Studying in Switzerland – Veena shares her experience

Veena Manikulam, a University of Zurich student, on a semester exchange program in Bangalore, visited swissnex India. We had a chat with her about life as a student in Switzerland. Here’s what Veena had to say –

Tell us a bit about your background.

I was born and raised in the canton of Zurich, one of the most (internationally) famous and vibrant cantons of Switzerland. I visited kindergarten and primary school in a small, beautiful lakeside village called ‘Rüschlikon’ and spent 16 years of my life there. After primary school I attended a nearby High School that specializes in classical and modern languages until, in 2013, I joined the Faculty of Law at the University of Zurich for my further academic career.

Growing up in Switzerland while being of Indian origin, I had the unique privilege of having two completely different cultures influencing my life and my personality at the same time. People always ask me whether I feel more Swiss or more Indian. I always answer: “Why can’t it be both?”

What is it like to be a part of University of Zurich?

With more than 26’000 students, the University of Zurich (UZH) is the biggest university in Switzerland. Coming from a relatively small high school I was overwhelmed by the immense number of students and professors I found at the University. After an initial state of shock and disbelief, I gradually got used to the dimensions of the University and found my way through it. At the end of the day, I figured that participating in one of the student organizations is in fact the easiest way to connect with people and find a group of friends in such a huge crowd of people.

On a related note, the Faculty of Law with more than 50 highly qualified professors offers its students an incredible range of specializations to choose from: from international human rights law to ecclesiastical law to comparative family law – you will be stunned by the variety of opportunities the Faculty of Law holds.

Why did you choose to study law in Switzerland instead of the UK?

I started my Bachelor’s degree in Law at the age of 18. At the time I felt I was not yet ready to leave my beloved hometown and live abroad on my own, I felt I still needed to grow as a person.
Looking back, I do not regret my decision. Joining the Faculty of Law at the University of Zurich itself was quite an adjustment to me: the change of environment, the high workload, meeting a new group of friends and generally the new way of life were already somewhat overwhelming to me. I’m not sure how I would have dealt with all that if I weren’t at least in my hometown Zurich and if it wasn’t for my old friends and family.

Having said that, today, I cannot wait to make use of the Double Degree Master Programmes the Law Faculty of Zurich offers and spend one part of my Master’s degree at a foreign university.

What are the typical activities that students engage in aside from their studies?

Fortunately, the University of Zurich offers a great amount of opportunities for students to participate in various activities: whether you are interested in sports and therefore make use of the numerous sports facilities of ASVZ (the University’s Academic Sports Association), or whether you are interested in academic student organisations such as the MUN association or if you intend to officially represent the studentry of the University through the VSUZH, the University holds something for everyone!

Additionally, there are multiple student-organized events and social gatherings throughout the year that regularly attract a huge crowd. Also, don’t forget that University of Zurich is located right in the heart of the city and near the lake of Zurich – free afternoons and good weather are, therefore, a chance to explore Zurich’s historic downtown and its numerous, cute (lakeside) café shops and restaurants.

Tell us 5 things you like about Switzerland.

Switzerland is amongst the cleanest countries in the world, we adore the preserved beauty of our landscape. Spending a few days in Switzerland, you will realize that nature starts right at our doorsteps. Also, commuting through Switzerland will never be a problem – you can get anywhere, whenever you want with public transportation which is on time, tidy and clean (obviously!). And then there’s chocolate, of course, I need not elaborate on that one, I guess. Also, Swiss people are increasingly considerate when it comes to the topic of sustainability: organic vegetables and fruits from the nearby farmers as well as fair-trade textiles are about to become the norm. The last characteristic I would like to point out, is probably the one I appreciate the most about Switzerland: since Switzerland is as close to a direct democracy as it can get, apart from the right to vote in parliament, members on communal, cantonal and national level have the right to launch an initiative to change our constitution. We have a right to call for a referendum against any law that was passed by our national parliament – we literally like to vote on anything and everything. In my opinion, that is what makes the Swiss civil society immensely proactive, vivid and attentive of (international) geopolitical development.

Any other advise for Indian students aspiring to study in Switzerland.

Switzerland as a destination for academic studies as well as for visiting purposes is highly recommendable for all of the above stated reasons. The high quality of education, the health care system and the cleanliness of the country are amongst the most outstanding features about (student) life in Switzerland. All these traits come at a price, though. Be aware that Switzerland is a relatively expensive place to be and inform yourself about possible scholarship programmes. Also, don’t get bewildered by the reserved Swiss culture: Swiss people are generally very polite and reserved until they open up. But once they do, make way for the Swiss way of happiness!