World-famous for its gorgeous snow-covered mountains, Switzerland has been known as a destination for those who are active and adventurous. One of the richest countries in the world, Switzerland’s major cities, Zurich and Geneva, have also have some of the highest quality of life ratings in the world. While the country itself is often overshadowed by the beauty of Swiss Alps, many special internship opportunities in Switzerland are available to students looking to get a broader international perspective in their work and studies.
International Relations: For those interested in navigating a career in international relations, Switzerland is a great place to begin! There is a huge range of internships in Switzerland available in the field. Interns can choose to work at an international governmental organization such as a NGO or humanitarian group, or take a different route and learn more about international law. Expect to get some hands-on experience conducting and analyzing your own field research, examine international institutional agreements, and learn from experts in the industry.
Public Health/Medicine: Want to join the fight against AIDS and cancer? Home to one of the largest chemical and pharmaceutical industries in Europe, Switzerland is the perfect place to dive into public health and medicine field work. There are several opportunities available in the Swiss branches of worldwide advocacy groups driving major public health initiatives such as the Worlds Health Organization and International Union Against Cancer. Taking an internship in Switzerland in medical research or health and human services is a great way to learn more about medical issues on an international level and make a difference in the world.
Business/Marketing/Design: The world is flat. There’s no doubt that businesses are continuously looking to expand their reach and promote their products and services to new international markets. While Switzerland may not seem to jump out as the number one place to find a business marketing internship, it is in fact, home to some of the largest worldwide marketing firms that help design major international brands. What better place is there to utilize your creativity and business acumen than at an international company internship in Switzerland? Don’t forget to enjoy the view of the Alps outside your window while you’re at it!
Planning Your Trip
When and Where to Look for an Internship
Most internships in Switzerland will be found in Geneva or Zurich, the larger cities in the country. The easiest way to find an internship in Switzerland is to grow through an intern program provider, who has already established relationships with Swiss companies. Most of these internship programs are offered during the summer and have specific application requirements, so begin your internship search as soon possible!
Cost of Living in Switzerland
Assuming that you are interning in a larger city such as Geneva, the monthly cost of living will range from 2000 to 2500 Swiss Francs (CHF). Most of the living expenses in Switzerland come from rent, food, and transportation. If you prefer eating out at restaurants to cooking, costs may be much higher. Note that 1 Swiss Franc is approximately equal to 1.07 U.S. dollars. Visit Numbeo for more details about cost of living in Switzerland.
- 1 bedroom apartment in City Center: 1500 CHF
- 1 pair of jeans: 120 CHF
- 1 bottle of water: 1 CHF
- 1 public transportation ticket: 3.20 CHF
Work Culture in Switzerland
- Etiquette: Business etiquette in Switzerland varies based on whether the company is local or multinational. Multinational companies typically follow the business practices of the country in which the organization is based. However, Swiss companies have a rigid organizational structure built upon traditional cultural values. The Swiss people highly value efficiency and tend to be extremely courteous and act formally in the workplace. Always arrive on time and try to dress more conservatively than you would in the U.S. Also, be aware that men still heavily dominate the work environment, due to the fact that the Swiss continue to value women in more domestic roles.
- Language: The official languages spoken in Switzerland are German, French Italian, and Romansh. Of the four, French and German are spoken most frequently, and Romansh is rarely used. While the variety of languages used in Switzerland can be extremely confusing, one must remember that it is due to its history as a country composed of people of different European heritages, and contributes to the diversity of the country. Most multinational and national companies utilize English as a business language and will not expect interns to be able to speak these languages fluently, but it is a good idea to learn some basic German or French.
- Networking: The business network in Switzerland can easily seem intimidating to the new international intern. But even with such a structured business culture, the Swiss value many of the same networking practices as those in the U.S. do. Networking in Switzerland tends to be more subtle, although more “aggressive” networking practices such as cold-emailing and cold-calling aren’t unheard of. Feel free to check out international Swiss networking groups such as the Expat Network Switzerland. Still, as an intern, your best bet at building a network will be through an internship program group, or on the job where you should get to know your colleagues.
Work and Labor Laws in Switzerland
Swiss labor laws typically extend to international interns, and cover minimum wage laws, limits on work hours, and general work place health regulations. Most internships in Switzerland are paid, but be sure to ask the organization or internship program provider if you need clarification.