By Lola Olutola
- Funnily enough, I had never seriously considered going on a year abroad during Sixth Form. The importance I placed on applying for university places did not stop me from disregarding the finer details of my UCAS application. Which led to me inadvertently applying for the undergraduate literature course with (potentially) the longest name at the University of Kent: English, American and Post-colonial Literatures with An Approved Year Abroad. I’m glad to say I was thankful for this ‘mistake’, especially when my second year was nearing to a close and I lacked a clear career plan with bundles of relevant work experience. An Erasmus year gave me more time to plan ahead while I benefitted from new cultural experiences and greater scope for learning.
What attracted me particularly to Geneva was that it was truly an international city. Geneva is the base for some of the UN’s subsidiaries, and Switzerland’s impressive location in Central Europe (being surrounded by France, Italy, Germany and Austria) makes it possible to not just experience Swiss culture but a whole plethora of different languages and cuisines in this one small city. Geneva is a beautifully strange place with all the standard traits of city life but with mountain ranges dominating the scenery. It’s taken a long time for my mind to get accustomed to seeing a mountain outside my own window!
The high quality of the education was also a strong influence on my decision to come here. The University of Geneva is a high ranking university (along with many other universities in Switzerland). The wide choice of modules I’ve been able to take here have greatly enriched my degree, enabling me to explore epochs and different national literatures that I wasn’t exposed to in the UK. Nevertheless, the high standard of teaching and the larger number of classes here in Geneva can be very difficult. A very high workload and a higher threshold when it comes to achieving a pass mark on a paper make it imperative for an exchange student like me to effectively balance my work life with my social life. The University of Geneva offers free French language classes to exchange students (which have been extremely useful to me as I barely have contact with French, English being the lingua franca of the city). The university service Activitiés Culturelles offers students free tickets to some theatre and classical music performances within the city of Geneva while the university’s Sports service provides free exercise classes, from Zumba to basketball, in locations near the university residences and buildings.
One of my chief concerns when I arrived in Geneva, owing to how shy I am, was whether I would make friends. After enjoying the luck of even finding somewhere to live in Geneva (the city suffers from a shortage of housing) and living not too far from the city centre, with a MOUNTAIN outside my window I was also blessed with great flatmates. Their knowledge of Geneva—two of them having lived here before— was of real use to me, especially in my first couple of months here. The university society Erasmus Student Network (ESN), which, I hasten to add, is open to all students on exchange programs, is essential for students new to the city and eager to meet other people. As well as organising pub nights in different venues across the city, ESN also provides students with the possibility of exploring the rest of Switzerland with discounted rates on rail travel. During my first semester in Geneva I: visited Bern and met the bears that give the city its name , experienced the largest Christmas markets in Europe in Basel and went on a Corbusier themed tour of the town Chaux-des-Fonds. I must admit, ESN trips can become weary, especially if you tire of the almost rigid ‘organised tour’ style used for encountering the cities and towns of Switzerland. Nevertheless, the trips proved worthwhile for meeting other exchange students and experiencing life outside Geneva.
I’ve spoken about other parts of Switzerland, but I am yet to elucidate what is a must see in Geneva! Lake Geneva’s clear blue waters are a delight to behold, especially when it is sunny. A cruise on the lake would certainly be quite costly, but the lake can be easily traversed at a smaller cost using the public transport boats that cover both sides of the lake. The Jet d’Eau (literally the less impressive-sounding ‘Jet of Water’ in English) is the most noticeable landmark in Geneva, jutting out from Lake Geneva and spraying any boat or person who happens to be nearby. Aforementioned the mountains (less must-sees more like impossible to miss!) provide the city with their majestic presence. The Mount Salève cable car (which is just outside Geneva, in neighbouring France) allows you to see the landscape from the top of atop the mountain. In addition to this, there is the Palais des Nations and the Red Cross Museum nearby (watch out for the massive chair artwork in front of these buildings) both organisations offer tours which gives you further insight into the work they do internationally. CERN is a must-see for science buffs and anyone who is not quite sure what the Hadron Collider is. Meanwhile Geneva’s Old Town is host to many beautiful houses and cafés as well as St. Peter’s Cathedral, which offers a panoramic view of the city from its tower. Be sure to also go to Patinoire des Vernets to experience the brutality of the Swiss’ national sport ice hockey and watch the local team Servette play against their rivals.
A night out, as you will often notice with most things in Geneva, can be very expensive but there are some bars and restaurants that are worth visiting. Rue Ecole-de-Médecine is a street next to the university building Uni-Mail and is home to some of the cheapest and most popular bars in Geneva. The Boréal cafes (there’s one near Gare Cornavin and another in Stand) offer great competition to Starbucks as they serve a diverse range of hot and cold beverages (with a heart shape on top if you’re lucky!) at effectively the same price.
My experience so far here in Geneva has been a truly great and life-enhancing one. I have an immense workload here and I am far from becoming a fluent French speaker but I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to experience a different way of life in Switzerland. I cannot recommend a year abroad enough and hope, in spite of the recent threat to Erasmus exchanges to Switzerland, future students are able to enjoy the international atmosphere Geneva creates.