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A year abroad at university in Switzerland

A UK physics student meets people of all nationalities, improves her language skills and enjoys beautiful scenery on her year abroad in Switzerland

  • Student life
  • Study abroad
Katy Ashby's avatar

Katy Ashby

January 13 2016


View the 200 most international universities in the world 2016

When I started looking for my degree course, I knew that it needed to have a year abroad. I’ve always had a love for French, and I wanted to take advantage of this skill and try something different. I found my perfect degree, physics with European language, at England’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).

Before I started at EPFL, I didn’t know the statistics for international students on its campus, but upon arrival it soon became clear that it was a hub for people of all nationalities. A lot of my professors are international, too. It has been an eye-opening experience for me. I realised that for most of my life, I had socialised only with other Western Europeans; and some of the friendliest people I’ve met here have been from countries I didn’t know existed – much to my shame! It has definitely been the highlight of studying here.

There’s a great society for exchange students, ESN, which arranges loads of social events for all international students. One outing I loved was a wine-tasting event in Gland: drinking wine in the autumn sun, overlooking the vineyards stretched across rolling hills. Not many exchange students I’ve met have been British, but the majority of people speak English. However, I would say that if I couldn’t speak French, I would have missed a lot of opportunities because the language is essential to integrating with the Swiss people.

The university’s student services staff have always been very helpful, and I receive a scholarship to help cover living expenses. It takes some time to receive your residency permit, which meant that I couldn’t open a bank account for a while, but aside from that there haven’t been many difficulties.

As a third year student, all my lectures are taught in French, with a few English-taught options. It felt a little like being thrown in the deep end at first, but with all the professors happy to answer questions in French or English, I soon settled into it, and now it seems second nature that all my notes are in French. I would be lying if I said that the semester hadn’t been challenging! However, it is clear that EPFL holds high standards.

Lausanne itself is a wonderful student city. There’s a varied nightlife scene on the weekend, and I love visiting the beautiful lake and absorbing the gorgeous scenery. There are museums, shops, restaurants, cathedrals, mountains and countless other things to keep anyone entertained, and every local I’ve met has always been so polite, especially about my attempts at French!

EPFL is fourth in the ranking of the world’s most international universities.

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