Being a student in Switzerland

It’s that time of the year! You have to pick a subject and choose the right university. You’re neck deep in reading university brochures and filling out application forms. While your brain is on an overdrive processing all the information thrown your way, little do you get to think about the life that you will lead as a student in a foreign university.

swissnex India gives you a little preview to the student life in Switzerland.


We got in touch with Sandeep Dabur, a Swiss university alumni from Mumbai. Sandeep studied MSc Management – Technology and Economics at ETH Zurich after his B.Tech in Civil Engineering from IIT Roorkee. He was also the proud recepient of the Scholarship for foreign scholars and artists (ESKAS) from the Swiss Government, through the Federal Commission for Scholarships for Foreign Students (FCS). He is now an Officer Trainee in Indian Audit and Accounts Service, undergoing training at National Academy of Audit and Accounts, Shimla, India.

Here’s what Sandeep had to tell us about life as a student in Switzerland:


Why did you choose to study in Switzerland? Which Swiss university did you study in?
ETH Zurich. Reasons for choosing: interesting course structure for M. Sc in management, technology and economics; freedom to choose from a large number of electives (unlike indian universities which provide a limited level of freedom in choosing courses); great university ranking; good scholarship; chance to live in Switzerland.

Did you have an option to take up an interdisciplinary subject?
Yes and I took a few from the environmental sciences department

Are there any interesting anecdotes from your academic life in Switzerland that you would like to share with us?
Once in the accounting class, our professor, who was Swiss-French, asked a question. I stood up to answer but he couldn’t understand my accent. I repeated twice but to no avail. Ultimately someone else stood up to explain what I was saying. But what he said I couldn’t understand fully. My initial frustration at not being able to make myself clear turned into amusement when I realized even I couldn’t understand what the other student said. Fortunately, this happened in the first few weeks only.

What are the accommodation options available for students? Where did you live and why?
I was very fortunate to stay at Justinus Haus, a students’ hostel on the top of a hill overlooking Zurich city. To reach it one had to take a seilbahn, a single cabin train pulled by a cable. The hostel had a few rooms available for tourists as well. The amazing variety of people I met there I don’t think I could have met anywhere. I think I met around 30-40 nationalities there. In a city where finding a good, economic place to live can be a pain at times, I was lucky that the federal scholarship authorities found this hostel for me. I’ll be forever indebted to them for this.

How accessible are the public libraries to students and what are the other affordable options to Indian students for borrowing academic books?
All public libraries in Switzerland are part of one single network. So one could order online from any of the libraries and get that book delivered in your chosen library. Also there was option of applying for a book which was not available but as soon as it was returned it was notified to you for reserving it. I remember for my master thesis work, I used to sit in various public libraries in Zurich and used to get books issued on my university identity card.

Did you work while studying?
I didn’t need to work while studying as i was getting a good Swiss federal scholarship. But many of my friends used to work as teaching or research assistants.

What is the best and economical way to travel around the city? Did you have student concessions?
There were daily, monthly and yearly passes for travelling on public transport, including trams, buses and ships. For people under 26 there were special concessions. The yearly passes were comparatively much cheaper. Also there was this wonderful card called Gleis 7 (meaning platform 7), using which people under 26 could travel free after7 pm on almost all trains in Switzerland.

Did you experience culture differences? Please state a few incidents and how you dealt with them.
There were many such as
– the way of greeting: three air kisses…i wonder why three..why not stop at two or one
– too much courtesy all the time, e.g. in the hostel while sitting on the dining table, i couldn’t say “pass me the salt” to my hostel friends. It was considered rude, so I had to say “pass me the salt, please”. Such courtesies are not generally known in Indian student hostels.
– everything is so quiet there. As part of general Swiss rules, it’s not advisable to even flush the toilet after 10 pm. In trams one should not talk loudly, else he/she might be stared at strongly or even asked to be quiet. I heard a car honking in Zurich only after 2-3 months of my stay there.
I used to discuss such things with my hostel friends. In most cases the surprises were on the positive side and soon I found myself adapting as per the customs there.

List out a few student clubs and associations that will be helpful during the stay in Switzerland.
I was particularly active in Indian Students Association- Zurich (InSAZ), which helps make stay of Indian students quite comfortable, not just in terms of providing relevant information, but also as a platform for meeting other Indians. There are a good number of student organizations which provide all sorts of help such as accommodation search, sports, etc.

If you have more questions, visit swissnex India @ The Hindu International Education Fair 2015 and we will do our best to answer them. The rest is for you to discover!

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