Exchange report - Student at KI
Hiking trails in Interlaken, Switzerland
Home university: Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETH Zürich)
Study programme: Biomedicine
Exchange programme: Erasmus
Semester: Spring semester 2016/2017
Name: Anna Vidina
Email address:


KI has agreements with amazing universities in several countries and I wanted to use the opportunity to work in one of them. As I had already done one research project at KI (during one of the previous summers) and going abroad for the bachelor thesis was an obvious choice for me. ETH Zurich and KI has a Swiss-European Mobility program arranged between them and I had ETH Zurich on my priority list because it's a world-famous institution, I had heard great reviews about it and I wanted to explore the wonderful Swiss nature.

Application to ETH Zurich via the Mobility-Online page was very straightforward and the exchange coordinator was really nice and helpful when I had extra questions. Being a citizen of an EU country made it super easy for me to obtain a residence permit and get an exemption of the obligatory health insurance. I had settled my finances for the exchange good time before my departure and I was very excited to become a part of ETH Zurich, meet a lot of amazing international people and go travelling within and outside Switzerland.

Arrival and registration

The spring semester at ETH Zurich starts in February and finishes after an exam session in August. I was doing a research project and wasn’t taking any courses, therefore there was no problem for me to start when the study semester in Sweden starts (middle of January) and finish at the end of May to return to KI in time for our thesis presentations.

All the introduction events for international students were in February, so I had to wait a bit before all the other exchange students arrived. On the first day at the ETH exchange office, I met a super nice Swedish girl from KTH and some really nice Latvians studying in Zurich with whom I stayed in touch my whole exchange. The first month was a good time to get used to the city and find my way around the public transport system (which is fantastic but you also have to pay accordingly haha).  

Introductory package from ETH Zurich


During my exchange in Zurich I verified that Switzerland is one of the most expensive places in the world. I was financing my stay from two scholarships, income from subletting my place in Stockholm and a loan that I took. The Swiss-European Mobility Program (SEMP) scholarship provided me with 1800 Swiss franks (CHF) from which most went into paying the first rent and security deposit for my accommodation from February (see it explained below). In addition to this, I had applied for a scholarship from the Heyning-Roelli Foundation (a private Swiss foundation) which gave me 3000 CHF for the whole semester. All in all, I spent approximately 6300 CHF on the 4.5 months long exchange.


My whole exchange I stayed at WOKO housing which is an equivalent to the Swedish SSSB. ETH Zurich student housing office provided me with the links to apply for the accommodation and I was granted a place to stay at from Februay to August. I didn’t know exactly where and how much will my accommodation cost at first (the prices vary from 420 to 600+ CHF), but on the first of December I was offered a room with a private shower, sing and toilet in a student house in Dietikon shared with 32 students for just 420 CHF a month. Even though Dietikon is not inside Zurich city, the great train connection allowed me to reach the city center in 15-20min and I loved the areas along the Limmat river close to my place.

As I didn’t arrive when all the exchange students typically arrive, there were more things that I has to figure out about the accommodation througout my stay. First, I had to find somewhere to live in for January and then I had to find someone to sublet my room to in Dietikon during the summer. All of it worked out in the end and the WOKO website was a great help. I found an exchange student from the autumn semester who was subletting her room to me in January. It was on Casar-Ritz-Strasse with all the other facilities shared and the rent was 550 CHF a month. (The other students living there were really nice but it was the very end of their exchange and they busy with exams or travelling unfortunately.) For my room in Dietikon I found I found a PhD student (again via the WOKO site) to stay there and pay my rent for the months when I’m not in Zurich anymore. (In fact, WOKO approved our 3 months long sublease contract even though it was said before that WOKO rooms are not allowed to be sublet for more than 2 months. Yayy for me!) 

The WOKO student accommodation in Dietikon

Studies in general

ETH Zurich students in Biology and Health Sciences & Technology programs (which are the two most similar to biomedicine at ETH) are not as privileged as us at KI and they don’t have a chance to do a research project in their first 3 years of studies. Therefore, the other students in my lab were master students and my supervisor made it clear from our very first conversation that I will be expected to be quite independent. This, of course, is a thing that depends on your supervisor. It helped me a lot that I had done two summer research projects before and, of course, I could ask help from my supervisor and from the awesome master students that I shared my office with.

My host research group (read below) was quite a big one with around 30 members. This meant that we were split into different rooms. The masters, the PhD students and postdoctoral researchers were all seated in separate offices and had less chance to interact than I had liked. However, we all shared a common kitchen and I got to know better some PhDs and postdocs and even made friends with our neighboring lab group that worked with Exercise Physiology. In general, I felt that there is a more distinct hierarchy between the lab members at ETH Zurich compared to Karolinska Institutet or Institut Pasteur in France. 

Courses during the exchange period

Courses corresponding to semester 6 at KI

The Bachelor Thesis Project

ETH Zurich didn’t require me to take any courses and I could work on my thesis project in peace. I carried it out at the Neuronal Control of Movement (NCM) lab and was happy with my choice. My project was very different from what the biomedicine program had introduced me to before. I was working with human participants and used a brain reserch method called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. It was both a bit hard and also a lot of fun to try something completely new. It took me some time to wrap my head around the method and the Matlab scripts that we used for runnng the experiments. However, I knew what I was getting myself into and, in the end, I was very proud to not get lost in all the cables between the machines and computers involved in the experiments and being able to adapt my own Matlab scripts. 

While being in the lab, I also got to see what other people were doing and even try different brain research methods as a participant. I tried the simulation of virtual reality, tried on an electroencephalography (EEG) cap and getting my brain scanned with fMRI. Moreover, almost every Friday someone from the lab was giving a presentation on their work and, over the time of my stay, I heard three excellent master thesis defenses. This helped me a lot to make my own presentations better.

Preparation process for the bachelor thesis presentation

Language and Culture

Switzerland is a very fascinating country by having 3 constitutional languages (French, German and Italian). Zurich belongs to the German language part of the country, but (funny enough) the Swiss speak their own Swiss German language which is different from the so called High German which they use to write official documents. All exchange students were offered an intensive language course for 2 weeks in February and less intensive courses throughout the semester (which were not for free). I went to one lesson of the non-intensive courses and the teacher was very nice but I didn’t keep up with it.

Regarding the Swiss culture, aside from the hierarchy that I observed among my group members, I realized (it took me a while) that the Swiss people sometimes imply things instead of saying them out loud. Otherwise, everyone spoke good English and I had no communication issues. I loved the lunch-breaks together with the other students from the lab and our occasional ice-cream breaks to enjoy the sun outside. (Switzerland has way warmer climate than Sweden!) 

When I was not in the lab, I mainly spent my time with international people or travelling. I learned a lot about Japanese, Australian, Pakistani and Swiss cultures and food. I found out that, not only the Swiss make some amazing cheese-rich dishes and chocolate, but their local food overall is very delicious!

Hand-made chocolate from Fribourg

Leisure time and social activities

I found the student life in Zurich a great lot of fun. There was a plenty of activities to join offered by the Erasmus Student Network (ESN), the sports association ASVZ and almost every weekend there were flea-markets and culture events taking place in Zurich. Some examples are the Fasching festival and the burning of a huge snowman made from hay to celebrate the start of spring. 

As much as time and money allowed, I tried to travel around Switzerland and go to some neighboring countries. Aside from exploring the wonderful city of Zurich, I was impressed by the Swiss Parliament in Bern, loved hiking around Fribourg and walking along the Lake Geneva in Montreux. I fulfilled my dream of seeing the Alps and going on the Lake Zurich with a boat. Being located at the heart of Europe gave me the advantage of seeing my friends in Milan and Munich. 

I really liked that the student house where I stayed was not too big (read about my accommodation). I will miss the get-togethers and picnics with my housemates, watching movies together, playing volleyball on Thursdays and going for adventure-hunting in Zurich.

NB! It's easy to get distracted from balancing the free time with work on the project by all these amazing things to do. Don't make the mistake that I did, i.e. leaving the report writing to the last weeks before the deadline and then having super intense work- days and nights in order to finish it in time!

Picnic by Engelsee with my housemates


All in all, this exchange was a great experience which I recommend everyone to live through. I had a chance to meet many bright and inspiring people, I took time to travel and learned a lot academically, personally and culturally while successfully completing my thesis. Furthermore, working on my project let me to explore that biomedical research is even broader than I thought before. And to top it all off, having worked at ETH Zurich has already managed to impress many people around me.

Lake Geneva in Montreux, Switzerland