In this instalment of Let’s Talk About Erasmus, I spoke with Emma Leavey, a third year law student who is currently studying abroad in Switzerland. Originating from Galway, Leavey is spending the year attending the University of Zurich. On top of her law modules such as Swiss Law and The Art and Science of Negotiation, Leavey also indulged in a two-credit intensive German language course in order to introduce her to the native tongue of her host country.
Erasmus is a great opportunity to branch out from your college friends and meet new people; whether they also go to Trinity or they are from another international university, you are all in the same boat — leaving the familiarity of your home college and moving to a brand new country. When leaving Ireland, Leavey recounts that although three other Trinity students joined her in Switzerland, she didn’t know any of them prior to Erasmus. She comments that on their exchange they rarely encounter other Irish or English international students; instead, the majority are from Sweden, Germany or Spain. However, while one of her main concerns was the language barrier, the majority of residents in Zurich are fluent in English, allowing for smooth communication between the Trinity student and those at the Swiss university.
While describing the actual process of applying as being easy, Leavey is in agreement with what Quinn previously stated: choosing your modules is not a straightforward task. Attending an international university can cause issues in relation to this if you don’t speak the language of the country fluently, and Leavey unfortunately encountered this. Talking to Trinity News, she recounted that “while almost all modules were open to me as an exchange student, the only law modules taught through English are the masters modules”. This meant that she had to have an adequate base knowledge and understanding of certain modules before she was able to take them, instead of being taught from scratch. As she was left with no choice but to take these higher level modules, Leavey felt that the workload of 6-credit masters modules in Zurich were more intense than 10-credit modules at Trinity; she stated that “30 credits workload here felt like a lot more than it does at home.” In this situation there isn’t much choice, and for Leavey she had to take on the more challenging modules on offer at her host university as they were all she could understand.
“Term times are another element that can be considered a drawback for some students on Erasmus. Leavey outlined that “the exam period is really long and classes continue right up until Christmas.”
On top of this, the term times are another element that can be considered a drawback for some students on Erasmus. Leavey outlined that “the exam period is really long and classes continue right up until Christmas.” Leavey had to sit an exam on 23 December, affecting her travel home to Ireland for Christmas. Her last exam was at the end of January, causing an exhausting and drawn out exam period. At the end of the academic year, term doesn’t finish until the beginning of July, giving students a very short summer compared to what we get here at Trinity, Leavey explained.
Despite these negative aspects, life outside university proved to be a major highlight for Leavy. Unlike Ireland, the public transport in Switzerland is great, resulting in Leavey and her friends going on trips almost every weekend. They were able to travel the entire length of Switzerland on a train ride that took five hours each way, something which she described as “one of the most amazing experiences”. As well as this, Leavey was able to see sights she had never seen before; going on Erasmus allowed for her first time in this country, and she told of how she hiked and admired the famous Matterhorn Mountain in Zermatt. Leavey describes Christmas in the city as being an outstanding time of year, with ice rinks and Christmas markets to enjoy. Over Christmas they even went skiing — twice! Following her arrival in September, Switzerland had significantly less Covid restrictions than Ireland, meaning not only that nights out and bars could be fully enjoyed, but also that lectures were in person and mask-less.
“The Erasmus Student Network at her host University have made Leavey’s time there so far very enjoyable through their well organised parties and trips that help exchange students get to know each other.”
Similarly to Dublin, life in Zurich has proved to be expensive, which isn’t great for a student on a budget. Leavey stated that a meal in a restaurant comes to 35 Swiss francs (which equates to around 33 euros). Even worse, a single vodka sprite is €15. Aside from the price of nights out, the Erasmus Student Network at her host University have made Leavey’s time there so far very enjoyable through their well organised parties and trips that help exchange students get to know each other. While it is more common at Trinity to go abroad for one semester, Leavey highly recommends going for the full year, stating “even though I’ve been travelling a lot there’s still so much of Switzerland I have yet to see. If I had to leave already I’d be really disappointed.”
It is a normal experience to encounter culture shock on Erasmus, and there are several elements that Leavey has noticed a difference in while abroad. For example, she stated that the Swiss people are “definitely more reserved than Irish people”, and described how they don’t get as dressed up to go out as the Irish do, resulting in her being called crazy for wearing a dress without tights. As well as this, Leavey finds that she is often the youngest person in her classes or in social situations as most of the exchange students that she interacts with are older. In terms of the campus, the most treacherous journey for us here at Trinity is having to leg it from the Arts Building to Pearse Street with five minutes to spare — meanwhile, Leavey told us how her campus in Zurich is spread out over the city in a number of different buildings. She also reflects on the confusion in switching from the familiar Blackboard to instead using a variety of different academic platforms for each module, depending on what the specific lecturer wanted to use.
In agreement with Quinn, Leavey believes that the negative aspects of the process of Erasmus are always outweighed by the numerous positives and benefits. Moving cities is a daunting experience, but — as proven by the fun had by exchange students — is very worthwhile.