Joining university at an odd time of year made it quite difficult for Devendra to make new friends.
Before coming here, when I thought of Switzerland, I always pictured a beautiful location like Jungfraujoch, which is shown in a typical Yash Chopra Bollywood movie. However, when I moved here as an Indian student the reality struck. Yes, it is indeed very picturesque, and for a tourist, who is here for a week maybe, that might be enough. But for a student, who is planning to spend a significant portion of his life, the cultural differences can be overwhelming.
Back in India, although I was not a social butterfly, I never had to “socialise”. Making new friends and acquaintance is quite natural in Indian culture. For example, while traveling by a local train in Mumbai or waiting for a bus, it is quite likely for a random stranger to start a conversation concerning wide variety of topics ranging from the driving skills of the bus driver to his opinion about our prime minister’s recent radical decision to make certain high-value bank notes worthless overnight. Irrespective of whether it is an office, or a journey by an auto rickshaw (tuk-tuk), or by a taxi, people are usually eager to talk.
The culture is quite the opposite in Switzerland. People usually avoid interfering in other’s personal space and use conversation as a last resort. A journey on a train or a Zurich tram can be surprisingly quiet and uneventful. Seeing elderly people standing and young ones occupying seats is quite common in buses. Unlike India, people here neither ask for help nor offer it unless requested. One has to actively “socialise” or attend events like “meetups” or “apéros” in order to meet new people. Socialising over a beer is also common, but it is not practical for a student on a tight budget.
For most Indians, socialising only via organised events is not natural and can be quite overwhelming at some point in their stay. For me it was during the first 15 days.
In a completely new city and a different culture I literally knew no one apart from my student mentors who had picked me up at the airport. Since I started in the spring semester, the university hadn’t planned any major welcome events to meet people. I was the only Indian student joining a master’s degree program in the semester, so socialising with others in a similar situation was also not an option. I had arrived almost 15 days before the start of the semester and my daily conversations were mostly limited to the digital voice of my parents over a phone call. It was a drastic change and an overwhelming one too. I was not prepared for it. As everything else in life, thankfully it did get better over time. After six months, I can safely say that I have gotten used to the Swiss way of life!
For more blog posts and information on studying in Switzerland visit our dedicated page Education Swiss Madeexternal link.