Jacinta - University of Lausanne

Bachelor of International Studies
Semester 1, 2018
From the mountains to the lake, the cheese fondue to the chocolate, the travel to the friendships formed, exchange in Lausanne was a life-changing experience that I'd repeat in a heartbeat.

Academic experience

While I was at UNIL I did mostly French subjects - the Cours de Vacances (French intensive pre-semester), Francais dans la Rue, Tourner la Page (French literature), Constructions de la phrases, Francophone Culture and then 1 English subject - Attitudes to Language. Swiss uni was much vaguer than UQ in terms of course requirements - to this day, I still don't know how much each of my assignments/exams was worth. However, the professors are all very helpful and there are always make-up exams if you struggle. The enrolment process is different to UQ as well, as there is no 'drop-date,' rather, you can try as many subjects as you want without registering up until about week 5, but then you have to make sure you remember to register for them. Arts classes don't have exams in the final exam period which is nice, so I was done by the 31 May (while others had exams until mid-July)! I would definitely recommend doing Cours de Vacances if you're learning French (or even if you're not) - while it's a slog having French classes 5 days a week for 3 weeks, it counts for 5ECTS (out of a total 20 for the semester) and is the best way to improve your French for sure! 

Personal experience

Exchange in Europe is something else! I was lucky enough to fit all my classes into 2 days in the week, so I effectively had a 5 day weekend - plenty of time to travel! I managed to get to 9 countries while I was living in Switzerland - France is a 30 minute ferry ride across the lake from Lausanne which just blew my mind. 

It's cliche, but the friends you make on exchange really do become your family, because they're the only people you have to lean on in all the cultural differences and 'strange' things you experience overseas. Joining the Exchange Student Network (ESN) was a great decision - they host heaps of different events, both in Lausanne and trips to other places, and it's a great way to meet new people and check out parts of the city you may not have seen yourself. They run an exchange student ball on a boat on Lake Geneva in May as well (Titanic Lemanique)- an event not to be missed!

I definitely grew a lot in my 5 months in Lausanne. I've never lived out of home, so simple things like cooking for myself and learning how to pay rent were skills I was forced to develop pretty quickly, as well as just becoming more confident in asking for help and making friends. My French definitely improved while I was there too. Though most of my friends were fellow English-speaking exchange students (because no Swiss people are taking French classes at uni!), you need to have some level of French to get around the city, so my everyday language skills definitely got better.

Accommodation

Like every student I knew in Lausanne, I lived in the FMEL accommodation - it's almost impossible to find an apartment anywhere else. It's a little bit of a strange system, where you apply directly to FMEL and they place you in a building - you don't really have a choice of where you go. The buildings are spread out throughout the city and are different setups - from studios, to dorm rooms to shared apartments. I lived in Rainbow, which was about 10 minutes bus ride away from UNIL and had my own room and bathroom, with a shared kitchen on my floor. It was fine, but I definitely would have preferred to live at Atrium (on the uni campus) because of convenience and the set-up made it easier to make friends with your roommates. If you do end up getting a choice, I would recommend Atrium - though from what I saw, most of the buildings are pretty decent.

Costs

The UQ recommendation of $15 000 for Switzerland was probably pretty accurate for me. Switzerland definitely lives up to the stereotype of being a ridiculously expensive country, especially with food, so I tended to buy lots of pasta and vegetables, as they were the cheapest things. I'd heard from other students who'd been to Lausanne that they went almost vegetarian while they were over there because meat was so expensive, and I definitely would repeat that sentiment. Transport, on the other hand, was quite reasonable. I got a bus pass because I lived a fair way from the uni and it cost about 50 francs for the 3 zones, and that's unlimited for any form of public transport for the whole month. If you're living closer, a few of my friends bought bikes from the shop on campus, which was 100chf, but if you sell it back to them at the end of semester you get 50chf back, so effectively it's a bike for 50chf. Definitely buy the demi-tarif pass for transport - it's about 180chf I think but gives you half price on all transport - definitely worth it for the more expensive train trips to other parts of Switzerland (reduces the Geneva airport trip from 26chf to 13chf), so you pay it off very quickly. I was able to get my demi-tarif pass for half price (90chf) with my Sunrise phone plan, so that was even better! Rent varies depending on which FMEL residence you are placed in - mine was 630chf (on the more expensive side), but UNIL gave all UQ students a 500chf bursary per month so that made everything quite manageable. All in all, Lausanne is expensive, as you'd expect, but it's pretty easy to navigate and get by as long as you're smart about it and stick to a budget.

Professional Development

As I've already said, my French improved in Lausanne, which is obviously a nice thing to have on a resume. On top of that, I learnt how to negotiate a different bureaucratic system - from businesses to the university sphere to government departments (population control etc.).

Highlight

It's really hard to pick just one highlight, as the entire semester was a highlight for me, though I think in the end the friendships I made and the places I was able to travel to with these friends were invaluable experiences and memories that I will treasure forever.

Top tips

Hang out by the lake as much as possible - you don't know how much you'll miss those mountains until they're gone. Make the most of being in the middle of Europe - you can travel to so many places for a relatively cheap price, so take advantage of that. Don't bother paying for luggage - EasyJet doesn't weight carry-on, so you're good to go. Take French classes as electives, even if you don't study French at home, they do them from beginner classes and they're way more chill than any of the other ones. Go to the uni gym classes - they're fun and free! Check out Balelec (student music festival) at EPFL - it's an experience all of its own and worth the 30chf. Study at the Rolex at EPFL - it's way better than UNIL's library, trust me.