Georgina - University of Lausanne

B. Arts / Laws; Diploma of Languages
Semester 2, 2016

Academic experience

I chose to study the last two electives of my French Diploma and the last two electives of my German Arts major whilst on the exchange. Deciding to study in both languages was perhaps a bit crazy - it made my semester more challenging than it needed to be, but I did see great improvement in both languages and I'm very glad I did it. 

For the French credits, I took part in the pre-semester "cours de vacances" (which although only worth 5 ECTS is counted as #2 UQ units), and two courses during the semester: "Discours: écrits et oraux" (at B2/C1 level and worth 5 ECTS) and "Exercices de français juridique" (B2 level and worth 2.5 ECTS). I found the French courses to be very rewarding and well suited to my level of French - the EFLE (École de Français Langue Étrangere) at Lausanne is fantastic and has a really wide variety of classes for all levels of French (although there is definitely more on offer for those of a B1+ level than for beginners). EFLE has quite a lot of assessment during the semester so it was definitely necessary to attend classes and be well-organised to keep on top of things, but I found overall that the workload was manageable and the assessment was fair. The lecturers are generally very accommodating if you need to miss class for some reason and appreciate that things are more difficult when your French isn't perfect!

For the German credits, I took three German literature courses, one German law course and one general language course (all worth 3 ECTS each). These courses were quite tricky - all were academically quite rigorous, involving a significant amount of reading, academic writing and oral presentations. I was the only exchange student in these courses so found it hard at first to make friends - but in the end, it turned out to be a great opportunity to meet some Swiss students (rather than just other international exchange students as in my French courses). 

All my classes were quite a bit smaller than at UQ, which had both its advantages and disadvantages: it meant that faces became familiar a lot more quickly, but it also meant lecturers expected students to participate a lot more - this took a bit of getting used to for me! I was also a bit confused by the enrolment system at first (I now really appreciate si-net!) but found that faculty staff were really helpful, along with the student support team at SASME.

Personal experience

I gained a huge amount from the exchange experience: I'm now much more confident speaking French, my academic German improved dramatically, I learnt to navigate the bureaucracy of another university and another country, and, most importantly, I met some truly fantastic people. The FMEL houses are very sociable environments, so it's impossible not to make friends, and I loved the opportunities this brought me to learn about other student's home countries (Turkey, Sweden, America, France, Brazil, Canada, Japan, and Spain - just to name a few). The ESN society at UNIL/EPFL is also really active and hosts heaps of events, so pub nights were always good value and the trips away were great. I went on the ski trip (my first time skiing) and although I was terrible it was one of the most fun weekends I've ever had. Lausanne is also very conveniently close to Geneva and its international airport - so weekends jet-setting around Europe on discount airlines became a pretty fantastic routine! 

The opportunity to spend so much time in Switzerland was also incredible: it is the most spectacularly beautiful country I've ever seen, with breath-taking views literally around every corner. Lausanne is situated right on the shores of Lac Leman/Lake Geneva, a landscape which is serene and spectacular in equal measure. There are mountains, gorges, ski chalets, world-famous hikes and glaciers literally all over the place and all within a few hours train trip. The Swiss are very proud of their country, and rightly so! Experiencing the seasons was also very exciting for me - seeing all the tree colours change, the leaves fall, and then the Christmas lights come out was magical!

Accommodation

I accepted the room offered to me by UNIL through the FMEL accommodation system (all UQ students are offered one of these rooms). My room was in a five-person flat in Maison Cedres, which is a big cluster of flats really close to Ouchy (one of the prettiest parts of Lausanne) and just across the road from the lake. The flat and room itself were great - really generously sized, full of natural light and well-equipped. My flatmates were 2 Swedish exchange students and 2 permanent Swiss students, which made for a great mix. It was a quick 15-minute bike ride along the lake to uni (although a bit trickier to get there by public transport - about 30-40 minutes) and this commute soon became a favourite part of my day! I would highly recommend that UQ students accept the FMEL offer - the renting market in Lausanne is very competitive and very expensive, so you're extremely unlikely to find a better deal! Some of the FMEL houses are more college-like (with halls of rooms and kitchens shared between 20), others are like Cedres - you can definitely negotiate this with FMEL if you would prefer one or the other.

Budget

Ski trip to Zinal
Ski trip to Zinal

Unfortunately, it was a very expensive 6 months of my life: Switzerland is without a doubt not cheap. Accommodation thankfully is covered by a UNIL scholarship for all UQ students, which is a huge help. Insurance for the semester cost me about 300 CHF, and there are also quite a few administrative costs (visa, residence permit, entrance taxes) which added up to around 300 CHF also. The cost of groceries very much depends on where you shop and what you choose to eat - you can live quite cheaply if you're happy to eat lots of bread, cheese, rice and bean-based meals; on the contrary, meat is outrageously expensive. Eating out isn't really a feasible option all that often - but Holy Cow (Switzerland's equivalent to Grill'd) is a student favourite! There is also 10 CHF fondue on Monday nights at La Pinte de Sauvabelin which I would also highly recommend. The demi-tarif is an absolute must if you plan on using the trains in Switzerland often (which you should, as it's the best way to explore the beautiful countryside and go hiking/skiing/adventuring), and if you think you'll travel at night definitely invest in a Voie 7 (free train travel after 7pm). A mobilis card for public transport within Lausanne is cheaper the longer you buy it for, so it's best to buy it when you first arrive - don't try fare-evading, you will get a very nasty fine (and in Switzerland every franc really does count!). Depending on whereabouts you live you may be able to bike around (which I tried to do most of the time) - but do be aware that Lausanne is a very hilly place! You can buy bikes (and sell them back at the end of the semester) pretty cheaply (around 100 CHF) at Point Velo on the EPFL campus. You can also get a gym membership at the uni for 50 CHF for the entire year, and there are lots of free courses on offer.

Professional development and employability

Going on exchange has helped me develop a lot of skills: I'm now a lot more confident approaching and getting to know new people, I'm not easily phased by bureaucratic procedures and forms, I'm a lot more confident speaking in French, my academic and technical legal German has improved dramatically, and the experience has strengthened my belief that taking on new challenges is the best way to learn new skills and expand my horizons. Studying abroad has also made me confident that living and working abroad is something that I not only want to do but am also very capable of doing in the future.

Highlight

Pinpointing a single highlight of the exchange experience is near impossible, but I will always remember all the hours spent lying by the lake, picnicking and swimming, looking across to the French Alps, as a near perfect time of my life!

Top tips

  • If you're considering an exchange semester or year, just go for it. It's not a decision you will ever regret - my only regrets are not going earlier in my degree and not going twice!
Georgina - University of Lausanne