Carla Müller (Photo courtesy Homer Foundation)

Carla Müller (Photo courtesy Homer Foundation)

Voices of the Peninsula: Making friends and connecting to people

Without my foreign exchange year I am convinced that I would not have become the person I am today.

Sitting on my balcony in Zürich, Switzerland, in this extraordinary April 2020 I think back to the time I lived in Homer exactly 10 years ago. My exchange year had an immense impact on my personality, my future and the way I look at the world today. In April 2010 I had been living in Homer for nine months and spent countless hours outdoors with my — by then very good and close— friends. We were always exploring, always on a mission.

However, I first had to learn how to make friends in a foreign country. Growing up in a small town in Switzerland I do not remember ever having had to make a conscious effort to make friends — they were simply always there. Finding yourself as a 16-year-old girl all alone in a foreign country, in a different culture, and with English skills that could do with much improvement, is a whole different story. The students of Homer High School, while being very welcoming and interested in the new foreign girl at first, quickly went back to their circle of friends. It took time and effort for me to open up and engage people in conversations. Sometimes I even had to invite myself to meet for lunch or hang out after school. Once I learned to understand their jokes and maybe more importantly, once they realized that I could be funny and interesting as well, friendships started to form. In time, this unknown community became my own, those unknown people became my friends. The challenge of getting to know and understand new people of different cultures has fascinated me ever since.

Once back in Switzerland I actively sought to keep and broaden the connection to an international community. My family opened their home to three exchange students, one from the USA and two from Chile, and I worked for many years as an AFS volunteer. Working for and connecting within the AFS community helped me resettle in Switzerland, as it was very difficult for me to integrate back in a community that had not changed in the slightest while I felt I had changed so much in this year abroad. While figuring out my new path, I was happy to find that during the years to come, so many friendly faces from Homer made their way to Switzerland and I got to show them the beauties of my home country.

This year abroad got me interested in the cultural understanding of the world, which is why I chose to study law, focusing on humanitarian and transnational law. After four years of law school in Switzerland and one year in London, I started working as a trainee lawyer in a law firm that specializes in migration law. I worked closely with people from all around the world, helping them to extend their work permit, bring foreign family members to Switzerland or support them in the process of becoming a Swiss citizen. This job can be quite challenging given our restrictive migration law, but at the same time it is very rewarding when you see families reunited or help them to not be separated. After studying for, and (hopefully) passing the bar exam I am aspiring to continue my passion for international affairs, working for the Swiss foreign ministry, in an NGO or go into diplomacy.

Without my foreign exchange year I am convinced that I would not have become the person I am today. In the past 10 years I learned to embrace and understand different cultures and got to meet so many interesting people along the way. I will forever be grateful that my lovely host family opened their home and their hearts to me.

Carla Müller is a soon to be human rights lawyer from Switzerland.

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