3 tips to survive as an exchange student

Hi, I am Iris from Enschede, Holland. I am an exchange student for one semester at the ZHAW School of Social Work.

A reality-check: sleeping in, chatting till late at night with friends, drinking beer and binging on series online is over, or at least reduced if the outcome of the semester is to be successful. Being at the start of my exchange semester at the ZHAW, I recognize a feeling. A feeling of being a bit insecure and scared of what is coming, but on the other side, of excitement and motivation, ready for a new adventure. I remember this feeling from my first day of high school…


Back in those days, I was so proud to finally bike (we love biking in Holland, as you might know) to school on my own with my huge, brand-new backpack and school stuff. Meanwhile, I tried to get my head around a lot of things. What are the teachers going to be like? Will I be able to find the classrooms? What if the teacher is going to ask me a question to which I don’t know the answer in front of 25 strange, staring faces? Or even worse, what if I don’t even understand the question? That brings me to the first tip:

1. Get out of your comfort zone and let it happen.
The good news is, that it would not be the end of the world if something like the above would happen. Back then, I didn’t know that. By now, I have been through some similar situations. Getting out of my comfort zone and jumping into the deep was, as it says, the most uncomfortable thing. I never regretted it though, and it brought me the best and most beautiful things.

Even though I was still living in The Netherlands, love was what brought me to Zurich 3 years ago. Slowly, Zurich became like my second home. My boyfriend comes from Colombia. He has been living in Switzerland for more than 10 years now and is in many ways more Swiss than the Swiss people I know. Being in the fourth year of my bachelor studies in Social Work at the University of Applied Sciences in Enschede, I could use a challenge. That was how the idea was born, to take german classes and put all my effort and apply for a place at the ZHAW as an exchange student.

From the very first start, Mrs. Müller made sure that I got all the information that I needed and she put a lot of time and effort into counseling me.

2. Get a buddy!
I would recommend every exchange student to get a buddy. The 19th of September was the first day of school. I was meeting my «buddy», Nicole, at the train station of Oerlikon. The Erasmus Student Network approached me and asked if I’d be interested to have a buddy for a smooth progress during the first days of the semester. Of course I was interested! It felt good to be taken under her wings as we travelled to school together (although the trip took less than half an hour).

3. Arrange everything well and Swiss.
On tuesday of the first week, I was meeting Mrs. Müller for the first time in person. When she showed me that there were a few important things that I haven’t arranged yet, there was a little feeling of panic inside me. I wanted to make a good impression, show the Swiss that I can do it. I had to relativize. Okay, I failed at being Swiss. When the Swiss do something, they do it well. And they are punctual. It will not happen that they neglect something important. It’s a pity for now, but I have almost 5 months to practice and take over their good habits.

In a couple of weeks, you will hear from me again through my next blog post. Bedankt (thank you in Dutch) for reading and till next time!


  1. majka, exchange in Den Haag

    30. October 2016 at 21:16

    Dear Iris, thank you for this article I enjoyed to read it!
    Indeed we are punctual and accurate. But..to be honest, the laid – back life, you live here in the Netherland wouldn’t be so bad for the Swiss people sometimes.. enjoy Zurich and take it easy! ; )

    • Hello Majka!

      I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed it to read my blog 🙂
      Hihi I guess that every culture and country has it’s benefits. Thank you so much for your reaction and have a wonderful time in Den Haag 🙂

      Groetjes Iris

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