Snow-covered Alpine peaks, high-tech watches, gourmet chocolate and savory cheeses are only a few of the things you can expect to experience in Switzerland. Its geopolitical neutrality has made it a popular headquarters for many international organizations and businesses. The hospitality of its people and distinct mountainous regions also make it a popular tourist destination. Ski in the white alps, boat on the sparkling Lake Geneva or eat like the Swiss by consuming 23 pounds of chocolate per year.




Languages Spoken:

German, French, Italian

Education System

HIGHER EDUCATION

Switzerland has one of the highest percentage of international students in the world for one country. There are 12 recognized universities awarding doctorate degrees in Switzerland. Two of the 12 universities are Federal Institutes of Technology. About 100,000 students attend these academic institutions; 21% are international students. Though a number of variations exist, most universities consist of the following faculties: theology, law and social sciences, arts, natural sciences, and medicine.

In addition to the 12 universities mentioned above, there are also 9 universities of applied sciences, 14 universities of teacher education, and several university institutes receiving financial support from the Swiss Confederation. The institutes include mainly the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID) in Geneva, the Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration (IDHEAP) in Lausanne, Institut Universitaire Kurt Bösch (IUKB) in Sion and Stiftung Universitäre Fernstudien Schweiz (distance higher education) in Brig.

Switzerland also offers courses of study at a number of private universities and institutes. These courses of study and degrees are not nationally accredited, however. As many of the offerings of these institutions are not sound, it is important to choose institutions and programs carefully.

Swiss institutions of higher learning typically divide study into 1) a broadly-based period of study; 2) in-depth study in the first stage; and 3) the final period of specialization in the second stage.

Degrees

Since winter semester 2001/2002, the universities in Switzerland have been instituting reforms in degree programs in accordance with the Bologna Declaration. This is a two-cycle (undergraduate / postgraduate) system and qualifications structure:

  1. Bachelor's degree: 180 European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) credits or three years of full-time study.
  2. Master’s degree: 90 - 120 ECTS credits or 1.5 - 2 years of full-time study beyond the Bachelor’s degree. Access to a Master's degree program requires the successful completion of the Bachelor's degree.
  3. Doctoral degree: 180 ECTS credits or 3 years of full-time study beyond the Master’s degree. Access to doctoral level studies (dissertation) requires successful completion of a Master’s degree with good grades.

The universities also offer an additional post-graduate degree called Master of Advanced Studies (MAS) (minimum 60 ECTS credits or one year of full-time study). The MAS does not give access to doctoral level programs.

As the implementation of the Bologna reforms is not yet complete in Switzerland, academic degrees following the older system are still being awarded. In the older system, students are awarded the Licentiate or Diploma after completion of 4 - 5 years of full-time studies. Completion of a Licentiate / Diploma with good grades gives the holder access to doctoral level studies.

Studying in a Swiss University

Significant differences exist between European universities and their U.S. counterparts; In European universities, the structures of programs and majors vary considerably. Foreign students are placed differently than natives; thus, although ISEP students are able to take courses with regular Swiss students, their programs of study may be slightly different than those of their Swiss friends.

To complement lectures, professors sometimes prepare a bibliography of suggested readings on the lecture topics; it is a good idea to talk with the professors early to find out whether they might have these reading lists. Specific assigned readings or homework, as U.S. students know them, are uncommon; keeping up with general reading is your responsibility. It is advisable to tell your professors that you are a U.S. ISEP student and are not totally familiar with the Swiss educational system; most professors will be willing to advise and guide you in the first few weeks of adjustment.

Courses

Courses are usually in the form of lectures and seminars. Swiss students usually take a majority of courses in their field of study with some flexibility within the field. They do not have the same general education requirements found in other higher education systems such as in the United States.

Students will also find that universities have modules. A module is a unit that is confined in respect of content and time and can consist of multiple courses, e.g. lecture and tutorial. Modules are structural components of study programs and generate a defined workload. For the calculation of a student’s workload, the ECTS-credit points are to be multiplied by the factor 30 (1 ECTS-credit point = 30 hours). The workload that is to be brought up in order to pass the module comprises all learning activities of the student, i.e. contact hours (actual taught course hours) and self-study hours. During the self-study hours the reading of relevant literature (reading assignments), the writing of term papers, and the preparation of oral presentations and/or exams are to be accomplished.

Registration and Course Selection

Registration will generally take place during the first few weeks of courses. Students are allowed to register in multiple facultés or departments in order to meet with their home institutions requirements. Each department will have different registration requirements and processes, so students will need to speak with individual departments to ensure they are registered for courses properly. Students may be able to register online for certain courses while other courses will require the student to speak with a department faculty member.

Exams and Grading

Grade averages between 5.5 and 6 are very rare; an average of a 6 is mostly impossible. In exams, quarter steps are usually used to indicate grades between integer grades: e.g., 5.25. To pass a year, this overall result needs to be sufficient. Sometimes further conditions need to be fulfilled, such as a maximum allowed number of grades below four. At university level, classes can often be repeated individually in case of an insufficient grade, so not the whole year or semester needs to be repeated.

Since education is the responsibility of the cantons (except for the federal universities), grading notations may differ depending on the region. In some regions, + and - are used to indicate marks below or above an integer. Sometimes the - is used to indicate a better grade if it stands after the grade and a lower grade if it stands before the grade (in which case - is a symbol for "bis" 'to' rather than 'minus'), for example -5 is lower than 5 which is lower than 5- in that system.

6 Excellent
5.5 Very good
5 Good
4.5 Satisfactory
4 Pass
3.5 Fail
3 Poor
2.5 Very poor
2 Extremely poor
1.5 Almost no performance
1 No performance
0 Absence without good cause

Evaluation is based on written or oral exams, presentations, and works. In a typical exam, the average result will be somewhat above 4 with a variance between 0.5 and 1. This of course varies depending on the kind of exam, the tested class, the school level, the region, the teacher and other factors. Exams take place at the end of each semester. Students may have to register for examinations, so be sure to contact the departments about exam registration procedures.

Transfer of Credit

Students will be able to earn ECTS credits for courses. In the ECTS system, credits are allocated to course units according to the workload required to complete the course unit. The workload takes into account lectures, practical work, seminars, field work, private study, examinations, and other assessment activities. ECTS is thus based on a full student workload and not limited to contact hours only. In the ECTS system, 60 credits correspond to the workload of a full academic year of study and 30 credits to that of a semester (full-time studies). ECTS credits are a relative rather than an absolute measure of student workload. They only specify how much of a year's workload a course unit represents at the institution allocating the credits. ECTS credits ensure that the program will be reasonable in terms of workload during the period of study abroad.

Credits will only be given for a course if the student has passed the evaluation. A written or oral exam will usually be administered at the end of the semester.

Academic Year

The Swiss academic year is divided into two semesters: the first from mid-October to late February, and the second semester, which lasts from early March to mid-July.

Visa and Residency

STUDENT VISA/RESIDENCE PERMIT

To obtain a student residence permit (visa), visit the website of the nearest Swiss Embassy/Consulate. Follow any requirements that are indicated by the Swiss Embassy/Consulate to obtain your student visa, as they may differ by Embassy/Consulate.

Remember, your nearest Swiss Embassy/Consulate is the official source of all visa information. If you have questions regarding the student visa application, you must contact your local Swiss Embassy/Consulate. ISEP cannot contact Consulates on behalf of students.

*Please note that students participating on an exchange program at the University of Zurich should not initiate any portion of the visa process. The University of Zurich will provide you specific instructions upon accepting your placement.

Requirements for citizens of the USA and Canada

Applicant's passport and three copies of the following documents:

  • Visa application forms, fully completed and signed by the applicant
  • Confirmation/registration letter from your host university in Switzerland
  • A statement containing exact details of the applicant's income and assets, with official proof and/or bank statements
  • Certification letter from ISEP explaining costs to be covered during your stay (this is found in your PPAF packet after you are confirmed by the host institution; you will receive it from your home ISEP coordinator)
  • Previous diplomas and school certificates
  • Resume (biographical data, schools attended, etc.)
  • Recent passport picture

Requirements for citizens of all other countries

Applicant's passport and three copies of the following documents:

  • Visa application forms, fully completed and signed by the applicant
  • Confirmation/registration letter from your host university in Switzerland
  • Proof of financial resources (i.e., recent bank statements)
  • Certification letter from ISEP explaining costs to be covered during your stay (this is found in your PPAF packet after you are confirmed by the host institution; you will receive it from your home ISEP coordinator)
  • Previous diplomas and school certificates
  • Written confirmation that the applicant will leave Switzerland after he/she completes the chosen course study
  • Resume (biographical data, schools attended, etc.)
  • Brief essay on the applicant's future plans
  • Recent passport picture

An applicant's request will be forwarded for a decision to the immigration authority where one intends to study, and the Swiss Embassy/Consulate is only allowed to issue a student visa upon receipt of the authorization. The procedure can take up to three months

Student Visa Fees

Please refer to the Swiss Embassy’s website for the most accurate information regarding fees.

ISEP strongly recommends that you keep copies of all documents you send, including your form of payment. You should send all documents via registered mail with return receipt. Also, you must enclose with your application a prepaid self-addressed return envelope (USPS, UPS, Fedex, or any other carrier).

Documents to Bring to Switzerland

You should also take 12 to 15 copies of passport-size photographs, copies of your birth certificate, and results of your latest medical examination with you to Switzerland.

EMBASSIES AND CONSULATES

Embassy of Switzerland
2900 Cathedral Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20008
Phone: +1 (202) 745-7900
Fax: +1 (202) 387-2564

Embassy of the United States Bern
Sulgeneckstrasse 19
CH-3007 Bern, Switzerland
Tel: 031 357 70 11
bernniv@state.gov

A Note Regarding the Schengen Area

Switzerland is a member of the Schengen area. Students should review the important regulations that dictate travel and visas within the Schengen area.

Culture

CULTURE

Switzerland is a small country, but it is also a land of great diversity. Not only have the three main linguistic areas developed their own culture, traditions, economy and cuisine, but the great number of foreigners settled in Switzerland have also brought with them their various cultures and languages. With four national languages (German, French, Italian and Romansh) and over 21% of the population consisting of foreign citizens, Switzerland is a unique melting-pot in the heart of Europe. Although the majority of people (60%) speak German - or, more precisely, Swiss-German - Swiss residents often speak at least two languages. Cross-cultural encounters are part of daily life in Switzerland; plurilinguism is essential.

Lifestyle can vary greatly depending on the area of the country and the background of the inhabitants. Nowadays, the Swiss population is mainly modern and urban, with one-third of the population living in the five biggest cities (Zurich, Basel, Geneva, Bern and Lausanne), another third in smaller urban areas and the final one-third in rural areas. Traditions are kept alive especially in these mountain and rural areas. However, even the biggest Swiss city, Zurich, numbers only 370,000 inhabitants.

HELPFUL HINTS

Make an effort to at least learn Hello, Goodbye, Please, and Thank You in the language of the region you will be traveling in. "I would like..." is also a phrase that will help you. If you are in the German speaking region of Switzerland, it is generally wise to try to communicate in High German rather than attempting to speak a Swiss German dialect. The German Swiss almost instinctively switch from Swiss German to High German once they notice that they are speaking to a foreigner.

German, French, and Italian all have formal and informal forms of the word you, which changes the conjugation of verb you use, and sometimes phrases. For example, the informal phrase don't worry about it in French is ne t'en fais pas and the formal is ne vous en faites pas. The formal is used to show respect to someone who is older than you, who you consider to be a superior, someone who has a greater rank than you at work, or simply a stranger in the street. The informal is used with close friends, relatives, and peers. As a general rule, you shouldn't use the informal with someone you don't know well, someone who is your superior in rank, or an elder. Use the informal with your close friends and younger people. Peers can be a gray area, and it is advisable to use the formal at first until they ask you to use the informal.

Friends kiss each other on the cheek three times (left - right - left). This is the usual thing to do when being introduced to someone in the French speaking part. In the German speaking part, it is normal to just shake hands when being introduced. Don't be shy as you if you reject the advance it appears awkward and rude on your part. You don't have to actually touch your lips the skin after-all, as a fake kiss will do.

Do not litter. While Switzerland will not fine you, littering is definitely seen as bad behavior in this country and in general in German speaking Europe or Central Europe for that matter.

Be punctual. That means no more than one minute late, if that! Not surprisingly for a country that is known for making clocks, the Swiss have a near-obsession with being on time.

BUSINESS HOURS

Most shops are open from 8am to 6.30pm Monday to Friday, sometimes with a one- to two-hour break for lunch at noon in smaller towns. In larger cities, there's often a late shopping day until 9pm, typically on Thursday or Friday. Closing times on Saturday are usually 4pm or 5pm.

Offices are typically open from about 8am to noon and 2pm to 5pm Monday to Friday. Banks are open from 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday, with late opening usually one day a week.

FOOD

Food, ingredients and the way to prepare it varies greatly all over the country. Generally speaking, basic food items include a huge selection of bread (white, whole wheat etc.), dairy products such as milk, yogurt, butter and - of course - a great variety of the world famous Swiss cheese. Also important are vegetables including beans, carrots, cauliflower, potatoes, spinach etc. Sausages and meat - mainly veal, beef, pork, chicken or turkey - are served in many different ways: grilled, cooked, sliced or cut. Side dishes include French fries, rice, potatoes and different types of pasta. Finally, there are a lot of sweets, including the second type of food that Switzerland is world famous for: Swiss chocolate.

In Switzerland, breakfast typically includes bread, butter or margarine, marmalade or honey, maybe some cheese or cereals, plus milk, cold or hot chocolate, tea or coffee. Lunch may be as simple as a sandwich or a birchermüesli, or it could be a complete meal. Depending on what people had for lunch, dinner can be a full main course or just some bread, cheese, maybe some dried meat or any other light meal. Drinks range from plain water, over different types of soft drinks including most internationally well known brands plus some local products, to a great variety of beers and wines. Hot drinks include many different flavors of tea and coffee.

There are many different places to go out to eat in Switzerland. It starts with fast food, such as burger, fish and chips etc., continues with self service restaurants and what people in the U.S. use to call a family restaurant where you get all the regular menus and ends with spectacular (and very expensive) restaurants, where to eat is supposed to be an "experience".

Food is quite expensive in Switzerland, at least compared to most European countries and especially compared to the U.S. If you go to a fast food place, you may easily spend up to CHF 10 for a burger, a soft drink and a coffee. In a family restaurant, a menu will cost somewhere between CHF 15 and 50, self service restaurants are somewhat less expensive. At a more fancy restaurant, one can spend as much as CHF 1000 just for a bottle of wine.

Common menus include a great variety of pasta, potatoes prepared in many different ways, vegetables, meat (veal, beef, pork, chicken and even horse), fish (mainly fresh water fish), but also seafood. Vegetarian menus have become more popular during the last few years, most restaurants provide at least one vegetarian menu as a main course. In addition, salad is very popular as well. The most important part of course is dessert. This includes cheese, but even more important any flavor of cakes or cookies.

TIPPING

Tipping is not normally necessary, as hotels, restaurants, bars and even some taxis are legally required to include a 15% service charge in bills. However, if you've been very happy with a meal or service you could round up the bill (locals often do).

Daily Life

CULTURE

Switzerland is a small country, but it is also a land of great diversity. Not only have the three main linguistic areas developed their own culture, traditions, economy and cuisine, but the great number of foreigners settled in Switzerland have also brought with them their various cultures and languages. With four national languages (German, French, Italian and Romansh) and over 21% of the population consisting of foreign citizens, Switzerland is a unique melting-pot in the heart of Europe. Although the majority of people (60%) speak German - or, more precisely, Swiss-German - Swiss residents often speak at least two languages. Cross-cultural encounters are part of daily life in Switzerland; plurilinguism is essential.

Lifestyle can vary greatly depending on the area of the country and the background of the inhabitants. Nowadays, the Swiss population is mainly modern and urban, with one-third of the population living in the five biggest cities (Zurich, Basel, Geneva, Bern and Lausanne), another third in smaller urban areas and the final one-third in rural areas. Traditions are kept alive especially in these mountain and rural areas. However, even the biggest Swiss city, Zurich, numbers only 370,000 inhabitants.

HELPFUL HINTS

Make an effort to at least learn Hello, Goodbye, Please, and Thank You in the language of the region you will be traveling in. "I would like..." is also a phrase that will help you. If you are in the German speaking region of Switzerland, it is generally wise to try to communicate in High German rather than attempting to speak a Swiss German dialect. The German Swiss almost instinctively switch from Swiss German to High German once they notice that they are speaking to a foreigner.

German, French, and Italian all have formal and informal forms of the word you, which changes the conjugation of verb you use, and sometimes phrases. For example, the informal phrase don't worry about it in French is ne t'en fais pas and the formal is ne vous en faites pas. The formal is used to show respect to someone who is older than you, who you consider to be a superior, someone who has a greater rank than you at work, or simply a stranger in the street. The informal is used with close friends, relatives, and peers. As a general rule, you shouldn't use the informal with someone you don't know well, someone who is your superior in rank, or an elder. Use the informal with your close friends and younger people. Peers can be a gray area, and it is advisable to use the formal at first until they ask you to use the informal.

Friends kiss each other on the cheek three times (left - right - left). This is the usual thing to do when being introduced to someone in the French speaking part. In the German speaking part, it is normal to just shake hands when being introduced. Don't be shy as you if you reject the advance it appears awkward and rude on your part. You don't have to actually touch your lips the skin after-all, as a fake kiss will do.

Do not litter. While Switzerland will not fine you, littering is definitely seen as bad behavior in this country and in general in German speaking Europe or Central Europe for that matter.

Be punctual. That means no more than one minute late, if that! Not surprisingly for a country that is known for making clocks, the Swiss have a near-obsession with being on time.

BUSINESS HOURS

Most shops are open from 8am to 6.30pm Monday to Friday, sometimes with a one- to two-hour break for lunch at noon in smaller towns. In larger cities, there's often a late shopping day until 9pm, typically on Thursday or Friday. Closing times on Saturday are usually 4pm or 5pm.

Offices are typically open from about 8am to noon and 2pm to 5pm Monday to Friday. Banks are open from 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday, with late opening usually one day a week.

FOOD

Food, ingredients and the way to prepare it varies greatly all over the country. Generally speaking, basic food items include a huge selection of bread (white, whole wheat etc.), dairy products such as milk, yogurt, butter and - of course - a great variety of the world famous Swiss cheese. Also important are vegetables including beans, carrots, cauliflower, potatoes, spinach etc. Sausages and meat - mainly veal, beef, pork, chicken or turkey - are served in many different ways: grilled, cooked, sliced or cut. Side dishes include French fries, rice, potatoes and different types of pasta. Finally, there are a lot of sweets, including the second type of food that Switzerland is world famous for: Swiss chocolate.

In Switzerland, breakfast typically includes bread, butter or margarine, marmalade or honey, maybe some cheese or cereals, plus milk, cold or hot chocolate, tea or coffee. Lunch may be as simple as a sandwich or a birchermüesli, or it could be a complete meal. Depending on what people had for lunch, dinner can be a full main course or just some bread, cheese, maybe some dried meat or any other light meal. Drinks range from plain water, over different types of soft drinks including most internationally well known brands plus some local products, to a great variety of beers and wines. Hot drinks include many different flavors of tea and coffee.

There are many different places to go out to eat in Switzerland. It starts with fast food, such as burger, fish and chips etc., continues with self service restaurants and what people in the U.S. use to call a family restaurant where you get all the regular menus and ends with spectacular (and very expensive) restaurants, where to eat is supposed to be an "experience".

Food is quite expensive in Switzerland, at least compared to most European countries and especially compared to the U.S. If you go to a fast food place, you may easily spend up to CHF 10 for a burger, a soft drink and a coffee. In a family restaurant, a menu will cost somewhere between CHF 15 and 50, self service restaurants are somewhat less expensive. At a more fancy restaurant, one can spend as much as CHF 1000 just for a bottle of wine.

Common menus include a great variety of pasta, potatoes prepared in many different ways, vegetables, meat (veal, beef, pork, chicken and even horse), fish (mainly fresh water fish), but also seafood. Vegetarian menus have become more popular during the last few years, most restaurants provide at least one vegetarian menu as a main course. In addition, salad is very popular as well. The most important part of course is dessert. This includes cheese, but even more important any flavor of cakes or cookies.

TIPPING

Tipping is not normally necessary, as hotels, restaurants, bars and even some taxis are legally required to include a 15% service charge in bills. However, if you've been very happy with a meal or service you could round up the bill (locals often do).

Health and Safety

https://www.isepstudyabroad.org/guides-and-tips/health-safety

Currency

MONEY MATTERS

Switzerland is one of the more expensive countries in the world. The primary monetary unit in Switzerland is the Swiss franc (CHF) (which equals 100 centimes). Coins are of 5, 10, 20 and 50 centime value and of one-, two- and five-franc denominations. Banknotes have values of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 1,000 francs.

Please see www.xe.com for current exchange rate calculations.

For maximum financial mobility, opening a bank account after arriving in Switzerland may prove to be beneficial. Your host university may require that you open an account in order to receive your monthly stipends. Many local banks welcome foreign students' savings accounts.

ATMs

Automated teller machines (ATMs) - called Bancomats in banks and Postomats in post offices - are common, and are accessible 24 hours a day. They can be used with most international bank or credit cards to withdraw Swiss francs, and they have English instructions. Your bank or credit-card company will usually charge a 1% to 2.5% fee, and there may also be a small charge at the ATM end. Make sure you let your bank know that you will be traveling internationally, so that they do not block your card for suspicious purchases or withdrawals.

CREDIT CARDS

The use of credit cards is less widespread than in the UK or USA and not all shops, hotels or restaurants will accept them. When they do, EuroCard/MasterCard and Visa are the most popular. Make sure you let your credit card company know that you will be traveling internationally, so that they do not block your card for suspicious purchases.

CHANGING MONEY

You can change money at banks, as well as at airports and nearly every train station daily until late into the evening. Whereas banks tend to charge about 5% commission, some money-exchange bureaus don't charge commission at all.

TAXES

VAT (MWST in German, TVA in French) is levied on goods and services at a rate of 7.6%, except on hotel bills, when it's only 3.6%.

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