The opportunity to work in Dr. Huppi’s lab was extremely incredible, as she is a well-renowned researcher and clinician, and I was very grateful that the ThinkSwiss program allowed me the freedom to choose a mentor. Although I did not speak French (something that appeared to be absolutely necessary at the university hospital as it was the working language and few people spoke English), I was very well supported and became an integrated part of the research team. I was assigned a project and, although I was unable to finish it entirely while in Switzerland, I hope to work on it further in the U.S. With any luck, a publication or two will come of my time there! Aside from the opportunity to work in a very productive lab with state-of-the-art equipment, I was impressed by how friendly and accepting everyone in the lab was. I was invited to visit EPFL, the Swiss equivalent of MIT, was invited to sit in on discussions regarding other projects that were of interest to me, and was taken on rounds in the NICU and PICU – all were great experiences that were beyond what I had expected of my time in Switzerland! I knew that Geneva was an international city, but had had no idea that I would meet so many incredibly talented people from all corners of the world. The opportunity to share cultures was one that pleasantly surprised me and thoroughly enriched my experience.
Aside from the language barrier, there were few difficulties to be had when I actually got to Switzerland. Before arriving, however, I had a lot of difficulty in locating housing but was lucky enough to find a room in a dormitory run by nuns (also extremely, extremely wonderful people!) that was a five minute walk from the hospital. I had hoped to travel more in the country while I was there, but found that train travel is very expensive, to the point that it precluded a lot of trips. It was hard to justify spending 150 francs to visit Zurich when I could fly to France or Italy for less. I learned, a bit too late, that the Eurorail pass works in Switzerland and – if you are traveling frequently – is much less expensive (less than $300 for a pass good for 6 days of travel in 4 countries) than purchasing tickets once in Switzerland.
I would definitely consider going back to Switzerland – it is a beautiful country! – but most likely for vacation (mostly because my inability to speak Italian, French, or German would highly preclude my working there as a physician). Maybe one day, if I learn French (or they start speaking Spanish or English!), I’ll have to consider it.