American students get new view of Switzerland

A group of American university students have been getting a taste for the Swiss way of life over the past few weeks, and have dispelled some of the clichéd views of Switzerland along the way.

This content was published on June 1, 2001 minutes

Thirty engineering students - 23 men and seven women - from the University of Minnesota are spending three weeks at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Winterthur on an intensive course into mechatronics - a specific area of mechanical technology, hardly taught in their degree courses at home.

Apart from what they have learned at the university, their extracurricular activities and confrontation with a new culture have provided not only a welcome challenge but also a new set of perspectives of their temporary home.

One of the exchange students, Kale Schulte, admitted his knowledge and understanding of Switzerland was limited prior to his arrival. "(I knew) it was a neutral country and they made good watches and cheese but I didn't really know much about the Swiss and that's why I wanted to come, so I could learn," he told swissinfo.

After three weeks of life in Winterthur, Kale has realised there is more to Switzerland than chocolate and cuckoo clocks.

"It is more green and spacious than I had imagined. I thought that the mountains might be more barren around the edges but we went to the Alps and that was just beautiful. Everything is older here than in the US and you get to see a little more culture than we have [back home]."

The University of Minnesota is the second largest university in the United States and the Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Winterthur is forging closer ties with it through exchange programmes of both teachers and students.

The 30 students on the current exchange each paid 3,000 US dollars (SFr5,000) to take part in the programme, which forms part of the technical elective for their final degree.

Although the academic aim of both universities is to equip students with knowledge, student life is not the same either side of the Atlantic.

"In Minnesota, there are a lot more people so a lot of the classes are big lectures with a lot of students and one professor. Here you're in a classroom of just 30 students and one professor so you get a lot more out of it," another exchange student, Elizabeth Kane, told swissinfo.

" In Minnesota, I would only go out one night a week, probably Friday or Saturday night and study rest of time during the day and into the night, sometimes even into the morning. It is a little different here, all your classwork is done in class and when you leave class you can put it away till tomorrow."

But apart from the studies, the over-riding memory many students will be taking home with them is the quintessentially Swiss landscape.

Kane's recollection is shared by many of her fellow students. "We went hiking in the Alps and that is something I will remember forever. It was awesome. Minnesota is flat, we have a couple of hills but no mountains or anything like that so hiking up a mountain was a very unique experience for me."


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