I have always loved my island home. Growing up in Australia, the concept of borders is not something you confront every day. You can travel for many thousands of kilometres, and stay within our wide brown land. You can experience diverse landscapes: endless stretches of coastline, rolling waves, rugged mountain ranges and ghost gums, all the while you will be greeted with a friendly “g’day”.
Before I embarked on my exchange, I was full of wonder for what life would be like on another continent. I had travelled before, but living in one place outside Australia for 6 months was something new. I would be living in Geneva, a Swiss city that is never more than 8km from the French border.
But there was more than the proximity of borders in Europe that had me wondering about life on another continent. When I arrived in Geneva I decided to see whether Lisa and Bart Simpson were right after all these years…does water actually swirl the other way down the drain in the Northern Hemisphere? And is the moon really upside down in Australia, and the right way up in Switzerland? I can’t say that I have ground-breaking evidence for either of these mysteries…but I can say that I now know what life is really like on another continent.
When my semester at the University of Geneva started in February, it was very cold. I quickly realised that people in Switzerland, and the whole of Europe, change dramatically with the weather. While my first few months in Geneva were not the liveliest, I took the opportunity to explore its surrounds.
Train rides became my gateway to uncover spectacular glimpses of the scenery that Switzerland boasts. Imagine train tracks that wrap around lake Geneva, snow-capped mountains sparkling on one side, and vineyards weaving up the hill on the other. Crazy things happen on Swiss trains. Whenever I boarded in Geneva, the ticket inspectors spoke to me in French. Good, I can handle this. Only an hour later, the invisible linguistic border had been crossed. The same inspectors began speaking to me in German. Not so good. If I stayed on the train long enough, the same inspectors would later address me in Italian. Also not good. Seeing four national languages work so seamlessly in one country was very impressive, yet never intimidating as there was always a mutual language to bridge the divide.
As I settled into uni life in Geneva, the novelty of border crossings wore off. I would hop over to France to do my grocery shopping (along with the rest of Geneva for French cheese, and cheaper produce), to hike Mt Saleve (4km from my bedroom window), or to go for a daytrip skiing at Chamonix.
Once my semester came to an end, I ventured far and wide, exploiting Geneva’s central location in Europe. Six weeks backpacking in Europe, I crossed all types of borders: political, linguistic, natural and cultural ones. I learnt that despite the differences in the places I travelled, there was always a sense of unity. Much like in Australia. We come from far and wide, and although we may all live within the same national border, we each have something special to contribute to life on the world’s smallest continent.