The Swiss are famous for their achievements in the competitive fields of finance, medicine, and design, but they have a softer side as well, with a profound love of family and the natural world. The Swiss are passionate about outdoor sports, especially hiking, skiing, and bicycling in the beautiful mountains and forests. In a society where three languages are spoken – German, French, and Italian – the Swiss have earned their reputation for diplomacy.
The official and written languages in Switzerland are German, French, Italian and Romansh. The Swiss-German dialect is spoken in the German-speaking areas of Switzerland. French is spoken in the western part of the country and Italian in the south. Romansh is a language that derives directly from ancient Latin and has survived and developed in the isolation of Alpine valleys.
For the Year program, previous knowledge of German, French, or Italian language is always encouraged, but it won’t guarantee you a placement in any specific region.
For the Trimester program, placements are not possible without previous language background in French or German. We require that you be able to demonstrate at least a B1 level of proficiency, as defined by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Generally, this can be accomplished through three years of recent language study.
Host Family & Community
Although Switzerland is trilingual, nearly all AFSers are placed with German-speaking host families. Students are placed throughout Switzerland, though they are most frequently hosted in suburban areas (60%), rather than urban ones (20%).
Host families in Switzerland, like all AFS host families worldwide, are volunteers and are not paid. They open their homes to students in order to share their community and culture as well as to enrich their own family lives.
In Swiss culture, the nuclear family is the most important social unit, and they enjoy participating in many activities together during the weekend or visiting family or friends. To get around, Swiss rely on well-organised public transportation, but many also walk and bike. It is easy to get around, and cities are in most cases easily accessible.
During the week, high school students usually do not go out with friends because they have homework to do, but they are frequently involved with after-school sports, music lessons, and extracurricular clubs. During the weekends, Swiss teenagers enjoy participating in clubs or are involved in community activities such as village festivals, gymnastics meets, or historic celebrations.
Dinner is the main meal of the day and is an opportunity for the family to eat together, exchange views, and make plans. Swiss families tend to care about healthy foods. Swiss cuisine is mainly a union of French and German alpine cuisine. One famous dish is fondue, in which Emmenthaler and Gruyère cheese is melted with white wine and eaten with bread cubes. Rosti (a crispy, fried, shredded potato) is the Swiss-German national dish. When talking about the Swiss cuisine, one can’t forget to mention their chocolate, which is world-famous and beloved by all.
Swiss students are highly motivated and disciplined when it comes to academics. The Swiss school system is very competitive and a lot is expected of foreign students. Students cannot choose their subjects but have to take a given subject combination. Swiss schools don’t allow much social life, especially for the Swiss students.
There are seven compulsory core subjects:
• First national language
• Second national language
• Third national language, English or an ancient language (Latin or Greek)
• Natural sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics)
• Humanities and social sciences (History, Geography, Economy and Law)
• Visual arts and/or music
In addition to those seven core subjects, pupils have to choose one in-depth subject (Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, English, Physics, Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry) and one supplementary subject (Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics, History, Geography, Philosophy, Visual Arts, Physical Education, and Religion.
Even though most placements are in small towns or suburbs, cultural activities are always available, i.e. theatres, museums, music forums. Schools do not provide social activities. Students need to be strong in motivation and initiative to create activities outside of school.
Orientations & Activities
In addition to the orientations that you will participate in domestically, you and your fellow AFSers will have several orientations while abroad.
These required orientations are intended to help you maximise your AFS experience, prevent culture shock and to gain knowledge, skills and a global understanding.
In addition to the orientations, many local chapters organise activities for students and host families throughout the year, such as the option of attending a weeklong camp, usually up in the mountains, where students participate in regional projects, usually dedicated to nature. These activities will vary from chapter to chapter but may include parties or excursions to other cities or regions in Switzerland. Unlike the orientations, these activities are optional and are at the student’s expense.