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Going back to your roots

Learning how to be Swiss at summer camp

By Jo Fahy with input from Christian Raaflaub

The youth campers found out about different sides to Swiss life, and visited the charity 'Terre des Hommes' (swisscommunity.ch)

The youth campers found out about different sides to Swiss life, and visited the charity 'Terre des Hommes'


For young Swiss who live abroad, it can be hard to know what their citizenship really involves, or means. The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) runs summer camps to help them understand their roots.

It’s 100 years since OSA was first set up. On Friday in Bern, the organisation is meeting to celebrate its anniversary and bring together Swiss from all corners of the world.

For two weeks leading up to this, 129 young people with Swiss passports have been getting to know Switzerland. Some have never lived in the country, and neither has their Swiss parent, or parents. Joining a Swiss abroad summer camp is a way in to the psyche of Switzerland.

The youngsters are taken around the different language regions of the country, visit areas of cultural and historical significance and find out about everyday life here.

We caught up with part of the group on a trip to the Dürrenmatt centre in Neuchâtel. The museum is focused on the famous Swiss writer, and was one of the stop-off points on their agenda. Aside from filling in the blanks in their knowledge of Switzerland, the camps are also about forging stronger connections with other members of the Swiss community abroad, as they get to know each other.

If you're a Swiss who lives abroad, tell us about your connection to Switzerland: post a photo of yourself on Instagram, and use the hashtag #WeAreSwissAbroad.

Maddison is one of the members of the group. She’s only recently gained her Swiss nationality.

Moritz, another young Swiss taking part in the camp, has a Swiss father but wants to come to understand the country himself.

Which language do they speak?

Bringing together more than a hundred Swiss who live in other countries, language was always going to be a potential issue.

Alessandro, an 18-year-old from Italy who has taken part in similar camps eight times overall, told swissinfo.ch, “even when everyone speaks a different language, we all understand each other”.

French, German, Swiss German, Italian and of course English, fill the air when the group is together, the participants chopping and changing when a conversation hits a road block in one language.

For Angela Husi, the project leader of the jubilee camps run by OSA this year, the four language regions of the country are a “special characteristic” of Switzerland, and the programme has ensured that the young people will leave with a sense of this rich language environment.

Visits to different parts of the country and getting to know people from different backgrounds, who speak various languages, is all part of the plan.

Showing the country’s linguistic and cultural diversity is one of the main aims, alongside “bringing them closer to their second home, where their roots are”.

Are you a Swiss who lives abroad? What's your connection to Switzerland? Tell us in the comments below, or you can contact the author on Facebook or on Twitter



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