Tales From Zurich: The Swiss grade-school teacher

How a teacher taught me the importance of throwing caution to the wind

The best part of every journey is enjoying what you didn't expect to experience. I'd saved for months so that I could truly appreciate the beauty of Switzerland without worrying about the exorbitant cost of living there, I had spent days coming up with a jam packed itinerary, and I was ready to experience the country to its fullest. Then, my first night there, I met a grade school teacher and we subsequently wasted all my money on drinks.

What I love most about this story isn't the night, but the context. That evening was just a stellar cavalcade of debauchery. We drank, talked, drank, laughed, and drank some more. We moved from beer to wine to whiskey in a span of time most health experts would say is impossible. We enjoyed ourselves, but, like I said, it wasn't the night; it was the context.

The context being, of course, that he had to teach a group of 4th grader's the intricacies of biology the next morning, at 7 am. We spent the entire night trading round after round knowing that he would have to face 30+ little Swiss faces almost immediately after. He performed for me the entire lesson plan while we were tripping over each other on the way back to my hostel. That night was a blur but I remember vividly this man trying, and failing, to articulate what the difference was between a plant and animal cell. It was absolutely hilarious.

I realized something that night, something I'd never realized before. What now sounds like a ridiculously obvious notion had never occurred to me up until that point: teachers are people too. I was 18 on this trip; my entire life had revolved around teachers as authority figures. In grade school they were gods and in high school they were enemies, but I'd never thought of them as people, such as I was.

Context, that is what I value most about traveling. You experience people, places, things, and ideas you'd never have dreamed of at home. You don't even know what there is to know until you've grabbed your carry-on and found it. It could be a conversation with a stranger or accidentally getting stuck in a gorge but you won't know until you're neck deep.

I spent the next four days barely able to afford the hostel I was staying in. That professor had bled me dry! But I was happy for it because my perspective had shifted and I'd made a lifelong friend.

I'll never forget the next morning. We'd gone to sleep/taken a nap at 6AM and he nudges me with his foot at 7. As my eyes become accustomed to the light, I begin to appreciate how haphazard his countenance is. He gives me this bleary-eyed half-smile, lifts up his hand, and gives me a thumbs up. As he leaves I imagine what movie he'll decide to show the class that day as a replacement for being physically unable to teach himself. As I fall back asleep, I smile remembering all the VHS videos I watched in grade school, wondering whether or not the teacher's eyes were as bloodshot as my friend's

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