Incredible Switzerland Experience

Our travel plans for June 22, 2023, in the works for several months, was to travel to Switzerland to celebrate the graduation of our granddaughter, Maia, at a Swiss boarding school. She and her two-year younger sister, Clara, have been attending a school where her dad, my youngest son Brian, and his wife, Lydia, teach. This is where their family has spent the last four years.

Lydia has a PhD from the University of Arizona. Brian has a master’s in education. Four years ago, they were teaching at an International Baccalaureate school in Kuwait for two years, when they learned about the Ecole d’ Humanite school in Switzerland. The school wasn’t actually looking for additional faculty at the time, but Brian and Lydia drove to Switzerland, applied, and were hired. The school is taught 60% in German and 40% in English. Brian is now Dean of the English-speaking department.

Three months prior to our Switzerland trip, tragedy struck. The oldest granddaughter, Maia, was skiing in the Alps with seven classmates when they were caught in an avalanche. The skiers were all experienced and were accompanied by a trail guide. No avalanche warnings had been issued. The skiers were scattered on the slope when out of the corner of her eye, Maia saw the mountain side start to move. She was able to outrun the onrushing snow but saw her roommate, Emily Franciose, and a seventeen-year-old boy, Archie, swept away by the cascading rock and snow.

Search and rescue teams were launched immediately and recovered Archie’s lifeless body, but Emily’s remains were not found until weeks later. It was estimated she had been buried under 50-foot of snow in a mile long valley.

A couple weeks after the tragedy, Brian and his family, plus four Swiss classmates flew to Colorado, Emily’s home, for a memorial service, but then returned days later for another memorial service in Switzerland and the scheduled graduation ceremonies. The service in Switzerland was held on the day we arrived.

First, let me tell you about the small town, Hasliberg Golden, where the school is located. It is roughly 50 miles SE of Zurich and 40 miles NE of Lucern. The village has the school, a hotel with excellent dinning accommodations, a farm where you can buy fresh milk, and a bus stop. It is about thirty minutes to the nearest shopping facilities. Most notably, it is incredibly beautiful. In any direction you look you see snowcapped mountains. All of the school buildings have large windows looking out on these majestic wonders.  The memorial service was held outdoors with the mountain splendor as a background.

Mountain scene

At the memorial, Maia gave the introduction and closing comments for the service. In between her remarks, twenty classmates shared thoughts and memories of Emily. What beautiful and moving tributes they were. None more heartfelt and touching than Maia’s remarks, however. Lydia, Maia’s mom, was concerned about her daughter’s preparation for her comments, but Maia said one day during quiet reflection the words just came to her about the love and companionship she felt for her lost roommate. The students surrounding us at the service were quietly sobbing and holding each other in a mutual sharing of grief for their departed classmates.

  Maia Memorial Service

The school wanted to do something—plant a tree, establish a garden—in memory of Emily and Archie. It was Andy, the school’s maintenance man, who came up with the idea. The design of his idea came to him in a vision. It is a swing, supported by two huge tree trunks, anchored securely in the ground from which cables support a platform capable of holding a dozen people.

Swing pix

Lydia conducted the fundraising for the swing’s construction and quickly raised $15,000 in donations. Following the memorial service, we all gathered at the swing where attendees took turns rocking back and forth on the platform while gazing out upon the wondrous Swiss topography.

Michele and I have been traveling with my oldest son, Eric, my first wife, Sherry, and her husband David. The evening after the memorial service, our travel group of five plus Brian, Lydia, Maia and Clara all went out to dinner together. Our two granddaughters are amazing. So mature and poised. Maia spent several weeks with Nuns learning their herbal recipes and culture. Clara works at a nearby hotel with their food staff. Both girls have worked at neigboring farms, milking goats and making cheese. Surrounded by these wonderful people, I was overcome with emotion to realize that I—and Sherry—had quite a bit to do with the existence of these incredible people. Without a doubt, it is my proudest accomplishment.

(L to R) Eric, Jim, Michele, David, Sherry, Brian, Clara, Lydia, Maia

Ecole d’ Humanite includes six years of education. It is rather expensive by U.S. standards with a tuition of $80,000 per year. Enrollment totals 100 students, 50 faculty and staff, and had a senior class of nine students, one of which would have been Emily, Maia’s roommate.

The school is environmentally focused with tons of outdoor activities, including hiking, skiing, caving, rock climbing, and camping. Each year the entire student body goes on two hikes, one in the fall for four days and another in the spring for six days. Groups are divided up depending on their age and hiking ability.

Skiing is naturally one of the big activities. Brian said one of the traditions is to all meet on the mountain top, enjoy a meal together and then ski down the mountain after dark all carrying lighted torches. The evet is called “Fackalab Fahrt” (Torch Descent). Love that German language.

The graduation ceremony included reflections on each graduate by Brian, who told humorous stories about each student as well as their proud accomplishments. Each graduate then had an opportunity to offer their own comments, mostly reflecting on what the school had meant to them and fond memories. Following the student’s words, a parent or a teacher was given an opportunity to speak. The ceremony was lovely, and all speaker’s comments were very moving with emotionally charged remarks.

              Brian MC

The remaining five days of our time in Switzerland were spent enjoying the spectacular beauty of this glorious country. Initially, our sightseeing was conducted by Eric in his rented Mercedes Van. Those travels included:

  • Venicular rides to mountain top waterfalls,
  • Drives to the village of Meiringen
  • Cable car rides to mountain top vistas
  • A walk along the Aareschlucht

Five days into our nine-day visit, Eric would depart, flying to Vienna when he studied music as a Wabash College junior.

Brian and Lydia had been extremely busy that weekend with school ending, students leaving, and year end staff meetings. However, on Thursday, the day before we departed, both are free and would spend the day with us for a spectacular day of various travel experiences.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Starting at 10:30 am, Sherry, David, Brian, Clara, Michele, and I boarded a BUS for a 30-minute ride to a railroad station. There we took a TRAIN to Brienz, a lovely town on Lake Brienz where we would board a BOAT to a Funicular station where we would ride the FUNICULAR, the oldest cable car railway in Europe (1879), high into mountains to the Grand Hotel in the Giessbach Nature Park for lunch.

Returning to our hotel it was the reverse of our travel mode earlier; funicular, boat, train, and bus.

Upon our return, Brian took me on a fascinating in-depth tour of the school’s teaching facilities. What a great learning opportunity students have in addition to the traditional academics.

The school’s academic classes are held in the morning. Every afternoon, however, is devoted to something called co-curricular. Students have a choice of selecting a wide variety of subjects involving sport, handicraft, music, and performing. Subjects vary as widely as oil painting and ukulele playing.

All of the classrooms, labs, and studios are located on the lower levels of the twelve different campus buildings with dormitories and administrative offices on the upper floors.  Brian led me on a tour of the different subject areas being offered. They included:

The Outdoor Center with mountain climbing equipment, skis, boots, helmets, and tents, all available in large quantities and sizes.

Bouldering Room This is a rock climbing practice area with walls fixed with grips and foot knobs. The walls tilt so climbers can practice inverted climbs.

Art Room Brian taught a Bob Ross oil painting class in this room which is fully equipped with paints, brushes, and canvases.

Silversmith Lab Here students learn to make jewelry.

Computer Lab and Green Room Students can create documentary films using the green room background for visual effects.

Mountain Bike Shop In addition to a variety of mountain bikes students can check out to ride, the shop teaches maintenance of the bikes’ gearing, brakes, and controls.

Biology Lab Maia dissected a bird in this class.

Textile Room With numerous sewing machines and bolts of fabric.

3-D Print Lab Here students create 3-D objects using computer printers.

Mathematics Room This room is completely surrounded (not by blackboards) but by Green Boards and white boards suitable for chalk calculations.

The Kitchen Lab The kitchen is not used to feed students, but to teach cooking. It has numerous ovens and stove tops.

Wood Shop Here was a wood shop a home handyman would die for.

Photo Lab and Dark Room Photography is a popular class with the students. Many creative photos were on display.

Blacksmith and Welding Shop This class is actually taught by a village blacksmith.

I thoroughly enjoyed my Ecole d’ Historite tour. And how envious I am of the study opportunities available to the students. I wonder if the school would consider accepting an 84-year-old freshman.

Our wonderful visit to Switzerland was too soon ended and on Friday morning, June 30th, eight days after our arrival, Brian borrowed a school van and drove our travel group to the Zurich airport for departure. What a memorable visit it had been.

6 thoughts on “Incredible Switzerland Experience

  1. How wonderful to read this eloquent account of our time together in the Swiss Alps…a week I’ll treasure forever!

  2. Sounds like a tremendous trip, especially traveling with the whole family. Terrible about the avalanche and the loss of your granddaughter’s classmates. Appreciate your travelogue.

  3. What a wonderful recounting of a great trip – both for the experiences, vistas, family time and emotional moments. We’ll be in Lucerne next June at the end of a Rhine River cruise. Looking forward to seeing some of those great views.

  4. Such a wonderful travelogue. Brought back many memories of my visits, especially Lake Brienz.
    Was deeply saddened to learn of the mishaps. So happy you and Michele were able to visit the
    family and help celebrate the graduation of your lovely granddaughter.

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