A Reflection + brief update (Weeks 9-10)

We have now been in Geneva for two months and 10 days. I acknowledge that I haven’t been the best with posting my weekly updates recently, and for that I apologize. I think a large part of the reason for that is that the excitement of the first couple months has largely passed and I’m starting to fall into a rhythm. I don’t do many new or exciting things during the week, so my weekly updates from now on will be shorter or nonexistent. Most of my travel or excursions occur on the weekends and I will continue to report on those as they happen.

To make up for last week’s absence, I’m going to combine my “updates” from the past two weeks in today’s post. I’ve also decided that I’m in the mood for an introspective reflection on my time in Geneva so far.

Two weeks ago I wrote about the surreal superposition of time that I am experiencing, “the strange simultaneous feelings that time is flying by and that I’ve been here for an eternity.” This is still true. Often, when I’m walking back to our building after reading by the Jet d’Eau or running around the lake on a foggy Sunday morning, I am reminded of the first time I saw this street: its old buildings and curling wrought-iron balconies, the pizza restaurant on the corner, the flower boxes trimming windows. It was only 70 days ago that our taxi first pulled up to our residence, yet I feel like my life here is perfectly natural.

I have fallen into a routine. I wake up every morning at 7:00 ±10 minutes (usually plus, to be honest), do Pilates for 50-60 minutes, go down to the basement for a breakfast of peanut butter on grainy bread and mediocre coffee (with croissants on Wednesdays and fruit on Thursdays and Fridays!), wash up and change in my room, and then head to class or work. I go into CERN on Mondays and Fridays, and sometimes work on my CERN project from home on other days. I have class on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Homework for our quantum class is usually due Wednesday afternoon, sometimes Tuesday; once that has been handed in, I can enjoy the rest of my week stress-free. Saturdays are usually days for excursions, and Sunday is designated time to work on homework (and this blog!)

Yet another man-on-fire running for the exit…

I’m really trying to not get too accustomed to Geneva. Sometimes, when I’m walking over “eau hydrant” potholes on the sidewalk or sitting by the Jet d’eau to read, I remind myself that I’m living and studying in Geneva, Switzerland, Europe, Planet Earth. It’s so easy to forget where I am. The French words on signs and shop windows have become the norm; I am no longer alarmed by the multilingual conversations buzzing around me; I don’t get swayed by espresso vending machines or green fire escape signs.

I’ve come to realize that BU’s building is located in an extremely beautiful (and expensive) part of the city. We are a block away from the lake and a mere five-minute walk from the Jet d’eau, Geneva’s most popular tourist attraction. There are parks in every direction: Le Jardin Anglais, Parc la Grange, Parc de l’Observatoire, Parc des Bastions…. I want to make it my goal to visit as many of these parks as possible. The amount of greenspace in this city is surprising but very welcome.

The perpetual haze that hangs over the lake and the city keeps the mountains obscured, making them a welcome sight whenever the skies happen to be clear. That has been happening more often lately. It’s another reason to be grateful. (On some particularly clear days, we are even treated to a view of layers of mountains that we haven’t seen before!)

Other things I’m grateful for (in no particular order):

  • I’m in Geneva, Switzerland, for the next four months.
  • I have an internship at CERN in the field I’d like to have a career in.
  • The weather has been lovely.
  • Our building is located in one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the city.
  • The perfect running route is steps away from our front door.

    Seen on a walk along Lake Geneva.
  • I am able to stick to my daily workout routine.
  • We get breakfast for free every weekday morning.
  • I get the bottom bunk. (Thanks, Casey ;))
  • My roommates love to bake and share the resulting delicacies.
  • While groceries here are expensive, cheap groceries are a short bus ride away.
  • I have visited Paris.
  • I have gone skiing in the Alps.
  • I have snowshoed in France.
  • I’m in communication with my sister every day!
  • My boyfriend and I get to cook together every night.
  • My workload is light enough for me to get to enjoy studying abroad. 🙂


Also, some updates on my goals from the beginning of the program:

  • Always agree to a new opportunity—go for the bigger life. I “broke” this goal on the first weekend. A small group was going to ride a cable car up Mt. Saleve in France and we were all invited, but I said no. I’ve turned down many opportunities since then, too. But I’m okay with it! It’s not cheap to do everything and I don’t even want to do everything. So I do what I want.
  • Remember that this isn’t all about the academics. I’m pretty sure I’m living this one out pretty well. After all, I dropped a course that could mean I no longer receive a physics degree. But I’m okay with that, too.
  • Hike at least once a month. Hmm…it’s been two months and I’ve been on…zero hikes. You can do the math. *regretful sigh*
  • Stick to an exercise routine. Check!
  • Eat well. I think I’m eating better but not quite “well”. I am proud to report that I have been refraining from buying most junk food, although gummy bears have slipped through the cracks once or twice and chocolate doesn’t count. I finally stopped eating Nutella with my bread in the mornings so I’m kind of on my way…I hope.
  • Avoid wasting money. Again, I think I’m fairly good at keeping this one. I rarely buy lunch or coffee at school or work since I can bring it from home. If anything, I lost a few Francs here and there because I waited too long to buy a train ticket and the price went up. (But I’m still frustrated about that so let’s just move on, yeah?)
  • Join a club. Eh…not really. But I did put my name down for a couple staged readings (plays performed with minimal sets and costumes and with scripts in hand) with the Geneva English Drama Society, the group with whom I auditioned on my first day in Geneva. They will contact me in the next month or two if they’d like me to be involved! In the meantime, I’m looking for other ways to get involved. Hopefully I can say I’ve been a part of something when this is all over.
  • Make friends. I’ve made friends with many people within the BU program itself and I’m slowly dipping my toe into the Swiss physics group. I would also consider Pauline a friend!
  • Become immersed. I must admit, when I’m talking amongst my friends in the program, we speak entirely in English. But when I interact with a local in a shop or on the street, I speak in French. It’s not pretty, but I muscle through it. (Honestly…not sure how else to “immerse” myself here. Suggestions welcomed!)
  • Don’t be broke. So far, so good!… *nervous laugh*

A quick note on the aforementioned physics class predicament:

As I wrote about previously, in the second week I decided to drop my E&M class here in Geneva and continue with just quantum mechanics and a particle physics seminar. Physics classes in French are exponentially more difficult than the already-challenging physics classes in English, and without the passion for the subject that I see in so many of my classmates, I couldn’t bring myself to muscle through this one.

My decision to ultimately drop the class came after days of heavy deliberation, but the thought-process leading to the decision probably began years ago. I have never been entirely confident in my choice to major in astrophysics. As I wrote about before, this study abroad program was the main reason I stayed, along with all the wonderful people I’ve met along the way. For a while, I even had graduate school on my radar.

But now I know that I don’t want to go to graduate school for physics. The thought of never doing physics research again gives me an indescribable feeling of relief. I’m so much happier now that I’m not sitting through physics lectures, wondering about when I would ever use this in my life.

I want to be a science communicator. If finding the time to practice my writing or volunteer at science museums means not completing my physics degree, that’s okay with me. For a while I was convinced that having just a Bachelor’s degree in astronomy wouldn’t be enough, and I’m still not sure how this decision will affect my job prospects. But, at least for now, I’m happier. So far, I have no regrets about my choice. I’m writing more and reading more and developing skills that hopefully will help me advance in this field.

And if, for some reason, I have a change of heart in the next nine months, I can still complete my physics degree. It would entail a horrible spring semester of my senior year (two physics courses and two astronomy courses), but it can be done. I haven’t shut the door completely.


The past two weeks

The weather was the loveliest Geneva has experienced so far. For at least seven consecutive days, the sun was shining without interruption and temperatures oscillated in the 60s. Every day, I walked to class without a jacket and broke out my tank tops. Boston’s blizzards seemed a distant fantasy compared to our green grass, clear skies, and radiant sunlight. Spring officially began on Monday, but Geneva has been celebrating the season for weeks now.

It’s been a sugary heaven in Floor 1’s kitchen! Casey made chocolate ganache cupcakes (twice!) and Mina reprised her bread pudding from a few weeks ago. Mina then loaned her baking expertise to help Katie make a batch of fried dough balls and Gordy, a pan of brownies. God bless roommates who like to bake! ❤

Breakfasts have gotten noisier and more crowded in the past couple weeks since the internship kids got back from spring break. While I understand that many students need to be at their internships earlier than we had to be at class, I still miss the calmer breakfasts of the first six weeks.


Coming up

A week from today, Dan and I will be returning from our weekend stargazing trip to Tenerife in the Canary Islands. And the weekend after that, BU has planned an excursion to Montreux, Switzerland! Spring break begins the following weekend. We have plenty to look forward to in the coming weeks!


Finally, special shout-outs to recent birthday-celebrants in my life:

First, to my dad, aka my best friend and The Best Father in the Entire Universe – Congrats on turning 50 on Friday!

Dad at his surprise birthday party!

Also, to my sister and Favorite Person in the Universe who turned 15 on March 16th:

Rhiannon blowing out the candles on her four-layer cake…

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAD AND RHIANNON!!! THANK YOU FOR BEING ALIVE! ❤ ❤ ❤ I love you and miss you both! xoxo


I’ll be back soon with a small post about Saturday’s wine tasting excursion and soccer game. Until then, let’s get some community interaction up in here! Tell me:

What are you grateful for this week?

What’s the weather like where you are?

How do you feel about bread pudding?


With lots of love and gratitude,

Maddie 🙂

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