A Guide To Language Study Abroad in Switzerland
Switzerland is located in the heart of Europe, bordering Germany, France, and Italy. There are a wide range of geographical features in Switzerland, for both adventure seekers and nature lovers, including the infamous Swiss Alps, forests, lakes, and pastures. This multifaceted country is filled with financial centers, an eclectic mix of cultures, and a variety of language program options. Switzerland’s central location promotes academic strength in international relations and makes it perfect for language learners seeking a truly global learning environment.
Switzerland is a cultural and financial hub, housing huge corporations, historical buildings, and a beautiful natural landscape. The three most popular places for language study in Switzerland are Zurich, Geneva, and Lugano, and each location offers a different lifestyle and language focus. Choosing the right location for your language program in Switzerland really depends on your language goals.
Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and one of the world’s largest financial centers. The region of Switzerland in which Zurich is located mainly speaks German, so German language programs are most common in Zurich. The efficient public transportation system allows you to get from place to place both locally and internationally. The city is filled with international people and has various cultural centers and museums. Zurich’s historic buildings and grand streets make learning German one of the most culturally enriching places to study abroad.
Geneva is close to the border of France, so most people speak French in Geneva, and many even commute to and from France for work. Geneva is known as a peace capital and is home to several international organizations and hundreds of NGOs. Ranking high in most surveys of quality of life, Geneva houses a multitude of art and cultural entities. Language students will also enjoy Geneva’s large expat network, which creates an incredibly welcoming environment.
Lugano is located on the Swiss-Italian border, consequently most locals in this region speak Italian. This historic city is known as the Swiss Rivera and is a very popular tourist destination. Surrounded by lush green hills and the infamous Lake Lugano, language students can engage in many exciting outdoor activities, such as skiing, rafting, and trekking.
No matter which location you choose for your language program in Switzerland, you’re guaranteed to have a memorable experience. Whether you choose to complete language classes in the German speaking, financial city of Zurich, Geneva’s French speaking international melting pot, or Lugano’s Italianesque environment, you’ll be able to discover and explore a refreshingly diverse country.
There are four official languages of Switzerland: Swiss, German, French, and Italian. These also happen to be the most popular languages of study in Switzerland, along with the lesser known Romansch. Language programs in Switzerland offer a variety of possibilities for language learning:
- Private tutoring
- Culture centers or language schools
- Host family stays
- Language exchanges
When deciding which language program in Switzerland is right for you, ask yourself what your language goals are and how these goals will help you succeed in the future. Will this language be useful in your future career? Are you interested in a short-term intensive program or do you want to participate in a long-term program and make Switzerland your new home away from home? Considering questions like these can help you choose a language program in Switzerland that fits your needs best.
Class sizes will vary depending on the level and focus of each language program. In general, classes at language schools in Switzerland will be held Monday through Friday, and class sizes won’t exceed 20 students. Private lessons will typically be one-on-one, to accommodate the specific needs of each individual student, and be scheduled according to his or her availability. Intensive language courses in Switzerland can take place for up to eight hours per day, while long-term programs might be held for two hours combined with other cultural classes and activities.
A simple language course might be held in two blocks; for example, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., followed by a coffee break, with the next lesson starting from 11:15 a.m. to 1 p.m. On the other hand, intensive language programs in Switzerland are usually split into two longer blocks, to promote a great deal of learning each day.
Language study abroad doesn’t only involve studying the language, it also involves coming to understand the culture and the people. If you have the chance to participate in social events and activities, you should definitely take the opportunity! Language schools in Switzerland will often offer a variety of courses outside of language classes that have the potential to broaden students’ awareness and understanding of their location.
When comparing language programs in Switzerland, be sure to check out the program’s focus and what type of supplemental opportunities they offer. For example, can your program help you find an internship with a local NGO? Will the program take you on activities in the great Swiss outdoors? Does the program provide airport pick-up, health insurance, housing, and visa support?
The cost of language programs in Switzerland varies depending on the program’s length and focus. For example, private French language lessons, which include housing, in Geneva can cost $2,700 for a 10-hour lesson each week, while a 40 hour lesson could cost $4,300. On the other hand, an intensive group French lesson might cost $700 for a four-week period, but not including housing.
Keep in mind that Switzerland’s currency is the Swiss Franc, not the Euro, and that living in Switzerland is relatively expensive. Grocery store and restaurant prices are higher in comparison to the United States. For example, a meal at a lower-range restaurant can cost around $24 for one person, a Coca Cola can cost $4, and milk is approximately $6. Of course a person’s living expenses will depend on his or her lifestyle, so it is possible to save money by cooking meals at home and avoiding indulging in expensive cuisine when going out with friends.
When researching various language schools in Switzerland also be on the look out for possible scholarship opportunities. Also, if you’re interested in a specific linguistic topic and wish to further your field research while also gaining language fluency in the country, there are grants that you may be able to apply to your language studies. It’s absolutely worth it to apply to as many scholarships that you are eligible for.
If you’re interested in immersing yourself in the language and daily life alongside locals, you might want to consider living in a homestay. Living with a local family will allow you to deepen your understanding of what it’s really like to live in Switzerland. It’s important to note that as you’ll slowly become a part of your new family, you might also be expected to take on family responsibilities, like occasional cleaning or cooking duties.
More independent housing options include apartment rentals or program provided housing with international or locals students. Language schools in Switzerland can usually help set students up with a location and housing arrangement that fits their needs and lifestyle. Generally, students can easily ride bikes or take public transportation to get from place to place in any major city.
Switzerland is a member of the Schengen agreement, and allows travel for U.S. citizens for up to 90 days without a visa. For students wishing to conduct language study in Switzerland for longer than 90 days, the long stay Type D Visa application process can be extensive (and take eight to ten weeks to process). Several forms and copies of paperwork are needed from your language school in Switzerland to obtain this type of visa. All language students should have passports that are valid for at least three months after their intended departure from Switzerland too. As a general rule, students will need to apply for their visas in person. Also, an important note is that health insurance is mandatory for all residents in Switzerland. Students that plan on living in Switzerland for more than three months must purchase their own health insurance policy. Language schools in Switzerland will be able to offer students guidance on how to obtain health insurance. For all language students, it’s also important to check with your local embassy or consulate for up to date application rules.
Be Punctual. You’ll discover that the Swiss are very punctual. You should also aim to follow this rule of thumb while attending classes, meeting up with friends, and riding the trains.
Immerse Yourself In A Truly International Environment. Switzerland is one of few places in the world that borders several major countries in Europe. As you participate in language study in Switzerland, you’ll be able to easily explore other areas and find yourself immersed in an eclectic mix of cultures and languages.
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