How A Year in Switzerland Changed My Life

Come jump in my time machine. We’re going back to the year 2001. You might remember back then, George Bush Junior spent his first year in office. The world watched in horror when a second plane flew into the Twin Towers. And Apple released the iPod which would be the predecessor to what many of you might be reading this post on: the iPhone. That same year I was a helper at the Ecole d’Humanite in Hasliberg, Switzerland a small Swiss mountain village just south of Zurich. That’s over 14 years ago now. Time sure does fly. That year stands out as one of the most memorable and life changing in my life, so far. Life at the Ecole without a doubt had a significant impact in shaping who I’ve become. It would later influence my decisions, what I value, my passions and has shifted the course of my life.

Skiier’s paradise was just a 10 minute walk away from the Ecole

Life in the Alps was exciting. We lived with a small group of fun, forwarding thinking,  and positive people that valued creativity, the arts, outdoors and above all else, community. They genuinely wanted the best for others, not just themselves. Although I had no idea at the time, the Ecole would become instrumental in shaping something deep within my soul that still resonates in me to this day: live in harmony and peace with others, and love and appreciate them for who they are. Although that wasn’t the exact message that was spoken, it was practiced by everyone there. I mean people are people after all, and do and say some ridicualro things sometimes because of differences, but because people at the Ecole came from all parts of the globe, they had different values, backgrounds, beliefs and you lived and interacted with them daily. Things had to remain healthy. Acceptance and love for others was the only way. I learned to think about culture, music, food, religion, politics and the world, in new ways than before. I was deeply influenced by others. They had different perspectives than my own, and it was good. My mind was opened. I connected and grew friendships with people from the US, Taiwan, Japan, Italy, Germany, Britain, France, Sweden, Russia, Spain and Switzerland. It was amazing. We lived, ate, studied, hiked, skied, climbed, travelled, created, and laughed and cried together. The camaraderie and friendships we built were deep. Some of them continue to this day. Life at the Ecole, for me, represented so much of how we are intended to live: creatively, simply and in community.

Ski/snowboard hike, February 2002

I learned the importance of serving others. I wasn’t a student at the Ecole. I was helper. I was too young and uneducated to be a teacher or mitarbeiter.  As a helper we were the jack of all trades, and master of none. We were responsible for cleaning, supervising at meals, gardening, laundry, baking, dishes, babysitting children and more. Over the course of that year i learned the importance of serving others. There were eight of us helpers. 3 from Canada, 2 from Switzerland, 1 from Britain and 1 from Sweden. We bonded and many of us keep in touch to this day. I think the other former helpers would agree, that as a helper you learn what real work and serving others is all about. We worked long hours, some days as many as 12 and and some weeks we worked right through to Sunday. In return we received some pocket money, room and board and an alpine ski pass with rentals. But there was so much more. When I look back now, the compensation was very generous and perhaps greater than any I have ever received from the companies I’ve worked for. The hiking, skiing, mountain climbing, guitar lessons, language lessons, lifelong friendships and experiences are irreplaceable. Priceless.

Helper gathering at the Püstli Pub, February 2002

Recreating the Ecole wherever I go. Three years ago a few friends and myself launched a fitness and health organization in Vancouver. We called it EnduroFit because we believe endurance is crucial to everything we do in life, and doing it well. Endurance isn’t just relatable to fitness, but it’s part of living a healthy and balanced life and facing life’s challenges, and getting through them well. Just as we need endurance we also need community to give us that boost of  support, but also elevation to achieve our greatest goals and dreams. Community is something that is not given enough credit or importance these days. I think that many people these days feel disconnected, unappreciated and lack real connection. EnduroFit has seen great success because we put community central to all that we do, and people notice and want to be apart of that. We want to be an advocate of change for that. Life is about relationships and having good people in it. I am grateful that the Ecole helped shape my perspective on this. Those seeds that were planted long ago, without me even realizing, have grown into some good fruit. 

EnduroFit hike up Black Tusk, located in the British Columbia, September 2015

One thought on “How A Year in Switzerland Changed My Life

  1. The food, alpine ski pass and rentals would have been payment enough for me. Epic Josh! I didn’t know anything about this. I think we need to talk more over a few craft brews so I can hear more of your stories 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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