I spent this past weekend on another school trip outside of Italy. This one didnt last as long as the one to Ireland. It was only for one night, but I spent time in both Switzerland and France. The trip was for physics class, and we went to see two nuclear centers to supplement what weve been learning about in class.
To be perfectly honest, despite all my progress with speaking and understanding Italian, physics class is still pretty much over my head. Truth is, Id probably still be totally lost and confused even if it were in English, and as it is well, at least the illustrations of atoms and protons and electrons dancing around are somewhat pretty.
The trip was fun, though. It involved long, long hours of bus travel, which is basically the same as traveling in buses on the American school trips Ive taken, with the exception of the snow-capped Alps and pastoral scenes of quaint Swiss farmhouses passing outside the windows. There was that same sense of camaraderie, as we were all cramped into the same place and headed for the same destination.
The first nuclear plant, where we arrived after almost seven hours (with plenty of breaks for the bathroom or stocking up on Swiss chocolate), was Gösgen in the Däniken municipality of Switzerland, near a curve of the Aar river. It was in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, so there were a lot of cool guttural noises being made.
First, we went through a museum exhibit set up in one of the buildings. We had an Italian tour guide explaining everything for us. They mostly focused on the way energy is used and the importance of it in our daily lives. They touched on the science as well, but in interesting ways. I got to see an element (not sure what element) in a glass case of special circumstances, where they could bring it into existence for just a few seconds. It was gray and flickery and didnt look real, but it was.
For the second half of our time at Gösgen, we had to put away our coats and bags, empty our pockets and go through a metal detector. It was the actual tour of the place. They checked our passports and carefully confirmed our identification. All the doors had to be opened with I.D. swipes by authorized personnel. It felt very intense and secretive.
We were at all times in the presence of our official tour guides. There were four of us with each guide to ensure that nobody snuck off unnoticed. They showed us all sorts of interesting rooms with giant, rattling, noisy equipment. Of course, we couldnt go into any of the rooms with the danger of radiation, but there were men in white suits whod worked in there.
My favorite part was when we got to go into the biggest structure there the one that all of the steam comes out from. We climbed up this giant staircase and went in about a quarter of the way up. It was hot and super steamy. It felt hard to breathe at first.
After just a few moments, my face was all damp from the steam. We could see the flowing water just a few feet beneath where we were walking. The way the two or three lights shined through the steam and illuminated the path was very eerie. It reminded me of something out of science fiction, which I guess it was, minus the fiction part. Even though I didnt understand the science or exactly why they needed this giant steamy building, it was awesome.
That night, we drove to France. Our hotel was close to Geneva, but right over the border into France. I was pretty excited, even though I wasnt actually seeing much of France at all. It was still cool to be there, and to think, Where are you, Chandler? Oh, Im in France!
I ate a French baguette for breakfast there because I wanted my short experience there to be as authentic as possible. I also enjoyed hearing all the people around us speaking French because it is such a beautiful language. Lately, hearing foreign languages gets me ridiculously motivated. I start making plans for learning French after I finish with Italian, and then Spanish, then German, then Russian, Arabic, Turkish, or Chinese.
Im constantly changing up the order of my plan. I get really gung-ho and fired up about it. I must learn all the languages!
Our second day consisted of seeing CERN, in Geneva, where they have the worlds largest particle physics laboratory, and then taking the long ride home. CERN was interesting. Like the other place, they had a tour and a cool museum exhibit. I saw the first ever server of the World Wide Web there.
They told us all about their Large Hadron Collider. I also was fascinated to see the room where they monitor all the data and information produced by their experiments. There were so many buttons and computers and graphs that I have no idea how they keep track of it all. Scientists are really impressive.
Overall, the trip was a really cool experience and completely interesting to see. I had fun and learned far more than I expected. Foreign (languages + countries) + classmates + bus rides + cool places to tour = I-cannot-believe-this-is-my-life-and-I-am-here reaction.
Chandler West is a Rock Hill High School student who is spending her senior year in Italy. She writes about her adventures abroad each week in The Herald and heraldonline.com.