What It’s Like To Spend A Gap Year At Neuchâtel Junior College in Switzerland with Jack Moser

If you've ever dreamt of going to Switzerland, you’ll wanna hear Jack Moser’s story about his gap year at Neuchâtel Junior College.

In this episode, he paints a beautiful picture of Switzerland and his incredible time in Neuchâtel while describing the town, his daily commute, his class schedule, the Canadian school curriculum and his amazing Canadian teachers. Discover why he said it was the best year of his life and what life was like in Switzerland during the pandemic. He also describes some of his exciting travel adventures with friends and the strong support he received from his host family. Be sure to listen to the end as he shares some advice with students who may be thinking about spending their gap year abroad or going to Neuchatel Junior College.

Topics Discussed

  • What led him to discover Neuchâtel Junior College and why he decided to attend school in Switzerland.

  • Why his trip to Switzerland taught him independence and the situation on graduation night that made him realize he had become an adult.

  • The daily journey to Neuchâtel Junior College with classmates, the train schedule and how different seasons impact their commute.

  • Why Neuchatel’s proximity to the French border made it easy to travel to France and other nearby cities, its main establishments and what the city looks like.

  • Why he felt that his gap year in Switzerland was the best year of his life, how it changed him and how his friendships gave him a strong sense of belonging there.

  • How his planned class trips to different European cities didn’t happen during the pandemic but resulted in him and his friends travelling to different cities within Switzerland.

  • The key highlight of his trip: Spring Break in Zermatt where he learned and taught his friends how to ski, and how the experience upgraded his skiing skills by 5 years.

  • Practical advice for students who may be thinking about travelling abroad or going to Neuchâtel Junior College.

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Connect With The Canadian Gap Association


Episode 68What It’s Like To Spend A Gap Year At Neuchâtel Junior College in Switzerland with Jack Moser


Michelle - If you've ever dreamed of going to Switzerland, you need to listen to Jack's story about his experience at Neuchâtel Junior College on his gap year, he said that he came back absolutely changed and paints us such a beautiful picture of his incredible time over in Neuchâtel Switzerland, even during COVID. So, if this sounds like something you might like to do, take a look and take a listen.

[Music & Intro]

Michelle - Welcome to The Gap Year Podcast, where we explore the who, what, where, when and why of gap years. It's real people sharing their stories, ideas, and experts, diving deep into how you can make the right decisions in order to have a meaningful gap year. This is the place to be no matter where you are on your gap year journey. I'm Michelle Dittmer, your resident gap year expert. Let's jump right in!

Michelle - Hey everybody! Welcome to the gap year podcast. My name is Michelle Dittmer and I am your host and gap year expert today's episode. I am so lucky to be here with the one and only Jack who is coming to us from university. He is on the flip side of his gap year, and I'm so excited to talk to you today. And why don't you give a little bit of a backstory on who you are, and that will kinda kick us off.

Jack - I'm Jack Moser. I'm from Toronto, Canada, but I grew up in Saskatchewan for a couple years of my life, my like peak childhood. So, I consider that my hometown kind of, will obviously get into it more. But I took a gap year at Neuchâtel Junior College, which is located in Neuchâtel Switzerland, the French speaking part of it, and best year of my life right now that led me to come here to the University of Denver to study Finance and Econ. It's been a great quarter so far. I'm back online a bit, but we should be getting outta that soon. So that'll be good.

Michelle - Yeah. Amazing. Yeah. I love when we have representation from across Canada, it just like warms my heart. I didn't even know that little piece about you. So that kind of adds to the mystery of Jack and his whole story. So, you mentioned that you did take a gap year and you headed over to Switzerland, but let's kind of rewind a little bit because a lot of people listening to this podcast are still kind of in that decision making phase, mm-hmm. So maybe what led you to that idea that you wanted to kind of take that extra year or take some additional time?

Jack - Yeah, so it's kind of confusing, but I'll explain it. So, I graduated the class of 2020. I went to Trinity College School in Port Hope in the CSA league. I started there in grade five, went all the way to grade 12, but the funny thing is I skipped grade four. I'm 2003, so I was always ahead of year. And that's another reason why that was making me think, oh, maybe I'll just redo a year at Trinity, but my dad, he was class of 1988, at Switzerland. And he took me to like a little soiree event where Andrew Keleher, great headmaster, he was there in person in Toronto speaking. And as soon as he was speaking, I knew I wanted to go and I wanted to look into it more. That was in, um, Grade 11. I kind of knew at the end of grade 11, going into grade 12, I wanted to go to this school. And that's when my dad brought out a big chest of all of his keepsakes and stuff from there. And I too have started my own little box that'll show people and it'll always be with me. And yeah, I started the application around summer and then I submitted it in maybe like October of my grade 12 year I did the early admission. Yeah, so I heard back from them within two weeks saying it's looking good as they say. And then I fully of officially got in, in like November, December. And then ever since then, I've just been getting ready to head out for 2021 in, Switzerland, sorry, 2020 in Switzerland.

Michelle - Amazing. I think it's really interesting cause we get a lot of people who skipped a grade somewhere in their schooling or they have a late birthday. And so, they're kind of graduating and either they themselves feel a little bit young or their parents feel that they're young or maybe not feeling just like quite ready or quite prepared for going on to university. So, some people, like you said, they're thinking like, hey, maybe I should just do another year of high school and just like be there and just do that, like high school's okay. I know what I'm into and I know the teachers and it's comfortable, but I really appreciate that you recognize, and your, your dad kind of encouraged you to get out of your comfort zone, like doing a year at Trinity. Would've been fantastic, but it would've been more of the same. Yeah. I can imagine how much more you grew because of this experience rather than just kind of hanging out.

Jack - Oh, very much so. Like when I came home, I due to like COVID and everything, I was only home over Christmas and I didn't change that much according to my parents, but from January to June, when I came home over the summer, my parents were like, who are you? Like, I was a completely different person, but I'm actually going back to skipping grade 4. I'm actually really glad I did it because my birthday is actually in like two days. I always had an early birthday. There, I didn't think I was gonna take a gap year, but I'm so glad I did. It was by far the best year of my life.

Michelle – So, I oh, awesome! Well happy early birthday. That's really exciting. I hope you're gonna celebrate in style with whatever's possible these days. Yeah. Hopefully. So, you said that your parents noticed a big change in you. What were some of the things that maybe they shared that they noticed that were different than you?

Jack - Probably the biggest thing was independence. Is because before, when I went to Trinity, I was a day student. I'd go home to my parents every day. And then Switzerland sent me eight-hour flight across the world. I'm gonna be honest with you. First night that I sat down on my bed, like in my homestay house, I was tearing up because like, I didn't think I could do it being away from home, but ever since then, I don't get homesick anymore. When I said bye to my parents to come here. I had no feelings of like sadness, just because Switzerland took it all away. And another reason why I'd say independence was the biggest thing is I've always been kind of an independent person, but just never on that level. And in your homestay you either live by yourself with your family or with other people. We only had like three days to pick people who we wanted to stay with. And I did not like any of the guys. I truly didn't, but now they're literally my closest friends that I die for. Like I decided, you know what, I'm gonna go by myself. And I got this amazing family, like absolutely a ridiculous they're best thing I fully was crying when I said bye to them to leave. Um, I still am in chat with my Madam practically all the time. She wished me a happy birthday, but that's not yet. So, it's really funny and stuff, but, and just going to school and having, not technically being a part of their family. So, I could really leave whenever and the public transit there is ridiculous us of how good it is. It's the Swiss. So, of course it's like exactly when it's there and I'd just like, take a bus to go over to my buddy's house for dinner. We'd go out to this nice fondue place. Walking up my street hill, the lights would turn off right at 12. And our curfews on like weekends were like 1:30. So, every night I'd have to walk up in like the pitch black. And I used to be terrified of it. Well, like when I was like younger and stuff, the first time I looked at was like, I'm not walking up there. Cause it was pretty scary, but I'm perfectly fine with everything. And it just really made me a much more independent person.

Michelle - Yeah, something that you touched on there, which comes part and parcel with some of these like larger experiences is you realize that you're more capable than you think you ever were. You're talking about like being scared or being unsure or being on your own for the first time when you push through those things. And when you challenge yourself, all of a sudden, you're like, man, I can.

Jack - There was a big, there was a scary situation that thankfully didn't happen, but stuff with the local people there on graduation night and my friend and I, we took charge of it all and made sure everything was fine. That's when I realized that I was an adult. That's when I realized that like I fully just out of nowhere, took charge, made sure everyone was okay and no one was getting hurt or anything. Not the best night. I'm not gonna lie. It wasn't the most fun night, but I'll never forget that night.

Michelle - Yeah. A rite of passage we'll call it.

Jack - Yeah. Yeah. That's a good, way to put it.

Michelle - And I think becoming like an adult is such a foreign concept. Like it doesn't just happen overnight. You think you're a kid and then all of a sudden, you're a grown-up. Like that just doesn't happen. But all of these.

Jack - It really happened for me over the year. Like within that year and then it was that night. Like it was four days before we left. And that's when I realized like, I'm an adult after like, dealing with that. Yeah. Cause I never thought like, I, that type of person that would deal with conflict and everything, but I was fully able to and stuff.

Michelle - Yeah. And I think it's all of those skills that you picked up through your experience heading over to another country and living on your own and learning to get along with your host family and all of these other characters that were part of the journey. Can you fill us in a little bit on like what the day to day looked like? Like, can you paint us a picture?

Jack - Yeah, definitely. Our school was right beside the train station. So, kind of in the heart of Neuchâtel, just to give background information, usually the classes are around 70, 80. We are only 38 because of COVID and everything. So, the majority of the time, a lot of people are living by like train. They have to go in and it's like a 20-minute train ride. They all really just chose the families that were in the city. So, we only had to take buses and stuff. So, I'll explain, uh, a fall day and then a winter day, uh, spring day, because they were very two different for the traveling. So, the fall day classes started at 8 and the majority of days. So, you have 5 blocks a day and you really, you only have 3 classes each. So, usually you have 2 free blocks and they're like an hour and 20 each. My fall schedule was really bad. I always had to be there at 8:00 am and I couldn't leave until 4 cuz that's when it ends. I never had like a late start or late or like an early ending. Yeah. That kind of sucked. But you know, wake up every morning and look across the lake to see the Mount mountains and everything. So, I can't really complain.

Jack - Yeah. Wake up around 6:45 every day and get ready, eat, and then leave the house around 7:30. We had a train station in our town and outta the 38 of us around this one, roundabout that led off to like five different streets. There was 13 of us all in this one area around walking in. So, I was in a great spot. I. And we'd always all take the train together. Especially the, these three girls who became like my best friends. I would always like meet them at their place cuz I was further up and I walked them down and we'd go to the train station. The train would leave at 7:48 and get to the train station, which is right beside the school at 7:52. So, it was a really fast train because it wasn't far at all and it was great. Just the problem was the walk for me. It was like a 15-minute walk mm-hmm. We would start at 8, first period, second period, and then we would have lunch and then 2 more periods. And that would take us to 4. I don't, I might be forgetting like a break somewhere or any something. I'm not sure, but that was the full day. And then we'd take the train back.

Jack - Usually my buddies and I, we would stay at the school for a bit, you know, get some food and just like do our homework at the school and then leave around like maybe like five or six, but then halfway through the year, the train went under maintenance. So, we couldn't use that. Two buses. One that was like, wasn't on our street on the main street that you walked down to. And then there was this one bus coming from a mountain village that came down my street and that bus came to my stop at 7:31. So, I didn't have to walk at all. It was right in front of my place. So, the timing never changed for me because I'd always leave my house at 7:30. But for example, for like the three girls down the street, they were only at 5-minute walk from the train station and they had to now wake up like 20 minutes earlier to get that bus. Right. Because that would like leave my place at 7:30 and get there at 7:50. So, it was very different. They, it would pick them up at like 7:32. Right. And so, it didn't, it never really impacted me. But it just impacted a lot of other people for that train. I was fine with that because I didn't have to really walk anymore that far. Yeah. But the walk was also great. It was up like this nice little cute town hill and stuff. The days were, they were fine. They were a bit long, but we had our breaks and stuff where even for like just sitting there for an hour and 20. You get bored very fast and the classes were fun. Like I enjoyed all my classes, so it wasn't terrible.

Michelle - Yeah. For clarity's sake, the classes were in English?

Jack - Yes. It was an Ontario curriculum in English and all of our teachers, Canadian, who were all like living there. And the majority of them were in like their fifties and sixties where they retire and stuff just to like, you know, teach in Switzerland for another year. Like my English teacher, she went to Oxford and taught at Oxford and now she ended up teaching in Switzerland. I asked her why, she just said because she wanted to, sounds fun, which it is. And like the teachers, you have like a real connection with them, especially our class. Cuz we were so small. Uh, I, I loved the teachers there. They were super great.

Michelle - Awesome. It's so neat to know that there's a Canadian curriculum halfway around the world with Canadian teachers. So, if you do need it for university admissions, um.

Jack - Yeah, even our French teacher, she was from Quebec. Like she wasn't even from Switzerland, she was from Quebec.

Michelle - Perfect. Can you paint us a little bit of a picture of Neuchâtel Switzerland for those who aren't familiar with it?

Jack - Definitely. Noelle would be the third biggest city in Switzerland. It would probably be Zurich, by far Zurich than Geneva. And then probably uh, Neuchâtel. So, the train station's kind of at the top of the hill, and then you go down and it's called Place Pury. And that's where all the shops are, all the restaurants, all the buses and everything like that. That's like the main village. And that's maybe like a 10-minute walk from the train station, which is where like the University of Neuchâtel was there as well. It's on lake Neuchâtel, which is the biggest lake that's fully in Switzerland. The train station was at the top. And then it went down towards the lake and then plus period was kind of over here also on this level and everything. And I played for the junior B team there just cuz why not for hockey and stuff? Yeah. Yeah. The arena was right on the water and stuff and there's a funicular that can take you down. That's like underground. It's a cute town. It's, it's a decent size. And then you like go out like maybe like 20 minutes and that's when you start getting into like the smaller like villages and that's where I lived. Mm-hmm. Yeah. There's not much to it. And, but it's like, as soon as you move past the train station for going up, cuz there's right on a mountain. You can drive five minutes and you're in the middle of nowhere. That's how fast it changes there. It's just barren farmer fields and everything like that. And it was maybe only like an hour drive from the French border. So, we were Northwest and stuff.

Michelle - Awesome. Well, it sounds like an amazing place to spend a year. So you said like this was like the last year of your life and completely changed who you are as a person. Tell me more about that. Cause I think that's super interesting.

Jack - Yeah. I'm gonna be brutally honest cuz that's what people wanna hear. I did not have that many friends in Canada. I was not so unconsidered popular. Mm-hmm um, but in Switzerland, I really just like found that like I fully belonged in everything and I met my best friends there, who I'm still in contact with all the time. I always see the Toronto people around. Cause we just go and hang out. And this summer we're all, my like five closest guy friends, were all getting together, probably in like Montreal and everything. And we're just gonna have a great time for a couple weeks. So, we're planning that out right now. It just opened me up so much. I can't really explain it better than it just changed my life forever. And if you ask anyone that ever went there, the they'd say it changes their life in some way.

Michelle - I think it's such a monumental thing to be able to do, not only to gain the confidence from moving halfway around the world and doing school and building independence and creating really strong relationships with the educators, with your host family, with your, uh, host siblings, with all of these other people, people that have this shared experience because everybody else walking down the road has no idea what the world is like in Neuchâtel and you guys have this incredible bond because you have such an incredible shared experience and you went through so much together, that it really creates like a brotherhood and a sisterhood and like a whole new family.

Jack - Oh yeah. I fully agree with that. Like even my dad, like there was this one girl in my class, her uncle was in this same class as my dad. Right. And would both of them kind of recognize both of our last names and they're like, oh, do you know Mark. And they're like, oh, do you know Doug and everything? And they still are like buddies and everything. My dad's business lawyer was his roommate from Switzerland. Like I'm always gonna have these people in my life and I never have to worry about losing them.

Michelle - Yeah, and I think that's so powerful, especially right now. Right now, when we're recording this, we're in kind of the height of the, well, we're still in the pandemic. And that sense of connection I think, is so important to us as human beings, to find a place of belonging, to find a place where we can fully be ourselves and get people on a, on a really deep level. And I think one of the things that was really impressive from Neuchâtel Junior College was that they were able to function even in the pandemic. And I think that really is a tribute to how careful they are, how well organized they are, how safe they are and the way that the program is set up there.

Jack - Just speaking on that, not a single one of us tested positive the entire year. It's a positive and a negative. So. In Switzerland, obviously, it's, you can travel very easily to all different countries around and we're supposed to go on multiple school trips to Germany, to Austria, Poland, France. There was like a service trip and Africa over Christmas break and everything, but we only got to go on one because then all the borders shut down. We got to go to Munich at the beginning. To see like DACO and everything, the concentration camp. Yeah. So that was really cool and stuff, but then we didn't get to leave the country really ever again, but as all of us would say, and our headmaster would even say that. We saw more of Switzerland than anyone else, because if you name any major town, Switzerland, I guarantee you, I was there because of the amount of independent travels we got to go on and just like ski trips and just random, just hop on a train Saturday morning, come back Saturday night, literally, where just go wherever. But I remember this one time, one of my friends and I, we literally just closed our eyes and went like this on a ticket booth to see where we were going for the day.

Michelle - That's awesome. What an adventure!

Jack - Yeah. It's it was great because the trains just like the buses are great there.

Michelle - Yeah. And I think that's one thing that North Americans don't really understand how good public transit can be.

Jack - Yeah. After being in Toronto with the TTC and then after Switzerland, like Switzerland has the best in the entire world. They're amazing with it.

Michelle - Yeah, it's just super cool to hear of your experience. Um, yeah. And some of those things that you're really gonna take away, do you have any other kind of key takeaways from your time there or any, any other major highlights that you wanna share?

Jack - Probably the best week was, uh, when we got to go to Zermatt, which was our spring break, mm-hmm. Everyone got like two weeks off and we all like booked AirBnbs differently and stuff. We're all in the town together. So, we were all like seeing each other during then and everything, and like running into each other while we're skiing. But that was amazing. I've been skiing my whole life and that improved my skiing by five years of experience and like my two closest for Wednesday never skied before. So, I got the joy of teaching them how to ski in Zermatt. That was really fun.

Michelle - Oh, my goodness that beats the pants off of learning how to ski a mountain.

Yeah. Oh, that's awesome. What crazy adventures. And so, that lit box that you've put together with all of your keepsakes and your memories is just gonna keep all of those things alive for you. And you're gonna be telling your kids and your grand. Exactly. Yeah. Just like your dad was telling you. And, and that family tradition might continue on.

Jack - I hope it does. I hope it does. Yeah.

Michelle - And I think that's also probably something that you're gonna share very special with your dad as well.

Jack - Yeah. Sadly, usually the parents go over there. Mm-hmm, three, four times, but they couldn't go over there once. And my dad was like the most sad out of anyone because and him and I, some nights will just chat about, oh, do you know like, this bar? Like, my dad would be like, is that still there? I'm like, Oh, no, that's the casino now and everything. Like, I know exactly what you're talking about. My parents had promised me because my mom also really wants to go in my sister. We all made a promise to each other in the next couple years. We're gonna go back over the summer and I'm gonna take them around Switzerland. And like, I'm gonna see my family again and the school and just everything like that, and yeah.

Michelle - Yeah, I think that's the best case scenario for COVID. And I think that you were extremely lucky to be able to get over to Switzerland and still have an international experience when so many people were house-bound here in north America. And although you missed out on some of the routine, things that Neuchâtel Junior College offers, and that will come back once COVID is over, you still had a very memorable year

Jack - Oh yeah. Like our headmaster said we were one of the best classes we've ever had, because one reason is because there was so few of us, we were all really close together and we never really like hated each other, like normal high schools. There's always people who you hate. There's people who we like didn't wanna hang out with, but there was only maybe like a couple, we were super close and like people who I never really even hung out with on weekends who live in Toronto, I saw them like four times over, because like how you were saying we're connected now because of this grand experience.

Michelle - Mm-hmm, that's amazing. Now, if there are people listening or watching this episode and, uh, maybe they're in grade 12, making some life decisions. Do you have any advice for them or advice you would go back and give yourself, um, in that position?

Jack - I'm taking this from Nike, but just do it if you're contemplating it, do it, especially if it's Neuchâtel Junior College. Just, I have no other words for it, except just like go to NJC. Trust me. You can take my word for it. Anyone who's listening, but. Trust me, it's gonna be amazing. The advice I'd give myself would just be, keep your head up. Things obviously get better and everything cuz like also during that time, my parents were going through health problems. My mom had stage four cancer, lung liver, colon, and my dad had a heart attack. Both of them are still with me to this day, which is amazing. They're the strongest people. I know, even though that, everything's better now. So just like if times are tough, which we all have tough times. I had tough times all through high school in Canada. It gets better. If you have the opportunity to go somewhere like Switzerland, do it. Just go head first. Go in.

Michelle - Yeah. Yeah, I think it'd be scary for some people to be.

Jack - Yes, no, I fully agree with that. Like, it was scary for me, like the day that I was leaving, I was our flight because we did a night flight. My flight was at like five o'clock that day. Yeah. And just that entire day, I was just like, what am I doing? Like, I was second-guessing butterflies and your stomach. Yeah. And when my homestay mother there, who's literally one of the greatest people I've ever met, heard that I was, she came to check on me. When I first settled in, cuz I just got in, said hello, like toured the house, sat down on my bed and started like looking like I was upset and everything. She came in and just sat on my bed and put her arm on my shoulders. Aw. And from then on, I knew that like, okay, this year's gonna be fine. Yeah. It's gonna be great. Even when I was there, I was contemplating it. Like I was thinking, oh no, this is not for me. But I don't know what I would've done. If I didn't go, cuz it just changed and made me such a better person.

Michelle - I love these stories and this is why I do what I do. And I try to encourage people to take gap years because you could have missed out on all of that. If you had chosen to just go into the university or if you had chosen to do another year of high. School, you would've missed out on a lot of that enrichment in those friendships. And so, I'm so glad that your story ends with a happy ending, like 99.9% of gappers. And I just wanna thank you for sharing your story with us today and for joining us on the podcast.

Jack - Perfect. Yes. Thank you very much.