Research and Raclette: A Superb Swiss Summer

Between May and August of 2016, I was a part of the EPFL Research Internship (RI) Program. At the time, I had just finished the third year of Mechanical Engineering at the University of British Columbia. I had never been to Europe before, so I was both excited and nervous for the opportunity to work abroad. Looking back, my time there ended up being one of the best times of my life, and to summarize, I’ve included a list of the top five things I found about Switzerland, the RI program, and life in general.

Number 5 – The Infrastructure

One of the nicest things about Switzerland, and Europe really, was the efficiency of their transportation systems. Despite living quite far from EPFL, my commute was under 25 minutes thanks to some conveniently located Metro stops. Outside of Lausanne, the trains were both a feasible and affordable way to get across the country on the weekends. In terms of passes, I highly recommend buying the annual SBB Demi-Tarif (Half-Fare Card), the annual SBB Track 7 card, and the 3-month Mobilis pass. These were pricy to pay for up front, but I think I made my money back within the first month.

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Lausanne-Gare Train Station

Number 4 – The Culture

Having taken French in elementary and high school, I was eager to see what it would be like to be immersed in a French-speaking city. Naturally, I was extremely rusty, which made things difficult at the start when trying to get my housing, cell phone, transit passes, internet, and food situations organized. Eventually though, things went much more smoothly and I was running errands without too much difficulty. Beyond the language, it was really interesting to notice just how much people valued their healthy eating, hiking, and of course, soccer (or football, sorry). All of these factors helped make Lausanne feel so unique.

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Place de la Riponne, Lausanne

Number 3 – The Work

At EPFL, I worked in the Biorobotics Laboratory under the supervision of Dr. Auke Jan Ijspeert. As someone who is interested in both biology and robotics, I couldn’t have picked a better lab placement to suit my academic interests. I got to work with really cool cheetah and salamander robots and the workplace was filled with super friendly and knowledgeable researchers. I always appreciated that, within my work, it felt like there was always someone I could ask when I was struggling on a problem or wanted to learn something new entirely.

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Cheetah-cub looking good as always

Number 2 – The Scenery

My hometown is known for its mountains, forests, and rivers, and boasts some very impressive trails, many of which I have been lucky enough to hike over the years. Perhaps I had just become accustomed to the nature back home, but nothing I had seen previously could compare to the magnificence and splendor of hiking through the Swiss Alps. I tried to get outdoors as much as possible just to see the country and the mountains for what they are, and would recommend any potential visitor to do the same. There were so many panoramic trails and views, but if I had to choose, my favourites would be in the Engelberg, Zermatt, Interlaken, and Ziegelbrucke regions.

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Hiking Mt. Titlis, Engelberg

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Hiking near the Matterhorn, Zermatt

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Hiking the Hardergrat, Interlaken

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Hiking in Ziegelbrucke

Number 1 – The People

Last but not least, the best part of my adventure in Switzerland was the people I met there. Doing this internship alone would have still been great, but being able to have this experience alongside a dozen other interns from across the world was something else entirely. I loved having people to explore and adventure with on the weekends, play foosball with at lunch, watch Game of Thrones with every Monday, or to just chill out by the lake in the evenings after work. While my time in Switzerland lasted only three months, I know that the memories we made together will last a lot longer.

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Awe, look at us!

Cheers, Switzerland. It’s been fun.

Jonathan Marr, University of British Columbia

Biorobotics Laboratory, EPFL

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