Sunday, April 29, 2012

100 Things I Learned in Switzerland: Sights and Sounds

2) The sights and sounds of Europe ~ living, touring, hiking and eating through a good slice of it.
3) Europe, like the USA, is a very big, diverse place.

After graduating college, during those years when we worked any job while trying to find our way in the world, a few girlfriends of mine decided to date their passports.  Every time things didn't work out with a man of interest, they took off for Edinburgh, Paris, Cinque Terre, and put another stamp in their little books. 

They talked of Euro rail passes and hostels, and came home with stories of sleeping on trains and the guys who hit on them during siesta in Rome.

Meanwhile, I was nannying during the week and touring the US interstates from church service to youth coffeehouse on the weekends.  It was exciting, but let's just say doing a show in Auburn, Indiana didn't have the same mystique as playing for tips on the streets of Prague.

I had the dream of European travel, but circumstances and the contents of my bank account never added up to a plane ticket.  At 26, when Doug proposed, it was my only regret…I never got to backpack through Europe.  A year after the wedding bells, pregnant with our little surprise blessing, I thought it was all over.  Life of adventure, done.  But...

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined,
this God has prepared for those who love him.
~ Paul's first letter to the Corinthians 2:9

Only a few months later, Doug accepted a position at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.  The little guy was four and a half months old when we moved across the ocean.

"You're taking a baby to live in a foreign country?" so many people probed, surprised that we would even consider this adventure, let alone do it.

For me, the answer was simple.  I wanted to see Europe.  This was my chance.  I wanted to kiss at the top of the Eiffel Tower and hike the Cinque Terre.  I wanted to sit in a street-side cafe, eat croissants and sip espresso.   I wanted to people-watch, and listen to them laugh in foreign languages.  I wanted to study the beautiful architecture of any random street  with no need to rush for a tour bus, no hurry for a travel schedule.

Before the landing gear hit the tarmac, Doug and I made an agreement: we would see one new place every month.  We didn't want to settle down and forget the beautiful places around us. 

Now four years later, we've surpassed our goal.  Sometimes we planned a major trip, other times we just took an afternoon to see a little town outside the city.  All counted, we've seen 68 cities and towns, and we've still got a month to go...a hiking trip near St. Moritz, Switzerland. 

We haven't so much "backpacked" through Europe, as much as we've "stroller-ed" through it.  Our Baby Jogger City Classic, loaded up with kid(s), diaper bag, and travel gear, has strolled from the trails of the Black Forests all the way to the halls of the Vatican Museum. 

Though only 4 years old, Abe has enough stamps in his passport to make any of my old girlfriends jealous.  Ella Grace is just 15 months, and she could swap some stories, too.

So, dream come true, right?  These places, the sights and sounds of these 68 cities and towns are the backdrop for 100 Things Learned.

*    *   *

Here's where I must enter a small caveat for #3.

Europe, like the USA, is a big place.  Most things/people/places look simple from far away.  You hear folks on both sides of the Atlantic say, "Oh, in America, it's like this....and in Europe, it's like that."  But all this become more complicated as one gets closer.  

As an example…and most people don't know this…Doug is an expert in his field concerning the immune defenses of amphibians.  He is interviewed and quoted, his research sited.  He recently published a chapter in a textbook on the subject.  Still, he'll be the first to tell you there is so much he doesn't know about how the little critters fight disease.  Days and weeks and years of study turn up some answers and a lot more mystery. 

It's the same with travel, the same with Europe.  London, Prague, Paris, Rome, Edinburgh, Zurich...these are all very different places, with their own languages, their own cultures...not to mention all towns and countrysides in between.     

Same goes for the USA.  I ask my American readers, would my Swiss friend have a complete understanding of America by visiting only 68 places?  She might have a good overview if she saw NYC, Miami, LA, and Dallas, but what about Boston, Nashville, Austin, and Seattle, and all the places in between?  Sure, she saw Detroit, but Holland, Michigan is way different from Detroit.  And what about Mackinac Island?  Sure, she saw Washington, DC and the Shenandoah National Park, but did she walk the rest of the Appalachian Trail, or see the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee? 

Get my point?  Anyone could spend years traveling these vast areas, even write 100 things she learned, and still not have a complete understanding.  There's always more to see, always more shades of a place and it's people to discover.    

In case you're wondering…the 68 cities and towns include:
The 26 Cantons of Switzerland
Paris & the Alsace region of France
London, England
Prague & Bohemia, Czech Republic
The Highlights of Italy as far south as Naples
Western Austria
Southern Germany
Abe & I also traveled to Oban & Edinburgh, Scotland.
Doug also did some research outside of Madrid, Spain.

Still looking forward to/hoping for:
Amsterdam and The Netherlands
The rest of France
Spain and Portugal
Vienna, Austria
More of Eastern Europe

Friday, April 20, 2012

100 Things I Learned in Switzerland

1) What to do when the pastor drops the F-bomb.

I was fresh off the plane from the USA, eager to get settled in this beautiful country,  when I was invited to sing in all the services at ICF, a Swiss church of 2,000 mostly young people and families in Zurich.  On the day, I was warmly welcomed by an excited staff, obviously full of passion to reach the city, and the rest of the world for Jesus. 

I don't quite remember how it happened…some things are still a blur…but I was talking with Pastor Leo between services when he began telling me a story from his time in Australia.

Toward the end of his weeks-long trip, Leo and another pastor were on the golf course when Leo said, "Man, I can't wait to get home and fuck my wife."  The other pastor was flabbergasted.  "You can't use that word!" he said.  "Why not?" Leo answered.  "No!  You can't use that word," he insisted.  "Are you sure?" Leo replied.  "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck…!  See?" 

The other pastor didn't know what to do, and neither did I.  I had never heard the F-bomb dropped 20 times in a row, much less by a pastor. 

My jaw was on the ground.  I wanted to throw up.

But there was something special about Pastor Leo that kept me from judging him.  There was an authenticity about him, and the power of God when he spoke, and 2,000 people crowding into a warehouse to be a part of this church that he was leading;   loads of fruit growing right here in the hard spiritual ground of Europe.  It's hard to point the finger at that. 

It was many moons later that I realized, Swiss people view our cuss words like we view theirs…as funny words.  Saying "scheisse" can be fun even for Evangelicals, and it's the same the other way around. 

Also, when speaking in a foreign language, one often doesn't fully understand the weight of certain words.  For example, I might say "I am angry" in German, which would come across too strong when I only mean I am a bit frustrated or perturbed.  

Furthermore, there is no church culture here.  Only Jesus culture.  Meaning, there is no Christian sub-culture with a list of do's and don'ts'…do act like this, don't say that.  There is only the directive to follow Jesus and be authentic.

Even now, I am moved by Pastor Leo's willingness to preach and live his life without any pretense.

This was one of my first experiences here of looking beyond a person's actions to see their heart, understanding cultural differences enough to realize…it's the heart and God's presence that counts most.

We ended up attending ICF for the rest of our time in Switzerland.  We were small group leaders, and helped for a while with the English/Spanish church which was just beginning, and I got my start leading my first Creative Community. 

When I worked in the church office, my stomach still sunk into my shoes whenever I heard someone shout a cuss word. 

Now I just giggle. 

I'm sitting with the worship team at lunch and one of them says "Shit!" and, hey…I'm still an American.  I was raised a goody-goody, so smoking and cuss words and a glass of wine may always for me have a certain air of excitement. 

So I giggle, and they giggle at me, and we understand one another.  And I'm grateful to these people for the first chips at breaking me out of my shell. 

A new project: 100 Things I Learned in Switzerland

In just a few days, the Woodhams family will celebrate 4 years of living in Switzerland.  It's our "Swiss-iversary". 

Our small flat is about to be filled with boxes and bags for our move back to the States; my laptop is already a hub for to-do lists and travel arrangements. 

Outside it is another glorious Swiss spring – the magnolias are in bloom and the fields are yellow and, when the sun breaks through the clouds, the whole country will be one beautiful sea of green. 

I keep thinking of all we've experienced here – all I've learned here. 

It's been an exciting, challenging, rewarding ride.  Sometimes the learning curve was so steep, I could've had a nosebleed, but we kept going.  I've decided to document my education in a little project…

100 Things I Learned in Switzerland.

This is my way of remembering and honoring the things I learned in this beautiful, efficient, "land-locked island" country. 

Some items will hopefully be funny, some a bit more serious, some learned once and for all, others still works in progress.  Some may require explanation, for those on one side of the Atlantic or the other.  Remember, it's just one gal's perspective, and I will do my best.