Josh - University of St. Gallen

B. Business Management / Commerce
Semester 1, 2015

Academic experience

The courses that I studied at HSG:

  • Aviation Systems
  • Doing Business in India
  • International Development
  • International Relations Theory
  • Empirical Economic Research
  • Pop Culture in China

My academic experience studying in Switzerland was quite different to my normal studies at UQ. I went to The University of St Gallen (HSG) to continue my Commerce and Business Management, as HSG is a predominantly business-focused university, offering degrees in Business, Economics and Law. The biggest difference between the two university systems was the course load, at HSG a normal full-time workload is 30 ECTS points which can be made up of any number of subjects that you wish to take, usually, this ranges from 6-8 courses a semester. As the regular full-time load in Australia is 4, the task of doing 6 courses at one time was daunting, to say the least. But the advantage of being an exchange student, in my particular situation, was the ability to use my leftover electives to pursue subjects of interest that are not available to me in my studies back in Australia. To my personal learning, this was the most enjoyable aspect of my academic experience at HSG, as I was able to study various subject matter at a range of both Bachelor and Master’s level courses. This allowed me to follow my personal interests, as well as complete degree relevant subjects in Finance and Marketing.


HSG to both international and local students is known as one of the best business universities in Europe, currently ranking 6th in Europe for business by the Financial Times publication in Europe. This ranking reflects the reputation and dedication of the students and lecturers alike, as they have received this reputation through strong teachings methods, great lecturers and the intensity of final exams. Fortunately for myself and all other exchange students, HSG’s central (final) examination period is conducted much later in the semester, therefore exchange students are encouraged to take decentral examinations and if subjects are not available for decentral examinations, alternative measures will be taken in order to allow students such as myself to be able to complete our studies at HSG and get their grades back to their home universities as fast as possible. As you can see, this is quite convenient for exchange students. But the biggest issue in which most exchange students faced, including me was HSG’s course bidding system. Unlike UQ’s system of ‘first come, first serve’ HSG operates using a bidding system where students are allocated 1000 points each bidding round in which they place on their desired courses, with more points indicating your desired level to take the course. To someone who isn't used to this system it was very different, as no one I spoke to seemed to know an adequate amount to bid in order to guarantee all the subjects that I wanted. This became stressful, especially when missing out on a few courses that I needed to take due to my pre-approved course list. Luckily enough for me, the next few bidding rounds re-open and available places if other students have dropped accepted courses, leave space to rebid. Furthermore, the BEL faculty were swift in approving more subjects that I may need to take if the first list was unacceptable.


Other differences between the HSG system compared to UQ’s were the classes. At HSG class sizes usually were about 30-40 students, with larger core classes being a maximum of about 100, comparing this to UQ class was much more intimate between students and lecturers. Furthermore the majority of classes we’re combined lecture and tutorial, where the lecturer was also the tutor and ran interactive discussions and more productive question times. Another difference in the systems that I took advantage of was doing classes during the allocated two-week break where I took two intensive courses in order to ease my study load during the semester. These courses ran from 8am to 6pm which is a long time, but completing courses in five days is very convenient when trying to complete 6-8 courses a semester. What I also enjoyed, in particular, was one of these courses took place in Geneva, Switzerland and a small town in France in which we had the privilege of having discussions with the UN, WTO, Red Cross and the Alternate Nobel Prize. This offers students more than the conventional classroom learning and discussion which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

Personal experience

The biggest goal for myself for a long time has been to travel to Europe and experience as many different cultures as possible, and with the combination of studying at the same time, I was able to achieve these goals this semester in Switzerland. Switzerland itself has four national languages (German, French, Italian and Romansh), thus learning all the Swiss languages in a semester period is impossible. St Gallen itself is situated in the German-speaking side, close to the financial hub of Zurich. The university itself made it very easy for students to learn German by offering a free two-week intensive German course before the start of the semester, which I opted to take. This was also a chance to meet all the other exchange students, as you were placed into your respective level of German, I speak no German so I was placed with all the other non-speakers, where the teacher continually laughed at our atrocious butchering of the German language, which was done in good jest.


What was also great about HSG is they have a student-run organisation for exchange students called the Buddy-System (similar to Quest at UQ) who ran social events before and during the semester that ranged from social events to traditional Swiss fondue nights and International food dinners. This was also a great way to meet people outside of the classroom and get a chance to know them better. It was through these events that I was able to find friends that I thought would be good to travel with throughout the semester, which I took advantage of every chance that I had. 
As this was the first time in Europe for me, I wanted to see as much of it as possible. The way in which I did this was every weekend I would fly all over Europe to experience the different cultures. In my time in Europe, I travelled to many cities I can’t even count right now, but the overall experience was amazing and I wouldn’t change a thing, except for staying longer! Getting that small glimpse into the ways in which different cultures operate and interact with each other was fascinating to me and a possible insight into the future life and career options. 

Accommodation

International Development course at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland
International Development course at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland

In St Gallen the university itself does not offer any on-campus housing options but owns many properties scattered around the city, this is the option that I opted for. This option is probably the easiest option for incoming exchange students, as the university organises the majority of arrangements such as the internet, furniture, utilities and your room-mates. Everyone gets their own room which vary in price depending on the size and proximity to the university itself. But all other facilities are shared: bathroom, shower, kitchen, washing facilities, etc. This was also a way to meet others on exchange in your building and in your apartment. For instance, I shared with a Russian, German and a Brazilian; and although we had trouble communicating at times, it was not bad as some may think. In my opinion, if anyone is going to HSG I would recommend not going through the university housing office and finding a place yourself using the HSG classifieds page on Facebook called “Sharing is Caring”.
Sharing is Caring is similar to a classifieds section in a newspaper, but on Facebook just for HSG students to advertise things that they are willing to sell, rent or buy. It is here you can look through countless adverts for rooms for rent from students at the University at significantly cheaper rental prices than the official housing office offers. This is also a way to have let other students know you are looking for a place and also a way to meet local students and also get an idea of what your roommate will be like. Furthermore, the HSG housing office became overly-meticulous with cleaning inspections and very slow with the reimbursement of the security bond, thus finding a rental property through student-run properties may be more hassle-free. 

Budget

Starting with the obvious, Switzerland is not cheap, living and studying is expensive comparatively to other European countries. 
Rental: I paid 790 CHF a month for my apartment which is expensive for Swiss Standards, roughly amounting to a total of 3550 CHF for rent
Food: Like rent food in Switzerland food is also expensive, this is due to very high standards in quality of all Swiss products (mostly organic and GM free), thus food bills can be very high if you aren’t careful. Therefore it is recommended to cook at home and catch the train to Konstanz, Germany which is significantly cheaper than Switzerland. Here you can do the majority of your shopping (meat, vegetables, fruit, etc.) for cheaper and then buy more perishable goods in Switzerland. Using a rough estimate I would say whatever your current food bill is in Australia, probably double it!
Transport: If you are going to Switzerland you must purchase a half-track and Gleis 7 card. This will cost approximately 300 CHF which is a lot, but if you take the train after 7pm, which is free with the Gleis 7 about two trips to Geneva (which you will do) will cover the costs. Furthermore, St Gallen is fairly small so walking everywhere is normal, which can save you from purchasing a bus pass on top of the train passes.
Travel: This area is really up to how much your personal budget is and how much you want to get out of exchange. You can download loads of apps with the cheapest fares to all European cities, but this can take a great number of hours to get there. I recommend looking for plane ticket deals (plane is still the best way to travel, buses are cheaper but take forever) and snapping them up as fast as possible. I would estimate a weekend away cost approximately 100 euros a day is a pretty good estimate, but this can be inflated depending on when and where you travel during the semester.
All in all, if you are considering Switzerland you probably already know it’s expensive and it’s a good idea to have already in your head that you are going to spend a lot of money, but that’s not the point of exchange, have a good time and enjoy the experience!

Professional development and employability

I believe my participation in exchange has allowed to focus my studies and my goals for the future, while also developing many international friends and contacts. Before I left on exchange I did not have a clear goal of where or what kind of field that I would like to work in, but during my time abroad, through classes and talking with friends and what they are looking to do in the future has given me a new kind of direction. By participating in exchange has allowed me to interact with many people from all over the globe, the Americas, Europe, Asia and even Africa; learning about what techniques and skills they hold and are looking at attaining has given me a new drive in which I was lacking before going to Switzerland. 
HSG was also able to offer courses that I was interested that were not necessarily available to me at UQ, I believe this enhances my knowledge and skill base further due to the different disciplines taken at HSG. Furthermore, the majority of my courses were heavily team-based and working with students whose native language was not English forced me to work on my communication and leadership skills in order to complete assessment to the required standards. 
Other areas in which I have developed more while I have been away include my time management skills, note taking abilities and a new passion to travel and learn new languages. Exchange exposed many brilliant young students from all around the world and the one aspect that the majority shared was multiple languages spoken, and for myself, I feel this skill is important for me to hold if I am to be globally competitive in the international job market. My exchange experience exposed me to many aspects that have now significantly impacted my direction, the standard of work that I hold myself to and openness and willingness to try and develop new experiences and skills.

Highlight

In my personal opinion, there was no single highlight of my experience, the travel, the university, the friends I have made, no one aspect outweighs the other. I believe exchange is an essential experience that anyone that is lucky enough to be offered should take with both hands, as no other university or even life experience that you have had so far will be similar to what you will have on the exchange. Just having the ability to travel from Switzerland with a maximum two-hour flight to anywhere in Europe, every free weekend is amazing. Having access through courses to the likes of the UN and various branches, WTO, Red Cross Switzerland, The Alternate Nobel Prize, Lufthansa and Swissair representatives, all from senior positions and countless years of experience was phenomenal. The ability to make lifelong friendships and international contacts that will become vital in my future journey to overseas markets and ventures was crucial and rewarding. 
Other highlights include:

  • Ski weekends
  • Multiple all night train rides to Geneva to catch the red-eye flight the next morning
  • Hiring cars to drive in countries including: Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Italy, England, Scotland and Ireland
  • Sailing the Croatian Islands

Top tips

  • JUST DO IT! DON’T THINK ABOUT IT, JUST DO IT!
  • Going on exchange without friends is very rewarding, being by yourself and not knowing anyone forces you to meet people, forces you to speak up and forces you grow up in certain ways, by not having that kind of tie to your life back home allows you to fully immerse yourself in the environment around you, and for me, get the most out of the short semester I had in Switzerland.
  • Another tip would be to join university run societies, whether it’s academic, sporting or social, join something that you are interested in and just meet people and get into the spirit of the university that you attend.
  • Purchase a half track and Gleis 7 card to travel on Swiss trains for half price and free after 7pm and before 5am
  • Sign up with the Buddysystem and participate in the University pre-semester German courses to meet local and other exchange students
  • Do your shopping in Konstanz, Germany as Switzerland is ridiculously expensive and the train ride is only 50 minutes away (trust me it’s significantly cheaper).
  • Join the universities Facebook page “Sharing is Caring University of St Gallen (HSG)” to look for cheaper rental properties and any other advertisements for buying or selling things in St Gallen
Josh - University of St. Gallen