I went on a trip with my 91-year-old grandmother to her home country. It deepened my love and respect for her.

People in Switzerland posing photo
Courtesy of the author
  • My grandmother was born in Switzerland but left over 70 years ago.

  • I traveled with her and my mom and brother to learn about her youth and family.

  • I have so much gratitude for being able to do this trip with her.

I recently traveled to Switzerland with my mom, brother, and grandmother to see where my grandmother had immigrated from over 70 years ago.

As we drove through the mountainside, my grandmother told stories about her youth, the members of her family, and what strength and good-hearted stubbornness it took for her to leave the country in search of a better life. We mapped the far distances she traveled, imagining what it was like to scale the mountains without the modern transportation that stands there now.

She moved to the US and left her family behind

My 91-year-old grandmother, who we lovingly call Grosi, left for the United States when she was 20. She left 10 siblings and her mother behind, struggling to make ends meet so she could have a better life and support her family. Grosi pointed out where she used to pick blueberries as a little girl, where the one-room schoolhouse was where boys learned math and science, where girls learned homemaking and sewing, and where the Post office was. We drove past where her mother's house was, imaging her mother still at the garden gate, tending to her flowers.

I felt the weight of the country's history, being able to map back to where everything happened for my grandmother and her family. I saw the pride and excitement on her face that she could share our history and heritage with us. I could imagine her as a young girl, climbing the mountain and taking in the unchanged landscape we looked at together. The country itself felt frozen in time at moments, many of the old buildings preserved through the ages.

She showed us so much of what her life was like

Throughout the 10 days in Switzerland, we drove through different cantons, mixing family heritage and tourist locations to understand the full breadth of the country. We met strangers and ran into extended family members, sharing an excitement about being in the same beautiful place. We sat at kitchen tables with family members and lifelong friends, passing stories in Swiss German about the old days and what's happened since then, catching up like no time had passed.

We rented a car to drive through the countryside and a few one-lane roads to see as much of the country as possible. We visited and toured places like Linthal, Zurich, Lucerne, Appenzall, Gruyères, and the canton of Glarus, where Grosi came from. In a car, it was easy for us to travel together and take in the sights as Grosi narrated the places she had been. She showed us the route she would bike to work as a cook in a children's shelter, how the highway we drove on didn't exist back then, and how far away from home she'd travel. It was a reminder that as things stay the same, they also change.

One day, we took the rail built into the side of the mountain in Braunwald. Once we got off, we watched paragliders take flight from where Grosi's grandfather's farm was. We walked around the mountain town, through the church her brother helped build, and imagined what life might have been like decades ago. To see that so many elements of my grandmother's childhood were still standing where she left them reminded me of all the invisible strings that carry us through life. Her voice peaked with excitement when pointing out each location, and she was proud to share pieces of her history with us.

Ten days flew by with packed schedules filled with exciting things to do, from seeing the sights of cities like Lucerne and Zurich to spending time with family to seeing natural wonders like the Rhine Fall to touring delicious food offerings like the Kambly cookie store and Läderach factory. We make sure to see a healthy mix of tourist attractions and lesser-known spots, mixing in time with friends and family.

No trip through Switzerland would be complete without a train ride through the mountains and beautiful countryside. One day, with my great-aunt, great-uncle, and one of my grandmother's lifelong friends, we took a train ride through the country, taking in the sights of the snow-capped mountains, the old bridges, and the running waterfalls. We stopped for lunch in St. Moritz, marveling at the snow-covered mountains, laughing, and walking through the town as a family.

Every moment, I had gratitude for traveling with my grandmother and family, seeing the strength and courage it took to leave it behind. How many choices Grosi made, how many things aligned so that we - my mom, my brother, myself, and her, would be there together. The trip deepened my love and respect for my grandmother, her sacrifices to start a new life, and her strength to travel to a place where she knew no one. Learning about my heritage with the matriarch of my family was an unforgettable experience.

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