Cheese, Mountains, and Exams: A Year in Switzerland

by Catherine Le Denmat

Hello, Honors students! I’m Catherine, a junior in chemical engineering studying abroad this year in Switzerland. I’ve been here for six months already, and want to show you a few snapshots of my adventure!

I live with four other students in a “colocation”, 100 yards from Lake Geneva. When I first stepped in the door, I was shocked by the amount of color, but our living room represents the character of our home life. Lausanne is very multicultural—my flatmates are Canadian, Swiss, French, and Tunisian.

Le Denmat 1

We each have our own bedroom, and share a kitchen and living room. There are monthly inspections to make sure we keep the common spaces clean, which aren’t always very welcomed (What? Students don’t enjoy cleaning? Really?).

Le Denmat 2

To get to school, I spend half an hour on the bus and metro, or 15 minutes on my bike. Each of my classes is held once a week, with a 2-3 hour lecture. We rarely have homework. This encourages a lot of self-discipline, but often results in cramming during the single exam period at the end of the semester (these exams are worth 100% of the grade — no pressure).

A big project for me last semester was to apply for the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, a research scholarship requiring an intense application. Even though I am abroad, the process was smooth, thanks to working over Skype with my coach, Dana Schumacher. As you can imagine, I spent quite a bit of time in the library.

Our library, the Rolex Learning Center, is shaped like Swiss cheese. This sounds and is awesome –until you walk in and literally have to climb the rolling hills inside to get anywhere. As if Switzerland didn’t have enough naturally occurring mountains…

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Speaking of mountains, I have fallen in love with the giants that form the Swiss landscape. It’s a magical and awe-inspiring experience to walk (or sled) on the glorious slopes.

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Right now, the Swiss are enjoying their favorite winter sport: skiing. Although I haven’t tried this yet, I have gone sledding. This super fun yet slightly traumatic experience left me with a thirst for more winter adventures, but also black and blue legs, because of how often I fell over during my mile-long descents.

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One of the best—yet horribly fattening—things about Switzerland is the food. The culture is centered around cheese and chocolate, perfect for demanding life in the mountains. I enjoyed fondue and Cailler chocolate until I stopped hiking every weekend, and started to feel and see the consequences of my diet.

Le Denmat 6

Well, there’s a small view of life as an exchange student in Switzerland. Over my month-long break in February, I’ve had many more adventures traveling around Europe, so stay tuned!


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