Anika - University of Lausanne

B. International Studies
Semester 1, 2016

Academic experience

While studying in Switzerland I was required to complete the full-time European load which is 30 ECTS, in the French as a Foreign Language faculty (Ecole de français langue étrangère/EFLE). I found this very difficult as the University of Lausanne (UNIL) changed its credit system last year and halved many of its EFLE courses, which meant the other UQ students and I were taking 8/9 classes. The first few weeks were very intense - I spent most of my time studying and little time being able to explore or socialise. After much negotiation between UQ and UNIL we were able to gain extra credit for certain subjects so that we were able to lighten our workloads. After this point, I found studying at UNIL very enjoyable and I learnt a lot! I ended up taking 5 subjects all of which I enjoyed, but my favourites were
- Le français en chanson - a study of songs in French which helped with not only language skills but cultural knowledge. 
- Autour des textes traduits / Anglais - a focus on ways to avoid direct translation and find new ways of expressing ideas in French. 

All of the subjects in the EFLE faculty were heavily based on discussion which I enjoyed as it meant my speaking skills improved slowly but surely, even if I couldn't notice it at the time. Even subjects such as Autour des textes traduits / Anglais (translation) which you would expect to be very text/reading based was very interactive and provided ample opportunity to speak and practice the language. 
The teachers at UNIL are aware that the goals of many exchange students are to improve spoken communication and I found that they catered their courses accordingly. 

Provided you can ensure you won't be caught doing 8/9 subjects, I would highly recommend the University of Lausanne EFLE faculty for studying French. They had a wide range of interesting subjects on offer for language learners of all different levels, which, if you put the time in, are sure to improve your language skills. The discussion-based learning style is also perfect for mingling and making friends with other exchange students. 

Finally, if you have the opportunity to do the Cours de Vacances, which is a 3-week intensive French course offered before the beginning of the semester I would also highly recommend that. It helped me get into the swing of using my French in not only an academic context but it also prepared me for living in a French-speaking environment. I met full-time students at UNIL, exchange students at UNIL and many people who just came along to improve their language. Plus, if you complete the correct components you are eligible for ECTS which can potentially lighten your study load during the semester and make for more time to explore and immerse yourself in the Swiss culture.

Personal experience

The most notable personal experience I noticed from going on exchange that it taught me a lot of independence. I learned how to survive without everyone and everything comfortable at home and start living by myself in a non-English speaking environment. It was hard at first, but after a few weeks I got into the swing of it and I think I've come back a more self-sufficient person and I look forward to more challenges like that in the future! 
Exchange offers a lot more than that though - through the experience I so many new people from all over, many of whom will be friends for life. Being in the centre of Europe, Switzerland, in particular, is a great place to travel from. Being there allowed me to explore more than I ever have. Join the Erasmus Student Network (ESN - a network for exchange students), as they run trips which run most weekends which is always a good way to meet people. However, I found that if you weren't interested in what's happening with ESN, there are always people doing things on the weekends. Whether its a BBQ in Spring by the lake, a day trip to the Cailler chocolate factory at Gruyeres or a ski weekend in the alps - you will be busy all the time. Although I did not come back anywhere near fluent, I gained a lot of confidence in speaking French, which I've learnt is the key to improving (even if what you're saying is wrong!). By living in Lausanne, I was pushed out of my comfort zone, which forced me to adapt and grow. I think that all of these things I've been able to experience and learn are life skills. I'm not sure how I would have experienced them had it not been for exchange!

Accommodation

I lived off campus in student accommodation organised by FMEL, an organisation through UNIL. It was all organised before leaving Australia which made it quite stress-free. I was placed in Atrium, which is one of the new FMEL buildings built in 2014, so all the facilities were very new and clean. I shared an apartment with three other people - two boys and a girl. We each had our own room (quite roomy) and our own bathroom and we shared the living area and kitchen. The location was convenient - it was only 2 metro stops from the UNIL campus and in Spring it's a 20-minute walk through a beautiful park with a brook running through it. In the same complex as Atrium, there is also a variety of restaurants and also a Denner and a Migros (supermarkets) which was very convenient. 

I would recommend going through FMEL as it can be very hard to find (nearly impossible) and also very expensive trying to find accommodation in Lausanne. FMEL is also a great way to meet other students. 
If you do decide to go with them, make sure you organise your move-in day to be before you start classes. I had to move in on the first day of class and it was very stressful.

Budget

I heard horror stories about prices in Switzerland and when I arrived I was a bit shocked by the cost of a lot of things. But as the semester goes, you learn to shop savvily and save money. There are places like Lidl and Aldi where you can find cheaper meat and vegetables, but even the Coop and Migros have sales all the time if you look out for them. 
Eating out was very expensive (around 20 CHF for a fast-food meal) and only happened on rare occasions. 
As for transport, I bought a demi-tariff card which lets you travel by train half price around Switzerland. That card saved me a lot of money with weekend trips away/trips to and from the airport. On top of this, there is also the Voie7 (about 160CHF from memory) which entitles you to free train travel after 7 pm if you are under 25 years old. Buy these cards on arrival in Lausanne if you plan on travelling around a lot, so you can start saving money on your journeys as soon as you arrive.
However those cards cannot be used for metro travel locally in Lausanne, so you have to purchase a Mobilis card (like a go card) and top up monthly which cost me 51CHF per month.
The UQ students were lucky enough to receive a 500CHF scholarship every month from UNIL which covered a large portion of my 720CHF rent and that helped a lot.

Professional development and employability

Lac Leman from UNIL Sorge
Lac Leman from UNIL Sorge

Doing exchange aided greatly in my academic development and future employability.
Even though it was difficult to track progress (sometimes it felt like my French was getting worse...) my language skills improved significantly and I feel a lot more comfortable using French not only on a day to day basis but also academically and professionally. I am not saying that going on exchange will teach you to be fluent, however being on exchange at UNIL teaches you to function and communicate and I have come back feeling more capable than I thought I was. 
Not only did I learn more French, but I learnt a lot about Swiss culture, bridging cultural and language boundaries, creating new connections, studying in another language, travelling and living solo, gaining independence... all of which are useful to employers who look for people who have had diverse experiences and can show their enthusiasm to learn new things. I think exchange is the perfect way to show this!

Highlight

It is definitely not easy to narrow it down but the highlight of my exchange would have to be between the international trips away on the weekend, a skiing in the alps with a group of 40 Swiss students, the end of semester sunset cruise on Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) with our cohort of exchange students or BBQs by the lake in the Spring.

Top tips

  • Get the Voie7 and the demi-tariff cards
  • Join ESN and go on their trips! You also get discounts at various bars, restaurants, AirBnB, etc by having an ESN card. 
  • Go to Gruyeres and try the meringues with double cream - the crispiest meringues there ever was
Anika - University of Lausanne