It is so troubling to see time fly as fast as it has. It seemed like just yesterday I was clutching onto my brand new Kikki K. travel wallet, flying into Europe for the first time and waiting for the fact that I would be going on exchange for six months (a goal of mine from high school) to hit me. Landing in Switzerland, I remember dragging 40 kilograms of luggage through heavy snow, getting completely lost on the tram and in incredible pain after a 28-hour flight – but STILL so excited that I stopped to take pictures of the snowfall that Zürich welcomed me with.
After almost two months in Zürich, I realise that Switzerland most definitely holds up the stereotype – particularly with cheese, chocolate and things I’m still yet to get the hang of, such as punctuality and the almost offensive cost of living. I’m learning very quickly though, that there is so much more to this country than I will ever be able to get to know in six months.
I started off my exchange with a pre-semester two week intensive German course. I would highly recommend this. It was the best way to meet a whole bunch of exchange students from Universität Zürich but also ETH Zürich (a Polytechnic situated just across from Universität). I can safely say that although I’m not fluent in the perplexing Deutsch language, my friends are people from various faculties, countries and walks of life. We catch up almost every Wednesday for our ESN Pub Nights and travel on the weekends together. University classes started right after the German course. The lecturers are experts in their field, incredibly inspiring and are always keen for a post-class chat. There are also amazing facilities at Universität ranging from free gym classes, nap rooms and several libraries.
During my time here, I was able to immerse myself in traditional Swiss festivals – the largest one being Basler Fasnacht. It starts with the Morgestraich (the morning march at 4am whereby every light in the city turns off and the parade begins), which continues for three days. There was an abundance of fruits, vegetables, flowers, toys and alcohol being thrown at the spectators in return for a splash of confetti when you receive them. There were old men dressed in monkey costumes, witches and many attached selfie sticks to mock the past year in technology (it didn’t turn me off using mine). And just like the Swiss, it was like nothing even happened the next day.
Of course, being in a new country meant some adjustments. For me, these included learning that shops don’t open on Sundays, having no idea how to dispose of trash because you’ll get told off by strangers if you throw it in a normal plastic bag, paying for coffee and then making it yourself, running a sprint race when doing your groceries because you need to bag them, pay and not piss off the people behind you all at the same time, and getting lost on the trams at least 10 times before getting the hang of it (that could just be me).
I live in student housing (organised by WOKO) in a place called Bächlerstrasse 46. The housing consists of 18 flats within 2 buildings. Each flat has on average 8-10 individual rooms. We share bathrooms and a common kitchen area and there is never a dull moment. This is partly due to the fact that we have 1 Swiss, 1 Spanish, 1 Greek, 1 Swede, 1 Chinese, 4 Germans and 1 Australian. It keeps things exciting and hilarious when accents just don’t match up. We’ve had many flat dinners including Swiss specialities like cheese fondue, rösti as well as a number of other cuisines. To top it off, whenever there’s downtime in my flat, there are about 15 other flats I can bother, and there’s always someone willing to have a nice chat over beer or some hearty student delicacies (pesto pasta).
Switzerland is also perfect for those who want a central location and easy travel to the rest of Europe. In my 6 weeks here so far, I have been to 5 different countries as well as 4 cities within Switzerland and have a whole lot more planned for the remainder of the semester. There are always deals on flights and someone who’s willing to go with you. As the weather gets warmer, I’ll be getting on a bike (free to hire in Zürich) and exploring the city that way.
On exchange, I’m constantly learning new things, interacting with interesting people and finding out more about myself, as cliché as that sounds. For anyone who’s planning on applying – there is really no question about it. Send in that application. The administrative work is so worth it. The support you receive from UTS as well as from your host university will be plentiful, I promise. As for Switzerland, it really is a gem and I wouldn’t have my exchange any other way!