Federer, Swiss Alps and Banks. Those were the three main ideas which propped into my head when I considered putting Switzerland as my preference for my semester of exchange in Europe. Initially I had hoped to do my exchange in Spain, but due to language barriers I was given my third preference: The University of Zurich. The semester began on the 14th of September and I was lucky enough to move into my student dorm in late august, giving me ample time to meet my study mates and familiarise myself with the city. My first reaction to the city: expensive. Don’t be fooled with the cheap notion that everyone seems to emphasise about Europe. Switzerland, and in particular Zurich, is not a city for budget travelling. To give you an idea, a cheap kebab will cost 12 swiss francs (11 euro) in Zurich. In Berlin, the best rated kebab was 4 Euros. However, once I accustomed to the ridiculous prices of city, I began to appreciate the true beauty of Switzerland. I’m yet to come across a city with a more pleasant ambience, better public facilities or people with a more diverse range of languages (German, Swiss German, French, Italian and English).
As for the University it essentially reflected the characteristics of the city: high standard of education, organised, brilliant facilities as well as a pleasant atmosphere. One of the best things I was to find out was that class attendance was not compulsory meaning that missing a class here or there for travels in Europe was perfectly fine, as long as you stayed up to date with your work and, in particular, assessment pieces. The workload was generally similar to the standard in Australia but English being your native language will be an upper hand (I only took courses in English). I visited 7 countries in the 5 months I stayed there: Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Germany, Netherlands, Spain. This I believe was one of the most important benefits of the country. It’s central location allowed me to travel out and back over the weekend with little cost. Be warned however tourism within Switzerland can be quite expensive. The lack of bus facilities between cities or towns means trains are the only way to get around. To give you and idea a train ride with no discount from Zurich to Geneva was 85 CHF (80 Euro) while a bus ride from Zurich to Milan was 19 Euros. Generally the people in Switzerland were very well mannered and friendly and more than capable to understand and help you in English (learning german or swiss german is definitely not a requirement to get along). Obviously it would help but generally everyone will understand you. Switzerland, and in particular Zurich is a globalised country due to its banking sector, people generally do understand English. Although it is expensive I would advise everyone to do some limited travelling in Switzerland. The natural scenery is honestly second to none, particularly the Mountains. Some places you must see are the Matterhorn, Interlaken, Geneva and Lucern.
Overall exchange is an amazing experience. The characters you meet from all around the world with stories to share, the lessons in independent living and the life long friends you will create from memories you will never forget is what makes exchange a life changing experience.