Life is a Box of Swiss Chocolates is a weekly column showcasing the life of a UFV student studying abroad. Jennifer is in Lucerne, Switzerland at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts this semester, and documenting the process as she goes.
Studying abroad is all about discovering a different country, a different school system, a different culture, and a different you. I am a firm believer in detaching from your friends back home and living in the moment, but this is also much, much easier said than done. I am saying this out of experience because I held onto my life at home for almost all of February, but now I’m starting to detach myself and I feel 200 pounds lighter. I am realizing the importance of taking this time to really push yourself and get to know yourself, but there are a few things that you should definitely be secure and confident in before you leave for a study abroad trip, or at least be aware that you might struggle with them.
The first is knowing what to spend your money on. Before I left for this trip, I researched a lot of travel blogs and one tip I came across was that if there’s something you really want and it’s under $10, go for it. An $8 cab fare might make your night much easier than walking by yourself in the dark, or that amazing cup of European coffee will be the perfect pick-me-up in the middle of your busy day trip, or even a little item that will be a great souvenir and keepsake to remember your trip. If you’re someone who lives for food and you highly value the experience then I think you should absolutely splurge on a nice authentic meal once or twice a week. But if you are just being too lazy to grocery shop and meal prep so you eat at McDonald’s 3-4 times a week (Big Mac meals cost 15 francs, roughly $20 Canadian dollars), then that is a huge avoidable cost that could leave you out from a day trip with the rest of the students.
When I arrived I purchased containers from IKEA, and I make sure I meal prep for a few days at a time so that when I want to spend 15 francs on a delicious Swiss-style coffee and a couple high quality mystery pastries, I don’t even blink.
The second suggestion is knowing your limits with alcohol. Drinking culture in Europe could not be more different than in Canada. One of the first parties I attended in Lucerne was hosted by Canadian boys, and it was interesting to see the way the Europeans interacted differently with alcohol than the Canadians did. The Canadians were sitting on the couch taking shots of Absolut vodka and high fiving while the Europeans were just staring at us as they enjoyed their beer / wine and nice conversation. As Canadians, we are so used to having a limited time to party before the club closes at 1 or 2 a.m. Here clubs stay open until at least 4 a.m. (Probably longer, but by then my sore feet are ready to go home.)
So if you combine the Canadian attitude of consuming alcohol in a more binge style and the European attitude of frequently consuming alcohol, you could have a problem on your hands if you don’t know your limit. It’s also important to remember that you can be whoever you want to be on exchange because no one knows you here, but do you want to be the person that puked all over the club floor in the first week? I can guarantee it will come up at least five times in the four months that will follow. Alcohol here is cheap when you buy it from the store; 11 francs for a 26 oz of gin but 13 francs for a single gin and tonic at the bar. Because of that, it is extra easy to fall into the temptation of drinking at home all the time. I am definitely not saying stay home and don’t have fun, I am just saying take it easy and get a feel for your surroundings and the atmosphere of the party before you pull out the raspberry Sour Puss and Blue Curaçao.
My third tip is you should be aware of your time. I have noticed that a lot of local students don’t expect much from me in terms of group work because exchange students have a reputation of not taking school seriously here. I find school in Switzerland much more intimidating. No one has said anything about it, but it’s just the feeling I get when I walk in the room and everyone is prepared and taking school seriously. When I was at home, I tried to limit myself to one late night a weekend because that gives me enough time to get my homework done and prep for the next class. But here I want to do everything all the time. It’s definitely hard to pick and choose, but now that everyone isn’t as new and we are sometimes repeating activities it is getting easier to say no to going out because I have to study. It is definitely tricky to find a balance, but at the end of the day I’m here for school, so if I can pass everything and still see lots of Switzerland and a few other places in Europe, I will be very happy.
On that note, I spent the weekend in Zürich, and it’s the first time I’ve fallen in love with a city here. Don’t get me wrong, there have definitely been lust situations, but never love. I plan on going back a few more times. The city felt very much like Montreal, where you could sense the business part of the city but also experienced the fun art, fashion, and culture side. I spent the night at a friend’s house and enjoyed amazing Swiss craft beer (nice change from my 0.45 CHF grocery store go-to), lovely coffee and croissants in the morning, and got to learn more about Switzerland from a Swiss family perspective. Swiss people are known for being kind of cold, but once you break down the initial barrier you have friends for life. They are very welcoming and courteous people.
I find myself missing home less and less everyday and enjoying new experiences more and more.