My overall impression of the program was genuinely positive, as I got the chance to do exactly what I wanted to do this summer: to conduct a research project I was interested in, abroad, and to get to know new places, people, and ideas. To be completely honest, I did not have Switzerland as my top choice, it simply was the one place were I found a project that fit my interests best, and thanks to ThinkSwiss I could actually get some funding for it. So I really did not have any specific expectations about Zürich or ETH before my visit. I was immediately struck both by the city and the university, both of which proved to be much more multicultural and open-minded than I might have expected before traveling. The country’s multicultural heritage also impressed me, as I think it makes Swiss people tremendously different from their neighboring countries. My participation therefore exceeded any expectations I could have had before leaving and it has definitely been a defining experience in my academic and personal life.
Aside from the great research opportunity at a top-notch university in my field, this was actually the first time in my life that I’ve moved to a completely different environment on my own. The experience of living in Zürich was therefore tremendously important to me, as well as the opportunity to travel around Switzerland and challenging some of my own preconceptions about the country. Moreover, Switzerland’s location made it really easy to travel around to neighboring countries, which gave me a chance to visit some of the other places in Europe that I hadn’t been to before, such as Amsterdam, Bruges and Paris. Of course, there were also some challenges to my stay as well. My first concern was obviously my complete ignorance in German. I took this positively, though, as a challenge to learn more during the summer. However, in such a short time and given how easily I could get around in English or Italian, I unfortunately still don’t know the language much better. There were hurdles in the lab as well, as there was a problem with the data I received originally, which meant I was stranded for the first part of my stay. When the data finally arrived, it turned out to be in German, so I had to translate it. A better preparation before my arrival could have made the project run more smoothly, but at least this way I learned architectural terms in German! (I’ll let you know if I ever use them again though hehe) Finally, Switzerland is, to be honest, a really expensive place to live in. With no funding from my university in the U.S. or any other source other than the ThinkSwiss scholarship, I did have to make a real effort to make ends meet.
I mentioned the problem I had with the data in the lab and the inconveniences I therefore had to overcome. I should point out, though, that I received lots of help from my peers in the institute to do this. The research team I joined really could not have been any more welcoming, each one of them trying to help me get settled in as soon as possible and making me feel like a part of the group immediately. My group at Rutgers is unfortunately much smaller, and therefore there is not nearly as much of a team feeling as there was at ETH. This not only meant that at ETH each member could have a more specific role within the team, which in turn allowed me to get assistance from any of them as needed, but it also gave me much more of a feeling of camaraderie. I really appreciated the way they interacted with one another, and it generally just felt like a great environment to work in and I really felt sorry to leave at the end of my stay. Given these impressions I received both from ETH and the institute I worked in, I am definitely considering ETH as a very viable possibility for graduate school. I am currently immersing myself in the application process for different universities, so we’ll see where I head to next year.
So this is my final sign off from this blog. Thanks again to ThinkSwiss for providing me with this opportunity, and to all the other participants for a really fun day in Bern! It was great to meet everyone and learn how each one ended up participating in this program, and to all of you, all the best!