Switzerland is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been, to say the least, so here are three things that I realized early on in my three-month stay here, and have stuck with me since—The “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”—inducing moments.
- Smarter buildings and transportation – The Swiss build with environmental sustainability and energy conservation in mind. Green roofs, smart façade designs, solar panels, permeable pavements are the norm here. These are all easy sustainable construction methods that I wish every city could adapt, and can significantly improve the quality of life for its inhabitants in the long run (Especially Pittsburgh, as I’ve gathered in a previous EPP Projects course). Transportation is Switzerland is just as impressive to me from the driverless and steeply-inclined M2 metro line of Lausanne, or the partly single-tracked M1 line that operates precisely on schedule. The bike share system is so commonly used that we often struggle to find one available around campus after work, and you’ll almost never see a car larger than a sedan on the road.
- Approach to higher education – From conversations I’ve had with an EPFL student early on, I’ve learned that about half of incoming undergraduate freshmen drop out of EPFL after their first year, simply because coursework is too difficult and demanding. The concept is that everyone should have fair access to quality education after high school no matter their family income, so tuition is kept low at 633 CHF (about 700 USD) per semester, or an astounding 3% of CMU tuition. Acceptance rates are high, but once you get in to the university, it’s hard work to stay on top of the competition. It’s also not uncommon for students to fail a semester or two of classes and have to extend their stay at EPFL.
- Diversity at EPFL – Research brings people together from all over the world, and this was especially apparent at a top-notch research university such as EPFL. Just in my small lab group alone, I’ve worked with a professor from Benin, post-docs from India and Spain, and other students from China and Italy. (Ironically, no Swiss.) Coffee break conversations are often filled with each one of us chiming in on how the ways of life are alike and different in our respective homelands.
Yang You, Carnegie Mellon University
Bioenergy and Energy Planning Research Group, EPFL