Roughly this time last year, I had selected with much trepidation the University of Geneva as my first choice study abroad location. Admittedly, it was a decision motivated by the prospect of gorgeous scenery and even more gorgeous chocolate; Academia was at the very back of my mind. But as my final exam (English to French translation, if you’re curious) looms, it hasn’t quite sunk in that I’ll be saying au revoir to Switzerland in a few days.
Throughout August 2014, I was a bundle of nerves. An excited bundle of nerves, mind you, but hardly a day passed without me thinking of what might go wrong. The plane might crash into the English Channel! I won’t get on with the people I live with! I WON’T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING THAT ANYONE SAYS!
Fortunately, none of my fears were confirmed and I’m pleased to report that the first part of my year abroad has been brilliant. I wish I could say something dramatic here, like I got my leg chewed off by Lake Geneva’s equivalent of the Loch Ness monster, but luckily nothing has marred my stay. I’m not sure how the next four months will be able to compete!
Here’s the million dollar question: Has my French improved? The answer is a humongous YES. After receiving some pretty shoddy oral grades during my first few years at university, I’ll confess that my confidence at speaking French was low. When I first arrived, I would repeat the sentence I needed over and over again in my head before daring to speak to a shop assistant. I would question whether I’d used the right tense or made a conjugation mistake, strangely terrified that native speakers would belittle me for my rubbish grasp of their language.
Looking back, I don’t know why I was so scared. After only a couple of days, I realised that people didn’t care if said bonjour at 8 o’clock at night, or used the future tense instead of the conditional. It seems that they appreciate those who attempt to speak their language and are very encouraging, which has done me wonders. Although there is the odd Starbucks barista who, after hearing my failed attempt at saying “apple and cinnamon duffin” in a French accent, will speak to me in English, I feel like my spoken French has really come on.
As I said in an earlier post, studying here isn’t too different to what I’m used to in the UK. There have been a mixture of lectures and seminars, which have a similar format to those at Lancaster, with a fair amount of homework. The lecturers have been incredibly helpful and nothing is too much trouble. What amazes me, however, is the difference between British and Swiss students. For many British students, moving away from home and living in halls, fending for yourself, is a key part of the university life. Here, though, it’s the exception rather than the norm to move away. Since Swiss universities are of a pretty similar standard, many students decide to attend the one nearest to them. Another thing which is different is the lack of student societies, but I suppose I’m spoilt at Lancaster with our huge range of clubs to take part in!
Switzerland is real a gem of a country. Over the past 4 months, I’ve been able to explore Lausanne, Montreux, Basel, Zurich, Locarno, Lugano, Bellinzona, Lucerne and a host of cute towns and villages. Over the border, I’ve visited Chamonix, Evian, Annecy and most recently Lyon. I’ve done things as random as visited the United Nations, climbed the Reichenbach Falls and attended a comic con – not all in one day, although that would have made for a great story!
If you’re a French student who wants to go somewhere a little out of the ordinary yet not a million miles from home, I can’t recommend Switzerland enough. I know I’ll be back!