I remember being told that your year abroad would be an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience. But in all honesty, the prospect of my year abroad seemed somewhat scary. I’d no longer be two hours away from home and I was SO worried at the thought of an unknown city and culture.
Up until the day I arrived in Switzerland, I remained pessimistic but as we landed and flew through the Alps and over Lake Geneva, my mind instantly started to change as I realised these breathtaking surroundings were going to be my home for the next year.
Tip: 1 For anyone going on a year abroad, wherever it may be, stay open minded, because you really don’t know how amazing your experience will be.
I spent my year living in an all girls house, with more than 40 females of all different nationalities and languages. This not only meant I made the most diverse group of girlfriends possible, but I spent my year in a real home, which really made my year abroad enjoyable. We had breakfast together, cooked together and best of all, sat on the rooftop terrace together looking over Lake Geneva. Oh, and did I forget to mention the prime location of the house? La Cathédrale Saint-Pierre outside my front door.
Tip 2: On a year abroad, try to be as social and friendly as possibly because it really pays off. Making friends on a year abroad, especially international friends, means you have a circle of people to turn to when you’re feeling a little down, or when you want someone to travel and explore with!
To begin with, I felt so out of place because Geneva seemed so enormous compared to Southampton. However, I soon learnt that I was in fact one of thousands individuals from another country, living in the heart of one of the most expensive places I have ever visited. (This was just something I had to embrace: a Burger King was nearly 20 CHF / £15!!). In terms of my language progression, I was constantly faced with the battle of choosing to speak French over English. Everywhere you went in Geneva, English was available: You could speak one word of French and with a click of your fingers, the conversation would flick to English.
Tip 3: If you are living in Switzerland and in particular big cities like Geneva or Zurich on your year abroad, try to avoid eating out (Unless you find a restaurant with mid-week bargains!) and if in Geneva, cross the borders and shop in France (it’s much cheaper for food!).
Tip 4: Stay determined! It’s sometimes so simple to just use the easy option and choose English but it really pays off if you keep persevering with your other language(s)- eventually you don’t need English anymore!
To fight the urge to use my native language, I threw myself into study and in all honesty, I actually fell in love with the library. Uni Bastions, one of the main university building, was hundreds of years old and just beautiful, something far from the modern interiors of the libraries I’m used to in the UK. I filled my weekdays with study, while longing for the weekend.
I filled my weekends with travel – day trips over the border to France, and weekend trips all over Switzerland and even Italy. I was really spoilt for choice and Geneva was the springboard that let me visit places I’d never see normally. I skied throughout the winter and spent time at the lake every day of the summer. And in true Swiss style, I filled my entire year with chocolate and cheese!
Tip 5: MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR YEAR ABROAD! I travelled, I ate, I went to all the places I wanted to see and it was so worth it. Manage your time and you can do and see everything you wanted to, alongside study or work.
On reflection, I think the day I really appreciated my whole Swiss adventure was actually on my very last day. Swimming in the lake, I paused and took a moment to enjoy my last time in such a surreal city, full of the hustle-and-bustle city life, but also beautiful views of mountains in the distance and the lake. I really could take in what an experience I had. One I really would never forget.