"It’s great to see each other again"

"Getting to know you" in Switzerland ASO

Many young expatriate Swiss take part in summer youth camps run by the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA). swissinfo.ch visited one such camp in the Engadine.

This content was published on August 9, 2010 - 13:49

The group of 14 to 19 year olds attending the camp in La Punt come from all over the world: South Africa, Ghana, Mexico, Hong Kong, Britain, France, the United States and New Zealand. Some already know each other from previous camps.

Lidia and Sabrina went to school together in South Africa. “But Sabrina now lives in Hong Kong. It is great to see each other again!” says Lidia.

The young people enjoy taking part in the sporting and social activities laid on for them. But whether they would like to live in Switzerland is a different matter.

“Yes, maybe one day but not yet. I want to see the world first,” was one reply.

For Sabrina Switzerland is too small, too quiet and, in comparison to Hong Kong where she lives, not interesting enough. “But I like to come here every year,” she says.

For Andreas, Switzerland is very regimented. “Mexico is crazier,” he says. He cannot imagine living in Switzerland.

Christian, on the other hand, is moving to Switzerland. “I’m very glad to come back but could also have stayed on in New Zealand,” he says.

Meanwhile most of them can imagine studying in Switzerland and living here as an adult. “When you are young you need more interesting things. But when you are older it is great to live in peaceful Switzerland,” says one.

Privileged

They all agree that Switzerland is in a very good situation: there is plenty of money, everything is well organised and punctual, and the people are friendly.

“There’s also hardly any crime. Or at least it’s not as blatant as in Mexico,” says Sven.

The young Swiss are aware that they are privileged. “We come to these summer camps from all over the world. We can afford to buy a plane ticket to come here,” is the general view.

“Yes, we’re lucky. In Ghana there are so many people who don’t have a home or any money. I’m thankful that I’m in a better position,” says 19-year-old Bella, who will soon leave Ghana for Britain.

“I’m happy that I can see the world as a young person and get to know other people and cultures,” says Oliver, who until recently lived in the US and is now moving back to Switzerland.

Privilege is relative, according to Sabrina. “In Hong Kong I go to an international school. Before I went there I thought I was privileged. But the others have iPhones, expensive computers and are driven to school by chauffeurs. I don’t belong to that group.”

Citizens of the world

For all members of the group, it is important to get to know different cultures. “Many people have no idea about life in other countries. Americans have asked me if I speak African,” recalls Lidia from South Africa.

“Before I moved to the US, I spent four and a half years in Canada,” recalls Christian. “Most of my new friends thought I lived in an igloo and rode to school on a polar bear!”

But many people in Switzerland also only know what they see on television, believes Sven. “You don’t see normal life on television. You just see the out of the ordinary, like fighting, wars and disasters.”

After the camp, the participants will go back to their four corners of the world. But some of the friendships formed in La Punt will survive despite the distance – thanks to Facebook.

“It is cool. Everyone has an account. So we won’t lose contact,” says Andreas. “Hardly anyone checks their emails anymore. We only have an email address to be able to open a Facebook account,” says Christian.

The young people know that this type of communication is not without its dangers as Facebook cannot guarantee the protection of personal information.

“I only accept people as friends that I know, and I don’t give away details, let alone my phone number,” says Lidia, explaining her policy.

And Sabrina is also careful. “But it’s good to have contact with people in China and my friends in Africa.”

For now and until they leave Switzerland the young people are just enjoying being together – without Facebook.

Etienne Strebel in La Punt, swissinfo.ch (Translated from German by Morven McLean)

OSA Summer camps

Through training and holiday camps the youth service of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) enables young Swiss living abroad to get to know their homeland.

The aim is to promote and strengthen contacts among Swiss abroad and links to Switzerland. Participants learn about the culture, geography, history, politics and social history of Switzerland.

Sport camps offer hiking/climbing, glacier hikes, water sports and ball games including football, basketball and volleyball, bike and mountain bike tours and tennis.

Charitable projects are also on offer, for example working for a week in a mountain community.

Stays with guest families and language courses are also offered, as well as the chance to participate in the youth session of the federal parliament.

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