Can I just say I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do the things I do, chase my childhood dream of becoming a doctor and meet truly incredible people along the way. Your early 20’s are years of uncertainty, challenge, excitement, new experiences and endless reflection. Sometimes, it’s easy to obsess over the things that go wrong, but the world is big and beautiful, people are kind and understanding, and – sorry, cliche – adventures await those who are ready. So here’s the first of a 2-part segment on Geneva. It’s going to be a pretty long post, but main headings are in capitals and bolded. Read further for more background on the exchange, daily living hacks and some reflections on my experience. The second part will cover weekend traveling, advice for people traveling to Geneva and the next phase of my 7-week summer electives!
4 amazing, magical and challenging weeks later, it’s time to say goodbye to this city. I’ve seen some truly spectacular sights, made some lifelong friends and gained knowledge in plastic surgery and surgical skills, as well as learned how to be a better clerk.
IFMSA & EXCHANGE BACKGROUND
A little background: I came to Geneva with the IFMSA (international federation of medical students association) for their professional exchange that happens every summer. It’s open to medical students from all over the world. Some of the exchanges require students to speak only English, while others, like mine, require proficiency in a foreign language (French in this case; different Swiss cities have different working languages – eg. Geneva is French, Zurich is German etc). If you’re in medical school or are going to attend medical school, I highly highly recommend checking out or applying to this program: http://ifmsa.org/professional-exchanges/
If you want to learn more about this program, feel free to message me, and I’m happy to answer any questions you might have!
GENEVA – background and interesting facts
This city, despite being well known all around the world, only has a population of about 200,000. It’s extremely multicultural, although most people speak English here. In fact, it’s so multicultural, it can be difficult to actually learn and practice French. Many offices in Geneva communicate in English, so if learning a new language (or practicing a rusty one) is one of your goals, there are lots of opportunities out there, including language exchanges that happen every week! There’s one hosted by the Geneva Interns Association every Tuesday. When I went, they met in front of the Reformation Wall in Les Parcs des Bastions, which is super close to vielle-ville (the older, more historic area), and close to the hospital (Hopitaux universitaires Geneve = HUG). I highly recommend joining their Facebook page, where people also post about upcoming intern events, hikes, housing etc. It’s great if you’re here alone and want to meet other young people, or if you just want to expand your network!
The GIA also published a super useful handbook that goes over basically everything you need to live in, get around and go out in Geneva: http://internsassociation.org/useful-information/welcome-package/#.
The other exchange I heard about was the Mundo Lingo Language Exchange. They also meet Tuesday nights at 7pm at Ethno Bar in Jonction: http://mundolingo.org/geneva
Interesting fact: just like we call our dollars “bucks,” I learned from a local that they call their Francs “balle.” For example, 2000 Francs would be “deux mille balle.”
Housing in Geneva can be incredibly expensive, but IFMSA provides accommodation for you with a host family. My host family was extremely welcoming and friendly, and made sure to make me feel comfortable. They lived in “Les Avanchets,” which is a stop on the 14/18 tram line. It was about 25-30 min away from the hospital, which is considered “far” in Geneva.
Some popular areas for students are:
- Paquis/Nations – known as the “red light district” of Geneva, but still super safe, really convenient and near Gare Cornavin, the main station in the city. I would recommend checking out apartments in this area! A lot of students are interns at the UN, which makes living near the Palais very attractive.
- Eaux-Vives – ok so Geneva is pretty small, and all the neighbourhoods I would say are relatively within walking distance to each other. This area is by the water and there’s a huge park as well. I really love this area, and I would’ve lived here if I had the option.
- Plainpalais/Centre/Acacias – a lot of students live in these areas too! Really easy access to public transportation, close to la rue d’ecole medicine (more about this later), as well as museums, nightlife and grocery shopping.
For more info about these and other areas, here’s a link to a map! https://www.euruni.edu/blog/where-to-live-in-geneva/
Getting around Geneva really is ridiculously easy. The trams and buses go everywhere you need to get to, and since Geneva is so small, you could probably walk to most of your destinations anyways. If you’re staying here for any longer than a couple weeks, I HIGHLY recommend getting the monthly bus and tram pass that covers the entire Canton of Geneva. Remember though, to ask for the student/under 25 price when you’re buying your pass. It’s only 45 francs for the entire month, and we definitely used our passes A LOT. If you’re over 25, I think the pass is around 100 francs, but I would check to make sure! Regardless, each single ride is 3 Francs. Although tickets don’t get checked a lot, mine were checked twice in the span of a month. The fine is pretty hefty so it’s probably not a good idea to take chances.
If you’re traveling outside the city and you plan on visiting all the other beautiful cities in Switzerland, I also HIGHLY recommend getting the Swiss Pass Half Fare Card (http://www.swisstravelsystem.com/en/passes/swiss-half-fare-card.html). It’s something that me and the other exchange students regret not purchasing during our first week in Switzerland. You can visit the website for more info, but the gist of it is that 1) you get a 50% discount on most trains, buses and boats in Switzerland and 2) You get free entry to museums and discounts on a number of tourist attractions like the Gornergrat train in Zermatt. It’s worth it in my opinion if you’re traveling to more than 3 or 4 destinations outside of Geneva, since train tickets can get quite expensive.
Also, for cheaper tickets, check out the Super Saver tickets on the SBB website. These are cheaper tickets – up to 50% off the regular price) – that have set times for departure. The only downside to these tickets is that if you buy tickets at the normal rate, you can travel at any time in the day. With these ones, you just have to coordinate with your friends and make sure you don’t miss your train. One of my local medical school friends told me about the Super Saver option a week into my trip, and I saved a ton of money on traveling this way
Super Saver tickets: http://www.sbb.ch/en/travelcards-and-tickets/tickets-for-switzerland/supersaver-tickets.html
FOOD & ALCOHOL (I promise, both can be very affordable if done right)
Food, I think we can all agree, is pretty important. Now, some people will tell you that it’s way cheaper to buy your groceries in France, but I’m a) really lazy and b) would rather spend my day visiting tourist attractions than trucking to France (ok, it’s really only about 20-30 min away from Geneva) and carrying my groceries all the way back home. Warning, most grocery stores are closed on Sunday, so you basically have to get your shopping done between Monday – Saturday. Stores also close earlier here, but if you really need to get some shopping done, I recommend going to Gare Cornavin (the central train station), where there’s a Migros open until 11pm, or the airport, where the Migros is open 7 days a week. Both are slightly pricier in my opinion than normal Migros and carry far smaller selections than regular stores.
So here’s my perspective on the grocery stores available and pricing, listed from cheapest to most expensive:
Pros: Honestly probably one of the cheapest grocery stores I’ve EVER been to. Considering I mostly lived on a diet of muesli, bread, cheese, smoked salmon and sauteed vegetables, I could buy a week’s worth of groceries here for about 40-50 Francs (1 Franc = 1.3 CDN, summer 2016). Considering how expensive some things are in Ontario, I would argue that grocery shopping in Geneva was actually cheaper for me than back at home. They have a lot of sales, so make sure to look out for the reduced goods, which are marked by “Action.” They also carry the really famous Swiss chocolate brand “Cailler” which I absolutely love. Also is pretty cheap as well, eg. one 750ml bottle of vodka for 10-15 Francs or one 750ml bottle of wine starting at 3-4 Francs. Lidl’s are generally open Monday – Saturday, 8am – 8pm (take this with a grain of salt since grocery stores vary in opening hours). It’s like the Food Basics or Buy More for Less of Canada, but with better quality food.
You can buy most of your basics here: bread, cheese (pretty large selection, promise you’ll find one that you like here), smoked salmon and meats, yogurts, cereals and other breakfast foods, staple items like canned beans and other goods, chocolate, alcohol, limited selection of fruits and vegetables.
Cons: So the only con I can really think of is that they have a pretty limited selection of fruits and vegetables. The selection they do have is generally pretty inexpensive though, so I like to come here for my staple goods, then stop at Migros for fresh produce.
Pros: There was a Denner really close to my place, at Balexert, the largest shopping mall in Geneva. I love Denner’s. It’s pretty similar to Lidl’s in pricing, but I would argue that they have a larger selection. They also sell alcohol here, for around the same pricing as Lidl, but with a larger selection of wines (YAY!). Since it was so convenient, I would generally either get my groceries here or Lidl, and it would come to about 50-60 Francs for a week’s worth of groceries. They have this amazing freshly baked bread with a criss-cross pull-apart pattern that’s a little bit sour, crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. Highly recommend it for making cheese and smoked salmon sandwiches!
Side note: they have this AMAZING Denner brand Gruyere sliced cheese. It’s pretty cheap, about 4 Francs for 200g, but it’s really delicious sandwiched between some of my favourite bread.
Con: Ummm, none? Really I love Denner’s, it’s probably my favourite grocery store chain in Geneva. They generally open Monday – Saturdays from around 8am to 6 – 8pm.
3. Manor Food: This is going to be a short description since I haven’t been here, but based on my friends’ reviews, they have pretty good, fairly inexpensive prepared foods. They also have a buffet like restaurant where you can choose what you want and pay for it at the front. It’s like Marche in Toronto for those of you from the area.
Pros: it probably has the largest selection out of all the grocery stores and is the most accessible. Like I mentioned earlier, they have a Migros at Gare Cornavin which is open until 11pm, as well as one at the airport that’s also open late. I would’ve shopped more here if I wasn’t trying to save money over the summer to travel and go out! It’s kind of like the Safeway or Fortino’s of Canada.
Cons: It’s a bit pricier than Denner and Lidl, which is why we eventually stopped shopping for groceries there, but it’s worth it if you want a larger selection and arguably fresher foods. You can also get prepared foods here that won’t break the bank. BUT THERE’S NO ALCOHOL HERE – SO IF YOU WANT TO PREGAME MAKE SURE YOU MAKE IT TO A LIDL, DENNER OR COOP BEFORE THEY CLOSE AND NOT ON A SUNDAY.
Pros: It’s really nice inside. Great selection and lots of organic options. Did not shop here at all though since it’s the most expensive out of the grocery store chains. That being said, it’s not THAT much more expensive, so check it out if you’re curious! They also sell alcohol here, and it’s about the same in pricing as Denner and Lidl.
Con: It’s expensive, and you can probably get similar quality food for way cheaper at Lidl, Denner or Migros. It also seemed like there were more of the other chains, but that could also be because I wasn’t looking too closely.
6. Globus: Also have never been in here BUT I hear they have a great selection of gourmet and artisan groceries. If you’re feeling swanky or are craving something that isn’t local, check this place out! There’s one on Rive.
For more info, I found this blog super helpful: https://livingingeneva.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/discovering-genevas-grocery-stores/
Overall though, here’s some advice I gathered from my 4 weeks in Geneva:
- If you eat breakfast at home (generally I had muesli mixed with yogurt, half a banana, some added nuts and some honey or bread + some sort of topping), and bring a lunch to work, your food costs will be very low. I ate out with my friends about once every 2-3 days, which tended to be more expensive. A normal meal will generally run between 20-30 Francs, and a glass wine at dinner will cost between 4 to 10 Francs. But since you’re only in Switzerland once, it’s definitely worth it to check out fondue, raclette, and other local specialties before you leave. I personally love fondue, and I would recommend Cafe du Soleil if you’re here in the summer, since a lot of fondue places are only open during the winter or late at night (fondue starts at 9pm at Bains de Paquis).Otherwise, I heard Gruyere is really good, and there are 2 locations in Geneva.
- If you’re working at the hospital (Hopitaux Universitaires de Geneve), they have a really great salad bar that’s extremely reasonable. I think the food there is subsidized for hospital employees.
- Picnics are super fun! You can bring wine, bread, cheese, dried fruit and other goodies to Parcs de Eaux-Vives for a really nice lunch or dinner by the lake. There are a ton of events held there as well, including salsa and jazz nights, and UN events.
- ALWAYS PREGAME IF YOU’RE GOING CLUBBING. As a student, this should be a hard and fast rule. Drinks are extremely expensive at most clubs (20-40+ Francs), and it’ll be hard to get a good buzz going if you go completely sober. Plus, pregaming is really fun and no one really goes out here until after 12am. Most clubs and some bars are open until 5-6am.
- Be open to meeting new people. The people in Geneva are really friendly, and we made a lot of friends just by joining people at their tables and communicating in French and English.
- Don’t dress like a slob when you go out. No one likes a slob.
- Take Uber if you’re coming home after the trains stop. It’s a lot cheaper than taking a taxi, but way easier than walking home if you live far from where you’ve gone out. Honestly, Geneva is pretty safe, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST: GOING OUT IN GENEVA
It can sometimes feel like people never go out in Geneva, but that’s not entirely true. Me and my friends found some places that we really liked (and some places we really didn’t), but here’re some of my reflections on our nights out. If you want to learn about more bars or want more info, check out this post from Timeout Switzerland: http://www.timeout.com/switzerland/bars-and-pubs/best-geneva-bars
- Le Chat Noir – I would call this a bar/club. The night we went (Saturday), it had great pop/EDM music playing and lots of people. We had a ton of fun here, and would definitely recommend it! Drinks are ok, I think they’re around 15-20 Francs each, which is pretty standard for Geneva.
- L’Apothecaire – We went here on our first night in Geneva. It’s the younger sister of L’Atelier Cocktail Club in Eaux-Vives, this bar is easier to find, on the main road to Plainpalais. This place has great cocktails, and I would recommend asking the mixologists to make you something new! Drinks are generally around 20-25 Francs here.
- Rooftop 42 – loved this bar! The main reason to visit this bar is its rooftop. It’s above a commercial building on Geneva’s posh Rue du Rhône and has a beautiful outdoor terrace sports a fantastic view over the city, lake and jet d’eau. The drinks are somewhat pricey, around 25 Francs a pop for cocktails and 9 Francs for shots, but it’s worth it for the view and chic atmosphere. It’s also popular during weekdays if you want to go out but don’t know where!
- Cafe Jules Vernes – Went here on one of our last nights in Geneva. It’s really close to the hospital, and they also serve tapas if you’re hungry. I really like the Apersol Spritz, but I also liked the drink that the bartender made for us that was halfway between an Amaretto sour and sex on the beach. Drinks run for about 15-20 Francs here, and a cheese plate is 16 Francs (it’s huge though, so it was more than enough for 1.5 dinners).
- L’Atelier – One of the best places in the city for cocktails. Again, it’ll run you about 15-25 Francs a pop, but they have great mixologists and a creative drink menu. Great for a classy night out.
- Williams – so we found this hole in the wall bar that we really loved. They had shots for 4 Francs, and the bartender kept pouring us free shots of a homemade concoction (sounds sketchy I know, but it was kind of like jagger + whiskey + cinnamon). Great for watching the soccer games and pretty empty! This was in the Paquis area, but we couldn’t find it again when we tried to go back.
- Rue de l’Ecole de Medicine – Translates to “Medical school street.” There are a ton of reasonably priced bars on this street with nice patios in the summer. A glass of wine here is generally under 5 Francs, so a lot of students and interns come here. It’s in the Plainpalais area, so it’s super easy to get to as well. I would definitely check out the bars here and just walk around for a bit until you find one you like. It does get pretty crowded after work and on weekends, so if you have a big group, I recommend coming earlier.
Ok so this was a pretty long post about Geneva. I hope this has been helpful (or at least somewhat entertaining). Will follow Part I up with my weekend travels around Switzerland and anything else I think is important, that I think of between now and then. Ciao for now 🙂