Exchange report - Student at KI
Home university: Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETH Zürich)
Study programme: Biomedicine (Master's)
Exchange programme: Swiss-European Mobility Programme
Semester: Autumn semester 2021/2022
Name: Maria-Nefeli Christakopoulou
Email address:


Why did I choose to go on exchange?
After being a student at Karolinska Institutet (KI) for 4 years ( BSc and first year of MSc), I really felt like I wanted to experience living and studying in a different country and university. A great way to do that is by performing your thesis at one of KI's partner universities. The master students in Biomedicine can choose between 25 partner universities located in 5 different continents! Going on exchange is a great way to develop both as a person and as a professional, by exploring a new city, making new friends, expanding your network and gaining scientific mobility. For all these reasons I decided to go on exchange at the 4th semester of my master's programme to perform my master thesis project at ETH in Zürich, Switzerland. 

Why ETH?
The collaboration of KI with the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences at ETH was one of the reasons why I chose ETH, as my main scientific interest at the time was pharmacology. Moreover, being one of the world's leading universities in science and technology coupled with the highly science-driven environment at ETH and its strong connection to the pharmaceutical industry, identified it as an ideal choice for me. Having visited Switzerland in the past, I was really excited to experience living in such a beautiful, alpine country for a semester. 

Study abroad information provided by KI and ETH
After getting the nomination confirmation by KI, it is time to apply for exchange at ETH. It is important to mention that although you have been nominated by KI, you still have to make a separate application to ETH and get accepted by them as well in order to begin your exchange. Once I was nominated by KI, I received a detailed and informative document by the international coordinator, explaining all the steps that I had to complete before starting my exchange, as well as useful information about finance and insurance. I found that all the information provided by KI was very clear and I always received help when I needed it during my preparation for exchange. Similarly, the student exchange office at ETH was very helpful and provided me with all the information needed in order to make my move to Switzerland and start at ETH as smooth as possible. Overall, I experienced that I was well informed by both my home and host university before and during my exchange. 

Required vaccinations and certificates to enter Switzerland and Covid-19 restrictions 
In order to enter Switzerland in January 2022, I was required to have a valid passport and provide proof of vaccination, recovery from COVID-19 or a negative test result. During my exchange some COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were still in place in Zürich, such as that it was mandatory to wear a face mask to enter shops and restaurants, in public transport and in the workplace. Coming from Sweden, where wearing mask was just recommendation it was a bit difficult at first to get used to wearing face masks almost everywhere, but that is something that you get used to eventually. I also made sure to bring my European Health Insurance card as it is needed in order to have health insurance in Switzerland as an EU citizen. It is mandatory to have health insurance in Switzerland and the country's health insurance plans can be very pricey! As an exchange student, you are also provided by KI with a health insurance card through Kammarkollegiet. In this way, you are not required to pay for any insurance plan in Switzerland. More information about health insurance in Switzerland and how to apply for exemption can be found here. 

Departure from Stockholm

Arrival and registration

I arrived in Switzerland by plane 2 days before starting my master thesis. As we had mandatory in-person presentations at KI for our previous course, I was not able to travel to Switzerland any earlier. Regardless, if you have arranged most things beforehand, it should be ok. 

Phone and data plan 
Swedish phone and data plans are usually not valid in Switzerland as Switzerland is not an EU or EEA member, for that reason you will most likely need a Swiss mobile plan. As everything else in Switzerland that can also be quite pricey! I chose the company Swype which offers an eSIM, easy registration through their app and very good prices (20 Swiss francs) for unlimited calls, SMS and data. 

Transportation card
Regarding transportation in Zürich, you have to go to an ZVV office (equivalent to an SL office in Stockholm) and register for a Swiss pass card , which is valid in all Switzerland. You can also register for a Swiss pass online and your card will be sent to your home address. At the ZVV office, they can give you a temporary monthly ticket that you can use until your Swiss pass arrives. Once you get your Swiss pass, you can buy a monthly ticket (ZVV Monatsticket ) through the ZVV website , at the ZVV office, at the ZVV-Ticket app or the SBB Mobile app. 

Student Exchange Office 
On your first day of your exchange, you should also visit the Student Exchange Office which is located at the main building of ETH (Rämistrasse 101, HG F 23.1 8092 Zürich) where you can pick up your welcome package which includes among other things your ETH student card and a confirmation of matriculation and other documents which you will need to apply for a residence permit and to open a Swiss bank account. You will also receive a paper with detailed information about how to apply for a residence permit card. 

Residence permit 
Briefly, to apply for a residence permit, you need to visit your nearest Kreisbüro and show the papers that you received from the ETH exchange office as well as your passport. At the Kreisbüro they will book you a separate appointment to get your picture taken at the migration office (Migrationsamt). Overall it took me a week to receive my residence permit card ((L-)Bewilligung) at my mailbox. You will also receive a paper from Kreisbüro which you can show at the bank and other authorities until you receive your residence permit card. Make sure to visit the Kreisbüro within 14 days of arriving in Zürich. Find more contact information and opening hours here. 

Welcome and Introduction Day at ETH 
ETH organised a Welcome and Introduction day for all the exchange and visiting students of the semester, which took place at the ETH main building. You will receive an email by the exchange office with a list of all the events which are organised for the exchange students each semester. On the welcome day we received an official welcome by the Rector, important information about our stay in Switzerland and at ETH Zurich, as well as a presentation of the Zürich  Erasmus Student Network (ESN). It was also a great way to meet other exchange students. 

Beautiful view of Grossmünster and the Swiss alps.


Living costs 
According to several cost of living rankings, Zürich is the most expensive city to live in Europe. Even for students, costs such as accommodation and food are well above the international average. According to the ETH website, the living costs for international students are approximately 1700 CHF. However, do not be frightened as these calculations include costs for health insurance which can be pricey! 
Each month I paid 545 CHF for rent, 20 CHF for my prepaid mobile subscription, 62 CHF for my monthly travel card and around 350 CHF for food. So I spent approximately 1000 CHF each month for my basic expenses which did not include money spent on going out, eating in restaurants, shopping etc. I would try to cook at home as much as possible, but eating out at the university's cafeteria would cost just 6 CHF and there would be several food trucks around campus that would offer affordable lunch options. Eating out in restaurants is quite expensive, so be prepared to spend 15-30 CHF per dish. I would recommend going grocery shopping at Lidl or Migros instead of Coop which is more expensive. 

Scholarship & Banking

As I received the CSN student loan in Sweden, I was not able to receive the Swiss-European Mobility Programme (SEMP) scholarship as well. Thankfully, I was awarded the Heyning-Roelli Foundation Scholarship, with which I was able to cover the expenses for my rent during the exchange. To receive the money of the scholarship I had to open a Swiss bank account, which also made it very easy to arrange the monthly rent payments. I opened a bank account at UBS who offer a free account for students and a 50 CHF gift card which you can use online at several supermarkets and clothing stores. To open the bank account, you just need to visit a UBS bank and they will help you open the account. Another advantage of using this bank was that I could download an app called Twint which is the Swiss equivalent to Swish in Sweden. Just like with Swish, Twint is linked to your bank account and your phone number and you can easily "Twint" money to others by using their phone numbers. 

Gym & Sport facilities 

As an exchange student of the Swiss-European Mobility Programme (SEMP), all tuition fee costs are lifted and you get free access to all sports facilities at ETH, called ASVZ. I used their sports facility at campus Höngerberg very often, which offered several sports classes, tennis courts, basket courts, and a fully equipped gym. The other ASVZ facilities around Zürich also offer classes and gyms. I really recommend giving the sports classes a chance, as I found them to be a great way to energise your body after a day full of lab work and a great activity to do with your lab mates or fellow exchange students. 


Finding accommodation
I was able to find housing via ETH at a location very close to my host laboratory. I was contacted by the ETH student exchange office to apply for a room through their housing office until the beginning of November. I was also informed that it is not guaranteed that everyone that applies will be offered a room, however it was expected that most applicants will be offered housing at one of the WOKO buildings (equivalent to SSSB). Luckily, I was offered a furnished room at a very international accommodation at Meierwiesenstrasse 62 , located very close to Lindenplatz which is an area with many supermarkets, restaurants, post office, banks etc. Since my lab was located at the campus Höngerberg, the location of my accommodation was very convenient since by just taking one buss I could be at the campus in 20 minutes. My room was furnished and I had to share the bathrooms and kitchen with the other students on my floor. The building was very modern and there was a lounge area located on the entrance floor where the tenants could hang out and play games. It is very important to mention that these accommodations offered by the ETH housing office are only available from the 1st of February until the 31st of August, so you will need to find a place to stay in the first two weeks of your exchange and find a subtenant for the months after your exchange is over. You can do that on the WOKO website where you can find a list of available rooms and also put your own ad for your room when you wish to sublet it. 

As previously mentioned, I paid 545 CHF per month for housing, which I would say is quite normal for the cost of housing in Switzerland. Generally, WOKO rooms cost between 400-600 CHF. I was required to pay a one-time rent deposit as well as the first rent in advance as a guarantee, which totalled to 1800 CHF! So be prepared that you might need to pay quite a lot of money as a guarantee. 

My WOKO student room at Meierwiesenstrasse.

Studies in general

I only conducted my master thesis project and did not participate in any courses at ETH. 

Courses during the exchange period

Courses corresponding to semester 4 at KI

Master Thesis project 

I conducted my master thesis project (30 ECTS) at the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences at ETH Zürich. Being passionate about the field of pharmacology, it was an easy decision for me to chose that institute to conduct my master thesis project. Nevertheless, ETH has a great number of departments such as the department of health sciences and technology and the department of biology , where a biomedical student can find interesting and relevant thesis projects. In general I would say that a normal day in the lab would start at 8.30-9.00 and would end at 17.30-18.30. However, this can vary from lab to lab. In my lab group there was a very strong sense of collaboration and I was always encouraged to observe experiments of other lab members and even learn techniques from them. In the same way, I was asked to show certain laboratory methods to other master thesis students of our lab. This was a great way to learn, as you can observe how different people conduct the same method and learn tips and tricks from different scientists. The atmosphere in the lab was always very friendly and we frequently attended scientific seminars and talks together, but also events organised by ETH and by the doctoral students association like parties and mingling sessions. In this way, me and the other master thesis students quickly became a part of the team and we always were treated as equals to the other lab members. 
Overall it was a great experience, as I got to expand my network, make great friends, learn new scientific techniques, practice my scientific communication skills and participate in a great research project in a topic that I am passionate about. 
What is science without science memes!

Language and Culture


Switzerland is a multilingual country, 4 different languages are spoken in different parts of the country; German, French, Italian and Romansh . Zürich belongs to the German-speaking part of Switzerland where Swiss-German is spoken. Personally I do not speak German so I had to communicate with everyone in English. I did not meet a single person that did not speak English and I did not have any problems communicating at the authorities, banks, supermarkets etc. That is because Zürich is a very international city and Swiss people have quite good knowledge in the English language. The only difficulty that you might have is reading the labels and ingredient lists of food items in the supermarkets, as they are usually written in the  national languages. Personally, I speak French so I was able to understand them, but you can always ask someone that works there and they will be happy to help you! As a Swedish speaker I can also say that I could identify many similar words between the two languages so if you speak Swedish you will understand quite a few words in German. 

My lab group was very international, with the majority being non-German speakers. However, all the other master thesis students were Swiss and spoke Swiss-German, but they would always speak English when a non-German speaker was around. Overall, the language spoken at my lab was English, which was very nice as I never felt excluded. 

Language course 

ETH offers a two-week intensive German course which you have to pay for. If you would like to take it, keep in mind that it is a full-time course which takes place during the day (i.e. not afternoon/evening course), which can be quite difficult to attend when having a thesis project to perform or university courses to take. Personally, I did not attend the course because I needed to be in the lab, but I think it's great that the university offers such a course for the exchange students. Normally, the semester starts in February so the exchange students would have these 2 weeks free to attend the language course if they wanted, however that is not the case for KI students, as our semester starts 2 weeks earlier. 


During my exchange I had the opportunity to interact with Swiss people from different parts of Switzerland and I can say that I did not experience any major difference in their culture compared with the Swedish culture. Just like in Sweden, people were collaborative and punctual. The Swiss were always friendly, welcoming and happy to help. 

Leisure time and social activities

I was very lucky to have great lab members in my thesis lab, as we would frequently hang out outside the lab hours. We would also attend some weekly fitness classes at the sports facilities of ETH. Another great way to meet people is through events organised by the Erasmus association . They organise several events throughout the semester like hikes, museum visits and BBQs, where many exchange students gather and spend time together. 

Zürich is a beautiful city with exceptional landscapes, such as Lake Zürich, which is a great spot for a walk or picnic. Zürich has a beautiful old town which is divided into two parts by the Limmat river. The old town is full of traditional houses, historic squares, small shops and restaurants. Another attraction worth visiting is the central ETH building and the polyterrasse located between ETH and Zürich university. To reach the panoramic terrace where you can have a view of the city and the surrounding mountains, you can take the Polybahn from the central station. If you are a nature lover, I would also advise visiting the botanical garden of the university of Zürich and the Chinese garden. Both attractions are spectacular and their entry is free of charge. Switzerland is the land of cheese and chocolate, being a big fan of the latter, I also visited and highly recommend visiting the Lindt chocolate museum, where you can learn more about the history of chocolate and the process of chocolate production. Most importantly, you also get to taste unlimited swiss chocolate! Another museum that I highly recommend checking out is the museum of fine arts Kunsthaus Zürich , which offers a very large and impressive selection of art, as well as many art exhibitions. The entrance to the museum is free of charge on Wednesdays. 

Moreover, I would highly recommend exploring other cities in Switzerland. By train, you can visit several cities in the French and Italian part of Switzerland in just a few hours. Personally I visited the cities Lucerne and Lugano and I highly recommend both! 

The breathtaking Chinese garden located right by the Zürich lake is definitely worth a visit.


Overall going on exchange itself was a great experience where I got to grow both as a person and as a scientist. By living in Zürich, I got to discover a new beautiful city and country, learn about Swiss traditions and visit Swiss attractions. By working at a research group at ETH I got to learn new laboratory techniques, join a large and international lab environment, gain new knowledge and expand my professional network. Last but not least, I got to make new friendships that will last for a lifetime! So take a chance and go on exchange, as exciting or scary as it might sound, because I guarantee you that it will be a wonderful experience that you will never forget! 
Great memories made in the land of chocolate.