Larissa Miller was interviewed at the Speedwell Scholars Picnic on August 3, 2014. She was asked about how her year abroad in Switzerland helped with her college applications, her experience with the language and her advice to other students starting out on their year abroad.
Let's start with who you are, where you are from, which high school and which country/city did you visit?
I am Larissa Miller and I went to Switzerland in they year 2012 and I just recently graduated from Warwick High School. This coming year I will be going to Messiah College and I am really excited for that.
And what are you going to be studying?
International Business. That's kinda the reason I chose the major was that I studied abroad and just got the travel bug.
Do you see going back to [Switzerland] or is it all around Europe?
I'm focusing more on the German speaking areas, so that would be Switzerland, Germany, maybe Austria.
And did that help with your college application, having gone abroad with AFS?
Definitely. I've talked to a lot of college representatives and they've always said that when they see that student studies abroad they set aside that application because that is someone special. They show maturity in being able to go abroad for a year and clearly they are probably more ready for college than any other student in what college brings too.
How about your language, did you speak German when you went?
I did. I have about three years of German in school so I knew the basics of the language. But when I went there, it was completely different. You pick up on the language pretty fast, but then again in Switzerland they speak the Swiss dialect, which isn't exactly German. It's actually similar to Pennsylvania Dutch because the Amish people came from Switzerland. Which is another reason why I chose Switzerland, but that was a sidetrack.
Honestly, the language wasn't that difficult to pick up. I figure that about halfway through the year I was very comfortable with having a normal conversation.
Do you keep in touch with people from your host country?
Tell me a little a little about your host family?
My host family was absolutely amazing. I consider them my second family. I try andy Skype with them occasionally and email them. They send me pictures of when they go on vacation. Eventually, I really hope that they are going to visit me here. They haven't yet, but I plan to go back and see them sometime soon.
Did you run into other exchange students when you were out in Switzerland?
Yes. Actually AFS Switzerland would make get togethers when all the exchange students from all over the world just came together. So I met people from China, South America, other places in Europe, Australia, they come from all over the place. So, I have a lot of friends now.
So do you keep in touch with those folks?
Some of them. I just recently had my birthday and on Facebook I had “Happy Birthdays” from Japan and England and Switzerland and Germany and it was really crazy. Not that many people experience that.
What advice would you give to someone starting... well, you've met some of them. What are you telling them about their upcoming trip to Switzerland, or going abroad?
I would definitely say keep a journal. That is the one thing I am most thankful about that I did because so much is going on and you change so much. It's interesting, I can read back to the beginning, my very first week, and be like “Wow, I was just so different then.” And then there's things that happen that I would forget a week later and like “Well, I met this cool person and I wrote about it, so now I remember.”
I would also say take pictures, obviously. Actually, I wish that I took more pictures because I got a camera for my birthday right before I left and so I did take some pictures, but I could have taken a lot more, with friends and stuff. And definitely don't be afraid to speak, that is the other thing. If you don't know the language yet, it may be intimidating to try and speak in front of people, but that is where you just have to laugh it off. You are going to make mistakes with the language, but you just have to remember that they are not judging you. They want to help you and everyone is very friendly with that; just want to help you learn.