From Canada to Switzerland: A Cultural Guide

“This experience was incredibly important. Understanding that even western nations like Canada and Switzerland both have such different cultural differences was huge for me…”

LiFei Liu-Calver

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to eventually settle outside of Canada and live abroad. The study abroad program provided me some insight into what it would be like to settle in another country. Not only gaining important life skills such as budgeting and cooking for myself, but also the difference in culture.

Back in February and March in 2023, I tried to apply to an Austrian scholarship, which did not work for me. I instead opted for my second choice, which was Switzerland. I departed on Sep 5, 2024, after spending my final day with my family, cruising around Vernon and Kelowna.

The capital of the canton Graubünden (Grisons in English), nestled in the eastern Swiss alps, and the oldest city in Switzerland, Chur is where I called home for the following 6 months.

Getting to Switzerland was a complete nightmare. I woke up around 6am on Sep 5 to go to Kelowna. (Believe it or not, it can be cheaper to take a trip to Kelowna and use their airport as opposed to Kamloops!) I spent the day with my family getting ice cream, going to a garage sale, hanging out in Orchard Mall in Kelowna before I was let go. My flight was scheduled to leave around 7-7:30 pm that night. The flight to Toronto Pearson was around 4 and a half hours. Here was the worst part of the trip. A 15 hour layover. Of course, it is an airport, I didn’t want my things stolen, so I stayed awake, which was difficult. Then my plane to Zurich was delayed. By this point I was awake for almost 32 hours straight. Eventually I did get on my plane and immediately fell asleep. That was probably the only time I ever got sleep on a plane at all.

When I arrived in Zurich, I had my buddy wait for me and we drove another 1.5 hours to Chur. By this point I was severely exhausted and jet lagged. I managed to get to my dorm and check in.

The International Office at the University of Applied Sciences of the Grisons (FHGR) were incredibly helpful throughout my entire learning process and were always there to answer questions. Each weekend, they would send a list of activities for students to do over the weekend. There was always something new, such as the cattle coming down from the mountains, to parades in the streets, to an outdoor skating rink.

Train rally location

Classes were set up differently. In TRU, if I choose an English history literature class, chances are there are multiple classes of that course offered, and students can pick and choose what time slot they like best and that would remain at the same time and location in their time table the entire semester. However, with FHGR, that was not the choice of the students. There was only one class of each course. The dates of a class varied. You could go one day with the class on a Monday and get it another two months later three days in a row from Wednesday to Friday. Some classes also ran all day, from 8:30 or 9:00 until 4:30 or 5:00pm. It was incredibly important that I checked my time table. The only class that remained constant was my German language course.

I stayed in Konvikt, with 16 other international students. We hung out together, had movie nights, played games, and worked on our assignments together. What was interesting was that this residence also had high school aged students living there as well. The entirety of Chur was flat, except the walk to Konvikt, which was entirely uphill. The bus only goes so far. One of the building managers, Oliver, would always say “This is our free healthcare.”

One thing that was incredibly difficult to adjust to was befriending Swiss people. They are friendly but they are not friends right away. Compared to Canadians, Swiss are more closed off and private, whereas Canadians are more talkative and open. Communicating with the Swiss was hard because at first thought, they seem really short and blunt with their responses, but they just prefer to keep to themselves. However, just like Canadians, they do value punctuality and their time. If one is to show up late, you can best bet that the Swiss are not pleased.

Swiss transportation is very effective. As the Swiss value their time and punctuality, the transportation is almost always on time. If it is late, it is at most one or two minutes late. This doesn’t come without costs. Switzerland is insanely expensive. The train from Zurich to Chur is CHF 44 or $70 CAD. Even with half fare, it is CHF 22, and can still be expensive. It is important to know that if you are thinking of going to Switzerland, you properly budget because from eating out to taking transportation is expensive. However there are half year plans one can get for unlimited rides in the city.

Switzerland has four official languages, German, the most widely spoken in Switzerland, French towards the French-Swiss border, Italian towards the south eastern portion of the country, and Romansh, which is spoken primarily in Graubünden after German. Depending on where you stay, you would need to do research about that region and what language they speak. I was able to speak a bit of German with locals. Although, it is important to know that the Swiss speak Swiss German, which is a variant of German. It is difficult for German speakers to understand Swiss German, but easy for the Swiss German speakers to understand German. Most locals know a second or third language, such as French and almost everyone knows English.

Because of how central Switzerland is, I went travelling frequently, to places such as Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, France, Portugal, Ireland and the UK. There is even a little place called the Swiss Centre at Coventry Street, London, UK.

This experience was incredibly important. Understanding that even western nations like Canada and Switzerland both have such different cultural differences was huge for me. Doing a bit of research about the country is essential to understand how to act, or why people act a certain way.

LiFei Liu-Calver

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