Johanna Bücker was the Geneva Society’s scholarship holder for the period 2019/20. In the following she reports about her experiences, also in times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many thanks for the report! (Download here)

Specialized studies in Geneva 2019/20 (by Johanna Bücker)

Last year, as a student at the Humboldt University of Berlin, I completed my specialization in International and European Law at the University of Geneva. There is a cooperation between Humboldt University and the University of Geneva, so that my studies abroad are recognized as those of my home university. My studies abroad were part of the Swiss-European Mobility Programme (SEMP, formerly Erasmus) and received a monthly support of 440 CHF. In addition, I applied for a scholarship from the Geneva Society before my studies in Geneva and was very pleased to be selected for this scholarship. For this I would like to thank you again!

The studies and the university

I enjoyed studying at the University of Geneva very much and the quality of teaching is of a high standard. Various courses are offered in English and French, from which you can choose freely. The range of courses is broad, from private international law to public international law, and the professors are very qualified. In particular, I have taken courses in International Public Law, including “Comparative Human Rights”, “Droits de l’Homme”, “International Humanitarian Law”, “Droit Pénal International” and “Contemporary Challenges of Public International Law”. The courses are offered within the framework of the Certificate in Transnational Law, which I also completed, and they are accordingly attended by international students in particular. This offers the opportunity to discuss a topic with people from all over the world and to look at it from different perspectives. The university has several libraries, the largest of which is located in the Uni-Mail building and is well equipped with legal books. The cafeteria on the first floor of the Uni-Mail building is unfortunately not very cheap (especially compared to German cafeterias), but microwaves are available so that you can heat up your own food. In addition, the university offers all SEMP students the opportunity to take a language course at the Maison des Langues for a maximum of 4 hours per week. I can highly recommend this especially for French. In addition, the university offers many exciting events and lectures with high-ranking speakers. I took part in an event organized by the Geneva Society, in particular by the chair of Prof. Dr. Kadner. Lecturers from international law firms and the Negated Nations were invited to report on their professional activities. This event was particularly exciting for me.

Geneva as a city and tips for students

Geneva is very international, shaped by many international organizations and NGOs. Despite its relatively small size, the city of about 200,000 inhabitants offers a wide range of cultural and leisure activities. Geneva stands out particularly for its location and its beautiful nature. Lake Geneva offers a good opportunity for swimming, especially in summer, but is also suitable for a walk along the shore in winter. In addition, there are numerous possibilities for hiking, e.g. the Geneva local mountain Salève, as well as for cycling. In the winter you can ski and snowboard in the Geneva area. Switzerland also has a well-developed rail network and it is easy to make a day or weekend trip to another Swiss city. Train tickets are expensive in Switzerland, but if you are lucky, you can get Spartickets at good prices online or in the SBB app. Each city also has a certain contingent of “Carte journalière” for each day, which cost 45 CHF in Geneva and Carouge and with which you can take any train in Switzerland for a day. This is often cheaper than buying individual tickets, but should be planned well in advance due to the high demand. Also the “demi-tarif” (in German: “Halbtax”) subscription of the SBB, which is available for 100 CHF and offers a 50% discount, is very worthwhile for frequent use. In terms of transport, the best way to get around Geneva is by bicycle or public transport. Those who cannot bring a bicycle with them or would like to buy one locally can also rent one from the organization “La Bicyclette Bleue” for a reasonable price.

Culinary Geneva offers typical Swiss food, such as raclette or fondue, but also many other things. To eat fondue, I recommend the Bain de Paquis, which is actually a swimming pool in Lake Geneva, but also has a restaurant and is very cozy. Furthermore, the “Marché des Grottes” is a must: a cheese and wine market where the whole of Geneva, and in particular the staff of international organizations, meet every Thursday. The whole district “Les Grottes” offers some nice bars to have a beer in the evening, as well as the Rue de l’Ecole-de-Médecine, which is close to the Geneva University.

Overall, life in Geneva is, as expected, very expensive and the cost of living is not comparable to Germany. Rental prices for a room in Geneva average 800 CHF per month and the search for an apartment should be started early. If possible, you should apply to the various halls of residence in Geneva, where the rent is significantly lower at around 450 – 550 CHF. In addition, there are considerably higher costs for food. The Swiss supermarkets Coop and Migros are rather in the upper price segment, but the Swiss discounters Denner as well as Aldi or Lidl offer affordable alternatives for students. Restaurants and evening bar visits are also rather expensive. Nevertheless, I have found Geneva to be a city with a high quality of life, where you can find many inexpensive pleasures despite the high cost of living. Nature offers many leisure activities and Geneva’s museums are also open once a month free of charge. If you look around a bit, you can find many free cultural activities and city festivals.

Studying in times of Covid-19

Switzerland was also severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and closed all its facilities and public services in mid-March. Only systemically relevant stores and service providers (e.g. supermarkets) remained open. At the university, teaching was completely switched to online study. This worked comparatively smoothly, since the university had already recorded many lectures before and was therefore able to make available the lectures of previous years. Where this was not possible, online teaching took place via the “Zoom” program. Examinations were also held online, either, for written examinations, via “moodle” or, for oral examinations, via “Zoom”. Unfortunately, the libraries were also closed for the entire semester from mid-March, which made learning considerably more difficult. In the meantime, however, the libraries have reopened in compliance with hygiene measures. From the middle of May on, the measures in Switzerland were eased considerably and now there are only a few restrictions. In the coming semester, a dual system of teaching is planned, so that courses can be attended in attendance, but also digitally. For new arrivals and exchange students, the pandemic poses a particular challenge because it is much more difficult to make new contacts due to the hygiene measures and recommendations. However, the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) of the University of Geneva is very active and has reacted quickly to the new situation: It has also made its services available online in order to provide the best possible support for new students despite the difficult situation.