Welcome to Zürich!

Charmaine // 20 February 2017

Whew! I’ve been in Zürich for a couple weeks now, and it’s hard to believe how quickly time has passed. The weather has changed from frigid with a side of snow to smatterings of rain to the first hints at spring (already!! Can you believe it?). With an intensive marketing analytics block course out of the way, I feel like I’ve already settled into a routine.

This is a school building!

For the past two weeks, I’ve taken the tram at 8:26 am (so efficient!), attended class at 9 am (usually with a multiple choice test in the morning and case analysis at the end of the week), and headed back at 6 pm. A lot of other exchange students have just moved into my residence, so we’ve all been getting to know each other over dinner. It’s been quite tiring, but this intensive course has allowed me to finish 1/4th of my credit requirements in two weeks. I really enjoyed having class with locals, because they would point out the “North American” tendencies that I didn’t even realize I had (e.g. eating microwave popcorn during a group project). Apparently, popcorn is only a thing while watching movies???!?

Living at Culmannstrasse 26

culmann This is my room in Zürich. There’s a big bookshelf on the other side of the room, which is good because I love lots of storage.

Student housing in Switzerland is organized by a government-subsidized cooperative called WOKO. It’s significantly cheaper than any other housing in the area, so people often continue living in our dormitory-style residence until they are 27 years old! As a result, there’s a big supply-and-demand issue: one local student told me he landed WOKO housing after waiting for 7 months, while another said he’s applied to sublet at over 40 different residences in Zurich so that he wouldn’t have to commute 4 hours into the city every day (and still no luck!).

I also get the sense that communal living is a lot more popular here in general. Friends tend to cook meals together (in our 60-person industrial kitchen!) and split it family-style, and everyone in the dorm cycles through both kitchen and washroom cleaning duties. I definitely miss American-style ownership norms when I’m stuck cleaning dishes for over 2 hours! Technically, we’re all supposed to clean up for ourselves, but the common areas still get incredibly messy after just a day (truly a tragedy of the commons scenario).

A Day at Mount Titlis

When I first arrived, I had a nice day in Engelberg with my parents. The weather was actually FANTASTIC that day, and we got to do a lot of cool (literally) things like walk around in an ice cave, go tubing down a hill, cross suspension bridges, and warm up with hot chocolate. Lots of people ski at Engelberg (Mount Titlis) as well!

Cultural Differences in Zürich

I’m starting to get used to life in Zürich, but a lot of things are quite different from home. Here’s a little round-up:

1. THE TRAMS. Zürich has a wonderfully efficient system. It’s so punctual, in fact, that you can do the whole “running toward the departing tram with your hand stretched out” move to no avail. You can try to stop the train by running over it, but you should probably move out of the way lest it run over YOU. Also, we have this really pretty tram called the “polybahn” that connects downtown to the university at the top of the hill.


2. Cigarette culture. People in Zürich smoke a LOT. It’s such a shame because you can tell the air could be all mountain-fresh, but instead, all you smell is cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes. What’s interesting is that schools try to do their part, but seem to do so with completely different standards. While we are taught not to smoke from an early age, elementary schools in Zürich try to incentivize school children by running classroom contests (much like our food drive campaigns and fundraising pledges) to see which class can go the longest without smoking. I found that shocking — aren’t they a bit young? And furthermore, doesn’t that mean the administrators expect it to be inevitable for students to smoke, since the contests aren’t indefinite?

3.Classes. Perhaps it was just the nature of my first class, but I am finding class here to be a lot more quantitative. All of our recommendations have to be backed by data sets. It’s really nice seeing marketing taught this way, since real-world marketing definitely requires data-driven insights. At the same time, I also feel like it’s a lot more technical, like a tutorial. While that can help us all become spreadsheet/coding monkeys, I feel like university back home requires more critical thinking and helps us become more strategic/big-picture thinkers.

4. Grocery store chocolate. Listen, I’ve never been much of a chocolate person. But Switzerland has made me a convert! I love these Cailler grocery store chocolates, and have definitely bought more than a couple since arriving.


That’s all for now! FULL DISCLOSURE: I am super-behind on these blog posts and still need to catch up on my weekend trips to Lucerne and Brussels.