Going overseas was the best thing I could’ve ever done. Back in 2013 I applied and got accepted to an internship at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. The summer I spent there left me speechless. I didn’t know what to expect when I got to Switzerland. The whole plane ride over I kept asking myself questions like: “What’s CERN gonna be like?”, “Am I even qualified for this job?”, “How will I handle my first time out of America?”, “Will English be sufficient in a French speaking environment?”. Then, after what was the longest flight I have ever been on, I felt the wheels of the plane touch down on the tarmac. Almost instantly, I broke out in the biggest smile ever and thought to myself “Wow, I’m in Europe...”
I remember leaving the airport and thinking it was weird that we were driving on the right side of the road because for some reason I thought that most European countries drove on the left side of the road. Then, I remember pulling up to CERN and seeing the globe and just being in awe. I was amazed that I was actually where I was, that I was actually at CERN, that I was actually in Switzerland. I was so excited when I got my visitors card, even though it didn’t say my name on it. Then I got my official CERN badge and I was in a state of euphoria.
The work was good, but the environment was unbelievable. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen. You had people from literally every corner of the world all coming together to work towards a common goal. And everyone was so friendly. One of the most fun things to do was to go to the kitchen at night and have dinner with some random people that you’ve never met before and just talk about life. I loved hearing people talk in their native language, so I would always ask them to teach me a few things. By the end of the summer, I was able to say things in Italian, German, Russian, Mandarin, Icelandic, and Greek, along with a very good understanding of French and Spanish. I also really loved being in a place that wasn’t necessarily English speaking. It was so interesting to go into Geneva at night and just walk the streets with some friends and hear Genevans speaking French. I eventually became pretty well versed in French; I’d have to attribute that to the fact that I was so immersed in Swiss and French culture. I made a lot of friends that spoke French as their first language and everyday you would see me trying my best to converse with them.
Everyone was so friendly, and not just at CERN, but even the native Genevans. The first weekend that I had in Switzerland I went, with quite a few friends, to a lake beach party. I had no problem going up to some of the people there and sparking up a conversation. Most of the people there spoke English. I even met this one person that spoke Italian, French, Spanish, English, and Russian. After that first weekend, I knew it was going to be a great summer.
While I was in Switzerland, I also traveled to Spain and France a bit. My friends and I made many trips to France since Geneva sits on the French/Swiss border. Most of these trips were for grocery shopping to be honest, everything was cheaper in France! I also had the opportunity to go to Paris with a group of friends for Bastille Day. That was an amazing experience; millions of people outside on the streets of Paris celebrating their nation. The best trip I took, however, was when I went to Barcelona. I actually ended up going there by myself, not because no one wanted to go with me but because I chose to go by myself. At first I was really nervous. New place, new people, zero familiarity. I went to a Barcelona FC game the first night which was awesome. The next day I slowly started meeting more people and more locals. That’s when the magic started. Next thing I know I was getting invited to go here and there, parties at night and even parties during the day. I met so many people there and it was really one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had in my life.
In addition to visiting France and Spain, I ended up spending lots and lots of time in downtown Geneva. This was arguably more influential on me than just traveling to a new place for a few days. Living in a place and not just traveling was important because I got to actively take part in that culture. I got to do the things that locals do. I got to really sample the local cuisine. I came to understand the city and what parts of it were my favorite. I really become a part of that place and by the end of the summer, I felt like I belonged in Switzerland.
I wouldn’t trade the experiences I had abroad for anything. Traveling just really opened my eyes; it’s put the world in a different perspective. I think about things with a more global mindset and I do things differently than I used to. And at the end of the day I know that none of this would have happened if I hesitated- if I was too afraid to step out of my comfort zone. That’s the most important thing you gotta remember, learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Don’t get stuck in one place too long, you gotta switch it up every now and then it’ll broaden your horizons. So if you’re thinking about studying abroad, working abroad, or just traveling in general, do it. Travel. Meet new people. Experience new things. Get lost in a city you know nothing about. Step outside of your comfort zone. It’ll be fun, I promise.