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Exceeding my Expectations: Academic Culture in Switzerland

By Savita Potarazu

30 September 2018
Marrakech, Morocco

At the famous Matterhorn in Zermatt || 22 September 2018

There are five courses offered through the Global Health and Development Policy Program here in Geneva, Switzerland. They are Perspectives on Global Health (PGH) , Global Health and Development (DPH), Research Methods & Ethics (RME), French, and the Independent Study Project (ISP). With a total of 16 credits, I came into the program expecting the workload to keep me busy. While this overwhelmed me initially, given the new adjustments to lifestyle, culture, new social environment, and the homestay experience, I can safely say that I experienced my first month in Switzerland with an appreciable balance of academics and personal development.

Along with the advice, mentorship and guidance of the academic directors here, this balance was achieved with an active mindset to dedicate time to other activities while not getting too distracted. Our academic directors frequently remind us that the point of the academics here is to understand and internalize, not merely to learn. I have come to appreciate that the process of understanding requires immersion at a level I have not seen before. During the first few days of the program, our directors also underscored that the Swiss way is slow but somehow also efficient. While the Swiss transit systems are, on average, annoyingly punctual, tasks throughout the day and the general mentality about home life and education are taken seriously enough to allow for both self-enrichment and self-care.

World Health Organization || 24 September 2018

Prior to my arrival in Switzerland, I was very accustomed to my comprehensive, work-intensive, heavy focus on the sciences and humanities at GW. Here, our guest lecturers work at the United Nations, World Health Organization, International Office of Migration, International Committee of the Red Cross, and many, many more premier international organizations. We are provided with the opportunities to hear from them and visit their home institutions to directly engage with their work environment. It really is one of my favorite elements of this program, especially in the global health capital of the world. And while the abundance of expertise has been so inspiring and enriching, the energy drain and stress I usually associate with school is much, much less. This has provided me many opportunities to pursue individual research and make new connections with experts simply because I want to know more about the subject.

Executive Board Room, WHO || 24 September 2018

Right now, we are on our excursion to Morocco for 8 days exploring the country’s health systems and the role of global governance. In addition to hearing from experts at a much higher level, we students have the opportunity to live with host families here for 4 days and learn about rural lifestyles, health-seeking behaviors, and community development. We have only been here 2 days and I can already feel my wealth of knowledge growing!

Perhaps the biggest surprise to me during my time abroad is not that the courses of a complex global health system were going to be enriching, but that the level of immersion built into the framework of the program has far exceeded my expectations.

Rabat, Morocco || 29 September 2018