The Mole Diaries: Geneva (Volume 2)
by Patrick Nouhailler
Samara Brackley is studying French and Italian at the University of Bristol. She lived in Geneva for the first semester of her year abroad, where she studied predominantly in the Faculté de Traduction et Interpretation at the Université de Genève, but also took History of Art and Portuguese units in the Faculté des Lettres. Here is her advice about studying at the University and finding accommodation, plus her top tips for making the most of Geneva while you're there.
Geneva is a fantastic place to be for getting around Switzerland, and Europe as a whole. All the business and banking that takes place here makes it a transport hub, so taking a little weekend trip away couldn’t be easier.
Université de GenèveThe organisation at the University is second to none and, like the term dates, it’s much more of what we’re used to in the UK than most French universities. Everything was organised for us in the first few weeks; séances d’information for each of the different faculties, and more for the Erasmus/Exchange students. We were provided with all the documentation we would need to plan our timetables, sign up to classes, send off for a permis de séjour and validate our student cards.
If, like me, you get a little bit stressed by disorganisation, Switzerland in general is definitely the place to come. They’re also very relaxed about Erasmus students taking modules from other faculties, which was good for me as it appeared that all the British universities had done some sort of “deal” with the FTI, and so my classes were predominantly full of other British students. Great for making friends, but not for my French. I decided to take classes in the Faculté de Lettres, and making Swiss friends was much easier as not many exchange students take modules outside the FTI unless they are specifically required to.
There are a lot of Swiss-Germans at UniGe as it’s the only University in Switzerland where you can study International Relations. All the Swiss-Germans I met spoke fluent French though, and if you speak to them in French, they reply in French. I don’t speak German and it’s never been a problem with meeting people.
The lectures are two hours long, which was a bit of a shock to my concentration span at first, but you soon get used to it. The library is enormous, and seemingly never runs out space, even during exam times.
UniGe is on the 15 tram route (UniMail) and a short walk from the 1 bus route and 12 tram route (Pont d’Arve). The ESN Genève is also very active, organising all sorts of events, which was how I met my group of Erasmus friends.
Hall de l'Uni Mail:
Photo by jyhem
Finding AccommodationAccommodation is always the largest of everyone’s worries when starting their year abroad, and unfortunately it gets no smaller in Geneva. There is a general housing shortage in Geneva (not just for students but also professionals) and finding accommodation here IS tough if you don’t organise yourself properly.
I was lucky enough to be offered a room in one of the Résidences Universitaires of the University’s BLRU (Bureau de Logements), which despite what others may tell you, is not impossible. You cannot wait for the University to contact you first; as soon as you know you have a place confirmed at the University, check the BLRU website and make a note of when their applications open. I sent my form off in April for a room from September, and although five months seems extreme, in Geneva this is necessary. Many of my friends paid upwards of 800CHF a month, whereas I paid 465CHF, bills included; all you have to do is be organised. Don’t forget you’re competing with Swiss-Germans and Swiss-Italians for places in halls, who will inevitably be organised, it’s just in their blood being Swiss.
I lived with three Swiss-German students, who were so helpful with getting me organised in my first few weeks. My halls were in Carouge, which is a residential, boutique district south of the river. It was about 5 minutes walk from the 12 tram stop, and then a maximum 10 minute tram journey to uni.
The best way to get about is the abonnement mensuel which you can pick up for 45CHF/month at any of the TPG (Transport Public Genevois) offices around the city; this covers all transport in the Canton de Genève. Don’t try and skip buying one; although there aren’t barriers, there are A LOT of ticket inspections, and it isn’t rare to watch someone cough up a 80CHF fine for not having a ticket/abonnement.
Ten top tips on the city of Geneva1. Don’t be ridiculous with money.
Yes, it is an expensive city, but wherever there are students, there are cheaper places to eat and shop. Restaurants like Holy Cow (burger bar) offer student discounts, and the cafés in the University are good places to pick up a coffee relatively cheaply. I also picked up from my flatmates that Swiss students travel into France to do their grocery shopping, and so every fortnight I too travelled into La France Voisine (included in the abonnement mensuel) on the D or 4 bus routes to St Julien en Genevois to go to Carrefour to do my food shopping. It seems extreme, but the 15 minute bus journey is worth it.
2. Take advantage of the UN Open Day.
It takes place every September the weekend before term starts. It’s free to get in (go early to avoid enormous queues) and you can wander around all of the Palais des Nations, Parc des Nations and the newer UN Buildings at your leisure. There are also spectacular views over Lake Geneva.
3. Get a boat to somewhere on Lake Geneva.
Some friends and I went to Yvoire, which is a small village in France on the south side of the Lake. It’s worth it just for the boat trip, but Yvoire was one of the most serene places I have ever been. You can also get the boat from one dock in Geneva to another included in your abonnement, which is the best time to try and get a good shot of the infamous Jet d’Eau.
4. Take advantage of the ESN trips.
I didn’t do this nearly enough, mainly as not many of my friends were Erasmus students so they weren’t going, but it’s the most cost efficient way of seeing Switzerland with your friends.
5. Try and get an au-pairing job.
English is a very important language in Geneva given its international status, and there are lots of families who want their children to practise English with native speakers. It’s a good chance to try and earn a little bit of money whilst on your year abroad. This doesn’t mean that people won’t speak to you in French; au contraire, the Swiss are generally very respectful and encouraging of foreigners speaking French.
6. Visit the Patek Philippe Museum.
There are no words to describe how wonderful this museum is; three floors full of some of the most exquisite and complicated watches in the world.
7. Take advantage of the organised UniParty events.
There are lots of societies organising big parties at UniGe, like the Latin American society (ALMA) and the Medicine Societies. If you miss out on them, you’ve missed out on what Swiss students do when they let their hair down, which, trust me, you don’t want to miss.
8. Take a day to wander around the Old Town.
It’s the cultural heart of Geneva that begins at Parc des Bastions and ends by the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, and takes you through the medieval hilltop city and the Reformation on the way.
9. Visit Rue du Rhône, even if it’s just to window shop.
The exclusive shops on this expensive road are decorated so well that it’s almost like a road of little designer museums, and at Christmas, it’s just breathtaking.
10. Take advantage of Switzerland’s extensive train network.
It’s not cheap by any means, and you don’t get discounts by booking in advance, but you just have to bite the bullet and go if you want to see any of Switzerland. I went to Zurich, Nyon, Montreux (for the delightful Christmas market, a must!) and Annecy (France), and I’m so glad I did.