I am all moved in to my student residence and registered with the proper authorities with a residence permit, which means that I officially reside in Zürich, Switzerland now! The two weeks since I came back from Zermatt and my parents flew home have gone by so quickly because I have been so busy. So far, I have taken 60 hours’ worth of German lessons, trained with my new climbing team 7 times, gone on a weekend trip to the south of Switzerland to go bouldering, competed in the Mammut Blacklight Bouldering Challenge, and met countless amazing new people from all over the world. While it has been a busy two weeks, I have been enjoying myself immensely.
*Note: Because I have a lot to talk about, I am splitting this into two posts – one about life here, and one about climbing.
As a student at ETH Zürich, I have access to courses at the Language Center (Sprachenzentrum) of the Universität Zürich (UZH). UZH is basically the arts university to ETH’s sciences and engineering. Courses at the Language Center are free of charge and extremely popular. Twice per year they run 60 hour, 2 week long intensive German courses for incoming Master’s and exchange students. Perhaps I should have more attention to university correspondence, because by the time I got around to registering for this intensive course the beginner’s class was full. Instead, thinking I was clever, I registered in the post-beginner’s course and figured I would take some internet courses and catch up. Which of course I did not…oh well, c’est la vie.
My post beginner course turned out to be really good. Despite going in with practically no knowledge of the language, I was able to pick it up quite quickly. This was in part, I believe, because of the 8 years of French classes I took in elementary and high school. We learned a lot of grammar, and had to memorize quite a few verbs. I am now in the interesting position of understanding how to form sentences in the present and past tenses, and knowing verbs, but only a small handful of nouns.
The course wasn’t all grammar exercises either – the instructors made an effort to get us to have fun and meet lots of new people. One of the days we went on a “Stadttour” (city tour), which was basically a team scavenger hunt around the center of the city. Another day we visited the Zürich Zoo, just for fun. In the end, I studied hard and finished the course with 5.5/6, which I am very happy about.
Now I am making an effort to learn more German on my own. Climbing is my motivation – at training the primary language spoken is German (Swiss German, but still), and I would really like to understand and be able to participate in conversations. Sometimes I am able to get the gist of conversations by picking out words I know, but it’s difficult and a bit frustrating sometimes. But I’m learning, and it’s getting better all the time.
Between living in a building full of international students and attending German as a foreign language courses I have met so many new people from all over the world. Spain, Mexico, Norway, Sweden, Egypt, Singapore, The Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia, Australia, Nicaragua, and Sweden are just a few of the countries that I have met students from. It’s funny, this thing that exchange students do – we sit together and discuss our home countries. I mean, I came all the way to Switzerland just to talk about Canada all the time. I love learning about other countries, but it just seems a little strange to me sometimes. I can’t count the number of times I have explained why my accent makes me sound Californian, or why I apologize when someone else bumps into me (so Canadian, eh?).
There are the little things about Switzerland that you have to get used to – such as why does the entire city shut down on Sundays? Why are there so many zones in the transportation system? Why do you make words in Germany just by putting two words together with no space? And of course, why does everything cost so much? But so far I love it. Despite the cold and occasional snow (No, I’m not used to it even though I’m from Canada), and the seemingly ever present fog, I think Zürich is a beautiful city in an amazing country. I am really excited to spend the next 6.5 months here exploring.