These past few weeks as I attempted to do my community service activities, I found that this is a point of cultural difference between the United States and Switzerland. In the U.S. it is incredibly easy to find and do community service. There are so many organizations that are constantly looking for more people to help out. In Switzerland, there is a far different view on community service. Over here, community service is viewed almost as using someone’s labor. There are very strict laws on where and how much an individual can volunteer. Since minimum wage is considerably higher in Switzerland, there is a different view on labor.
This made attempting to do community service a bit more difficult. After contacting numerous individuals with little luck in finding much work to do, I had to be a bit creative with my community service. I was informed that one of the faculty members had to leave town for a family emergency and needed someone to take care of her dog for part of the time. I happily volunteered to come play with her dog and take him for a walk for a few days. This is not the first time I have helped someone dog sit and it was not an incredibly unique or grand act of community service, but it did teach me a lesson about service.
Often times it is easy to get in the mindset that you need to be doing formal community service or go far away on a service trip in order to do good, but this week proves that helping anyone in need is community service. Just doing a simple act of kindness can be exactly what a person needs to lift them up. This past week also taught me more about how cultural differences play a role in areas that you would not imagine. If I had visited Switzerland for only a weekend I would never have known the views on community service. A visit would simply not reveal that side of the culture. In addition, if I had not lived here for a little while I might not understand why there was a lack of community service. I may have attempted to base a judgment off of common stereotypes. I could have assumed that all Swiss people are rich and don’t want to participate in service activities. However, I would have been completely inaccurate. The Swiss firmly believe in proper compensation for a job so they feel it is immoral to take work from someone with nothing in return.
Even though service may look different here than it does back home does not mean it is any less meaningful. With the adapted definition of global community that I discussed in one of my previous travel logs, the true focus of community is on the relationships and connectedness. It may not be titled community service, but it is simply one friend helping another. This ties in Martin Luther King’s quote regarding how “everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.” While large community service is incredibly valuable, everyone making a small difference in someone else’s life is all it takes to make the world a better place.
The photo depicted is of Toby on one of our walks. It was a pleasure to
spend time with such a well behaved a beautiful animal and a pleasure to help out someone in need.