Hey there, I’m Gavin and I’m currently on exchange and living in Switzerland (Universität St Gallen). Over the next few days, I hope to give some advice to anyone planning to visit “Der Schweiz” for exchange or maybe a holiday! The past 2 months here left me so many impressions thus far, but for the sake of these posts, I’ll categorize it into 3 main things and include some travel tips and beautiful places to visit.
(1) PRICE: a non-upsized Mac Donalds meal will set you back around SGD21, Minced Meat from the supermarket can cost around SGD15 (something like the one in NTUC/Sheng Shiong), in order to save money I know some other students who head over to Germany to purchase groceries, the only things “cheap” here is probably Swiss Army Knives and Milk. (to be continued in the next post)
Moving on to the second category after Price, its (2) Beauty: in every sense of the word, but more specifically nature and scenery. Majority of Switzerland is covered by the (famous) Alps, the result is wonderful landscapes to explore at every turn. Even if you’re on a budget you can still see plenty of scenic views (Jungfraujoch is rather expensive although really beautiful). This picture was taken at Mt Säntis, around 2hours by bus and train from St Gallen, in total it cost less than 100SGD for the trip there and back (feels abit weird to consider <$100 affordable, but its Switzerland…) Imho, some really nice places to visit are Zermatt (the famous Matterhorn), Lucerne (has a beautiful lake), Montreaux/Geneva/Lausanne (for a French twist to Switzerland), Bern (UNESCO heritage buildings with beautiful architecture), Lugano (for an Italian version of Switzerland) and an underrated place near Lugano called Valle Verzasca (a valley, river flowing, with little towns along the way, good for 4hrs+ hikes/walks). Although it seems most of my friends wish to visit Switzerland during the winter, Autumn has a very beautiful look when contrasted with the mountains too.
Check out my photography Instagram at @gavinloosankiat if you’re interested to see some images of the places mentioned!
The third and final category would be: (3) Culture: Official Languages of Switzerland include German, French, Italian (and Romansh). German language is the majority spoken mainly in the north/north- east/central Switzerland, some german speaking cities/towns include Zürich, Bern and St Gallen. French is mainly in the south-western part of Switzerland (Geneva/Lausanne/Montreax). Italian in the South(- Easternish) part of Switzerland (Lugano). Some useful facts about Switzerland Bern is the *de facto* capital of Switzerland, Zurich and Geneva are amongst the two most expensive cities to live in (in the world), we have GRCs in Singapore while Switzerland has 26 Cantons, Canton of St Gallen is more than twice larger than Singapore.
Its really lovely to see the difference between the french/italian/german influences in the different parts of the country, especially in the architecture and spoken language. Feels a little like multicultural Singapore at times! Next up, I’ll touch on some personal experiences and tips to make life in Switzerland better/cheaper/more enriching.
One of the biggest money saving tips is to purchase an SBB Half Fare Card, it cost me 170+ CHF at first but I have definitely saved way more than the cost of the card.
Some travelling tips: (1) download the SBB Mobile app (check for train/buses/boat timings), super useful and its free, (2) Also, when travelling within Switzerland, consider buying the 1 Day Travel pass (if you have the Half Fare Card). Its 75 CHF and it covers your return ticket too,buses and boats. Additionally if you choose to travel after 9am you can get the “after 9 day pass” option for 58 CHF (you must have the Half Fare Card however) (3) learn how to say thank you in at least either german/french/italian. (4) always check the weather forecast before you leave (5) pack food because eating out is rather expensive.
The picture is the famous vineyard region of Switzerland called Lavaux, specifically Chexbres-Village. Personally I find it more beautiful in Autumn than summer because of the golden/yellow colours. (to be continued…)
Finally, I’d like to share just one of my personal takeaways, hopefully it will help you as much as it has helped me. And that one thing is answering the question: “Why are you going on Exchange for?”
For many of us, we have different priorities when we go on exchange. Some want to see as many places as we can, others want to spend time and create memories with people we love or maybe experience as many things as we can/live life to the fullest. And there is no wrong or right priority as we all have different ways of enjoying life.
One group of people that I rarely hear a lot about on social media/amongst friends is those who travel the world in order to travel inside of their own minds. That made me feel a little alone (until i met like minded individuals), because to me exchange was a period of time to discover myself and be exposed to the challenges of (near) complete independence.
But regardless of what your motivation is and what you hope to takeaway from exchange, you find yourself happier if you use the opening question as a guide to how you want to spend your time, and not be pressured by anyone else.
If you have any other questions about Switzerland or wish to know where is nice to take photos around Europe, drop me a pm @gavinloosankiat
With that, I’d like to thank ExchangeBuddy for giving me this opportunity to share about my exchange life and Switzerland on the platform, I appreciate it. Cheers mates!