I’ve lived in Vietnam for most of my life. When I decided to start my undergraduate studies in Switzerland, many people asked me why.
Early international exposure
I had the opportunity to spend a couple of years in the United States when I was younger so I always thought of going back to live there, and continuing high school there seemed an obvious choice. However fate intervened and during high school Junior year, I started an online bakery with a friend selling baked goods to our friends in school. When I saw the happy faces of my fellow school mates as they received their orders, something clicked in me. I wanted to make people happy always, and decided that it was going to be my career path.
Switzerland is the best place in the world to study hospitality
By this time, I had already prepared to study abroad in the US - months of SAT prep, filling out the common app, writing motivation letters, etc. I was ready to start my major in hospitality in a US university. Upon further research, however, no matter who I asked (family, friends, online articles, rankings, etc) everything pointed to Switzerland being the best place in the world to study hospitality. I was hesitant on applying at first because I had invested all this time applying to US schools but after taking a look of the program the Swiss schools had to offer, I fell in love. Most of the bachelor had two separate internships integrated into its program. The subjects constantly change and adapt according to the needs of students and the market. My heart was officially set on going to Switzerland.
There was one big problem though. I knew nothing about the country. I had only been to Europe once before so I was nervous about spending what would be the “best four years of my life” there. Luckily, my grandfather is a tourist guide who hosts French and Swiss visitors every week. They gave him advice on which schools were the best hospitality schools there and what life is like in Switzerland. I found out all I wanted to know about Switzerland from my grandfather’s encounters.
This country had everything I was missing in my life, cheese and chocolates galore, exotic European weekends only a train ride away. It sounded like a dream. Back in Vietnam, I would always romanticize the life Europeans live and the prospect of spending the best four years of my life there truly sounded too good to be true.
I submitted my application and that’s how I ended up here today at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, the best hospitality school in the best country to major in it.
Life in Switzerland
My first day of school was also the first time I set foot in Switzerland. Needless to say, I experienced my fair share of culture shocks. My prior research about life in Switzerland didn’t even begin to prepare me for what was coming.
Learning and adapting to a new culture
Swiss and Vietnamese customs are virtually on opposite sides of the spectrum. A Swiss’ definition of on time is 5 minutes early while in Vietnam, people expect each other to show up half an hour late. Vietnamese people share their food and eating is considered a shared activity while in Switzerland, everyone has their own plates and sharing is a rare exception. In Vietnam, a kiss on the cheek means the two are dating but in Switzerland, that’s how they greet each other. These are just one of the many cultural differences I was taken aback by when I first came here.
Eating out in Switzerland costs a lot more than I am used to. An average meal at a cafe could buy me a week’s worth of groceries back in Vietnam. I had to come to terms with paying 10 times what I usually had to spend back at home. Not to mention, nothing opens past 5 p.m. and especially not on the weekends. Saying goodbye to spontaneous midnight trips to buy food in the old quarter was not easy. I still miss being able to go out at 1 in the morning if I was craving something random.
Finding new friends
The hardest part about everything was still the fact that I was studying abroad in another continent, away from my friends and family. I was homesick and had trouble fitting in with such an international crowd of people.
The first few months of living in Switzerland were extremely tough, but I eventually got used to the new way of life and found a community in my third month. I joined a Facebook group for Vietnamese students studying abroad. They gave me tips on how to find the best Hanoi restaurants and cheapest Asian supermarket for when I was homesick. I also became best friends with a native Swiss whom showed me how to navigate around Lausanne, a new city I now consider my home.
I also appreciate the fact that I am living in the 21st century where my parents and friends back home are just a Skype call away. I remembered how my grandfather used to tell me about the time he was in Madagascar, he could only write letters once a month to my grandmother. Today all I need to do is open an app on my computer to talk to my mom and ask her what she put in her bún chả seasoning because I wanted to make it here.
A new home
After half a year in Switzerland I realized that I had come a long way from when I first arrived, thanks to the support from everyone around me. I felt proud of myself for making it on my own and decided to do my internship in Switzerland as well. It felt great being able to live off my own salary and wake up every morning doing what I enjoy.
Having now lived in Switzerland for nearly two years, I’ve learned to enjoy my new home in Switzerland where you can find cheese and chocolate cheaper and tastier than anywhere else in the world, where I can hop on the train and visit other European countries within five hours. Most importantly, I’m following my dream of majoring in hospitality management at the best school in the world.
Author: Van Phan, EHL Bachelor Student and Student Ambassador