smokes.

We saw a Church.

City of Geneva


Until next time,






  1. Sadira says:

    That was a great insight into your new life abroad! I have to do a monthly blog for Tulane Uni’s VISTA program as well, check it out! This could be a great way for us to keep up with each other!

  2. Rachelle says:

    Great blog Jasmine – I really enjoyed reading it. You provided great photos and a detailed account about everyday life and your experiences with the host family. Keep up the good work, have fun and stay safe. Love you!