A Tale of Three Cities

Junior Nicholas Herman grows up in New York, Switzerland and Missouri


Sakenah Lajkem

Junior Nicholas Herman stands before a map of the Eastern Hemisphere. Herman lived in Switzerland for two years and visited many other European countries. “I like learning a lot about the culture of Switzerland. We visited a lot of other European countries while we were there too. We went to England several times. We got to go to Germany and on vacation once to Denmark, Austria to Hungary. Twice to Greece. I liked learning about those countries as well,” Herman said.

From birth until 11 years old, junior Nicholas Herman was used to New York City. He was accustomed to the skyscraper buildings, the English language and the busy city people.

“People are very active [in New York]. The restaurants were always open, and businesses were always around. They were always working on something,” Herman said. “That’s why it’s called ‘The City That Never Sleeps.’ Something was always happening.”

When Herman was 11 years old, however, his father had the opportunity to relocate to Switzerland for work, deciding to take Herman, his mother and little brother along with him. It took them a few months to pack. They left New York towards the end of the day and arrived in Switzerland early in the morning after a seven-hour flight. While Herman wasn’t happy about the move to a completely different city and culture at first, he eventually warmed up to the idea.

“I remember walking to the window of my bedroom for the first time, and I could see the tops of an apartment building, mountains in the back and a lake. That was entirely new for me because I had grown up in an apartment where all I could see was the other apartments,“ Herman said.

Now in Switzerland, Herman noticed his family was able to provide fresher food.

We would go to the supermarket once or twice a week. That was the norm in Switzerland. They had small refrigerators and freezers because they always went to the markets, bought fresh foods and then prepared them at home — it was nice to have fresh food,” Herman said. “In New York, we would buy something from the supermarket, store it and eat it a while later. It wasn’t as fresh as it was [in Switzerland].” 

Herman also faced differences between the Swiss and American school systems. In the Swiss school, there was one classroom, the main homeroom, divided into two parts for older and younger students. If Herman needed to learn a specific subject, only then did he travel to another room. Furthermore, Swiss classrooms were multipurpose: the science room was also used for languages, and the math for history. The teachers also each taught many different subjects. While Herman had trouble adjusting to the Swiss education system, he saw how it affected society.

“The private school didn’t work [for us] because their teaching method was a lot different from the American way of teaching. The Swiss had a very set system of doing things; not much deviation was allowed, whereas, in America, creativity is emphasized. It was hard to fit into that tradition; they were very insular people, [as they] don’t get many outsiders coming into Switzerland because it’s a relatively small country,” Herman said. 

Herman observed the strong link between Swiss people through their rules on citizenship.

“[You] have to marry a Swiss [person] to be a citizen of Switzerland. So it was hard to integrate into Swiss society,” Herman said. “It was the traditions like that that were hard to fit into.”

Additionally, transportation in Switzerland was also a change. In New York, Herman faced crowds, taxis and subways, as opposed to the less crowded streets of Switzerland. 

“In Switzerland, it was easier to go to different places. It was easy to walk anywhere we wanted to go within our town.” Herman said. “In New York, we had to walk relatively long distances. If it was not possible to walk, we could take a subway train or taxi, but we had to find a subway or hail a taxi, which was difficult in a crowd. And, if we did find a taxi, there was often so much traffic, it would have been easier to just walk anyway. ”

Herman found the most significant difference to be the size difference between his apartments in New York and Switzerland. In Switzerland, Herman’s apartment seemed smaller, cleaner and more comfortable because it was well-lit. Herman enjoyed the number of windows each room had in his apartment in Switzerland, with sunlight always flowing into the apartment. 

“We had a balcony we’d sit on and see the mountains to our left and the lake to our right. The school was directly in front of us. It was a much better view,” Herman said. 

Junior Nicholas Herman’s apartment in Switzerland.

At 12 years old, Herman moved back to New York, where he stayed for a year. Herman had been ready to return to America. However, he realized that after living in Switzerland, there were new changes in his life back in New York. 

The first thing that I noticed was the food. I could taste a lot of chemicals in the food. It didn’t taste as natural as European foods. I could taste chemicals even in a snack like Goldfish,” Herman said.

Herman’s family moved again after one year of living in New York City. They moved to Missouri before Herman’s freshman year, again for his father’s job.  

“I was curious [about Missouri]. I didn’t want to come, but I was more open to seeing Missouri than I would have been if I was younger. It was a little difficult to get used to the more quiet, suburban kind of atmosphere again,” Herman said. “It was confusing at times — here, they use cars a lot; in New York, I walked to school; I could walk anywhere. Everything is much more stretched out here. It’s [an] interesting difference. I do [like Missouri] a lot more than New York. The rush of New York is nice for a short period of time, but if you’re living there all your life, it gets tiring; right here in Missouri, it’s relaxed, quiet.”

Herman noticed an increased interest in work ethic in Missouri that he did not observe in New York. 

“I joined the cross country team last year, which was the first place I noticed it. I had played little league baseball [in New York], but the practices weren’t as frequent. It was more of a hang-out with friends,” Herman said. “[Additionally], I had a friend in New York; he never had a job. When my father explained that I had a job here in Missouri, he was impressed, [and] he was a difficult person to impress. At my job, Qdoba, it was hard work — we had to prepare the food quickly; otherwise, customers would get frustrated.”

Herman’s transitions throughout his youth prepared him for the mindset of working for what you wanted. 

“I’ve tried to keep my grades up. For most, that’s not a great accomplishment, but I didn’t care about school in New York. I didn’t care about much. Here, I work for my grades, sports and honors society. I think a person’s character is determined by how they work. I work to progress myself. It’s changed my mindset,” Herman said.