Exchange student reflects on on ‘great’ year at Mt. Abe

BRISTOL — After all the caps fly into the air at Mount Abraham Union High School this Saturday, the members of its graduating senior class will scatter to various locations in pursuit of jobs, travel or further education.
One will travel farther than most. Jan Liegmann, Mount Abe’s only exchange student this year, will be returning to his home country of Switzerland in June.
The native of Aadorf — a small village about 30 minutes from Zurich — says he has thoroughly enjoyed his time in the U.S. He arrived last August, with an impression of America and its residents gleaned mostly from Hollywood movies.
“I really enjoyed the year,” Liegmann said. “It was not what I expected, but I would say it was even better than what I expected.”
When asked about the highlights of his exchange year, Liegmann laughed.
“I’m asked this question all the time, and I think I always give a different answer, because there really are so many things that were great. I couldn’t pick just one.”
Liegmann describes his background as “pretty typical” for Europe. His father is a businessman, his mother a hairdresser. He has two younger brothers in school in Switzerland.
Liegmann has lived with the Sweeney family in New Haven. Michael and Linda Sweeney have two older daughters who have moved out of the house, and son Matt is a senior at Mount Abe. The Sweeneys have taken Liegmann on trips throughout the Northeast.
“We went to Boston,” Liegmann recalled. “And we went to New Hampshire, and Maine to the ocean. We also just traveled around Vermont, and had some (Sweeney) family reunions that were really fun.”
Attending high school at Mount Abe also proved to be a pleasant surprise.
“The teachers are a lot nicer here,” he said. “The teachers in Switzerland are pretty strict. It’s more fun (here). We can choose our classes, so you can actually do what is fun for you.”
His spring semester curriculum included an English class, history, gym, math, French and Spanish. Liegmann speaks five languages: Swiss German, German, English, French and Spanish.
He played soccer for Mount Abe in the fall and is continuing with a club in Middlebury this spring.
“I didn’t try any other sports,” he said. “For me, there’s just soccer and that’s how it is in Europe, you play one sport.”
He said the soccer season was one of the highlights of his exchange year.
“I really liked soccer season here. It was totally different. Soccer is very different here than it is in Europe. I enjoyed it a lot, and it helped me a lot in meeting other people.”
He has no special plans for his remaining weeks in Vermont, but is looking forward to enjoying the beginning of summer with his friends and host family. He will return to Switzerland on June 25 and plans to attend a three-year business education program in Zurich, complete his year of mandatory military service, and then enter the business world, following in his father’s footsteps.
Though he will soon be far away, Liegmann says he will definitely stay close to his friends and host family.
He says his exchange year was positive on many levels.
“I grew up mentally, a lot,” he said. “Because you have to speak a different language and communicate in a different way. That helped me a lot for the future.”
Reporter Xian Chiang-Waren can be reached at [email protected].

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