Courses, Travels, and Cheese (posted by Pierre en Suisse)

Salut! I am now entering my third week here in Switzerland, and I can comfortably say that I’m getting settled into life here. Over the past two weeks, I have been participating in the University of Lausanne’s cours de vacances (vacation course). The course is designed for people of all ages and all levels of French who wish to improve their French language skills. There are three different levels, and I am in the class which is essentially been a preparatory course for taking classes in French at a Francophone university for students whose maternal language is not French. The class has students from all over the world; I have met people from the German part of Switzerland, Russia, Australia, Mexico, and other places, of a variety of ages as well. I am on the younger end of the spectrum, as the course is open to people of all ages who wish to improve their French. With such a diversity of people, it is pretty amazing to hear all the languages that can be spoken at once. One morning in particular, I remember reading an article in English while having a conversation in French at the same time, and hearing people speaking German around me; while all this was happening, one Russian girl even began speaking to another in Russian at one point to figure out how to say something in French. Yes, it can be a tad confusing at times but overall I think it is amazing.

One day after class last week I hopped on a train to go to Geneva. The university has a program that pairs exchange students with Swiss students to introduce us to Switzerland and help us get adjusted as well. My partner lives in Geneva right now. Luckily, the Swiss rail system is incredible, and after a quick half hour train ride without a single stop from Lausanne and some really pretty views of the snow-covered Swiss countryside, I was back in Geneva! This time I got to see more than just the inside of the airport; I got almost a full tour around the city!  I learned quite a bit about the city that I didn’t realize before, such as the fact that the famous philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau was born there, and not in Paris as many people believe. I got to see his statue, and also the entire city from the top of a church roof!

Statue of Jean Jacques Rousseau in Geneva!, because this is his birthplace

Statue of Jean Jacques Rousseau in Geneva

Went to the top of this church in Geneva and got a view of the entire city!  It's truly beautiful

Went to the top of this church in Geneva and got a view of the entire city

This is a rare occurrence in Switzerland at this time of year, because of how much it likes to rain and be cloudy in these parts during the winter. The city seems like quite a great place to live! There are a ton of parks, places to go swimming, and beautiful views.

View of Geneva from the top of the church! Made possible because of gorgeous weather

View of Geneva from the top of the church

The city’s public transportation network, just like that of the other places in Switzerland I have seen, was also quite interesting. There were buses and trams, which were a new site to me. I am extremely interested in urban studies, and as such it was really cool for me to see how advanced the city was in its transportation network. I’ve found that its the same in Lausanne. The metro lines are always running on time, and are so very clean and up to date. The buses even generally run on time, except for a few very rare times that they have been one or two minutes off in the morning rush to work and in my case, school. The Swiss stereotype of being on time definitely holds true!

I am also happy to report that the chocolate has been incredible, as I was expecting. I will admit I never go a single day without it. While prices of basically everything are really expensive here, the grocery stores always have bargain products which are still an incredible quality, and cost far less than the rest of the selection. I won’t lie though, going to the small patisseries and fromageries is my favorite shopping experience. My flatmate and I walked into a patisserie one morning for croissants for breakfast, and we essentially began drooling over everything we saw. The assortment of breakfast foods and breads just looked so good! The two ladies who I am assuming owned the store saw the looks on our faces and had to ask us if everything was okay, we were just so excited! We explained how we were here on exchange and this was our first time in Switzerland with a selection like what was there. We got pain au chocolate aka croissant-like bread filled with chocolate, and then a croissant au jambon which is a croissant filled with ham and cheese. Another time, I visited a small cheese shop, called a fromagerie to buy local cheese. I had asked a Swiss person for some advice on what to buy since there are just so many cheeses, and I wanted to try something really local to the area. Armed with some recommendations, I went in and was still overwhelmed, but I explained to the shop owner in French that I was American and I was here for studies and was investigating cheese. He helped me out quite a bit with the different types of cheeses and sold me two very traditional cheeses, called emmental and gruyere, just to start me off. He also explained to me that it would be a good idea to start off with lighter cheeses before moving on to the stronger stuff, so I really appreciated his advice! I made a second trip back there after I finished my first cheeses and they remembered my face and helped me buy other types after I told them what I liked! Can’t beat service like that!

Needless to say, life so far in Switzerland has been great! I am enjoying my time here immensely, and am really looking forward to next week when I will be starting real classes here at UNIL. I have some ideas of what I will take, but nothing set in stone just yet. More on that next time though!

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