This article originally appeared in the spring 2015 Harker Quarterly.
Jennifer Walrod, Harker’s director of global education, can hardly believe a decade has gone by since the upper school launched its exchange program with students from the Collège de Gambach in Fribourg, Switzerland.
“The first one occurred in the school year 2004-05!” enthused Walrod.
Mid-February heralded the beginning of this year’s program, with the arrival of 11 Swiss exchange students and their two chaperones.
“New friendships formed quickly between the grades 10 and 11 Harker students and the Swiss buddies they hosted,” recalled Walrod.
The Collège de Gambach is a secondary school under the authority of Switzerland’s department of public education and cultural affairs. The school is located near an important economic and cultural border between German and French Switzerland.
While visiting here, the Swiss students lived in homestays with their Harker hosts and their families, allowing them to become fully immersed in American life. They enjoyed observing various classes, as well as exploring sights locally and beyond the Bay Area.
After going on a tour of the upper school with their Harker pals, the exchange students observed and participated in such classes as dance, debate, art, chemistry, drama, poetry and American history. They also made Native American dream catchers with Keith Hirota, middle school social studies teacher and K-8 department chair. Another highlight for the Swiss students was taking an American cuisine cooking class at Cucina Bambini, a local hands-on cooking school.
Grade 11 Harker student and program participant Daphne Yang shared that it was the little things that she remembers most fondly about time spent with her Swiss buddy. Things like hanging out at the mall and talking over coffee at Starbucks.
“The Swiss visit was really a learning experience. I got to interact with people from a different background and culture than I am used to, and I had fun picking up bits and pieces of their lifestyles as they were immersed in mine. It made me realize how much I enjoy learning not only other languages but the culture that comes with it, and with all the fun we’ve had, I can’t wait to visit Switzerland in the summer to learn more!” said Yang.
One thing that really interested Yang was that the Swiss buddies had never seen a school bus before. She found it “very cute” that they were awed by the yellowness of the vehicle and took pictures and selfies in front of it.
At the end of their special time together, Harker students and their new Swiss buddies said their goodbyes over a farewell party in the campus bistro. Come June, they will be reunited, this time in Switzerland, with the same buddies paired up once again. The upcoming adventure will afford the Harker contingent the opportunity to immerse themselves in Swiss culture, brush up on their language skills and explore the country’s vast natural beauty.
Ken Barber, an upper school substitute teacher who assisted Walrod during the Swiss visit, said the best thing about watching the interactions between the Harker and Swiss students was the development of close relationships. “Their interactions seemed to be warm and genuine,” he recalled.
Diana Moss, upper school Spanish teacher and Class of 2015 dean, “loved hosting the Swiss chaperones, Cyril and Ole. They were enthusiastic about experiencing every aspect of American culture, including vinyl records, old cars, motorcycles and country music. They were particularly excited to see my husband’s ‘man space’ garage packed full of tools and choice gadgets, saying it was exactly the image they had of a typical American home. We engaged in long and lively discussions about culture, language and schools, and our home felt very quiet after they’d left. I know we’ve established a friendship that will endure – exactly the goal of a cultural exchange!” said Moss.