This idea of a small European country evokes a view of the Sound of Music (although it is actually arranged in Austria), a little confused with Sweden, and a little knowledge we learned from the Twilight novel – neutral Switzerland! But if you really go there, you might need to know more about this country.
1.Switzerland speaks various languages. No, Switzerland is not a language. Switzerland has four official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. The western provinces (called cantons) which include Geneva, Neuchatel, and Lausanne speak French. The southern region of Ticino speaks Italian. The majority of Swiss, including Lucerne and Zürich speak German, but their dialect will be almost impossible to understand if you have studied the German dialect. Finally, a very small minority in southeast Switzerland speaks Romansh. Luckily for those of you who don’t speak German, French, and Italian, most Swiss people have functional knowledge of English. You might really find it difficult to practice your French or German in many fields, where there is an American accent that encourages Swiss people to change their conversational language to their always perfect English, only to make it easier for everyone involved . Try not to disappoint you.
2. There is no small welcome. You might think that a multilingual population wants to show it off – but not in Swiss people. Unlike Kentucky, chatting lightly with waiters and cashiers is not recommended. Not part of culture to show friendliness or warmth to strangers. No offense.
3. Lake life is an integral part. It seems like every city in Switzerland is in a magnificent lake filled with geese. There are two things that need to be considered about that. One, the goose is actually able to destroy most of the bones in your body if they hit you with their wings, so please don’t take selfies with them. Two, if you are in Switzerland in the warmer months, the crowds on the lake you will see basking and drinking wine will be the most crowded people you will see in the entire country. They were not at all noisy, but after spending several winter months in this culture that valued politeness and silence so much, I was surprised to see actual children running and screaming and adults laughing out loud. From winter in Switzerland to spring in Switzerland is the most true form of culture shock.
4. Lake life is an integral part. It seems like every city in Switzerland is in a magnificent lake filled with geese. There are two things that need to be considered about that. One, the goose is actually able to destroy most of the bones in your body if they hit you with their wings, so please don’t take selfies with them. Two, if you are in Switzerland in the warmer months, the crowds on the lake you will see basking and drinking wine will be the most crowded people you will see in the entire country. They were not at all noisy, but after spending several winter months in this culture that valued politeness and silence so much, I was surprised to see actual children running and screaming and adults laughing out loud. From winter in Switzerland to spring in Switzerland is the most true form of culture shock.
5. Start early, end early. Switzerland, with its history of being home to Protestants, boasts a Calvinist work ethic. What that means to you is that the cafe opens at 6 am, the class might start at 8 in the morning, and hopefully find a grocery store open past 7:00. When you are done with your day, so are other people. Hope you like to sleep early!
6. Don’t go there for nightlife. If what you look forward to is dancing at the club or spending the night with your friends at the bar, you will be disappointed. The city of Switzerland, famous for its nightlife, is a student center in Lausanne, a 45-minute train ride from Geneva. However, compared to clubs in Spain, Italy, Paris or New York, there is not much that can be done for party visitors. If you decide to leave, check the train and bus schedule first. Public transit stops after midnight, even on weekends.
7. Public transit is very good, and SwissPass is worth it. Public transportation is very reliable in Switzerland. There are practical applications with schedules for each type of transportation, and trains and metro are almost always on time. If you live in a small town without a train station, you have to depend on the bus, which often stops operating after 9:00 p.m. However, if you are in a slightly larger city (like Nyon, where many people travel daily to Geneva), your choice is far better. And if you live in a big city, like Bern or Basel, the tram operates almost all day and night and can take you wherever you want to go into the city. If you live in Switzerland for a full semester, I recommend buying SwissPass, which allows you to take trains, buses, trams, metro, cable cars, boats, anything free, at any time. SwissPass cards last a minimum of four months, costing an average of sixty dollars a week. To put it in perspective, making a 15-minute trip every weekday costs fifty dollars a week. There are also Swiss Passes that last less than a week for short-term stays, but you only save money if you travel throughout the country.
8. They take direct democracy seriously. Speaking of trains, every train station you enter will have political ads attached. Actually, basically wherever you look, you will see political ads. Three or four times a year, Swiss citizens choose constitutional amendments or choose to veto laws passed by parliament. Because there is always a new round of votes coming in the coming months, you will receive lots of leaflets about why you should choose to ban gene modifications in human embryos or deport all immigrants, or the like. Only 1% of the country’s population must sign a petition so that the referendum can cast a national vote, so that there are always a number of more questionable steps in voting.
9. Delicious Swiss chocolate is local. Don’t go to the grocery store to eat famous Swiss chocolate. The choice at Migros will greatly disappoint you. Go to the local chocolate maker! When you’re there, don’t just focus on chocolate wrapped. Swiss hot chocolate is a food group, as far as I know. You can never drink SwissMiss again.
10. Everything is expensive. Switzerland has one of the highest living costs in the entire world. You will forget how it feels to go to lunch and pay less than twenty dollars. You will forget the blessings of free water. You will start to think that paying two dollars a minute from a taxi ride is reasonable. All I can say is track your finances or you will lose cash before you know it.
11. Geneva is diverse; Switzerland does not. You might imagine Switzerland as a place where the whole world is united; a cosmopolitan center where you will meet people from countries that you can’t even place on a map. Geneva, where one of the United Nations headquarters sits, is like that. The rest of Switzerland is not. It is true that almost a quarter of all people in Switzerland are not Swiss citizens, but more than eighty percent of them are from other European countries. Lack of diversity, cultural differences about how people talk about race, and Swiss cultural conservatism put a lot of pressure on my LGBT classmates and my classmates who were identified as people of color. Spending a long time, such as studying abroad, in Switzerland requires mental preparation and fortitude for minority students, but in the end, it will make you stronger. This is small. You can cross the country by train in 5 hours, and the Swiss population is only twice that of Kentucky. As a result, even the largest cities in Switzerland, such as Zurich and Basel, are actually quite manageable, and the Swiss “skyscraper” is truly adorable!
12. Some of the most beautiful natural scenery on Earth. Maybe their skyscrapers are so weak because they have the Alps and therefore they are not impressed by something shorter than the Matterhorn. This point is best made in the picture. Look at the gallery above!