Devendra received help from strangers when he was fresh off the plane in Switzerland. Six months later, he is given the opportunity to return the favour.
I still remember my first day in Zurich distinctly. I was carrying four bags including two suitcases, weighing almost 23 kilos each. I didn’t know anyone in the city. I had to contend with a different culture and a different language as well. All I had was an address to stay, thanks to my university’s housing office.
Fortunately, I got in touch with a few members of a student association called “Samwad”. They, along with “InSAZ” (Indian student association of Zurich) organized a one day mentorship program for new arrivals. As a part of the program, I was greeted at the airport by a couple of friendly Indian faces, who were to by my mentors. They helped me carry my luggage to my apartment and explained the basics of “Living in Zurich” and “Swiss culture” along the way.
I really appreciated the help at the time. Besides the airport pickup and help with luggage, a mentor spends around three hours providing a crash course on getting settled. Typical issues covered include how to travel to the university, where to buy groceries, and how to proceed with paperwork. They also answer any questions the “mentees” might have.
It is a completely voluntary program organized by Indian students in Zurich. Mentees get valuable information about Switzerland and mentors get a chance to make new friends. The program is fairly new, i.e. in September 2017. I was naturally curious to know, how the team came up with such a simple yet incredibly impactful idea.
How did mentorship programme come into being? I asked the founder himself.
This year, I decided to return the favour and become a mentor myself. I was assigned to welcome Rhea (one of 28 new Indian arrivals to ETHZ) who became my mentee. Here is what she had to say about the experience:
“Upon my arrival at Zurich I had knots in my stomach, to say the least, mainly because it was a new country, culture and a new start as a student of ETH Zurich. This nervousness melted away, as soon as I saw some friendly faces of InSAZ and Samwad members and I met my mentor. I had fortunately received an accommodation offer from the housing office. My mentor stayed at the same address too and what followed was a tram journey through the beautiful city of Zurich along with interesting insights into Swiss culture from my mentor.
After settling in my apartment, I realised that I had bought the wrong travel adapter, and fortunately could borrow one from my mentor who had a spare. During the first week I pestered Devendra with questions almost every single day, to which he very patiently replied: Tram to ETHZ, the Kreiseburo, the waste disposal system in Zurich, the Swiss train pass, washing machines, bank account, well the list goes on. Over the time I took to settle in I realised how easy my transition to the country had been, thanks to the mentorship program. The “Samwad” true to its name encourages “communication” as a way to better adapt to a culture. I look forward to participate in this program as a mentor in future (after I have decoded the living in Zurich puzzle myself)".
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