Swiss student gets a warm welcome

LAURA Bain, 16, admits she did not know much about Australia when she arrived here in June on a 12-month Rotary exchange from Zurich, Switzerland.

And needless to say a few things took her by surprise, like bull statues, wide streets, friendly conversations and less pressure at school.

"They told me when I first came here that Rockhampton was the capital of beef and exported the most beef, I had heard of Argentina selling the most beef in the world but I'd not heard about Australia or Rockhampton,'' she said. "You don't hear much about Australia, it's so far away.''

Rockhampton and parts of Central Queensland have been the sum total of Laura's experience of the country to date, she has made trips to Gladstone, Bundaberg, Gracemere, Yeppoon, Emu Park and Great Keppel.

"What I find hard is that it is so spread out,'' Laura said.

"Like if you go from North Rockhampton to South Rockhampton in Switzerland, there's two towns in between.

"Nearly everybody has a house and garden here.

"I live in a house, but a lot of people have apartments,'' this is a combination of population density and more expensive living.

The friendly conversations that Laura encountered from strangers were at first confusing.

"People are really friendly ? really, really friendly.

"I was confused at first, people would say hello, they would ask you how you are, how was your day, and be interested.''

As for school, the differences are extreme.

At home in Switzerland, Laura is expected to complete 13 subjects a year, which includes about four languages, compared with our six subjects.

Then there are the differences in the subjects that you would expect to be universal, such as maths.

"There are different formulas that we use and the language is different.''

Another major difference between Zurich and Rockhampton is the weather, instead of mountains of snow, we have valleys of sunburnt scrub.

After making a couple of touchdowns in Asia, Laura landed in Brisbane jetlagged, slept the night and hopped back on the plane to Rockhampton.

"When we first started flying from Brisbane to Rockhampton I started to realise how big this country is and it was all brown.

"I thought it would be all desert and bare, but once in Rockhampton I saw all the trees and green.''

The next big cultural difference Laura will experience is Christmas.

Traditionally most Swiss celebrate Christmas on December 24, with a dinner in the evening, songs around the Christmas tree (which is real), give out presents and sometimes go to 11pm mass.

Oh, and there is no Santa, it is Christkind.

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