I have lived all my life in Switzerland. Whenever I hear someone talk about it, I hear how great this place is and how beautiful the nature is and how well everything is run. And it’s true, trains are on time, taxes are low and wages are high. I am very lucky to have been brought up here. Nevertheless, I only found true self-confidence and happiness when I came to the USA to spend my summer with strangers from everywhere but Switzerland. How so?
I spent last summer in the US as a fellow at the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellowship, a program supported and paid for by the American State Department with the aim of strengthening social entrepreneurship and open-mindedness. Thirty-four Europeans from different countries came to North Carolina together with ten Americans to save the world or to at least take a first step. We had amazing classes with amazing teachers and great mentors, but what stuck with me the most was how much all these different fellows had in common. We all have become best friends and are still travelling the world to see each other as much as possible; this is how close we had become. Despite the fact that we have this deep understanding for each other, we also all have our own stories that were shaped by the culture we came from. It was only then that I started to realize how fortunate I was to have what I had and how this experience for me had become an exercise of self-understanding. Learning about the lives of others and their problems, be it about their ability to finance a degree or attempting to find a supportive environment, was a very humbling experience.
It made me also realize that Switzerland is not the paradise it seems to be but only a stone in the mosaic that makes the world so beautiful. For itself, it is only a pebble, maybe a nice one but not more. Only if I take one step back can I admire the true beauty of the whole picture. After this summer I started to work harder and became more humble about what I had been given. Many things that I took for granted became very special to me and I started appreciating my opportunities more.
We all come into this world with what we are given by nature: Our own potential that we are obliged to make the most out of. On the other hand, there is the culture we are raised in with all its benefits and flaws that shape us. We have to understand that the latter influences the former, and that many of our own traits are shaped by the people around us. Consequently, we also take up some of the bad habits that our parents and friends show. Immersed in our community, we do not really notice these habits, because they don’t stick out. Only when we are in touch with people from different backgrounds are we truly able to find out what the qualities of our culture are and where we can still improve.
My summer in the USA made me miss home at times, especially after I had come back to Switzerland and started to realize how many things actually annoyed me there. It took me a long time to find a way to deal with the many blessings of my society that I want to be grateful of, and in contrast all the things that I don’t like and I wish I could change.
That summer in the USA left me with 43 friends for life, our youth social entrepreneurship project titled GOAL, and with a totally changed world view. I had to go away from perfectionist Switzerland. I had to break out of my comfort zone in order to make this new experience and become a better person. Being where you are comfortable and at home is great, but every once in a while it is worth it to look farther away from the home you know and trust. It’s incredibly valuable to find out about different things to discover different approaches to the same problem and to appreciate what you have always taken for granted. So go out this summer, immerse yourself in a different world and learn more than you ever thought was possible about others and yourself.
Written By: Michael Bader
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