Jose Daniel - University of Lausanne

B Science
Semester 2, 2018
Enjoy the little things that happen every day and embrace the differences and the challenges that are presented to you.

Academic experience

Biochemistry of metabolism
Applied protein biochemistry 
Biology and society: ethics and dialogue
General ecology
Evolution
Microbiology of prokaryotes
Defects and DNA repair
Biomedical applications of nanosensors
German course 

All of the courses are taught in French. Most courses take place on the same venue and all second-year students enrolled in the biology program have the same courses, so you see the same people every day, which makes meeting people and making friends easier. There are several group assignments. 

At first I was worried about the number of courses that I would have to undertake during my exchange, considering that at UQ a full-time student does eight units (usually four courses) per semester and at UNIL most of my classmates were doing between twelve and fourteen courses (which account for the 30 ECTS they are required to obtain per semester). However, the courses here come in modules and not all the courses are worth the same number of credits. In the end, the study load was similar to that at UQ. The examinations are different for each course and there are some oral examinations as well.
Enrolling at The University of Lausanne was not complicated at all, and the advisors from UQ Abroad were very helpful and made this process very straightforward. Make sure you apply for the exchange before the deadlines and look for the courses that are relevant to your program with enough time in advance. Work on your study plan and present it to your faculty for approval. Keep in mind that all of the compulsory courses at UNIL are taught in French in second year and that courses are offered for either the autumn or spring semester. Some courses have duration of two semesters, so if you are on exchange for one semester only you will most likely not be able to get full credits for those courses. Upon arrival at UNIL, visit the SASME offices on campus; they will help you with whatever difficulties you might have encountered, both academic but also more personal issues like accommodation or residency permits.

Personal experience

I would describe my experience in Lausanne as both exciting and challenging. I came here mainly for personal reasons but I also knew that UNIL is a university with a lot of experience in different scientific fields. From my experience I would say that the average Swiss student is kind and friendly, but they also value respect and personal space, so as long as you keep in mind the cultural differences from the beginning, I am sure you will make very close, long-lasting friends that you will keep in touch with long after you leave Switzerland. With friends, life at university becomes more enjoyable. Going for a walk along the lake in front of campus, sharing a coffee or studying together are just a few of the many things you could do. Lectures at UNIL are two-hour long and include a fifteen-minute break in between; perfect time to chat with people or ask questions if you did not understand something from the lecture.

Accommodation

I lived in one of the houses offered by FMEL, in Bourdonnette, a fifteen-minute walk from the building where I had most of my lectures. The apartments there are usually for four or five people and they include a kitchen, a living room and two bathrooms. Housekeeping is not provided so you and your flatmates will have to take care of that. Revisions are carried out by the administration twice a month. You never know what kind of people you are going to be living with, that is really a matter of luck. But definitely keep an open mind about the kind of people that you might find; UNIL is very multi-cultural and receives people from all over the world. Of course, coming from UQ this might not be a problem for you. Finding a place in Switzerland is probably not as easy as it is in Australia, and the options are limited, so I would recommend going for this option with FMEL. The process for registering is easy and you can do it in advance once you receive a confirmation of enrolment from UNIL, the rest is pretty much taken care of by FMEL. They will ask you to make a security deposit and arrange a date and time for you to pick up the keys upon arrival at Lausanne.

Costs

Rent at FMEL costs CHF 510/month and includes all bills as well as wifi. Food is a bit more expensive than in Australia, especially fruits and vegetables. I would recommend a budget of another CHF 500 per month for food. Transportation is probably where you will spend the most if you plan to travel around and visit different spots in Switzerland. Check the travel options available at the SBB website, you will definitely need either a half-fare card or an “abonnement général” that you can use anywhere in Switzerland for trains, buses, trams, etc. Think about the things that you would like to do and look for the option that suits you best. The activities offered by the university or the Exchange Student Network (ESN) can also be very fun and cheap. For example, the Raclette Night is definitely worth it.

Challenge

Having two-hour lectures and fixed timetable was something I never really got used to. I was used to choosing my own courses and planning my timetable so that I could have some free time to do other things apart from studying. In the end, I decided not to give it too much importance and think of it as a way of not having to worry about making decisions for myself, since everything is planned out for you beforehand. Another challenge for me was the weather and the hours of sunlight in winter. For instance, I was used to going running in the mornings before classes or after classes before sunset, but this is difficult when the sun rises at 7h30 in the morning and classes start at 8h00. If you are like me, you might end up not caring too much. And of course, you can always just do something different to keep yourself active and happy. When the weather is nice, there are some magical running trails along the lake and in between forests that will take your breath away.

Professional Development

This exchange taught me how important time management skills are for academic life. This is something that I had to learn the hard way during my first few days in Lausanne; I realised that if did not organised my day somehow, I was not going to make it through the whole semester without struggling a lot. Towards the end of my stay here I findd myself planning out even little things in advance, like when to go grocery shopping, do the laundry, cook or buy train tickets, and I realise now how valuable this will be for me in the future.

Highlight

Paragliding and skiing, two of the most exciting things I did. If you are used to warm weather on the coast, winter in Switzerland will probably be quite an experience for you too.

Top tips

Definitely recommended. Lausanne itself is a very special and picturesque city, so you will not run out of things to do or places to visit. UNIL has a beautiful campus that will make you want to spend some extra time at the library just to enjoy the view of the sunset on the lake. The courses are carried out in a different way than at UQ so keep in mind that you might have to develop new studying strategies for yourself. For instance, there are several group assignments and the examinations can vary depending on the courses you choose, so you might have to work differently for each course.