My life in a boarding school in Switzerland, discovering a world of respect and accepting of differences
By Christophe-Xavier Clivaz
I had the good fortune of spending several years in a boarding school in Switzerland where I was surrounded by people of over 120 nationalities. I would like to share with you these extraordinary moments of happiness, which shaped me and allowed me to become who I am today. I am happy to be able to share some of my childhood memories and see them included among these stories.
The decision to send your children to boarding school can induce a feeling of guilt and raises questions about your family life: As a father, am I not in a position to assume my role? Why can’t I combine my professional activities and my private life?
These questions, although legitimate, should not hinder the fact that allowing your child to experience life and study in a Swiss boarding school will certainly be the best gift you can ever give them. This was the case with me, and this is what my parents did for me in the late 1980s.
Through this gift you will give your child the best tools to face a globalized, constantly evolving and uncertain society.
One Sunday afternoon in September 1989, my mother drove me from my remote village in the Swiss Alps to my boarding school. Several hours separated my house from my future school. During the whole trip we did not exchange a single word, the car radio was switched off. Only the sound of the car’s engine and the wheels on the asphalt filled the car. After a safe arrival, we were greeted by the Director of the Boarding School, an elegant Italian speaking English with a wonderful accent which reminded me of my last vacation in Portofino. He led us to my room. Walking through the hallways leading to my bedroom, I could smell the scent of bleach that had been used to clean the floor. I felt that the moment of separation from my mother was approaching. After unpacking my things and a few tears, I found myself alone in an unknown world, but I was excited about the start of this new adventure. I was going to share my room with two other students, Nishi and Hichem. I, who came from a small village in the Swiss Alps, found myself in a room with a Japanese and a Tunisian.
The first surprise was when Nishi opened a package his mom had sent him and pulled out a bowl of “Momofuku Ando” noodles. He added boiling water, grabbed some chopsticks … this was followed for a few minutes by the peculiar sound of the noodles moving between the bowl and Nishi’s lips. I thought spaghetti Bolognese sprinkled with Parmesan were the only noodles that existed, the surprise was huge! My second astonishment came when Hichem took his carpet, looked at his compass and said his prayer before going to bed … I who thought that only churches existed as places of worship, again the surprise was great. As for me, I insisted that we slept with the window open in order to have a little “breeze” because it reminded me of my home …
After a few days, we realized that we were going to have to accept our differences and respect our cultures and traditions. The only way to do that was to share them between us. We found the following “modus vivendi”: Nishi could eat his noodles as long as he shared them with us. Each Wednesday, the day the package arrived this became our ritual. Hichem could say his prayer and I could sleep with the window open as long as we took turns inviting each other to our respective countries. This is how my adventure in a Swiss boarding school began and it was during my first week of school that I learned the importance of accepting each other’s differences to live in harmony. It was also then that I understood that a strong community can only be built on the foundations of different cultures with respect as the one common goal. This alchemy, unique to Swiss schools, allows to build bonds that will remain unwavering for life. Proof of this is my network of friends, not the ones from social media, but those from my boarding years – and my network indeed covers the entire world.
Take care of yourself.