Fresh off the plane, Gaurav has to come to grips with the Swiss public transport system if he wants to reach his destination before nightfall.
I came directly from India to Switzerland and what I experienced was a huge cultural difference. It began from day one.
At the Zurich airport the first issue was language. Switzerland has four official languages and Zurich is a German speaking region. So, after landing I had to interact with the locals which was not so easy due to language constraints. Even though some staff on the airport speak English they were not comfortable speaking a different language than their native tongue.
The next challenge was technology. Switzerland is one of the most advanced countries in the world in terms of usage of technology. I had to buy tickets for the train to reach my destination - the city of Neuchâtel - and I never thought that buying a train ticket could be so tricky.
In India there are staff selling tickets at counters, but I couldn’t find a similar counter at the Zurich airport railway station. I had no clue how to buy tickets and was going nowhere fast. Fortunately, after an hour of wandering around looking for the elusive counter, an Asian girl helped me purchase a ticket from the machine. I could finally board a train to Neuchâtel!
However, my woes were far from over. After reaching Neuchâtel – a French-speaking city - I ran into the language barrier again. I needed to go to the municipal office to get some administrative stuff out of the way but how to get there? People I asked were unable to understand what I wanted. Finally, a shopkeeper was able to give me directions. All I had to do was get on a bus but an old problem resurfaced: I didn’t know how to buy a bus ticket.
I entered the bus looking for a conductor who sells the tickets, as is the case in India. But after speaking to the bus driver I understood that I had to buy the ticket from the machine at the bus stop.
Once I sorted out the paperwork at the municipal office I had to find my way to my accommodation. I had opted to stay with a local family as a paying guest to get a feel of the “real Switzerland”. They lived in a village not too far from the city. Now that I had mastered the art of buying train tickets, I reached the village by train without any hassle. But my self-satisfaction was short lived.
I was unable to contact the host family as my phone battery had died. I had to ask directions from passersby, but they were not able to guide me. Finally, after a two hour wait, an old couple came to the station. I asked them to help me out and the lady phoned the family. She even helped me with my luggage as I had to take the stairs and with two big suitcases it was hard to manage on my own. Even though my first day in Switzerland was stressful the nice gesture from the old couple made my day.
If you want to ask Gaurav a question or share your own experiences as a student in Switzerland, join our Facebook group Indian Students in Switzerlandexternal link.