I am sitting in a train running at 300 km per hour (186 miles per hour). While the view outside is nice, the train goes through really long tunnels. So to utilize my tunnel time, here are some of my experiences and learnings from the GPP trip:
The GPP trip got over two days ago. It was a fun-filled experience but exhausting at the same time. We visited 8 universities in period of 8 days, talked to professors, deans, and students at those universities. I found almost all of them to be very receptive of us. During my visits to the universities, while I was interested in learning about different facets of the higher education in Switzerland, France, and Italy, I was particularly interested in knowing how the universities handle the issue of linguistic diversity. Switzerland has four national languages – German, French, Italian, and Romansh. In order to ensure the mobility of students, the universities need to devise some system through which students who do not speak a particular language in a fluent way can still attend any university they want to without any language consideration.
However, what I found was very interesting. Universities, generally, impart instruction in the language that is spoken in the area. For example, in the Zurich region, the language of instruction is German, while in the Ticino region, the language of instruction is Italian in the universities. Some of the course are taught in English as well. In Zurich, one of the professors told me that the Swiss learn multiple languages while they are growing up. For example, someone growing up in the German speaking part learns to speak French and vice versa. Moreover, a lot of people learn English given the global presence of the language. During my stay in Switzerland, I did not find anyone who I could not talk to due to language gap. Almost everyone could understand and speak some level of English. Even while in France, which takes quite a bit of pride in its language, I did not have many issues when I was once lost in a cafeteria. While all the servers could not understand me there, they called in someone who could.
Another aspect that I learned about the Swiss higher education is its stress on quality. At ETH Zurich, I learned that while all the students who want to pursue engineering are given admission, after the first year, many who do not meet the standards are weeded out. This is not to say that students are not provided with resources to help them succeed during the first year. I found this to be in quite contrast with the US engineering education where there is a lot of push to retain students in engineering.
There were many more subtle differences among the education systems in different European countries that I observed and between European countries’ and the US education systems. Moreover, the way people behaved in general varied across different countries in Europe and different parts of Switzerland. Of all the people I met, I loved the most how Italians and Swiss-Italians conducted themselves. But more on that later as I am about to reach Rome soon! :)