[I interviewed exchange students from three Zurich universities. I asked them about their impressions of the schools, the people and the city. Here are their stories.]
Saja from Palestine: Law student at the University of Zurich
I am focusing on International Law, Public Law actually. I know a lot about the neutrality of Switzerland, a lot of international organisations which is amazing and interesting actually, and a great chance to just apply the knowledge to apply the knowledge in the real world of Switzerland, besides it’s amazing surroundings and scenery. It is different from Italy, it’s different from France, and Germany and all. Switzerland is very different to Germany, very safe, people are nicer than the German people, they are very strict. It was different.The Italian people also are different.
The university is an amazing one. I love the idea of practicing my legal English, here I get the chance to learn new terms phrases, you know, Latin phrases. It’s very hard by the way. It’s very hard. I spend my days trying to recognise things they teach us in the courses. Some discussions being in German, is a little bit hard.
I met few people, I met a Swiss student who was going to Palestine, it was very excited. But just a few people, I don’t have time. I went to Bern, it was amazing. I liked everything, all the buildings, the old town, very different, also the people are different.They are just relaxed. But you are a safe in Zurich, you know, as a head-scarfed person, it’s very safe for me. I didn’t know that I feel that safe, I went to the US and I had some problems with that, I heard some talks and staring at me. But in Switzerland there is no staring in an uncomfortable way. It’s safe. People around me is really friendly. I see a lot of different people and cultures.
I considered the UN after my studies, I worked also for a year for the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, like the Red Cross, so I know how they work. I would love to visit Fribourg. I met a lot of international people, we are attending the same courses actually, taking courses in Public Law, so a lot of the exchange students, we do presentations together. I dunno if I would live here after my studies, it’s difficult for living costs. But I would take another opportunity to study here, for sure.
Everything about the costs is shocking, every thing, yeah everything, clothes, shoes, even stuff in the supermarkets. It’s much much much more expensive than we have. And this is my first time in Europe. I had some expectations that it would be that safe and that secure and that comfortable. I have been to Italy and Germany. I am going to Paris in January.
Elena from Italy: Philosophy student at the University of Zurich
At the beginning I was a bit scared, I was lost let’s say. I was confused. I have studied German in my last year at university inTurin but when I came here it was not German, I suddenly understood that I couldn’t understand anything, even one word, from a native speaker.Then I started talking, for example, to Italian people who knew German and it was much clearer for me.That was the worst part I think. Because you don’t really feel integrated when you have this problem with the language. I had all the time to ask people to switch to English, and it was uncomfortable for me only because I thought it was uncomfortable for them. One of my flatmates is Swiss German so sometimes she teaches me some words. She taught me Chuchichäschli, just because it was a bit challenging to pronounce it. Zurich in particular is very international, everybody, any age, they switch to English whenever you ask them to. It’s comfortable, if you are here to live or here for anything there will be someone who helps you speak English.
I want to use this time to travel around Switzerland.Turin is very close to Switzerland but I’ve never been here so far. I saw Zurich and Geneva and nothing else for now. I have of course the programme but German is still not that easy for me – so I have to study it first and then to study it in German, which is something more. I have one year so I really want to travel.
Hiking is something Swiss people do often, so it’s another way to conform let’s say, to live like a Swiss person. I’m interested in changing and face the challenges let’s say. I like travelling like this, you are not like a tourist you go someplace and you go to take a picture and you go home and see the pictures.You learn different habits, you learn how to eat different things, you have a different routine but it’s positive. It might be confusing at the beginning, because you have to adapt a bit. In my case I had to adapt to live alone for example, because I’ve never lived in a different place that my mother’s place. I had to restart every-thing. It was a bit challenging and confusing and everything, but now I’m very happy because I’m building a life in here.
I found it very difficult to make good relationships, good friendships, because you go to lessons and always meet different people and with those people you spend minimal time. The prejudice of Italians about Swiss people is that they are very closed, but then I understood that they respect your privacy, they trust me and they trust each other.
Emma from Denmark: Biology student at the ETH
I decided to come to Switzerland, honestly, for skiing, not honestly, the ETH is a really good school, it’s got a good programme and it’s good for your resume and yeah, for academic reasons I would say. I have never been to Switzerland, but I’ve driven through when going skiing with the family and stuff like that.
My first impression: expensive. When I arrived I took a cab to my dorm and it was, how much was it, it was 80 francs. Meat here is crazy expensive compared to every other country in Europe. And there are also some things that surprises me a lot, for instance buying six wraps, pancakes for making it yourself, that was six francs for six pancakes.
The Swiss are very nice.The thing is, as an exchange student it’s very difficult to join the Swiss people – just as many other places that are, not closed but ... it’s difficult to get to know them.They will speak English with you but the second you take a break, breathe and stuff, they go back to speaking German with their friends, so it takes a lot of work but they are very nice, the friends I’ve got that are Swiss.
I live in an international dorm.There are so many events for international students, it’s never hard to find international people here. I live in dorm with lots of people and one kitchen. We have this one kitchen on the ground floor and there are 20 stops, 4 ovens and 4 microwaves and the ovens are maybe half a meter, and either you cook really early or really late. I don’t cook that much at the dorm, I’d rather just eat at the mensa. When so many people have one kitchen it’s not very clean at all, you always wash before you use anything, you just wash a second time because people suck sometimes.You’re only allowed to live there for half a year. I’ve got a lovely apartment in Copenhagen and then I come here and pay a lot more for less.The dorm is 545 francs.
My school is very demanding, everything is mandatory. But I am going skiing again next weekend. I don’t speak a word in German, my first course was in German and I had to convince the professor to do it in English but the slides and the literature was in German. I barely passed. I didn’t know it was going to be that way before I arrived, the title of the course was in English, so I thought ‘oh, it’s in English so of course is going to be in English as well’, but two weeks before I looked at the course description and I saw it was in German.
Jonathan from Germany: Visual Communication student at the Zurich University of the Arts
I decided to come here because I want to be a good graphic designer and I heard that Switzerland in general and Zurich in particular is a very good place to learn from the best Swiss graphic designers. Mostly typography is what interests me most, Switzerland has a large history and tradition of typography and culture. Definitely it was the correct decision to come here but I regret a bit that I stay only one semester because now I am feeling like I am getting used to the place and the university and friends and I’m quite happy in my flat and stuff, so now I’m getting into life here and it’s already over. But in like a professional way I learned a lot of course and I would like to learn even more because I think to become really a good designer I would like to learn much more from these professors.
I feel that Swiss people are friendly and helpful and welcoming in a way but it’s quite hard to get into deep contact. I struggled a bit to get into deep contact with the people in a way of like really talking about problems or stuff like that. People are very open at the first time but then it’s hard to get further.
But what I like a lot in Switzerland is that it’s a very international culture, nobody is surprised when you start speaking French suddenly. Or people sitting at the table and speaking English when most of them could speak German and this is something that I don’t know so much from my culture because I’m coming from the eastern part of Germany which is not so open to English for example. My parents are not very good at English because they learned Russian in school and stuff like that.This is what I like a lot in Switzerland, everything is very international, cosmopolitan.
I found good friends in the other German exchange students in Visual Communication, it’s kind of easier to get into contact because we have the same culture somehow even though it sounds strange that I have contact with the Germans when I am in Switzerland but it was easy to get to know them. I moved two months ago and now I have contact with my flat mates as well, before not so much, but now they are around my age. I think the school it’s a high level here, everything is high quality, you’re not doing anything for fun. I study a lot in Germany as well, it’s not that I’m doing nothing in Germany but here everything is a high level, the teachers are expecting a lot from the students. But for me recently it was almost too much, I decided to skip one module.
Mari from Finland: Music student at the Zurich University of the Arts
I am from Finland, from Helsinki.The biggest reason I came here is because there is an amazing trumpet teacher here, a trumpet teacher Frits Damrow, and I was here a year before to have lessons and I really liked him and way he teach and plays and that’s why I applied here and am really happy.
Also this school has been amazing, it’s so big and there is happening so many different things and so good professors and teachers. I like Switzerland very much. It’s not that different to Finland, I think the biggest difference is that all art is in the same building, we have also like art university but we are like separate, for music we have a few buildings what we can use and other types of art have own building. I think it’s great here. We have also few studies what we can do together but of course it’s a bit different when you’re in the same building.
I feel that the school is very international but also where I study in Helsinki is very international, but Finnish people they are more, I dunno. I think Finnish people are more shy but of course everybody is own person, it’s hard to generalise, but Finnish people are also honest somehow. People here, they have been so friendly and nice, it has been easy to be here. I was in Luzern and Ballenberg, the open museum. In Luzern we went to this Pilatus, to the top.The weather was very nice, there were quite many clouds at the time but the sun was shining, it was very special to me. Finland is very beautiful, like lots of lakes and everything but the nature here is very different, it’s very interesting.There is mountains, there is not much mountains in Finland.
I have not been skiing yet. We were thinking about this, we should go in the winter holiday time, to go skiing. I think Zurich is very nice and beautiful, I really love these old buildings, every building is different, very cute, I like it very much. Luzern was very different to Zurich, it was like Hogwarts or something, these buildings on top of this hill. I’d been to Switzerland before, three years ago I was in Basel. I was here also a year ago and had these lessons with Frits, maybe two nights or something.
I haven’t thought about moving here after the studies, but why not, if the life situation is like that. I miss the sauna a little bit, I’m so used to use it. I am staying for another semester. I think the half year is so short and it’s nicer to stay a year.
Mara from Germany: Education and German Language student at the University of Zurich
I’m studying Special Education in Germany and my subjects are going to be German and Religion. Here I am studying German stuff and Education stuff, so it would be Austria or Switzerland. I’m in Switzerland now and then I’m going to Salzburg in Austria next semester. Special Education is for students with disabilities in Germany, we have special schools and sometimes they go to classrooms with normal students and they need special teachers.
I liked Zurich very well, it’s really small but it’s lovely, even when it’s so small you see every time something new. I think the Swiss at first are a little bit reserved and when I talk to other exchange students who only speak English they say that sometimes Swiss people refuse to speak English and say they can’t. For me, when I speak German with them it’s different because maybe they don’t see me as a foreigner. It’s different because I speak kind of the same language. I mean Swiss German is very different to normal German. I understand Swiss German a little bit when they speak slowly but at first I was really confused because often they use different words, I dunno, they mix words and made a new word. When they speaks fast it’s really hard to understand them.
I’ve been to a few parts in Switzerland, and to France and Italy, because it’s faster to go to and I travelled by Flixbus because it’s cheaper, in Switzerland I travel by train because I get the Halbtax. It’s really expensive. It’s more expensive to get a train inside the country than to take the bus from Zurich to outside the country. I talked to a girl who is travelling to Milano, and she went there. I travelled by bus and I paid like 14 euros, or something, maybe 20. And she travelled by train and she paid 60 francs.The bus takes longer but if you plan to drive overnight it’s fine. Especially when you’re on a budget and you want to save money. I met a lot of exchange students, especially mostly from Germany because you talk to others and they say ‘yeah I’m from Germany’ and you say ‘yeah you’re from Germany as well?!’ so you feel bonded or something.
In university we read texts about virtual communication and in the Education class we read texts about schools and social workers, it’s really interesting but I think here the students read more and they always read what they get as homework and in Cologne nobody does. I was shocked when I get here and everyone was prepared for the class, and I said ‘you actually read this?!’
Victoria from Chile, Ilse from the Netherlands: Style and Design students at the Zurich University of the Arts
V: I really didn’t have too much choices.The other one was like going to France to study something with rendering stuff. But, funny thing, they asked me ‘yeah, you have to learn French’ and then I checked this, that was my second choice and they said ‘no, you don’t have to speak German, you just have to be B2 in English’. And then I came hereand they were like ‘yeah, you have to learn German’. It was like ‘shiiit’. I’m doing Advertising at home. It was the most similar thing that I could choose. Also I was like, kind of, curious about this Style part of Style & Design. But as I see it’s really open.
I: I had like more options actually, like a lot. I chose to go to Denmark, and then I sent my portfolio and stuff and they said ‘yeah, you could come but you would be disappointed by the level we have here’. Very strange, so I said ‘OK’. And I went to Denmark and I didn’t like them cos they were so closed. So then I had two other options: Bristol in England and Zurich. And Bristol, they told me it was super traditional and it was not open for new things. I was like ‘OK, really don’t like this’. So, actually in the end was Zurich. I’ve never been to Switzerland before. Never even visited.
V: I mean, of course the people is very different from Chile. All the people in Chile is more open and funny I guess. And they have another kind of sense of humour.
I:They have sense of humour.
V:The Swiss are just nice, it’s too hard to go further.There’s a wall. People here is super open to help you even if they don’t know you. And in Chile we’re like ‘fuck off’. Like, ‘your problem, bye’.That’s super nice here. Also the thing with public transportation. Like in Chile I just come out of my house and wait for the bus and it will come 5 minutes or 10 or 20 or never.
I: And also I think it’s so funny how on Wednesday or Tuesday they have to put the paper outside and then they collect it. And it’s funny how they do it so clean, what the fuck. I made a picture of it, it’s like whoa. It’s nice, but it’s not realistic or something, it’s really an island.
V: We are here in autumn, right, in fall, I didn’t realise because they cleaned the streets every day. So I didn’t see the leaves. And then like some day I passed in the same street and they haven’t cleaned it yet, it was like ‘oh my god, it’s autumn!’ I feel happy here every day.Yeah, I really feel it. I feel really happy to be here. I mean, everything is going nice and I just feel like I’m on vacation.