Monday, January 28, 2013

Study Abroad: Zurich!



I ended up spending last semester in Zürich, Switzerland kind of by accident. Well, maybe not by accident, but it certainly was not something I had planned for well in advance. Coming into college, I didn’t think study abroad would be possible for me since I was studying engineering and “engineers don’t have time to study abroad.” I stuck to this opinion throughout all of freshman year and it wasn’t until I meandered through the study abroad fair during the fall of my sophomore year that I even started to consider it as an option. I had already used a good number of my social science and humanities electives, so I knew I had to go to a university where I could get engineering credits fulfilled. After researching my options, I discovered that ETH Zürich was probably my best bet. So, I applied, was accepted, and then spent countless hours trying to get enough classes approved and rearranging my academic plan so that I could go abroad without delaying graduation. It was the very end of May that I realized that everything was in place for me to go to Switzerland. But, Switzerland? Not exactly the top of my list in terms of European countries I want to see. Little did I know that as a systems engineering student, I could not have picked a better city than Zürich to learn and observe for four months.
            Throughout my semester, I kept my eyes out for examples of what I like to call “swissficiency.” Swissfiency is the term I use to describe how things run in Switzerland. The trains are always on time, and in the practically apocalyptic times when they’re not, an announcement will be made letting passengers know that the train will be four minutes late. Four minutes late is almost an expectation with SEPTA. On top of that, the tram system is incredibly well organized, and while not as perfectly on-time as the trains, you could bet that you could get where you wanted to go pretty close to the time listed on the schedule. The most impressive example of swissficiency that I witnessed was en route to Milan, Italy. There had been a rock fall earlier in the day that blocked part of the tracks, so what was supposed to be a 3 hour, 40 minute straight shot on the train turned into a journey that required me to go from a train, to another train, to a bus, to a train, to another train. I think I got there at most 20 minutes after I was supposed to arrive. It was a little stressful, but even in my discomfort of not knowing German or Italian or where I was going next, I had to stop and recognize what a feat it was.
The Duomo in Milan

Skipping stones on Bachalpsee

Thun, Switzerland

The view of Zürich from ETH’s campus
            Getting the chance to observe how Zürich and Switzerland work is just one example of how studying abroad is really about “learning outside the classroom.” Beyond that, I gained exposure to new cultures, languages, and religions, which really opened me up to new experiences. I spent many nights sitting in my flat talking to people from so many different backgrounds. To think that I had dismissed the idea as freshman is almost sad. If you want to make it work, you can. I’m so glad I took advantage of the opportunity because overall, my experience abroad was one of the coolest learning experiences of my life. Plus, I had some fun along the way!

Questions about Study Abroad?  Contact Emily at awe@seas.upenn.edu

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