If I thought pre-departure was a rollercoaster, then I’m not sure what to call these first few weeks. I can’t think of how better to relate to all of you my struggles and triumphs this past week than to include segments of my journal here.
Feel free to scroll down to the bottom for links to more pictures—the pictures are the best part anyway, right?
I know this is going to get better, I do, but right now it is so hard! I tried very much to not have expectations, but of course that proved impossible. I had idealisations of what this would be like. I thought at least this will be easy to write about. But no—this is just normal, prosaic, and grimy, but without the dramatic charm of Charles Dickens. It’s certainly not a Brönte sister or Jane Austen yet.
But notice I say “yet.” I know this is going to get better. I know at some point I’ll pop out “bonjour!” without analysing the person’s response, trying to figure out what inflection I should use (do I always need to sound surprised or questioning when I say it?) At some point, I’ll know instinctively when the slowest time at the grocery store is and where to find baking powder and how to compare prices per 100g. At some point I’ll exit the train and head straight for the correct metro without following someone and hoping they’re going the same way I am. At some point, I, like many people here, will be able to pick out where a person is from and which language is their native one. I’ll be able to dine without frantically analysing everyone’s body language to decide what’s polite, and I’ll be able to converse without constantly reminding myself who I can tutoyer and who I should vouvoyer. This will all become natural. In the meantime, I feel a bit like the self-conscious, socially hypersensitive adolescent I just stopped being in English.
There are a lot of things no one told me about life here. Like for starters, the kids are not better behaved here. (On the plus side, most dogs are so well-behaved that they can go anywhere.) Like that no matter how “green” Switzerland is, people still drink bottled water. And said bottled water is gross because it’s got so much calcium and magnesium in it (for the first time in my life, I prefer tap water). That TV is shockingly unrestrained and there are neighbourhoods to avoid at night because that’s where prostitution and/or drugging are legal (to be fair, I knew that beforehand. I just didn’t expect to shudder when told, “It’s not dangerous, just don’t go there.”) That chocolate and cheese aren’t better here, just different. That there are a thousand unspoken rules for polite behaviour that all manage to escape me.
There are things I really dislike about this experience, like the panic I feel when I want to express something but can’t find the words. And the prices—mainly, the fact that books are expensive.
But I like plenty of things too. For one, la bise. You kiss the other person’s cheeks three times, slowly and respectfully. I like it. I also feel like a complete clown every time I try to do it (How much should my cheek touch theirs? How close do I get?). And I miss hugging people that I know well. Actually, I miss knowing people well. I know that eventually I will, but right now I feel I will never pass the barrier from casual acquaintance to true friend simply because I can’t understand at least a third of most conversations between native speakers.
I keep telling myself that this is going to get better. At some point surely, I’ll at least find it easy to write about this whole experience. If I don’t learn any French, at least I can be a penniless writer who can say, “I’ve done this.” But then I recognise what I’ve always called my French cynicism creeping in and I try instead to be thankful that there are so many accents here that no one blinks while I muck about trying to say something. And this morning a young lady asked, “Anglais ou allemand ?” (Yes! She didn’t assume I was American! She didn’t assume I spoke English!) For me, that’s a great victory.
On a walk alone through the woods, I realised part of why this is so difficult for me. (I love walking alone. My anxieties all melt away, and I’m able to listen and think freely.) Parts of me that I thought were gone are resurfacing. I’d created a picture of how this experience would be: nothing but forward progress. I’d created an image of myself: a confident, joyful woman with a heart of limitless love. Instead, I’m finding the eleven-year-old Anna boiling up to the surface, dragging with her all the insecurities and anxieties and fears I thought I’d conquered. But I think I am brave enough to let this keep boiling, because I know eventually the old junk will vaporise and what’s left will be purer than what I started with.
In short, I still have many of the same struggles, but I find it’s not shameful to admit that I’m still doing battle with stuff I thought had died because I know what I am fighting for—perfect love and perfect peace. What I’m in the process of right now, I think, is learning what faith and hope mean.
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same Image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
What I long for—what I fight for—is the Kingdom of Christ. And He’s coming. Now is the time of harvest and preparation, which means I’m to fulfil my marching orders: Love God, and love my neighbour. “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself'” (Galatians 5:14). From this comes rejoicing, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and hope.
I successfully navigated the grocery store today. It took forever to find laundry detergent because I forgot to look up the word before I left the apartment. There were at least three types of perfumed softener for each type of laundry detergent!
The good news today is that I’m pretty much finished with all the paperwork, and that what I thought was just my ticket for the train into Lausanne actually takes care of the metro and bus in Lausanne too. I couldn’t be happier right now.
It’s here, sitting on the beach of Lac Léman, that I understand why people live here. This probably sounds dreadfully petty of me, but despite the complete natural beauty always around me here, I’ve yet to fall in love with this place. But here, I understand why people live here. The noise of the traffic is gone; I only hear joggers, their morsels of conversation floating behind them like a breadcrumb trail back home. The swans linger hopefully near those seated quietly on the shore. I hear also the tennis balls as they connect with rackets and with court. The air is so fresh; I feel, as in Narnia, that I could live forever simply by being here. The mountains go on forever. I never want to leave this place. Here is a moment of peace.
Every time someone passes, I hear a different language or a different accent. The rhythm of each person is different, just as the rhythms of the lake and the tennis balls are different, yet everything seems to be in harmony. It feels like a long time since I’ve breathed like this.
I’m drinking a chocolat chaud at La Barbare and listening to four kids play mandolin and sing. I’m learning better how to navigate the city; today I bought two children’s books and found several fun shops. I’m always exhausted though, perpetually unable to understand everything around me. In fact, this whole experience is exhausting. I’m not a very exploratory person by nature, but by no means does that mean I’m not curious—I record and observe like you wouldn’t believe. (I eavesdrop and people-watch shamelessly, too; perhaps the only thing about the big city that suits me is how acceptable such activities are). But here, I struggle to do much beyond identifying what language people are talking in. I’m often too overwhelmed to get anywhere near understanding what’s going on around me.
I do think I like the people here though. I hope I can make friends easily—not that that’s been a problem in the past, but I’m just feeling extra weak in my language skills today. I am looking forward to classes starting for that reason more than any other. I’ve only been here for a full week, but it feels like a month already.
I’m curious to see how I’ll feel about this place when it’s time to leave. Will I want to come back? I hope I’ll eventually feel like I belong here, or at least come to love this place. At the same time, I know that what I’m looking for will ultimately not happen here. “And when I reach the other side/I want to look You in the eye/And know that I’ve arrived/In a world where I belong” (“Where I Belong,” Switchfoot). That’s one song that never fails to make me cry. How I want to be in the Lord’s presence today!
Voilà, the third new student orientation of my life. I’m guessing with the current track record that it won’t be the last (don’t take anything for granted, Nebraska Wesleyan . . .).
Here I am again down by the lake, at Ouchy this time, and again I am struck that despite the beauty here, I don’t love this place yet. I wish I had my camera with me today; it’s amazing. The clouds are all over the mountains, the air is beautiful, and everything is blue, but somehow a warm blue, a welcoming blue.
I met two Christian girls at the university today. I can’t describe how much of a blessing this is; at Wesleyan, I was so alone the first semester. Here, I have an amazing church, a wonderful Christian roommate, and two sisters at school. God is gracious. God is alive.
After a conversation tonight with one of the ladies at Bible study, I’m convinced she’s as invested in me learning French as I am! It’s really cool to be surrounded by so many encouraging people who genuinely want me to learn their language. Also, before Bible study tonight Yaciana (my roommate/host sister) and I went out to coffee with another woman from the church. I found my ability to follow their conversation has improved since Sunday’s lunch.
I really miss home.
I don’t know if this is typical of not, but I don’t usually realise how much I love someone until I don’t see them for awhile. All of a sudden, my brain will recall the way they smile, the sound of their laugh, how they walk . . . I get this dreadful pain in my gut. I love so many people who aren’t here right now. It really hurts.
I miss hugging people. I miss not having to analyse every situation (do I say bonjour or bonsoir?). I miss not wondering how many times to say merci before adding c’est gentil. It’s probably the pioneer girl I am at heart, but I want to heap thanks on people who treat me to lunch. Instead, I find it seems more polite to simply say, “Merci. C’est gentil.” That actually hurts a little bit, believe it or not.
But God has been so good! Lord, You have really been with me every step of the way. I have never felt so clearly that You are with me. You are amazing! In every way, You have provided for this year. I honestly still have no idea why I’m here, or for that matter, why I’m majoring in French or studying at Nebraska Wesleyan. I still don’t know why I started at Union College. To be honest, I’m not sure I know why I’m not pursuing animal behaviour, like I always thought I would. All of this has just happened in the most divinely inspired way. I never seem to know why, but I always know the what and the where. Never once have I doubted that this is where I’m supposed to be or what I’m supposed to be doing. For that, I am very grateful. I’ll admit I’m not the best at trusting, but when it comes to everything God is doing in my life, I find it easy to trust that He’s accomplishing something in me. “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6); again, “And we know that for those who love God all things will work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
I was homesick this morning. So much so that I prayed desperately for God’s help. All through the service this morning, I longed to hear familiar songs of praise. I’m reading through Hebrews again—it’s been awhile—and I’m surprised at how many things are popping out to me that I hadn’t noticed before. Like this in Hebrews 6 this morning:
For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises . . .
. . . So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain.
Immediately it called to mind the words Jon Foreman penned:
My heart is beating like a blown speaker
The spirit is willing but the flesh is weaker
A distortion pedal and a pair of wings
And an anthem played on broken stringsMy heartbeat, my oxygen
My banner, my home
My future, my song
Your hope is the anthem of my soul
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Finally, photos! As before, the password is “suisse”.