Should I stay or should I leave?

My exchange semester in Moscow has not been going like planned at all. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the sanctions imposed by the West have changed people’s daily lives once and for all. Even though the community of international students in Moscow is not affected by the war itself, the events do have an impact on their living situation. Therefore I, too, had to ask myself the following question: Am I staying or leaving? In the end I have decided to stay.

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Part of learning about a new culture…

…is going to unfamiliar places, handling uncomfortable situations, and embracing even the smallest details. Rather than researching ahead of time, I wanted to prepare myself for the unexpected. Learning things first-hand helps me better understand where ideas come from and how they fit in modern society. Exposing yourself to unfamiliar cultures can be overwhelming at times, but I believed more in the progress of adjusting and ultimately becoming familiar with cultural practices.

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Cold and Hot

“I have a cold.” / “I have a stomachache.” / “I’m on my period.” / etc.

— “Drink some hot water!”

Conversations like these are always heard in China, because hot water is so common and it is somehow regarded as a panacea. We are used to bringing a vacuum cup everywhere we go, no matter what the weather or temperature. But here in Switzerland (also in other European countries), it’s as if many people were born not knowing that hot water is drinkable. Swiss people only use hot boiled water as a supplement to make coffee and tea, and if you don’t want tea or coffee at a friend’s house, the friend provides pure water or bubble water. They even let women who have just given birth drink cold water or eat ice cream. If we do so in China, we are definitely admonished by the elders.

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Spanish Health System Adventures

Just three weeks into my semester abroad, I had to go to the hospital after suffering from sharp pain in my chest region. I called my doctor in Switzerland and he recommended I should go to the hospital emergency. There, I didn’t have to wait long and was able to do all the necessary examinations: An X-ray of my upper body, a blood test and an ECG. Shortly after that, I received some medication and was no longer in pain. Thinking I would be able to go home soon, I was waiting for the final results of the examinations. When the doctor entered with the results I could see on his face that I would not be able to go home soon.

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Discussions about Politics in Russia and Switzerland

What you will notice sooner or later when you are in Russia is that people avoid talking politics in public. I am used to people discussing politics in public spaces in Switzerland – for example, you can overhear a debate between two passengers about the current polling on the train, political topics are discussed and dealt with at university or high schools, or people actively exchange views on social media. In Switzerland, I feel comfortable expressing my opinion in public and it doesn’t bother me much if passers-by catch parts of the conversation. Depending on the milieu, I defend my political views more vehemently or try not to stir up conflicts and therefore choose my words more carefully.

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From Winter Wonderland to the Desert

The semester in Canada starts in January and finishes by the end of April. Therefore, my exchange semester in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, is already over. I finished all my assignments and packed my stuff. It was hard to say goodbye to all the people I met here, but at the same time I was very excited for what was to come! I flew to Denver in the US where I met my brother for an eight-week road trip on the Westcoast. 

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Communicating in Korea

Seoul has become a very international city and a popular destination for studying, so I was surprised to realize that very few Koreans speak English. Outside of university and during my travels through Korea, I have been constantly confronted with situations where I couldn’t communicate with very basic English and had to use my hands or translating apps instead. 

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The Art of English

As a Swiss person you learn English from 7th grade on, but coming to Australia made me realize the first few week that English is not just English. It has very different forms and different dialects. When I arrived in Wollongong, the Australian accent gave me a lot of trouble, because my ear was just not used to it. I feel this would be different with English as it is spoken in England or the US, because I know it from the movies. 

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I will miss the daily chats

When I arrived in South Africa a couple of months ago, the presence of security staff in many public and private places was unfamiliar to me. There is security staff on the campus, in public parks, in streets highly frequented by pedestrians, at every gate and parking lot entrance, in malls, and in shops alike. Besides patrolling the area, the security staff on the campus even offers services such as accompanying students to their cars or waiting with them for an Uber in the dark. Uber is a popular car ride service in South Africa. This escort service is provided almost all night, at least at venues such as some libraries which are open all day and night.

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Fireworks and Lights – and more Fireworks: Fallas in Valencia

The Fallas is a Valencian spring celebration held every year (if possible) in March. Coming to Valencia, I had of course already heard about the celebration and was hoping it would take place, as it had been cancelled the two years before due to the pandemic. 

I first received some first-hand information about the Fallas (or Falles in Valencian) from a local during an organized tour around the city centre from my Spanish school: Apparently the tradition started in the Middle Ages, with carpenters burning their spare wood in spring.

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