Story and Photo by Taylor Niederland, Co-op
It’s early March, life is as usual, and I am enjoying studying at Northeastern and working part-time as a server in Boston. I have just received my co-op acceptance letter and am thrilled with the prospect of moving to Geneva, Switzerland and interning for Interpeace: an international organization for peacebuilding. The peacebuilding field is a major interest area of mine and Geneva has always been a dream destination for an International Affairs major like myself. The epitome of an international city, Geneva offers an array of cultures coupled with a unique sense of acceptance and appreciation from the local population. Little did I know the unrelenting challenges that awaited me after confirming my acceptance.
Nearly a week after receiving my offer letter and confirming my acceptance, the gravity of COVID-19 came knocking at my door, and emotions of shock trembled the masses. I was laid-off from my restaurant job, abruptly transitioned to online learning and left with no other option but to move back to my hometown in California.
For a planner like myself, uncertainty is the worst state of being and the coming months were anything but certain. After staying at my family home in California for nearly five months and continually communicating between the Swiss embassy in San Francisco and the HR department at my co-op, I received the green-light to travel to Geneva and start my internship in July.
My apprehensive state eased when I finally boarded the plane for Geneva, however upcoming challenges lied ahead in forms I had not yet imagined. The first of which was the 14-day quarantine subject to all individuals entering Switzerland. 14 days – it doesn’t seem long or daunting; still, never have I felt more aloof and alone. The previous quarantine I had endured was at the very least partly enjoyable with the comfort of my family. However, being in isolation, without friends, family or roommates, is a feeling I had never experienced before. I lost all sense of time, failed to keep an eating or sleeping schedule, and was left feeling incredibly vulnerable. Luckily after this initial quarantine, the sun finally emerged and I was thrusted into the Swiss summer.
Throughout May and October, the cases of COVID-19 in Switzerland had lowered and the government allowed people to gather and enjoy the summer (with obvious precautions in mind). On my first day out of quarantine, I met with my friend from NUin England, whose family now resides in Geneva. We laid on the lake enjoying the sunshine and freshwater while eating and drinking – one of the happiest memories I have from my time in Switzerland. Conversing with others after weeks of isolation makes you appreciate human connection. Accordingly, the contrast of being isolated in my one-bedroom apartment for the first time, experiencing Switzerland’s beauty is a comparison like no other. If one were to see the smile on my face, head tilted towards the sun, arm sprawled back, they would think I had just won the lottery or had gotten cured of some disease. In these summer months, lake swims, sunsets, picnics, volleyball and French class became a part of my everyday after-work activities.
The joy on people’s faces when reconnecting with loved ones after strict social distancing to combat the pandemic’s first wave was priceless. During one of my many trips to the lake, I witnessed an elderly man’s reconnection with his grandson, who hadn’t seen each other since before the pandemic. Their embrace was so contagious one couldn’t help but smile and be reminded of their own grandfather. It’s during times like these when one realizes there’s more love circulating the world than hate.
As I am writing this article, it is mid-December and Switzerland is in the midst of its second wave. Fortunately, there is a large amount of trust in the government in Switzerland, and people tend to follow government regulations and suggestions seriously. After nearly two months of business closure and social distancing measures, the COVID-19 cases are decreasing, and there are talks of the Canton of Geneva reopening. I am excited to see loved ones reunite once again and spread their contagious happiness. Both living in Switzerland and the ongoing pandemic have taught me the value of human kindness, respect and joy. While this adventure abroad was filled with unexpected challenges and unavoidable periods of adjustment, I wouldn’t trade this experience for any other. Unforeseen hardships are what life is all about, but acts of love and kindness encourage us to continue living for hopes of a better tomorrow.