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Becher ’13: The Rigors of Bi(Tri)lingualism

Keathon Becher '13

 

Keaton Becher ’13 – (Fribourg, Switzerland) – I’m really not even sure where I should begin. I have been here in Europe for my off-campus study since December 30th. After spending New Year’s Eve with previous Wabash Language Assistant, Tanja Schoenrock, I took the long haul from northern Germany to the small city of Schwäbisch-Hall in the south, a hot spot for Wabash Men before they embark on university classes. I spent the whole month of January at a Goethe-Institute, working to polish up my German a little bit more and I can confidently say, that the instruction I received their helped me immensely into my transition into the mountains of Switzerlan

Yes, Keaton on the Alphorn

Before my classes in Switzerland started then, I participated in a 2-week French language practicum at my university. The shining quality that makes studying in Fribourg so unique is that the city lies right on the border where the German-speaking and French-speaking sides of Switzerland comes together—offering an unbelievable opportunity to be in a bilingual environment; however, in reality, I would even suggest that I live in a trilingual environment. Not only am I surrounded by German and French, but I also am living with a host family, where although they speak German, a dialect of Swiss German, known as Senslerdeutsch is the norm at home. Switzerland is really a fascinatingly complicated country in multiple facets, but specifically, in the realm of communication. Recognizing 4 national languages, there is also within these 4 languages well over 100 different dialects. I can simply go one more train stop over from where I live, and suddenly everyone is speaking Berndeutsch. Mind you, this is only about 5 minutes from where I live!

What is even more mind blowing though is that Switzerland and all of her Cantons continue to run like clockwork (cliché intended). As you can imagine, all the different languages and dialects really keeps me on my toes and the first few weeks were pretty stressful, especially after not speaking any French for well over a month. But Wabash has prepared me well for German & French the past two and half years, and my hometown community has given me a good ear for Swiss German (Adams County is home to- more or less- the only Swiss Old Order Amish Community in the world, many being neighbors and close friends of mine).

Switzerland's natural beauty.

What has truly been a test though are my actual university classes. Coming here, I felt that German-wise, I would have problems more with content than the language itself and the opposite problem with my French. Yet, once again, Wabash and its professors have gone above and beyond at arming me with the tools for success. That’s not to say that I understand every single word that is discussed in class; however, the total immersion atmosphere provides me with an exceptional opportunity to be improving my grasp and comprehension of the language, while at the same time, providing me with outside knowledge in the realms of German poetry, Swiss perspectives of WWII, and the differences between written and spoken French.

Indeed, many practical and cultural aspects are also gained purely through interaction with regular matriculated Swiss students. Normally it is so that they have an interest in me and my life just as much as I do of theirs! In the same regard, much is gleaned from my host parents as well—whether it be discussing politics and religion at dinner or making “butter zopf” and “rösti” with my host Mom, I am absorbing so much information and knowledge. In short, all is off to a good start and I look forward to sharing with the Wabash community, friends, and family about my experiences abroad. As always, your prayers are greatly appreciated as I continue the rest of my journey here in Switzerland and during my travels.

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