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Perspectives on Intern Life A broke intern’s guide to enjoying Geneva

The Marché des Grottes (Grottes market)

The Marché des Grottes (Grottes market) just north of Cornavin station is a must for interns on a budget, according to Amanda Haydar

(© Keystone / Martial Trezzini)

Geneva has a reputation for being one of the most expensive cities in the world, which can be a daunting prospect for young interns who move there. But the reality can be quite different, says UN intern Amanda Haydar.

point of view

The reality of surviving in Geneva on a student budget differed greatly from the expectations I had prior to arriving. I had heard terrible things that almost prevented me from accepting the internship that brought me here. When I arrived, however, I was pleasantly surprised. As it turns out, living in Geneva can be done on a budget and be fun at the same time. 

From climate change to pineapple on pizza, no one appears to agree on anything these days. But there are two rare exceptions to this trend: that unpaid internships are terrible, and that Geneva is an expensive city to live in

Amanda Haydar recently completed an internship at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) which is located in the Palais des Nations complex in Geneva.

(Amanda Haydar)

Prior to arriving to Geneva, I was told the same thing over and over: “It’s too expensive”. I sat through my share of  “I once paid CHF26 for a bottle of water!'' and “didn’t you hear about that one intern who lived in a tent?” stories until, out of fear, I nearly didn’t accept the internship that brought me to the city.

But as it turns out you can do much more than just survive Geneva on a low budget. In fact, you can have an incredibly fun and fulfilling time. If you are a broke intern considering making the move, or you are simply new to the city, listen closely to the story you need to hear.

Here are some fresh insights, tips and tricks from interns old and new straight from the halls of the UN Palais de Nations in Genevaexternal link.

There are plenty of practical, budget-friendly things to do around the city 

Make sure you try:

-        Marché des Grottesexternal link: cheese and wine every Thursday evening from 6pm. This market is a must.

-        Geneva Interns Association (GIA)external link and Graduate Institute (GI) external linkevents: keep an eye out for the weekly parties organised by the GIA and public events and lectures by the GI.

-        Swimming pool membershipexternal link: Are you doing an internship in the dead of winter and sad that you can’t take a dip in Lake Geneva? Don’t fret. This is the next best thing. Pool membership costs as little as CHF10 a month and is perfect for those winter months when swimming in the lake probably isn't the wisest option.

“But, will I starve to death?”

Surprise; the answer to that one is no. I wouldn't have written this article had that been the case.

Nonetheless, we often experience circumstances that are less than favourable, and our motivation begins to wane. This is precisely where the importance of your mindset kicks in. 

Knowing that attitude is what determines the greater part of experience, you can use a simple reframing technique to keep yourself on track during the difficult times. Many interns I've met joke that Geneva has forced them to become vegetarian against their will. Considering that meat in Switzerland costs 2.3 times the European Union average, this is understandable. How could this possibly be a good thing, you ask? Let’s do a quick reframe - consider that limiting your intake of animal products is healthier for you and for the environment. Pat yourself on the back for being so sustainable. In the same vein, all the cooking you’ll likely be doing is going to make you a master chef. Exciting stuff. You can choose to reframe any experience in a way that is guaranteed to leave you feeling empowered and motivated.  

In my experience, it is not nearly as bad as it is made out to be in this department, especially if you consider these following gems: 

-        Too Good to Go appexternal link: Besides getting quality local food for the cost of almost nothing, you will help fight food waste.

-        the cafeterias of different international organizations: They’re affordable and if you’re a UN intern, you have access to most with your badge. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), for example, has a dazzling rooftop terrace. The cafeteria at the Palais de Nations is decent and even has a discount for interns. Also, the salad bar there is free for interns between 2.30-2.45pm each day thanks to the Fair Internship Initiativeexternal link

-        France is a stone's throw away: do your expensive shopping there and hit the budget grocery stores. 

If you have landed an internship in Geneva, kudos to you. The benefits of such an amazing opportunity far outweigh the costs. If you find yourself experiencing discomfort, remind yourself that this is a chance for you to grow and learn. Make the most use of it. At the end of the day, Geneva makes broke interns less inclined towards mindless spending and teaches you to appreciate the little things. You may be unpaid or underpaid, but you have just become “two cents richer”. Take these tips and get out there.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Opinion series publishes op-ed articles by contributors writing on a wide range of topics – Swiss issues or those that impact Switzerland. The selection of articles presents a diversity of opinions designed to enrich the debate on the issues discussed.

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