No More ERASMUS for Switzerland?

So this is when direct democracy can really come round and bite you in the arse. If you’re reading this presumably you have an interest in Switzerland and/or ERASMUS, so you’ll know that the recent referendum on limiting immigration into Switzerland has resulted in Switzerland being excluded from participating in the ERASMUS program. Sad news for future possible Lausanne exchangers, and also more selfishly, sad news for me. What about my plans to retire over there???

The really tragic thing is that Continue reading

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ERASMUS for grown-ups

It is the tenth and final day of a summer school I have been doing in Brussels, and time to consolidate my learning. Daily lectures on the EU have been in turn informative and dull, but have at least been enough to neutralise some Euroscepticism. I have always been pro-Europe myself, least of all because without the EU, the ERASMUS program wouldn’t exist! Therefore I would never have gone to live in Switzerland! Therefore this blog would never exist!! However what I walk away with most is an Continue reading

An International Education

Much as I love to study (hem hem), being on exchange has become more about getting a thorough instruction in the university of life (yeah, I said it). Rubbing shoulders with students from all around the world has given me a far better international education than any textbook ever could. Just in the past week I’ve been privy to snippets of an insider’s life in Armenia, took a crash course in Polish drinking ritual during a fondue party, and sampled some truly splendid (if incredibly oil-rich) home-made Columbian cuisine.

Though I came here to learn French, and take in a bit of Swiss culture, I think I’ve actually learned much more about other cultures. Like I said, reading about countries and customs is all very well but it’s all just words on a page. Speaking with real live people who talk with animation and emotion about their homelands is the best way to learn about a country.

Plus, it’s just quite fun to see the numbers of countries from which people you meet come racking up. The more unusual the place and/or circumstance, the better. I had never met anyone from Azerbaijan before, let alone danced Argentinian tango with them, until last semester. I had to look up the Cape Verde islands on google maps after meeting someone from there because I was clueless as to where they are located.

Once, I found myself at an all-Romanian party (just…don’t ask, no idea why), taking part in their traditional dance, and also for some reason performing the tango in front of a load of strangers (again, don’t ask). Mixing mulled wine and rum sounded horrific to me, until I saw how my German coloc did it, melting a huge cone of sugar into it with some special apparatus probably only found in Germany; it actually tasted pretty good.

It’s been a rather bitter pill to swallow, but I’ve learned that American English is far more widespread in the world than English English, and I’ve come to accept (almost) that my Received Pronunciation is frequently going to be met with blank stares in the international crowd. Adaptation, not articulation, rules when trying to communicate effectively!

All this exposure has made me realise, despite the multicultural-ness of London, just how much there is out there, and how little I know of it all. It’s nigh on impossible to know about even half of the cultures on earth, and it is important to never assume you do. One shouldn’t make the grave error of thinking that, for example, eating at an Indian restaurant means, even slightly, that you know the first thing about Indian culture.

What I’ve learned from this is that there is no “one way” or “correct” way of living and being. However it is wrong when you assume your own way is the only way, superior to everything else, which is worthless or pointless. It’s also made me realise that one new culture is not enough. I want to live them all!

A month to go and yet I can’t speak French…

In a month’s time I will be jetting off to the land of euthanasia and fancy timepieces. That is, Switzerland. One full (free) academic year at university in Lausanne, by the graceful Lake Léman, to bring my level of French up from precocious six-year-old to actual undergraduate on the ERASMUS exchange programme.

“Why Switzerland?” is the constant refrain, “and not France?” Why not? is my response. So I may end up with (what my French friends regard as) a silly sing-song Swiss accent, and obese from molten cheese and chocolate. So I might return bankrupt, yodelling, and with a new best friend named Heidi. Still, I have yet to hear anything really bad about the place.  France is too close; there they are rude and don’t shave their armpits*  (stereotypes? Don’t believe in them…). I’ve been there a few times already. I’ve never been to la Suisse before and hey, I can’t think when else I’ll get a chance to live there.

The first thing people mention, without fail, is the cleanliness. Then fondue, skiing, and bank accounts. Well, these are all things I look forward to experiencing, but there is much more to Switzerland. It’s the picturesque home of diplomacy, my hero Carl Jung, the Red Cross, Lindt, St Ives face wash, that giant particle accelerator, Roger Federer, and, with four official languages, is about as international as you can get.

Yet despite its international activity this teeny tiny state is also highly independent and unique. It is not a member of the EU, and the role of “president” rotates yearly between the seven members of the Swiss Federal Council, who retain their role in government. The current president is Micheline Calmy-Rey, head of the foreign office and, yes, a woman. I like this place already!

Not bad for a country less than a third the size of England. It is very advanced, very wealthy (read: expensive, gulp) and very neutral. So I won’t need to worry about getting caught up in strikes or wars while I’m there, but I probably won’t be able to splash out on lavish fondue lunches everyday. Probably for the best.

I also look forward to getting the full Swiss university experience; as I understand it, university life is quite different over there. Apparently rather a lot of stock is placed in this strange concept, something hitherto unknown to English students: studying. And hard, too. Whether there is a student drinking culture to match old Blighty, I have yet to ascertain, but I suppose I’ll found out soon enough.

Yes, all in all I am greatly excited and looking forward to shipping off and being an exchange student in Lausanne. Now if only I could speak French…

*I am, of course, joking. France is a lovely place…but not as lovely as Switzerland.