It was with a mix of nerves and excitement that I boarded Emirates flight EK409 to Dubai on the first leg of my journey to the IFYE exchange (International Farming Youth Exchange) adventure in Switzerland. With stopovers in Kuala Lumpar and Dubai, I finally landed at Zurich airport some 30 hours after leaving Melbourne and was greeted by some friendly, welcoming people at the airport – holding up a sign with my name – making me feel kind of famous!
My first host family, Manuela and Christoph Luder, lived on a red deer farm in a small town called Grasswil. It was a big farm by standards for the area, and they had a barn/stable filled with horses - much to my horror as it was one of my jobs to clean up after them every day! They also had four main crops: corn, potatoes, wheat and barley. I soon settled into Swiss farm and family life with early starts and the task of cleaning out the stables each morning. I spent a lot of my time on the brush-cutter – I think they left all the grass to grow until I got there!
My host family father, Christoph, was indeed a busy entrepreneur; apart from running the farm he also managed a demolition business as well as importing toy go-carts that were a very popular item with young children, at a cost of around AUD$2,000 each.
My main jobs, apart from cleaning up after the horses, were to feed the geese, count the new born deer and tag them, as well as working in the paddocks picking up stones - apparently so that the field mice could not hide under them, and later eat the crops. The food my host family ate was simply delicious. A hot lunch was served every day varying from cheese on toast with pineapple and paprika, to pizza and pasta. It is seen to be rude not to sit down at the table at every meal.
I attended a Swiss country music concert where I met the singers from the band and one of them gave me his Stetson hat from Texas. I was stoked! I also "crashed" the party when I got to drive an old Fent tractor into the party tent – that made my night.
Adrian Gabathuler (IFYE Exchangee 2010) whisked me away from my family in the 3rd week to show me some of the amazing sights of Switzerland, by taking me to the Greenfield Open Air Festival. We saw some amazing bands from all over the world (including Australia). After the concert we travelled in Adrian's Kombi around his home Canton of Graubundon. Following my return from Graubundon, I spent another 8 days with my first host family.
It was then time to go and meet up with the other IFYE exchangees, at the incoming weekend, held at Rickenbach (in the Swiss Alps) where I met some amazing new friends from all corners of the world – many of whom I will never forget and hopefully, one day, may visit their home country
On one outing we visited a cheese factory in Rickenbach; climbed a big hill (a mountain by Australian standards) where the view was stunning, followed by a traditional Swiss BBQ (grill in Switzerland). We had a fantastic evening, laughing till our stomachs hurt – it is incredible how we had just met - but got on so well. The other exchangees came from a range of countries including Taiwan, Finland, South Korea, Costa Rica, Estonia and Sweden. The incoming weekend was a great success, very well run by the IFYE organizers – thanks guys!
Then I was off to my new host family, Christa and Stefan Sieber-Beer in Reichenbach, which is in Berner Oberland (the Swiss Alps). They had a dairy farm with 11 milking cows. Christa and Stefan were recently married, living on the valley farm where they made the hay in the summer, while Stefan's parents lived on the mountain farm around 1,800 metres above sea level where they did the milking. Stefan worked as a carpenter and Christa worked in a specialist supermarket where they sold cheese from their farm.
Swiss farmers are subsidized by the Government to look after the land and keep it beautiful – that is why it is such a fantastic and clean country. Christa and Stefan were still very young so they enjoyed a full social life and I was able to meet many of their friends.
I enjoyed this farm work a great deal where we did many different jobs every day. My main job was hay making, mostly done by hand, as the land was too steep to use a tractor. I was in charge of the hydraulic cutter, which was self-propelled, across the steep hills – it had extra wide steel wheels to help stop it sliding away! It was back-breaking work, but very rewarding at the end of the day. My host family were very pleased with the way I went about the work and never complained!
Christa and Stefan loved mountain hiking, so I found myself every weekend trekking off on another adventure around the Swiss Alps – I climbed 2 mountains and visited many beautiful places. Stefan took me to visit Ballenberg, which is an old house museum on 20 ha., where they displayed Swiss farming lifestyles and also Swiss upper-class lifestyles. As a carpenter I found the different building techniques very interesting, compared to our techniques (the Swiss are very advanced in their building practices). While at their farm I was lucky enough to be taken for a free joy ride around the Swiss Alps. The pilot owned some land that he could not maintain himself, so my host family looked after it for him and as a goodwill gesture he took me up in the plane.
It was very hard to leave my last host family, as I had quickly become part of their lives as we had many things in common. Christa was fortunate enough to visit Tasmania on an exchange in 2006, where she learnt many of the Australian ways. Her love of The Sunny Cowgirls and McLeod's Daughters was only exceeded by her love of Bundy Rum. Stefan also worked on a large-scale dairy farm in remote Western Australia for 6 months. I made so many great friends and look forward to one day returning to this wonderful part of the world, to again visit with these very warm, welcoming and generous people.
I chose to continue my adventure by visiting my ancestral home of Scotland and the opportunity to visit the Scottish countryside and take in the culture.
This has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Anyone considering applying for an International Study Tour will not be disappointed. Like me, you will be sure to have a life changing experience that you will always treasure. I have returned a better, and more confident person from this experience and am ready to take on most challenges.
I would like to thank Motors Isuzu my sponsor and IFYE for making the experience so rewarding. Also a big thank you to Rural Youth and the 2010 Study Tour judges who thought me worthy enough to represent Tasmania, and everyone else that helped me along the way – particularly my family.