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

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

“Gimme me a bise, baiser or bisou – just don’t use baiser as a verb”: A guide to Kissing

In cold, rainy England, where we try to limit physical contact with unknowns (and sometimes friends) as much as possible, and where being accidentally brushed by someone on the tube warrants an apology (on the part of the brushed, that is), the idea of kissing somebody you have just met is, despite our (vague) awareness of our continental neighbours, not really done. Unless you’re being a pretentious prick like I was Continue reading

To love one’s country

Nationalism. Where I’m from, it is almost a dirty word. To be nationalistic is to be proud of and dedicated to one’s country. It is often associated with fanaticism, prejudice and rejection of other nations. Switzerland, though not necessarily all of the above, is beyond doubt a nationalistic country. It’s every policy seems bent on preserving Switzerland and keeping everything as Swiss as possible.

There are good and bad points to this, but one thing that I have noticed about the Swiss attitude is it does not denigrate other nations. It is highly concerned with itself, it’s true, and keeping Switzerland pure and protected, yet I don’t get the impression that the Swiss spend much time looking arrogantly down their noses at and mocking other countries. Unlike other nearby places (naming no names here) which seem to almost make a sport of it. We would simply like to be left alone, please, and we’re happy, seems to be the Swiss mentality.

Anyone who’s seen a UDC poster will get an idea of Swiss nationalism at its extreme. It’s not a pretty sight. Foreigners trying to find employment here, particularly non-Europeans, are obstructed at every step with solid doors which open willingly for Swiss, less willingly for other Europeans, and barely ever for anyone else. I have a friend who, though non-European herself and continuously frustrated in her attempts to secure internships, thinks this is a good measure, that it protects the country. Otherwise anyone and everyone would come into Switzerland and ruin it; this way, they ensure only the crème de la crème are allowed in and can make a contribution to the country, maintaining those (highly Swiss) high standards, according to her.

The distinctive square, red Swiss flag with the central white cross is omnipresent. It flutters from rooftops – I can see one right now as I look out my room window – and graces a huge majority of products (100% Swiss-made! Swiss quality!), from supermarket groceries down to the sachets of sugar that come with your tea in McDonald’s. Seriously. Some find this disturbing, though there must be great comfort in this for the Swiss themselves, to have such a strong sense of their own, well, Swiss-ness.

Switzerland’s reputation for quality and efficiency has not been unjustly earned; it’s no wonder the people don’t really want to leave. It’s a little oasis of calm and affluence in an otherwise troubled continent. The place is so peaceful it’s nigh on impossible to feel stressed here, even when disaster strikes; just take a deep breath and escape to the mountains for some re-equilibration, and get in touch with those bucolic roots.

Yet what does it mean to be Swiss? The idea of Swiss identity baffles and fascinates me, and will probably be the subject of my final-year dissertation. The country is not only divided into regions by the four official languages spoken, but within these regions there are further divisions into cantons, all of which have fiercely distinct identities and even differing laws.

Much legislation is decided on a cantonal level, meaning that a canton just next door could have very different policies. There is also, naturally, inter-cantonal rivalry. Here in Lausanne, for example, they’re not huge fans of Geneva; “too French”, apparently. Yet despite these marked dissimilarities within this one tiny nation, there is still a great emphasis on an overall national identity. “We’re SWISS!”

Mind-bottling.

The presidents of India and Switzerland totally came to uni today….

Unfortunately I didn’t get to actually see Pratibha Devisingh Patil, or Micheline Calmy-Ray. (Incidentally, why do they both have such long names?) Instead we were treated to loads of ominous-looking security guards standing around campus, and the blockading of some paths.

How awesome that two female presidents were somewhere nearby, doing their thing on my university campus while I nodded off in French class. “Their thing” being inaugurating “une chaire Tagore” (according to Swiss news). That means they were either unveiling a pulpit, or a new professorship (I’m working on the language, yeah?!).

The visit also marks a kind of economic accord between the two countries, with Switzerland presenting herself as India’s door to the European market. Now, as you know I’m majoring in French and Classics, not Economics, so I’m not going to pretend to know what this means for the Indo-European (or indeed global) economy. Just a fun fact for you.

Also, I repeat, two female presidents. It’s not Cameron strutting around with, I don’t know, Sarkozy, Carla dangling from his arm. We got two ladies at the helm. Ya’ll know what song I’m about to burst into… All together now: who run the world…?

How to ski in style

I seem to be leaving everything to the very last minute in my year-abroad prep (I’ve got to page 3 of the Year Abroad Guide booklet that we were given in March). It just today occurred to me, as I was wandering the high street, to pop into my local Black’s and check out some of their cold weather gear. I am very susceptible to the cold, and if I am to be clambering over mountains while in Switzerland (which I plan to do), I really ought to be thermoed-up for it.

Skiing is top of my list of things to at least try. I did one class of dry-slope skiing in year 7, which involved a practically horizontal slope, the length of which we were allowed to ski down once. Needless to say, I can’t really ski. I also have no clue what to wear. From my mother I have inherited an unused pair of black leather skiing gloves, which will definitely be useful, a pair of grey waterproof skiing trousers, and a bright scarlet beanie hat. None of them match.

It’s probably a little late in the day to be planning ski outfits. I’m leaving in 9 days (whoop whoop!) and have more important things to be doing. But… now I’m fixated on this. I have googled ski outfits and observed some alarmingly sleek and stylish ensembles. Surely no-one, aside from professional skiers who have tight, hi-tech streamlining fabrics, skis in leggings? You’d freeze!

Still, I, who once abhorred fleeces and those colourful, panelled waterproof jackets, am now hankering after a bright pink North Face fleece, and a windstopper to boot!

Even if I don’t end up going anywhere near a mountain (well, relatively, as you’re never far from a mountain in Lausanne), I ought to make thermals my new best friends. For some reason I seem to have it in my mind that nowhere will have central heating and I will be perpetually huddled in three fleeces, with longjohns on under my jeans. Much as I love winter for the stylish winter-wear (everyone looks so much better covered up in a smart coat, no?), I might just end up trudging around in a pair of wellies, fleece and raincoat. Function over fashion, darling.

Power to the Point! (Not the PowerPoint)

The Anti-PowerPoint Party is out to get your slideshows, and should they garner enough support, they plan to run in Switzerland’s October general election. I refer to an article I read about banning PowerPoint presentations in Switzerland.

It got me thinking about PowerPoint, and its ubiquitous presence in all forms of public address, from academic lectures to speeches at birthday parties. On the whole, I believe it can be a useful addition, as long as it is used for good, and not for presentation evil.

You know what I mean. The lazy-ass student who has copied a mass of text from the Internet and pasted it onto a single slide, too small to read from the back of the room, and who proceeds to intone the entire thing, which we all could have done just as well ourselves in silence. Often the information is generic, dull and comprises no analysis or work on the part of the student.

Then there are the distracting slideshows, containing dizzying flashes, spinning, twisting, fading and wiping texts and images flying all over the screen. One wonders if the creator wasn’t having the time of their life the night before, discovering the magic and fun that is transitions and animations. Or if their presentation is in fact rubbish, and they’re trying to razzle dazzle you into thinking otherwise.

What happened to cultivating good old skills of public address? Such as eye contact with your audience, and remembering what you are going to say, using only a few prompts from your bullet-pointed notes? We mustn’t fear the notion of simply talking to a room – essentially what a lecture is. With the right amount of charisma you won’t need anything other than yourself to hold the attention of your audience. Relying on slideshows dulls that magnetism and makes generic, PowerPoint-enslaved automatons of us all.

Whoever heard of a PowerPoint-accompanied inspiring speech? Did Alexander the Great need such aids when he rallied his tired troops on the verge of conquering India? Would Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech have been quite so stirring if the crowd were distracted by a big projection behind him detailing the major points of his argument? Would King George VI (played by Colin Firth in The King’s Speech) have tried so hard to overcome his speech impediment if he had PowerPoint as a back-up? We’ll never know the answers to these questions and frankly I don’t want to because a slideshow just cannot compare to a genuinely inspired and engaging oration.

Obviously if you’re in an art lecture, you’re going to need the projections of artworks under discussion. But I reckon PowerPoints should contain pictures, names and dates, and little else. These are generally what I prefer to include if I have to give a presentation, and I present the bulk of my research in speech. Another problem I have with PowerPoint is it makes for very static speeches. Because of the need to always be by the computer’s side to click onto the next slide, you lose movement and dynamism, which can really add interest and stimulus to a presentation.

Still, I’ve often found having a PowerPoint gives you something to focus on if your lecturer is mind-numbingly dull; a visual back-up if you cannot stand to listen to their voice, allowing you to still pick up key points. Pictures or videos can often provide additional stimulation, as well as making your lecturer look well smart and up-to-the-minute.

Though I don’t think we need to go as far as abolishing PowerPoints, I do believe we need not rely on them. It has become basically compulsory for university lecturers to use them, but why? It may bolster a bad presentation but it can equally do the opposite to a good one. If the projector is not working (as often happens), lectures are delayed, relocated, or even cancelled. What a waste of time on something inessential to many lectures anyway.

So let’s all ditch our PowerPoints, vote for the Anti-Powerpoint Party and get stuck in to some Quintilian!

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.