I have been wanting to write this blog post for a long time. Now that I have lived for more than two years at Warwick, whilst still spending a significant amount of time in Switzerland, I think I can clearly assess what, for me, are the biggest differences between the two countries. Moving to a new country is scary and comes with a lot of unknown territory to discover. But, it is also very exciting and a great opportunity to appreciate the things you have back home and to take advantage of the ones abroad. As you read this post, bear in mind that the differences I noticed are between my experience in the Suisse Romande (French-speaking part of Switzerland) and Warwick/Leamington Spa. My sister who studies at UCL in London notices very different things!
- Reliability of public transport
The Swiss are extremely well organized and rule-abiding and this trickles down to their public transport system. Trains and buses are extremely reliable, clean and issues are quickly resolved. Their rail system is nationalised so you can imagine my confused face when I wasn’t allowed on a Virgin train to London with a Chiltern Railway ticket. As with most things, once you figure out how the system works here in the UK, you just have to play the game. Don’t be shy to ask your British flatmate to explain to you how it works. There is no need to struggle with the Trainline app by yourself!
- Never on a Sunday!
Almost all shops and services are closed on a Sunday in Switzerland. So, being able to do my grocery shopping etc as normal on a Sunday is a luxury! It’s funny how quickly you get used to things. I now catch myself thinking how inconvenient it is for Tesco to not be open past four o’clock on Sundays when in reality, it could be worse! This is exactly what I love about living in different countries. It encourages you to have perspective and be grateful for what you have.
- Health care
Speaking of being grateful for what you have, the Swiss healthcare system is incredible. The service and quality of care are impressive and quite different to what I experienced here. It is difficult to compare the two systems though as health insurance is mandatory and very expensive in Switzerland. In any case, as a foreign student, you will be able to register with the NHS and book appointments with the practitioners at the health centre on campus. Just know that demand is very high so if you need an appointment, call as soon as they open and don’t be afraid to be persistent.
- Drinking culture
Although I am a Swiss national and grew up there, both my parents are Dutch. I therefore thought I knew what to expect the party and drinking culture to be like in the UK. Let me tell you, I did not! I definitely was not prepared for the quantities of alcohol people consume on a regular basis nor the time of day at which it is acceptable to start drinking. That is not to say that if you personally don’t like to drink much you can’t join in. On the contrary. I don’t drink at all and still go to pubs and clubs with friends and have a good time. The drinking culture certainly exists but you can exist in it without necessarily needing to participate to the same extent. More on how to handle not drinking at university in my previous post.
- The weather
The infamous British weather is actually not as bad here at Warwick as I thought it would be. In fact, unless you go up to the mountains and escape the clouds, the winter months can be very grey and rainy in Switzerland too. The biggest difference is the cold. Temperature-wise, it gets much colder in Switzerland but it’s a fresh, stinging kind of cold. The British cold is wet and gets into your bones. Given that radiators tend to not be turned up very high in student houses or public spaces, I actually wear more thermals in the UK than I do back home! Also, I now carry an umbrella with me everywhere I go because another major difference is that it can start raining at any time of the day here so better be safe than sorry!
- The taps
This a just a funny one but the taps in my student accommodation on campus and my rental houses in Leamington all had a separate cold and hot water tap. This means that you either burn or freeze your hands off; there is no lukewarm alternative. Oh well, at least it’s an efficient way to wake yourself up in the morning!
Finally then, as with every country, it took me a while to get used to British culture. The Swiss are very closed off people that can be hard to get to know but once you do, they can become very good friends. I found that in this country, on the contrary, people are good at small talk but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will become good friends. And that pairs well with the difference between my Dutch upbringing to be very direct and open about what I think and my opinions and the tendency in this country to be more careful with your words and what opinions you choose to share. Overall, it is safe to say that there are positives and negatives to living in either country. I am grateful for having experienced both and learned so much from the difference and similarities between them. It wasn’t and still isn’t always easy but definitely eye-opening. If you have any further questions about what it’s like moving to a different country, dealing with homesickness (see previous blog post) or culture shock, please get in touch!