Battle of the brains: UK vs Swiss unis

In the weeks and months before heading on my year abroad, I was told all sorts of horror stories about university life in Europe. Your exams results will get lost! The lecturers will never turn up! There’ll be strikes all the time! It’s safe to say that I left for Switzerland intrigued as to what studying abroad would actually be like.

Although I can only speak for my own experiences, attending university in Geneva has been a brilliant experience so far and completely contradicted everything I had heard! So, as the sun sets over the distant Palais des Nations, I have decided to write this little comparison between uni in the UK (Lancaster) and Switzerland (Geneva) for anyone considering studying here.

Getting to uni

If you’re in halls of residence at Lancaster, the journey to uni usually entails a *cough* strenuous two minute walk from your bedroom to the lecture theatre. Ok, make that three if, like me, you get lured into Greggs by the smell of coffee!

While Lancaster is a city where you can’t go five minutes without nearly being squished by a bike, Geneva is the city of omnipresent buses and trams. My house is over thirty minutes from UniMail, but Swiss efficiency means that I often get there a lot sooner.

The campus

Lancaster is a campus-based university, meaning that everything you could ever need is a stone’s throw away (but don’t put that to the test or you’ll end up smashing the shop window of Spar). We even call campus “The Bubble” because it’s very easy to forget that anywhere else exists outside of Alexandra Square.

In contrast, the university here in Geneva is spread across three buildings in a district called Plainpalais. As I am studying in the translation and interpretation faculty, all of my courses take place in a gigantic modern building called UniMail. I have also explored Hogw… I mean, Uni Bastions, which is the second of the three buildings. As you may have guessed, stepping inside is like being transported to the Great Hall, and I half expected Nearly Headless Nick to casually float through a wall! Each building has its own library as well as places to eat and drink.

The classes

Although it didn’t seem that way during one of my many early-morning starts last year, we are actually lucky at Lancaster that lessons begin at nine o’clock. When I first received my timetable, I could have bawled when I saw 8h15 emblazoned across the top, but luckily my earliest class over here starts at quarter past ten.

I have found that the university system itself is pretty similar to that at Lancaster, with my timetable filled with a mixture of seminars and lectures devoted to all things French. One big difference, however, is the duration of the classes. In Lancaster lessons usually last for fifty minutes unless specifically stated, but here all lessons last for ninety-plus minutes. It can be a bit tiring, but nothing that a cheeky espresso can’t solve.

The lecturers have so far proven to be lovely. What is particularly interesting from my perspective is that most of them also work as translators for the big international organisations in Geneva like the United Nations. In addition, one of them doubles as a stand-up comic and has promised to entertain us with a routine at the end of term… here’s hoping!

The food

This wouldn’t be a post written by me if there was no mention of food! Back in Lancaster, we have food outlets at the university ranging from well-known brands like Greggs and Subway to a quintessentially British fish-and-chip shop. Yup, it’s a campus renowned for its healthiness…

At UniMail, however, there are only a handful of eateries but the choice of food there is vast. Remember the bit in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where the kids enter the huge Chocolate Room for the first time and want to eat everything? I’m sure that I was dribbling a little bit when faced with a fridge full of macarons, puddings and biscuit. Some of the goodies on offer wouldn’t be out-of-place at a posh restaurant, I kid you not.

Of course, it’s (sadly) not all chocolate and croissants, but the savoury food is just as good. There are salads which are actually edible for the health-conscious, while chefs (with tall white hats!) provide delicious cuisine from Switzerland and beyond.

Uni life

Outside of studying, I’ve started doing a few language tandems (read: good excuse for a coffee and chat) which has really helped improve my French. The uni helps pair you up with learners of English with similar interests, then you meet up and blabber in your respective languages. It’s a great way of learning how real Swiss people talk, although some of the words I’ve been taught probably wouldn’t go down very well in a lecture…

One of the biggest differences I have noticed between Lancaster and Geneva concerns drinking and smoking. I’m not implying that we’re all raving party animals in England, but there’s definitely less emphasis on going out clubbing and you can just about forget freshers week. That said, there are still opportunities for parties and the Erasmus society often holds drinking socials.

Regarding smoking: again, I’m not saying that people don’t smoke in Lancaster. However, I’d heard stories back in the UK about people in France leaving lectures for cigarette breaks. Here, the students aren’t quite so tobacco-orientated, but you can still head outside and feel like you’re inhaling more tobacco than fresh air!

So has Lancaster or Geneva won the battle of the unis? I’ll let you know at the end of my stay, but cigarette habits aside, I’m loving uni life in Switzerland so far and not sure I want to return to Britain any time soon!!

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9 thoughts on “Battle of the brains: UK vs Swiss unis

    1. Hi! My rented room cost 800 francs a month (about £570). This seemed to be the average price for Geneva, but living over the French border in Annemasse was considerably cheaper. Hope that helps 🙂

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