Teaching in the Swiss Alps – An Experience Like No Other

While most of us were boiling in the California heat waves last summer, some GGHS teachers were more productive — Mr. Henninger and Mrs. Voeller were two of them. Though they went on separate trips, both Mr. Henninger and Mrs. Voeller participated in the Summer in Switzerland summer school program offered by the year-round boarding school, Leysin American School in the Swiss Alps. Mr. Henninger taught Video Game Design, Mobile App Development, and a coding class, and Mrs. Voeller taught ESL (English as a Second Language). However, teaching up in the Alps to international students, surrounded by fellow teachers from all over the world, is nothing like teaching here at GGHS — and the difference isn’t just the nationalities.

To Ms. Voeller, the biggest difference between US schools and the Leysin American School was related to student supervision: “In America, we tend to hover over our students and children. On field trips in the US, there needs to be a ratio of teachers to students and students have to stay with teachers at all times. When we went on field trips in Switzerland, we let the students off the bus in the city with a sandwich, and told them to check back in 2 hours. They could run around Geneva, Switzerland for 2 hours unsupervised. It was a more relaxed environment.”

Aside from teaching students, traveling throughout Switzerland with their students was also a part of the Summer in Switzerland program. Mr. Henninger recounts, “Once per week after classes we would all go on a trip somewhere for a few hours, and both weekend days we would spend whole days in a city.  This summer I visited Bern (the capital), Lucerne, Lausanne (where the Olympic museum and the International Olympic Committee are located), Interlaken, Besancon France, Annecy France, and Chamonix France.” He took in the beauty of the country through his field trips, including a bike ride through the Swiss Alps.

In the weeks that they taught in Switzerland, Mr. Henninger and Ms. Voeller made life memories with their new students and fellow staff that came from across the globe. Ms. Voeller especially enjoyed chaperoning the dances at the international school, saying that they were nothing like US high school dances. “The girls formed circles and danced, and then the boys formed their own circles and danced. I didn’t have to tell anyone they were dancing inappropriately!” She’s also still in awe of the fact that she was teaching in a classroom on mountains more than 10,000 feet high. “One memorable time,” she recalls, “I was teaching with the doors and windows open (no screens) and the clouds moved into my room. It was very eerie teaching literally in the clouds. They rolled in for about 10 minutes, and covered the floor of the classroom. The students and I walked around and swirled the clouds in the room. And then they disappeared.”

Needless to say, spending the summer teaching in Switzerland was an unforgettable experience for both teachers. Mr. Henninger shares, “Perhaps one of my favorite things about the trip is gaining a world perspective.  In the US we are separate from everyone, and people from the rest of the world see things more globally than we do.  To them, traveling and visiting other countries is often the same kind of trip as us going to another state.  As a result I think you get people who understand and appreciate all kinds of cultures more than people do in the US sometimes.”

Ms. Voeller agrees, and she also believes that going abroad on a summer program like this one is an opportunity to discover yourself. “It’s an amazing experience. You learn so much about yourself and you grow and mature and become more knowledgeable and worldly. You learn about different cultures and how they live and eat and what is important to them. I highly recommend traveling and living abroad, even for a week or so. It opens your mind to things that you can’t get in books.”