Greetings from beautiful Zürich, where I am currently attending my exciting exchange semester. The main reason for me to apply to Zürich was the German language. Someone might roll their eyes for this – why wouldn’t I go to Germany if I wished to improve my German? I didn’t actually have any reasonable excuse for this; I just knew I wanted to do my exchange in a German-speaking country but not in Germany. After arriving here I haven’t regretted my choice for a second.
Of course Switzerland is a special case when it comes to German language. Switzerland has its own, very confusing Swiss German dialect with for example different pronunciation and many own words. However, in school and in all official situations, people use High German, which is the one I have learned. In a store, the cashier doesn’t say ”danke schön” but ”tanke vilmal”, but for example all the courses at the university are taught in High German. In my experience Swiss people also really like speaking German with foreigners, and they don’t mind switching to High German as soon as they realize you are not a Swiss.
Before my actual courses started, I attended a pre-semester language course. There I also met people who were in the same situation as I was with my language skills; we all knew German well enough to have conversations, but were so insecure that we didn’t feel comfortable doing so. With each other it has been easier to improve since none of us is a native speaker. For example, I have a group of friends with a French, a Dane and a Finn, and we often speak German with each other. After only two months I am much more fluent and don’t stress about grammar anymore when I speak. It’s more important that people just understand me, anyway.
For many parts, Switzerland is quite similar with Finland – I haven’t really experienced any big culture shocks. Swiss price level might of course be a worrying factor for those, who consider Switzerland for an exchange destination, but that didn’t really shock me, either. For most things the prices are pretty much the same as in Finland, and after all, you can’t really come to Switzerland and expect things to be cheap.
Travelling, however, is extremely easy here. The public transportation both inside Switzerland and to abroad works like a well oiled machine. Zürich is a city where they apologize, if the train is two minutes late! Switzerland is also so small a country, that with just two hours by train you can get to completely different sceneries. I am still utterly amazed every time I get to see the Alps from close by.
Exchange is a thrilling adventure, but it does, however, also improve your patience. Things don’t always go as planned; international office might lose your scholarship, Kreisbüro might require the weirdest things, or you have to drastically change your original course plan. I, for one, am not so good with unexpected surprises, and exchange has helped me to work with that.
I have noticed that on an exchange, for some reason, it’s also easier to act more spontaneously. Maybe back home I am safely settled to my routines, but in here, in a new environment and on an once-in-a-lifetime adventure it’s better to just go with the flow. That’s how you might for example find yourself on a sauna-roadtrip with a couple of other Finns, because a Swiss magazine wants to make a big article about that – yep, that really happened.
Exchange semester opens your eyes to new cultures, adventures and people, but also makes you appreciate home more. So if you are considering an exchange or maybe an internship abroad, I can recommend it most warmly. CIA TuKY’s International Week 2014 is approaching and if you wish to hear more experiences from TSE students, they will be telling their stories and answering questions on the 6th of November.
Uf Widerluege!Liisa Välkkynen University of Zürich (Accounting and Finance, 9/2014-12/2014)