One of the top destinations in Europe for tourists, historians, and backpackers, Switzerland is the home of some of the best outdoor recreation in the world as well as dramatic natural scenery and bustling, high-tech cities.

Known for the Swiss Alps, Switzerland has access to some of the best skiing, hiking, mountain biking, and camping in Europe. With world-renowned athletic facilities and mountain resorts, this area is an adventurer’s dream. In addition to high-impact sports, Switzerland has many medieval towns surrounded by lakes and valleys where students can enjoy the outdoors in a more relaxing setting.

Being very centrally-located, students can also get to almost anywhere from Switzerland using the InterRail or one of the country’s several airports. Rest assured, even though Switzerland is one of the smaller European countries, there will never be a dull moment for students taking a gap year here.

Photo Credit: Olivier Miche.

Switzerland is a very diverse country with many opportunities for gap year students. From learning in a traditional classroom setting to scaling the Alps, students will have no problem finding a program that fits their needs.

Language Study

The most popular type of gap year program in Switzerland is language study, probably because of the four languages Switzerland uses. Students can enroll in German, French, Italian, or Romansch classes while studying in Switzerland, and chances are students will return to the US having learned more than one language. Language study programs are an easy way to become very immersed in the Swiss culture, as students will be interacting with local students on a daily basis and many of these programs offer homestay options for even more immersion.

Conservation

Switzerland’s natural beauty is one of the things that makes the country so famous and so popular to visit. Its mountains, lakes, and valleys are some of the most breathtaking in the world, but they don’t stay clean by themselves. Students looking for a bit of adventure during their gap year should consider doing a conservation or wildlife volunteer program, which not only helps the environment, but will also make students feel a very personal connection to their host country. A popular program for outdoor volunteering is the Bergwald Projekt.

Volunteer

If working outdoors isn’t totally your thing, there are plenty of other ways to volunteer in Switzerland. Teaching English is one of the most popular ways to volunteer, as the Swiss put a lot of emphasis on wanting their children to speak fluent English. Another route is to do a volunteer service project, such as Volunteers for Peace. The Swiss are very proud of their peaceful history and working with locals to continue this is a great way to become immersed.

Cost of Living in Switzerland

Switzerland is known notoriously as one of the most expensive countries in the world. The biggest expenses for students living in Switzerland will most likely be public transportation and food. However, there are many ways to keep the cost of living down.

Research travel passes to avoid paying each time you use a bus or train. Shop at the local grocery store or street markets to save money on food and only eat out on special occasions. Also, use a student card for reduced admission fees to local attractions and events.

Culture and Etiquette in Switzerland

The biggest struggle for foreign students is pinning down what exemplifies the average Swiss. Because there are four different cultures and languages in Switzerland, adapting to the local culture can be very difficult.

However, there are some things that fit the profile of most locals. The Swiss value cleanliness, hard work, honesty, and punctuality above most other things. Being late is considered very rude, even for casual social outings.

They are also very proud of their long tradition of freedom, environmental-consciousness, and promotion of world peace. They also have very specific culinary etiquette, such as keeping their hands on the table at all times, using utensils for everything (including fruit), and if salt and pepper are not on the table, don’t ask for them.

There is generally no problem with food and water as restaurants and grocery stores are controlled by very strict health codes, and water is drinkable from every water tap (even public ones) unless marked otherwise. There are also plenty of organic grocery stores/restaurants, as well as vegetarian/vegan restaurants, and it is illegal to sell any genetically-modified food in Switzerland.

Health and Safety in Switzerland

Switzerland is typically a very safe country. Because of the amount of businesspeople and tourists, there is a mild amount of petty theft. So students should always keep an eye on their belongings.

The biggest safety issue that foreigners should be aware of is that many Swiss establishments print entire credit card numbers on receipts, which makes identity theft an issue when shopping or eating out. Students should always check their receipts and rip them up before discarding. Also, Swiss police take traffic violations very seriously, and jaywalkers will be fined on the spot.

No special immunizations are required to study in Switzerland and it is a very healthy country. Switzerland offers state-of-the-art healthcare and students will be completely taken care of if they should need to seek medical attention while abroad.

Contributed by Rebecca Murphy

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