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Life Abroad: Student Discusses Studying in Switzerland

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Photo credit: Hunter Abney

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Written by: Communicator StaffNovember 18, 2017

By: Bernadette Baker

Choosing to go abroad was an easy choice for me. Studying abroad was an experience I had always wanted. It wasn’t that there was something wrong with where I was. It was my sense of the magnitude of the world left to see.

While choosing to go abroad was simple, going abroad was more a conscientious process. I had already been in contact with the former Assistant Director for International Programs Meg Underwood for a couple of years. Every semester I would talk to Meg about studying abroad. Finally, in fall 2016, Meg called me out and asked me if I was going to study abroad the next year.

Since I am writing this from my flat in Zurich, Switzerland, I did finally make the leap to study abroad. Although it was about nine months of intermittent paperwork, applications and deadlines, I would do it all again. The past two months have been exhausting, exciting and enlightening in every possible way. I am learning new languages, meeting people from all over the globe, taking classes with an international perspective and living in Swiss culture.

The process of coming abroad involved both expanding my interests and horizons and then a corresponding pragmatism of narrowing down the choices. My process began with choosing a group to use for my studying abroad, International Student Exchange Programs. ISEP was my choice because of its unique setup: I pay what I would pay to live in campus housing with a meal plan even though I am abroad.

Only certain colleges have arrangements with ISEP, so I had to find schools accredited for my major abroad and then compare the overall experience offered. I ended up choosing to go to the University of Zurich, which is in the top 100 schools in the world and one of the best in Europe for my major, economics. Thus, instead of signing up for classes at IPFW last spring, I was waiting to sign up for classes at Zurich. Classes in Zurich needed to count for credit at IPFW, so I spent weeks poring over class listings and comparing them with the IPFW Bulletins. MyBlueprint and the business academic advisors became my best friends.

Now is the exciting part: living in Switzerland. Grocery shopping has never been so exciting! Everything is marked in German, Italian and French, since Switzerland has multiple national languages, and I don’t know any of them. Even the keyboards are different since ü, ä and ö add a bit of spice to the otherwise familiar- looking alphabet. One of the joys of being an exchange student is that you don’t just notice the oddities of American and Swiss cultures, you also get to learn about the cultures of other international students who have their own unique perspectives.

Even as I go about my daily tasks in life, I am relishing the differences of it all. Public transit is a way of life here and enables me to see the culture up close and personal. Learning how to behave appropriately in social settings has been a continuous process since arrival. For example, Swiss people are much more reserved than Americans, so if you are speaking loudly on the tram, expect dirty looks. What I have come to learn, though, is the norm of being quiet in public is based out of respect for others around, and is something tremendously peaceful.

Another example of learning the culture is that every shopkeeper and store associate will greet you when they see you, and it is rude if one does not respond to it. Also, if you don’t put a small plastic divider at the end of your groceries on the conveyer belt, expect more dirty looks. Learning these social cues reminds me that I am engaging a new culture even in the mundanity of life.

Although I have many more opportunities in some way while I am here, I am learning the constraints of my new home, too. One such constraint is that most stores and shops close at 8 p.m. on weekdays and are closed Sundays, so there are no midnight runs for ice cream or last-minute trips for food. Another constraint is imposed by the transit system; I can’t just get in my car and go whenever I please. I have to make my schedule around the mode of transit I’m using. Since the transportation system is reliable and extensive, usually I don’t think too much about it. But it is super frustrating when you miss the tram you were planning on and now must wait seven to 10 more minutes.

Another consideration of studying abroad is budgeting. One way I chose to be economical was to not get a Swiss phone plan, so I am spending four months searching for WiFi wherever I can get it and living without a phone otherwise. Life is about choices, and budgets are a way of making strategic choices to facilitate one’s dreams. I sacrificed things I wanted so I could go abroad, and while I am here I still have to be careful about what I want to spend money on. I have to live simply.