I had always dreamed of living in a foreign country and wanted to experience a different culture. However, I was also a little worried, and I didn’t really expect my dream to come true. My days in Switzerland were like a dream come true, but some days were scary nightmares. Nevertheless, I love my days there, even the nightmares, because I gain so many precious memories during my five months there. Being an exchange student to Switzerland completely changed my life.
Bern, a World Heritage
‘Universität Bern’ is a state university located in the city center of Bern, the capital of Switzerland. I choose University of Bern when I applied for the exchange program because it is located in Switzerland, a country that offers one the perfect opportunity to travel and feel Europe. It’s located in the middle of Europe, so I could easily travel to other countries in Europe. I wanted to experience as many cultures as much as possible, which was one of my main goals for applying for an exchange. Therefore, Switzerland was the perfect country to go to study. Also, it is a great world heritage, designated by UNESCO. The old city center of Bern is listed as a world heritage because of its beauty and well persevered medieval architecture. Bern is surrounded by Aare River, the longest river in Switzerland. Because of this, Bern was a strategically significant national defense point in the past. Also, it has many beautiful fountains made in the 16th century medieval style. I felt like I was living in the 16th century as I walked along the streets of the city center.
Living in Switzerland; Where to Stay, and Which to Care?
I applied for a room in the dormitory about six months before leaving for Switzerland. However, the competition for a space was high, so I failed to be allotted a room. After waiting a month, I finally was able to get into the dormitory. If you wish to enter the dormitory, I strongly recommend applying for a room as soon as possible, perhaps even right after you receive confirmation of your acceptance to Universität Bern. In addition to exchange students, masters degree students and student living far from the university apply for a dormitory room, so it’s very hard to get a room. There are two kinds of dormitory buildings: one is 'Studentenlogierhaus Fellergut,' and the other is ‘Studendenlogierhaus Tscharnergut.' I stayed at ‘Fellergut,' which is older than ‘Tscharngergut.' There are also three types of rooms, so students can check the conditions and choose rooms which satisfy their conditions. I stayed in a room that had a shared kitchen, bathroom, and toilet. I was worried about sharing facilities with strangers, but it turned out to be an unnecessary anxiety. I easily got close to flat mates by chatting to them in the kitchen. We met almost every evening in the kitchen, and sometimes we had dinner together. There were many students from different cultural backgrounds, so the dishes we shared were various. Cooking methods also differed, so unfortunately, sometimes, trouble broke out between German and Chinese students. German students were really concerned about the cleanliness of the kitchen, but Chinese students used a lot of oil when they cooked. Oil stains were hard to clean, so German students often complained to Chinese students. They had a hard time understanding each other at first, but over time, everyone became close by talking about their native cultures and making an effort to acknowledge cultural differences.
HIGH COST OF LIVING, BUT STILL ABLE TO SAVE!
The cost of living in Switzerland is relatively higher than in other European countries. For this reason, many students usually ate in the dormitory, except when there was a party or special event. I also usually ate at my dormitory. There are many grocery stores near the dormitory, so I could easily buy ingredients from there. Also, there were Asian supermarkets in Bern, so students from Asia could get Asian items like snacks, sauces, and even kimchi. However, those supermarkets usually closed at 7 p.m. and on Sundays, so it was important to buy food in advance. Transportation costs are also high, so I bought a monthly pass that allowed me to use all public transportation means in two selected zones of Bern. It allowed me to easily get to class or the city center. It took only seven to ten minutes to get to the city center from ‘Bumpliz nord,' which is the town where my dormitory was located, and the dormitory ‘Fellergut’ was near the train station. I could even see the train station from my room through the window. Therefore, transportation usage was convenient. Moreover, if you are interested in travelling a lot in Switzerland, buy a ‘Gleis 7’ and a ‘Halb-tax Abo’ card. With a ‘Gleis7’ card, one can ride all trains offered by the Swiss national railway service (SBB) after seven o’clock. Also, with a ‘Halb-tax Abo’ card, you get 50% off the regular fare. It costs about 1.2 million won a month for living including the rent, food expenses, and so on. I traveled many other countries on the weekends and during periods when I had no classes. I traveled to the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Spain, Germany, and Italy by making early reservations on low-priced airlines and train services. By doing this, I saved a lot on the cost of traveling. The level of public safety in public places in Switzerland is relatively higher than other European countries, but it is still dangerous to go outside alone late at night. In Spain, France and Italy, there were more pickpockets than in Switzerland, so take care of your belongings if you travel there.
Advice for Daily Life in Bern.
I met many people from different cultural backgrounds like Germans, Chinese, Albanians, Danish, and many other students in the student dormitory. I learnt about other cultures in Korea only though videos or lectures. However, by this chance, I felt the difference between cultures and learnt to understand others. All of my friends there were interested in other cultures, so sometimes taught each other our native languages. I learned a little German, so I used speak short German greetings to my German friends. I highly recommend students learn German before they go to Switzerland, especially Bern. Switzerland has four official languages, including French, German, Italian, and Romansh. In Bern, people usually use Swiss German as their first language. Although the pronunciation differs from that of Germany and Swiss German, the writing structure and grammar are the same. Therefore, if you can read German, you will have no difficulty understand the meaning. Reading and listening to German in daily life was difficult because I didn’t know any German at all. I would have benefitted from learning some German in advance.
Kind People, Precious Memories
Many Swiss people seem shy and cold at first, so I had some trouble when I first arrived in Switzerland. However, many kind people helped me. From small problems regarding daily life to serious problems about immigration regulations, I got help from my floor mates, the school manager, and even people I’d just met on the street. Everyone I met was kind and gentle. They were willing to help me even though they were busy with their personal things. I successfully finished my exchange term thanks to their kindness, so I really appreciate their kindness. I will never forget my five months in Europe, and it will continue to motivate my life whenever I encounter a barrier wall. I hope many more students have the chance to participate in an exchange so that they can create precious memories while in their twenties.