October 26, 2012 / By Caitlin Schmid

Discovering My Swiss Roots

When talking about travel experiences, “proud” isn’t often a word that I use to describe past trips. Fun, exhilarating, life-changing, challenging, awesome; these are all adjectives that any trip should be! But for me, my favorite and most memorable trip that I have taken thus far in my twenty-some years has left me with a feeling of pride and accomplishment that I have yet to get out of another trip.

Let me explain. When the time came to choose a foreign language to study in high school, I didn’t choose the practical Spanish or the romantic French. I chose German. Growing up, I had heard tales about our Swiss and German heritage, and gleefully learned the few curses that my Opa remembered hearing his Swiss Grandmother utter. I knew at a young age that I wanted to be able to converse with long-lost relatives, and that someday, I would go to Europe and search until I found them.

So started the journey to my first international travel experiences. I studied my Deutsch diligently and was able to go on the trips that my high school German Department hosted every two years. I flew across the pond and toured, ate pretzels and various types of Wurst, and even snuck a beer or two. It was fun, awesome, and exhilarating, but I felt like it wasn’t a unique and authentic experience.

Then came the trip that I had been waiting for: my sister and I took all of our money that we had saved up and began our dream backpacking adventure through Europe. For the first time, we were responsible for everything: planning plane and rail tickets, thinking of where we wanted to go and where we would stay, and trying to convince our parents that we would be as responsible as any 18- and 20-year-olds could possibly be.

So we boarded the plane sans parents or chaperones and headed off for the biggest adventure we could imagine. Not only did months of research and pouring through Rick Steves’ books lead us to hidden restaurants and the best way to tour the Louvre but we worked hard and, through family connections here in the States, found our (very distant) cousins in Switzerland. We were armed only with phone numbers and 20-year-old pictures (our cousin Joanne told us to watch for slightly greyer versions of these family members), and the hope that our family would be as nice as they were supposed to be.

They were all that and more. Even though we were only connected through a family that had split when two brothers came to America several generations ago, we were met with warmth and kindness. Let me tell you, it was a little nerve-wracking to be sitting at a train station in Thun, waiting for a complete stranger to come up and introduce himself as Rene, the cousin we had never met but would be staying with for a few days. They treated us truly as family — touring to beautiful Swiss landmarks with us and introducing us to even more long-lost family members who embraced us with hugs and broken English. It turned out to be the most authentic experience I could have asked for, and I can’t wait to return to see my newfound family again.