A Field Trip

Two weeks into teaching in Switzerland I was asked to accompany a group of first and second graders on a field trip exploring downtown Lugano. 
"Great!" I thought. "This is perfect." I reveled. "I can see the local sights and tourist my way through downtown all under the pretense of work." I congratulated myself on such a fortunate encounter. 
Can you sense the impending doom?

Only while riding the city bus on our way downtown, crowded in with boisterous school children with only a few regular riders speckled in, did I understood the impact of what was really happening.
My assignment was to take six first graders on a scavenger hunt through downtown.
They were armed with ipads and were to document a few of the local downtown attractions.
Photographs of each location and video interviews with someone working there were part of the assignment.

Sounds simple enough, right?
No! Wrong! Not simple!
You forget dear reader that this is in a foreign country.
And not just any foreign country, Switzerland.
A foreign country where they speak a foreign language.
A foreign country where there are four national languages, none of them English.
We didn't encounter a single English speaker the entire day.
And I am talking a seven hour field trip here.
And did I mention I was the one in charge?

The fact that none of my first graders were native Italian speakers only further complicated the matter.
So when all the other teachers walked away with their groups, and we were the last ones standing at the drop off point, and my kids were scattered around the fountain dipping their little hands in to the dismay of the professional business attired passers-by, a sense of panic settled deep into my stomach.
It pretty much stayed with me for most of the day.

The mall was our first stop, and when we entered with camera's (iPads) drawn we were immediately stopped by a security guard, an angry security guard.
I tried to communicate to him our goal, but alas, no English.
I asked my kids to explain our goal, but they chose this moment to proclaim they were shy, and their Italian wasn't that good, and they didn't know what he was saying, and they didn't want to speak Italian, and this field trip was stupid.
I agreed.
We were ushered over to security and a very novice English speaker was involved.
All he kept repeating was "No camera's! No camera's!"
How helpful.
(This was long before I discovered the strict no photographs policy at nearly every shopping place.)
Eventually one student mustered up enough courage to say "we are with TASIS (the school) and need to take pictures and interview someone who works here."
We were sent to the sixth floor.

On floor 6 we waited in line for fifteen minutes and then had the same struggle attempting to explain our situation to the lady in charge up there when the adult supervisor (me) didn't speak Italian, and the Italian speakers (kids) didn't speak at all.
Eventually, and I mean eventually, we got it all out, and by the end it was all students speaking at once and a small crowd of onlookers had gathered round.
Our tenacity was rewarded with limited picture taking access and each child was allowed to take two pictures in the name of education.
Also, everyone got a candy and a car key chain, including me.
I could see the pity on the security ladies face as she handed it to me.
And I think by then we were all wondering how on earth I was ever put in charge of executing this mission.

We made it finally to the toy section, which is where everyone wanted to use up their allotted two pictures, with only one embarrassment when all the kids started riotously laughing and pointing as we passed through the lingerie department, especially the boys.
Boy did we get some looks from those ritzy ladies shopping for swanky unmentionables.
And once there I only lost every single kid at least once, and only for very short periods of time.
Phew! One stop down five more to go.

The rest of the day actually went much smoother.
Although I have no idea any of what was discussed between my six little troopers and those random strangers they interviewed.
But gosh, were they ever cute while doing it.
The bright spots of the day included playing some chess with one of the many near-life-size chess boards along the street (for real playing - these kids have got chess handled!), watching them walk hand in hand in a nice little line with their little uniforms on (adorable!), and laughing our guts out after leaving the mall to dispel all that embarrassment (so necessary!).
Also, Lugano is stunning. So there was that!
And after chasing down the children's train and missing it three times over, we gave up on the last assignment and got some gelato and played at the park instead.
I'm pretty sure that was everyone's favorite part of the day.

We met up with the rest of the group after the park, and all 60 of us got promptly lost while looking for our bus, backtracked, turned around, crossed streets illegally, were honked at innumerably, and finally made our way to the bus depot where everyone slumped exhausted to the floor and waited for our city bus to arrive.
And by the time we all unloaded back at the school everyone was hot, and grumpy, and tired, and proclaimed this the dumbest field trip ever, and why didn't we just go to the caves like the other class did?

But by the next day it was all adventure stories and throwing their gelato cones in the faces of the children who played it safe in the mountain caves.
Everything always looks better in hindsight, and looking back it really wasn't so terribly bad.
Kind of a good day actually.
My past self from that day would never agree.

Anyways, it seemed just exactly the sort of adventure I would remember on April Fools day.




  1. Leah, you are such an amazing writer, I love reading your posts and of course all about life in Switzerland! How magical it seems, and so much fun! I bet they loved you!!

    1. Magical is one way to describe it. Chaos may be another. :)

  2. I loved this post. It really just made my day. So well written...I could just picture the whole thing happening. I even laughed out loud.

    1. Thanks Natalie, I feel like you could picture it so well because of all the equally uncomfortable yet hilarious situations we shared in Sibiu. :) "Imi pare rau, nu vorbesc engleza!"


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