Fun fact, I’ve been thinking about going on exchange again as part of my graduate studies. There was an information session last month and I still giggle each time the thought crosses my mind.
In continuation and certainly trying to warn you before your acceptance letter comes in, there are still a few more steps before jetting off to a foreign land. It’s all very exciting until you forget about visa deadlines or overweight luggages. Consider the following:
- Celebrate your acceptance!
First and foremost, congratulations! All that research and ridiculous resume writing has paid off. Go out with family and friends, take a mini-vacation, don’t study for that midterm (okay fine, keep studying!).
- Preparing travel documents and finances
With the acceptance package, there will be several documents that need to be signed and dated. As much as you want to put these off, thinking that a quick signature can be done at any time, just do it! You’ll inevitably forget, even if you set an alarm on your phone. Some of the documents that I had to sign off immediately, include:
- Conditional/Official Nomination Letter
- Participation, Consent and Release from Liability Form
- CIE Permission to Release Information Form
- Additional Online Application with Partner Institution (ETH Zürich)
- Terms and Condition Form (ETH Zürich)
- Study Plan with Partner Institution (ETH Zürich)
- Course Registration
- Department Approval
- Transfer Credit Approval (ETH Zürich/UofT)
- Note: I didn’t complete this because I didn’t need any of the credits abroad. Perks of finishing your degree early and jetting away to avoid all your problems.
- Scholarship and Bursary Release Forms (ETH Zürich/UofT)
In terms of travel documents, the earlier you submit these to officials, the quicker you can stop lining up in government offices and waiting for answers:
- Visa Application
- Passport (check your expiry dates!)
- Transportation Tickets (one way vs. return flight)
- International Credit Card (or at least international fees)
Last, but certainly not least, think about your budget. The chances of you sticking to it is slim to none, but for scholarship and bursary reasons, you’ll be thankful you considered your financials before departure:
- Bank Statements
- Chequing Account
- Savings Account
- Investments, such as TFSA, GIC, etc.
- Tax Forms, such as T4A, T2202A, T1, etc.
- Scholarship and Bursary Application SPECIFICS
- Budget Plan
- Yearly summary of your personal spending
- Predicted expenses of exchange semester (don’t be afraid to round up, but stay reasonable)
- Emergency fund (trust, it will come in handy when you’re stuck in a foreign airport or train station and you just want to go home)
These are very general documents that may be asked of you before leaving. Specifically for Switzerland and ETH Zürich, you’ll have to think about residency permits and health insurance. Coming from North America, many details of our agreement did not conform to EU standards. To my surprise, I was required to purchase additional health insurance to apply for a student permit in Switzerland. Although you don’t want to think about, accidents do happen. Thankfully I didn’t need it during my time abroad, but I have had friends who broke limbs while skiing, came down with a nasty flu, and nearly flattened by a moving vehicle. Not the same person, but things happen. Health insurance, if you didn’t already know, provides treatment coverage and premium payment. If you’re on a budget, and you really should be on budget, then be cautious and purchase the health insurance offered by the school. Their partnership with the insurance company provides the best deal, as long as you don’t run into serious trouble. In terms of EU students, they have a blue card that are often accepted in Switzerland and were more streamlined in the system.
Financially, Switzerland has a high standard of living. TLC has it right and the country does not accept scrubs. Prior to departure, I had to provide proof that I could afford to stay in the country. Their monthly-suggested budget was well over 1,750CHF. I’m not going to convert that into Canadian dollars because the amount still makes me sad. Although I never exceed those expenses on a monthly basis, it was required to have those liquid assets on hand to enter the country. You’ll also want to have a couple tax forms, not only for financial reasons, but also for opening up a bank account. Being Canadian, it was really simple to bring my SIN card number and tax return form with my banking information. However, if you’re American, be prepared for a little more grilling. It may take a little longer, you’ve been warned.
- Finding accommodations.
Depending on your school, you may be lucky enough to be offered student housing on campus. If this is the case, take it! There’s an ongoing joke that it’s easier to find a job in the EU than a housing contract when apartment hunting. The benefit of student housing is the sense of community and support when you get to the new place. Many UofT students that choose UK schools ended up in the student dorms and loved it! You’ll have a chance to integrate with the locals as well, making the transition all that much easier.
In Switzerland, at least specifically at ETH Zürich, exchange students had to find their own accommodations. The university suggested that we browse WOKO for short-term rental options. They had many options in terms of living style and distance from schools. The good thing was that all of the options provided you with your own room, but most bathrooms and kitchens were shared with your flatmates. If I remember correctly, I applied for housing approximately two months before departure, since most rental contracts will consult with the current tenant prior to filling the next vacancy. Earlier is definitely better, but sometimes you’ll have better luck during turnover season. Since I’m back now, I don’t mind saying that I lived at Bülachhof 1! If you’re attending ETH Zürich, I highly recommend this location. Initially thinking it was a little out of the way since I took a 15-minute tram ride to either of the campuses, Bülachhof had all of the amenities a student could need. In another post, I’ll be reminiscing about all of my amazing roommates. Also, it’s a great place in case you need to sublet it out for a portion of the semester (#airbnbvibes).
For more helpful information on student housing at ETH Zürich, check out the following links:
- Packing for your trip.
So you’re all set! Papers signed, passport in hand, ready to take on the world! But wait, WHAT DO YOU WEAR? As much as you’re thinking about all the Instagram photos you’ll be posting (and I suggest you wear bright colours because those show best in media), consider the weather. Know the typical temperature ranges and whether there will be snow. I certainly had a friend land in Argentina mid-August, only to realize that South American winters were real.
In terms of Switzerland, the semester ranged from February to August. Luckily, the region of mountains and lakes provides drastically different climates depending on the altitude. In the city, winter months are generally cool enough for a heavy coat, but my down jacket wasn’t needed as much. Typically wore long-johns or thermal tights under my jeans and a cozy sweater over a t-shirt. Up in the mountains, dress accordingly. If you’re doing sports, you already know the importance of light layers, but for sightseers with limited activity, wear a down jacket please. You’ve been warned (again!). Once spring came along, and when I was in the country, I traded my coat for lighter jackets and really played with layers. It’s a great time to experiment with European fashion too! Check out labels like Tally Weijl, Zara, and H&M for trendy items on a budget, but definitely invest in a pair of Navyboot shoes or ON Cloud runners. If you’re feeling particularly fancy, springtime is a great time to breakout that jean jacket and layer it over a cute floral dress. During my exchange, I left for the month of July to attend my graduation ceremony back in Canada. Although I didn’t get to experience the hottest month in Switzerland, June and August attire consisted of shorts and t-shirts in the city. It was uncommon to see short-shorts in general, but a pair of elegant sandals and a lightweight dress were staple pieces seen in the streets. Since Zürich was right on the lake, it was common to see people strutting around in swimsuits near the water. I definitely had my fair share of sun tanning in public during the summer months. Up in the mountains, it can still be very cold and snow is often an issue if you’re visiting glaciers. Therefore, pack a lightweight down jacket and extra sweater if you’re planning ascending in altitude. Zermatt was beautiful, but my friend and I quickly realized we had worn too little for the trip and descended the mountain prematurely. Overall, you’ll be prepared for Switzerland if you pack logical layers based on your trip itinerary. Look down below for a quick summary and ridiculous examples of WHAT (NOT) TO WEAR:
Other than clothing, moving to Switzerland for six months was similar to moving into a new dorm. If your apartment is furnished, then just pack the essentials that would make you feel most at home. For myself, I brought my favourite teacup. That’s all. Overweight baggage is a thing. However, your luggage is never too full for some ramen. As silly as this may sound, bringing a stash of instant noodles will save your life the first couple of weeks in the new city. My friend had suggested that I bring a whole box and even gave me a portion of his collection. However, predict (and limit) the amount of ramen intake you’ll have in the first month or so. You’ll be able to buy more when you arrive at your final destination, but it’s always nice to have a warm meal during a stressful time.
I didn’t expect this post to be so detailed. If you’d like to see shorter posts, please let me know in the comments below or message me through the contact page. Grad school is getting busier, as you can tell by the decrease in posting frequency, and you’d think I’d write more succinct summaries during this time of urgency. Regardless, hope you find this guide helpful in preparing for your exchange. The next set of logistics will pertains to the actions you’d need to take once you arrive! Excited to share my first couple of hours in Zürich with you!
P.S. Click here to see Part 1!