A Covid-19 exchange story

Charlotte is a law student from the University of Geneva who carried out an exchange at the University of Zurich during the first year of her Master’s degree in 2019-2020. During an interview, she reveals why she chose to do a student exchange in Zurich and how surprisingly well she adapted to the lockdown.


How did this experience benefit you ?

First of all, I would say that it helped me practise German, because I come from the canton of Vaud, so I haven’t had  the opportunity to speak it since high school. But German is a language that is spoken a lot in Switzerland; not as much on the French side, but on the other side of the “Röstigraben” as they say. It’s true that, especially in law, German must be spoken and understood, because we have a lot of federal court decisions that are rendered in German and writings of legal scholars and if you don’t speak or understand it, it can be complicated.


Did you choose Zurich mainly for the language?

Yes. But also, after having done my Bachelor’s degree in Geneva for 3 years, well… it was nice, but I also wanted to see other cities. Plus, I had friends who went to Zurich before me and who told me “Oh, Zurich is great!” So I went there and, indeed, the city is different, and the people, too.


And then we were a little unlucky as Covid hit, so all the classes were online. But I was rather lucky because was staying in a student dorm, a whole building with students. Quite a few students also stayed during the first lockdown. So, yes, I stayed because I really wanted to finish the year and improve my German. I thought about coming back to Geneva, but just following online classes in German is not enough to practise the language.

That’s why I stayed there and I don’t regret it for a second!


So, during the first lockdown you stayed in Zurich, your classes were all online, but you don’t regret anything. Can you tell me more about this period?

Everything was online, we could ask our questions to the professors, and they answered by email or made podcasts answering all the questions. But what made me stay – and it often depends on what kind of flat share you are in – is that I was lucky to be in this building with a lot of students and they also had online classes. It was stimulating to see the others working and so I thought “OK, I have to keep on studying.” When talking with friends in Geneva, I kept hearing remarks that the first months of lockdown were very complicated for them, whereas for me, life went on as usual. I saw the others working, we continued to work together, and in the evening we met, had dinner and did activities together. It’s true that the first lockdown, I almost didn’t feel it, and when I came back to Geneva and we had a second lockdown, it was horrible and I truly understood what a lockdown meant.


Above all, there were German students whom I spoke German with, and international students with whom I spoke English. And again, I was lucky to be a part of a flat share with a cinema room, a party room, a gym. We even had a rooftop for barbecues! And I think that’s what made the experience into such a good memory. You really have to try to find a flat share or just this kind of place and that’s where you really have a lot of things to experience.


Anything else to share?

Honestly, if I had to point out one thing, it would be to get started much earlier. In fact, German “scares” a lot of people from the French-speaking part of Switzerland. There are a lot of people who get tense as soon as German comes up, and they don’t want to speak this language, whereas there is a large part of Switzerland that speaks it.


I would also advise to dare speak German. The more we speak, or even try to send messages in German and so on, the better it is. That’s the only way to get there.  Finding a tandem partner is also very helpful. And ask German-speakers to correct us, because otherwise we always do the same mistakes.


And yes, really, don’t be afraid and go for it!


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Great content! Keep up the good work!