AccommodationThis is, by far, the worst part of coming to Geneva. The university does not have enough rooms and they’re loathed to give them away. If you’ve got your heart set on university accommodation, be persistent (as in, send them an email every day for two months until they get the picture). There are other residences, but these also go very quickly. You cannot afford to wait until you get here! The uni sent me accommodation info in November, and everywhere was already full (and some places said they had been full for the whole year since August).
So, my advice is to sort it out in the summer term of your second year to avoid the utter panic that I had! In the end, a family friend helped me out and now I live in Ferney-Voltaire, which is technically in France. This can be a good plan, as the cost of living is substantially lower in France than in Switzerland, so all your food bills are a bit more moderate. The commute over the border every day takes time, but the transport system is reasonably good and I have a monthly transport abonnement.
La Faculté de traduction et d'interprétation (FTI)The translation school is fantastic! Top-class lecturers, and a very interesting spread of subjects. It’s also very organised – there’s a welcome meeting and a faculty meeting in the first week and then you have three weeks to choose courses. The staff are all very helpful and don’t insist on you taking a certain number of credits or certain subjects, so really all you have to bear in mind are the rules your home uni has laid out for you.
It’s also on the number 15 tram route (it stops right outside the building!)
GenevaThe city is absolutely stunning. My advice is to work your way to the tourist info near the train station and ask for a transport map and a cycling map, as they’ll both live in your bag for most of your stay! It is a big place, but that means there’s plenty to do. Here’s my little list of favourite activities:
1. A walk by the lake to look at the mountains. Particularly impressive when it’s icy as the ice makes pretty patterns! And, if you have an abonnement, you can travel across the lake on the little boats for free!
2. Jardin Botanique. A very lovely set of gardens, free entry, and there’s a duck pond! Buses take you to it, or it’s just a short walk from Nations.
3. A tour of the UN. This was fantastic, and in English. It costs 10 CHF for students, but it’s so worth it! A very interesting tour round and access to a gift shop!
4. CERN. This is that physics thing that’s been on the news a lot recently. Now, I’m not a scientist, but I’ve already been twice because it’s very well presented – honestly very interesting! It’s free entry to two of the exhibitions, and you can book on a tour but these sell out very quickly (and therefore I’ve not been on one yet!)
5. Trip up the Salève. This is one of the mountains that’s just over the French border, but the bus keeps you on the Swiss side and then it’s about a 10 minute walk to the cable car that goes up it. It’s 10,80 E to go up and back. There is a rather fantastic restaurant at the top of it, but be warned, it is expensive! Me and my friends had one of the set menus and some water and it cost 44 E! But the experience was worth it, because the food was exquisite and something everyone should have once in their lives! The views are pretty good and sometimes you can see people paraponting off the cliff (it is a little alarming seeing them run towards the edge!)
6. Museums. There are loads of them – I haven't been to all of them yet, I’m still working on it!
Final thoughts…As soon as I’ve graduated, I’m going to try to come back here! Yes it is expensive, but as long as you use your common sense (ie., don’t try to eat out in a restaurant by the lake where it’s 28 CHF for a Caesar salad), you can make it work. Save up before hand and don’t come out with the mentality of ‘I’ll buy it when I get there’! Also, hopping over the border to France to do some shopping is a way round the prices.
The people here are very friendly and it’s such a multi-cultural city that everyone seems to speak a different language! Most people speak English, but so far no one’s insisted on speaking to me in English, when I start in French they reply in French.
Of course, the chocolate is fantastic, and the cheapest place to get it is Lidl! The cheese is also pretty good, and you have to try a fondue while you’re here – but that is expensive! If a group of you go, order less than you need because there’s loads of it (if three of you go, only order enough for two).
Try to get up into the Alps at some point – you can do it on the train and go somewhere like Sion, then take a bus from there to Anzère (which is technically a ski resort, but I went with my flatmate and didn’t ski!) The views are spectacular. You will never forget it once you’ve done it.
If you come here, you won’t regret it! When I have to leave I’ll be leaving a little bit of me behind, and I intend to come back to collect it!