Adjusting to Life in Switzerland
- To learn a new language
- To immerse myself fully in a different culture
- To keep my expenses for the year equivalent to or below my cost of living and education in the US
These were pretty basic goals, but in classic, clichéd fashion, they were goals that I am realizing now are easier said than done.
I’ll set the scene. My name is Margaret (better known as Maggie) Dziubek. I am 20 years old, from a mid-sized city in the Rust Belt region of the Midwestern United States, namely, Toledo, Ohio. For the past two years I’ve been living and studying at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. For the next nine months I’ll be living and studying at the University of Fribourg in Fribourg, Switzerland.
I’ll complete the equivalent of my junior (3rd) year of university in Switzerland. My course load consists mainly of French literature courses, with a few courses in English thrown in here and there.
My major course of study at DePaul is International Studies (a program which I cannot recommend highly enough). I also plan on graduating with two minors: French and Comparative Literature. I will complete the bulk of the coursework for these two minors here in Fribourg.
I am studying here in Fribourg through the American College Program. I chose this program specifically because it fulfilled perfectly my three main goals.
As a direct-enrollment program, the ACP allows me to access the full course catalog of the University of Fribourg, meaning I can take a wide range of courses that fulfill my requirements at DePaul. It also means I’ll be taking classes in French, with native French speakers.
This type of study-abroad was more attractive to me than US-run programs because it attempts to avoid the “American student ghetto” effect that is often found in US programs. While being surrounded by friends and countrymen is nice, when in Rome, I’d rather skip the friends and countrymen in favor of just the Romans (and when in Switzerland the Swiss, in Spain and Spaniards, etc). Attending a direct-enrollment study program for American students gives me the opportunity to have the support of a program staff without the constrictions of a US-run study abroad program.
After close to 1 month of living in Switzerland, and 1 week of university classes under my belt, I am glad to say that the overwhelm-edness is beginning to show signs of wearing off.
My first few weeks in Switzerland have been a cavalcade of difficult conversions: temperature, time, height, distance, electrical sockets, binder rings, breakfast cereal, and the big one LANGUAGE. Nothing is altogether unfamiliar, but neither is it entirely familiar.
My advice to the newly-arrived international student is this: accept the difficulty of your situation and attack it head on. Yes, your life for the next few weeks (really, months) is going to be a constant and dizzying parade of unit conversions, awkwardly halting conversations in unfamiliar languages, furious note-taking and confusing encounters with everything from food labels to elevator buttons. You will probably be homesick. Full disclosure, I have stopped playing songs by Simon and Garfunkel and Bob Dylan on my iPod because they make me miss America too much.
Your life will also be filled with satisfying conversations with interesting new people, you’ll eat new and delicious foods and you’ll broaden your mind with new languages and ways of thinking and you’ll see and experience beautiful places.
To end, as I opened, with a cliché, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Despite the challenges of the past month, I am more and more convinced that this year is going to be a significant and treasured chapter in the story of my life.
My mantra for the past month has been, “I can do this, I can do this, I can do this.” I am honestly still somewhat in disbelief that I am actually doing this, that is, fulfilling a lifelong dream of living and travelling abroad. I hope that as I record my experiences throughout the next nine months, I’ll help make it easier for more girls like me to jump into international travel and living abroad. Despite the challenges, if I can do it, you can do it. So, let’s do this.