Student Blog: Life as an international student at EPFL, Switzerland

Moving from France to Switzerland might not seem like a big transition, but Eytan Levi found an exciting international lifestyle at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland.
January 14 2016


Flon district, Lausanne, Switzerland
Flon district, Lausanne, Switzerland

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I am a second-year bachelor’s student in architecture from Paris. Before studying at university, I had no idea how you could tell whether a school was good or bad. There are so many factors that you do not discover until you are there. I knew that I did not want to stay in France to study – I still do not really know why – and when I had the opportunity to come to the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, I decided to study here. It seemed to be a nice school with a beautiful campus, and I already had a few French friends who were there and loved it.

At EPFL, there are a lot of international students. As most of the bachelor’s degree is taught in French, many foreigners come from French-speaking countries: France of course, but also Morocco, Tunisia and Belgium. There are also many French expatriates who grew up in different places all around the world.

At the master’s level, there are more students from Asia and North America, but still many Europeans. Although you could picture EPFL as a very French-oriented school because of its student body, the fusion between Swiss and international is extremely fruitful. For instance, my closest friends at EPFL are from Switzerland, Japan, Morocco, France and the UK.

The teaching staff are pretty diverse as well, and that is even more important because that presents us students with so many different ways of seeing things. For example, you could have a class taught by an Italian teacher and the next one could be taught by a Belgian. They might talk about the same thing, but their conclusions might be totally different.

That there are so many international students at EPFL probably makes things easier: the staff are always able to help us and know how to cope with our own specificities. Coming from France, I have no problem speaking because everyone uses French to communicate, but I often discover new local expressions!

Before I came here as a freshman, I received an email from EPFL telling me what I had to bring in terms of official documents as an international student. But overall, if you come from a country that is a member of the European Union, there is no need for a visa and not many more bureaucratic things to do when you get here compared to a Swiss person.

From the first year, you can pick certain classes in German, Italian or English instead of French – but not all of them. There are people who came here for their bachelor’s degree from Iran, El Salvador and Israel, and had virtually no knowledge of French. These people can enrol in a prep year, called CMS, that will help them get the basis for the first year and give them a start in speaking and listening to French every day. Nonetheless, I believe that it is important to speak at least some French before coming here.

The bachelor’s degree is organised as follows: there are a dozen sections, or programmes, from bioengineering and mechanical engineering through to mathematics, civil engineering, informatics and architecture. Thus, you just select your major when you enrol and then you do not really choose your classes; there is a common core for every section, which means that you are with the same people for most of your classes. What I like about this system is that it makes you go really in depth with what you like, but the issue is that if there is a class you dislike or would love to take, you cannot always choose.

Lausanne itself is a small city, although it is the fourth largest in Switzerland. With 140,000 inhabitants and 400,000 more in the surrounding area, Lausanne is quite exciting for its size. There is a great nightlife, a wonderful quality of life with many parks and gorgeous views on Lake Geneva and the French Alps. And Switzerland is a nice country to discover and a very convenient base from which to explore Europe. EPFL is less than an hour away from Geneva’s international airport, and there are direct trains from Lausanne to all of Switzerland as well as Paris and Milan. There is a high percentage of foreigners in Lausanne, many working for international companies based here or studying in the many other schools of the city, which makes the town quite a melting pot.

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

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