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Racism exists, even in paradise

news article on racism in university
Racist graffiti expressing sentiments against Asians was found at a campus of the ETHZ university in Zurich this June. The Local

Gaurav encounters another side to Switzerland that is in sharp contrast to the welcoming image the country projects to potential tourists.

It is hard to imagine facing racism in a country like Switzerland. The country is one of the most peaceful in the world and presents itself as a touristic destination. But racism is something that is not dependent on the country but on the mentality of the people. I faced a few racist incidents myself and would like to share them with you in this blog post.

The first incident occurred a few weeks after starting my studies. I was standing in front of my university building with a friend and suddenly a stranger approached and started abusing me verbally. He looked nervous to me. His exact words to me were, “Hey you, you must be Pakistani or Sri Lankan [followed by the F-word]. The funny part was he said it in English. Neuchâtel is a French-speaking region and people are generally reluctant to speak English. I am neither Sri Lankan nor Pakistani, but I guess the comment was directed at a specific race. Just to let you know, there are a significant number of Sri Lankans living in Switzerland. The comment made me a bit nervous. I told the man that I was Indian. My friend was surprised by the man’s outburst and asked me whether I knew this guy or not.

The place next to my university where the incident took place. Interestingly, this is near a street named after glaciologist Louis Agassiz, who was believed to be an “outspoken racist”. Gaurav Singh

Neuchâtel, the city where I live, has a football club and some of the fans of this club can be described as “hooligans”. Just to clarify, I am not saying all supporters are hooligans. Once I was returning home by train and the football club had a match that day. In the same coach of the train there were some fans of the club drinking beer. I was sitting and had no issue as I don’t really care about them. The train was approaching my station and I stood up to get off. When I reached close to the door, someone amongst those football fans said something to me. It was in French and hence I did not catch the exact word said. But as soon as he said it all of the fans stopped laughing and were looking at me expectantly. There was also a boy next to me who was looking at me as if he wanted me to reply. But as I did not understand I could not reply anything. You might say that if I was not able to understand the comment, how I can say if the comment was racist. I can say so because of my intuition and from the behavior of people in the train at that moment.

After finishing my exams, my classmates decided to go out for drinks in the city. Neuchâtel is a very small city and the city center – called Place Pury – is the main place for young people to meet. So, I was at Place Pury along with two classmates standing and talking. Suddenly, a boy came in front of me and said the F-word and another expletive. I was shocked and my classmates were so surprised that they asked me what I did to him. I told my classmates that I had done nothing to provoke him. I wanted to say something to the guy, but one of my classmates stopped me saying that the boy is out of his mind.

Place Pury in Neuchâtel
At night, especially weekends, Place Pury in Neuchâtel is full of youngsters having fun. Gaurav Singh

These were the three racist incidents that occurred to me. However, I am not the only case. A classmate, who was Chinese, also faced some incidents like these. I would like to emphasize here that not everyone is like these people and I am not saying that it is a big issue. However, it is not easy for a student to leave his country to study in a new country where people are different with a different culture. Even if you suffer from incidents that can hurt you, you should not let them to hamper your main focus in Switzerland, which is to study.

For more blog posts and information on studying in Switzerland visit our dedicated page Education Swiss Made.

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