Connor - University of St. Gallen

B. Commerce
Semester 2, 2014

Academic experience

The courses I studied included:
• Management in the Digital Economy – Enterprise 2.0 and Business 2.0
• Fundamental Business Analysis Using Financial Statements
• European and International Capital Markets Law
• Social Entrepreneurship: High Impact Business Models
• China’s New World Cities: A Cultural Journey
• Organisation and Leadership
• German: Beginners (A1)


I am nearing the end of my Bachelor of Commerce, I have an Accounting major and chose to undertake the majority of my remaining electives in Saint Gallen. These courses were very diverse and challenging but were enjoyable and interesting. Having to complete 7 courses as opposed to 4 can be unnerving, however, as an exchange student, you aren’t required to sit the formal central exams like the home students at HSG. That’s not to say my semester was easy. In fact, it was probably one of (if not the) most difficult semester I have had in terms of the amount of work which was required of me. However, the content was not overly difficult, and speaking English as my native language was a huge advantage over other European and International students who spoke English as a second or third language (one of my lecturers actually asked me to proofread a report he was submitting in relation to his PhD thesis). Nonetheless, I managed to pass all of my courses (even German). 


HSG is a very prestigious European Business school, especially at the Master’s level in the fields of Management and Finance. The Financial Times ranked HSG’s Master’s in Strategy and International Management program as number 1 worldwide and the Master’s in Banking and Finance as number 10 worldwide. 
I feel very privileged to have been able to attend the University for a semester because the courses were taught with an emphasis on practicality. By this I mean, I didn’t write-learn questions out of a textbook. Classes usually lasted 4 hours each and involved collaborating with and discussing problems with other students. Other than the Law course I took which had an exam worth 100% of my assessment for the course, all of the assessment items for my other courses consisted of group work, presentations and case studies. On regular occasions we had guest speakers from various industries attend our classes from various European companies, including BMW, Novartis, Deloitte, Swiss Air, Migros, UBS etc. Having to always be in groups and teams made it very easy to make friends from Europe and all around the world.
However, the unique process HSG has adopted in allowing students to enrol in courses is complicated to say the least. An “auction” takes place, whereby students are all given an equal number of points which they allocate to each of their desired courses (i.e. more points on the courses you prefer). The HSG courses are smaller than at UQ, so they fill up quick with the students who allocated the most points to that particular course. There are a few rounds of this bidding process where students have the chance to try and secure a spot in each of their courses. Of course with HSG being the top business school in Switzerland, most students there are passionate about finance, so these courses are more difficult to get spots in. But by the end of the entire process, everyone seems content with their allocated courses and it all works out just fine.

Personal experience

The city of Saint Gallen is known for receiving large amounts of snow every winter. I am crazy about the snow and about snowboarding, so once I looked into HSG and realised that Switzerland had one of the best Business Schools in Europe, all that was left to do was buy my plane tickets and go. Switzerland is also located in the centre of Western Europe which made it all too easy to travel around – and I definitely did that. Whether it was a weekend in Milan shopping and eating pasta, or in Berlin eating currywurst and sightseeing or even a few days in the Alps Snowboarding down the Matterhorn Glacier in Zermatt, Saint Gallen was the ideal home base for travelling around Europe. I was fortunate enough to visit every country in Western Europe and Scandinavia other than Norway and Portugal, which also included meeting with friends whom I’d met at HSG. Some of my Swedish friends took me out to a few bars in Copenhagen, and my Dutch friend showed me around Amsterdam.


I could go on writing about my travel experiences around Europe, but I need to focus on Switzerland which I personally believe is one of the most incredible places on Earth. Maybe I have a biased opinion because I lived there, but Switzerland has so much to offer in terms of culture, food & drink, and recreational activities. My group of friends primarily consisted of Scandinavians with a couple of Swiss, a few Aussies, a Dutch and then a handful of South Americans. Every couple of weeks, we would all board a train early in the morning from the Saint Gallen Bahnhof and spend the day on the slopes. Davos (Klosters and Jakobshorn) is just under 2 hrs by train from Saint Gallen and is an enormous ski area, renowned as one of the best places to go skiing in Europe. Also, a similar distance away is Laax, which is another infamous snowboarding spot which actually is the home of the world’s largest natural halfpipe made purely from snow. These were just two of the fantastic places we went with our Uni friends.
I was lucky enough for my family to visit me over our ‘White Christmas’. We also went skiing in Innsbruck (Austria) for about a week as well as squeezing in some sightseeing in Zurich, Lucern and Konstanz. 

Accommodation

Let me start by clarifying that there is no on-campus accommodation, there is only a housing department which will allocate exchange students to various apartment blocks owned by the University. I went through the housing department of HSG and rented a room at Ruhsitzstrasse 22. I paid 750 CHF per month for a bedroom and to share a kitchen, bathroom and living room. It was nothing incredible and I lived further away from the campus than anyone I knew. I even had Swedish friends who were paying less for better accommodation they had found through the Facebook page: Sharing is Caring University of St. Gallen (HSG). This is a communal Facebook page for students in Saint Gallen to sell/buy household items and also to post advertisements of apartments to rent. I would recommend looking on there for somewhere to live, and as a last resort, to go through the housing department of HSG and request to live near campus and with local students.

Budget

Switzerland is expensive, plain and simple. Especially with recent economic events, where in January the Swiss Central Bank unpegged the Swiss Franc from the Euro which has caused the cost of living in Switzerland to soar for foreigners who aren’t earning Swiss Francs.
My monthly rent of 750 CHF varied between $850 AUD and $1,000 AUD per month over the four months I was living in Saint Gallen. Food also wasn’t cheap, especially for things I was used to eating in Australia like fish and beef. I cooked most nights, and most of meals were simple salads, pastas or pizzas until I discovered fondue. Once I had set myself up with a fondue set, I was buying fondue cheese and cooking it at home 2-3 times a week. Swiss cheese fondue is a must for any visitor of Switzerland – my new favourite food!


I would highly recommend purchasing a Half-tax card and potentially even the Gleis 7 card. After the initial outlay of about 300 CHF, you get half price on all train tickets and free admission on any train after 7 pm (only in Switzerland). You will need to obtain your residence permit before you can get these. If you want to see Switzerland, this is a fantastic idea as once you have done a couple of return trips to a few Swiss cities you’ll already have saved 300 CHF. I can only speak highly of the Swiss train system. Everything done by the Swiss is done very well, this includes their train system. When I wasn’t travelling around Switzerland, but the rest of Europe, I did so through Eurrail. This was excellent as it was relatively cheap and I was always in the centre of the city I wanted to visit (with the exception of Budapest). However, if you are travelling with a large amount of baggage, you are going to struggle.

Professional development and employability

I personally believe that being able to say that I was able to take part in the UQ Abroad program and attend the University of Saint Gallen, is an invaluable asset from an academic and employability perspective. I was able to immerse myself in a completely different academic environment, with a mix of students from backgrounds I’d never encountered before and undertake courses which are more specific and unavailable to me at UQ. Besides being an incredible talking point, this experience has helped spark new interests which I never thought I would have. For example, I now am interested in learning foreign languages and have developed an interest in travelling (especially to snowy places).

Highlight

The friends I made in Saint Gallen are what made the experience so memorable. The late night study sessions, dinners, parties, Thursdays at Meeting Point (student bar) and Buddy System functions helped me enjoy every moment, and what made it so difficult to come home at the end of it all. Other highlights include:

  • Spending a week absorbing everything Zermatt has to offer, from the picturesque village to the views at the top of the glaciers – this place is absolutely unreal.
  • Being able to access Europe so easily via train - e.g. taking a train to Konstanz (approx. 1hr from Saint Gallen), or catching a bus to Milan, Munich etc.
  • Château de Gruyères, Switzerland – medieval Swiss castle. Gruyères is home to some of the best Swiss cheese.
  • Hoher Kaston and Appenzell, Switzerland – incredible chance to absorb Swiss culture. Appenzeller cheese is also up there with the best Swiss cheese! Hoher Kaston is a mountain where you can stand on the top and see Liechtenstein, Austria and Germany whilst you are standing in Switzerland! 

Top tips

  • Get a Half-tax card and a Gleis 7 card
  • Try and rent a place to live through Sharing is Caring, otherwise g, through the housing department
  • Open a Swiss bank account – I had a UBS account which was easy to use as there is a branch on campus at HSG and will allow you to mitigate currency risk. You also get monthly benefits for having a student bank account and it is free to set up and hold. I also had a CBA travel card with my savings on it which worked well when travelling.
  • Attend Buddy System events
  • Throw dinner parties with your International friends – an affordable way to make friends and they will jump at the opportunity to practice their English!
  • This is the third time I have mentioned it, but go to Zermatt! It is incredible, even if you aren’t interested in skiing.
  • Make sure you visit Zurich, Lucern, Bern (and if you’re lucky maybe you’ll see some bears), Geneva and Lausanne! They are all beautiful old European cities with so much history.
  • Check out Saint Gallen’s Library and Cathedral – breathtaking.
Connor - University of St. Gallen