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A Deeper Understanding of Switzerland

The new course “Switzerland for Incomings” is aimed exclusively at exchange students. It uses innovative teaching methods to help students gain an anthropological understanding of Swiss society and culture.
Nathalie Huber
Sechseläutenplatz in Zürich
Mobility students observe everyday life in Switzerland – for example on Sechseläutenplatz in Zurich.

Students who come to UZH for an exchange semester have to quickly find their feet, navigating not just the university, but also the particularities of Swiss daily life. Many universities provide specific programs for exchange students to get to know each other, as well as the university and the customs of the host country. The University of Zurich, until recently, had no such multi-disciplinary program exclusively for exchange students.

Yonca Krah, Juliane Neuhaus and Mischa Gallati have filled this gap: The academic associates in the Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies have developed the module “Switzerland for Incomings”. The interdisciplinary course, which is delivered in English, is aimed exclusively at exchange students, irrespective of their subject and academic experience. 26 students took part in the first pilot course last fall. The project is supported by the UZH Teaching Fund, which promotes new ideas in teaching.

Everyday practices instead of tourist classics

How can exchange students from America, Australia or Asia get to know the real Switzerland? “With our background in social and cultural anthropology, we want to give the students a different view of Switzerland,” explains Yonca Krahn. “We don’t focus on famous Swiss sights. It’s about examining what lies behind the tourist perspective and its associated clichés,” says Juliane Neuhaus. “We have designed a course in which exchange students will find out about the way people live in a pluralistic immigration society like Switzerland,” adds Mischa Gallati. The organizers wanted to give students an insight into the everyday lives of people in Switzerland, and the multicultural nature of the country.

As part of the classes, the students read texts in the areas of cultural studies and social anthropology relating to Switzerland, and discussed them together. They also visited urban locations – for example Zurich’s Sechseläutenplatz – to observe activity and experience Swiss daily life. In addition to systematic observation, the students learned other ethnographic methods such as conducting interviews and photography, and tried these methods out using their own questions.  “Through coming into contact with Swiss citizens when conducting their own research, the students gained a deeper understanding of the country,” says Juliane Neuhaus. 

Blog for knowledge transfer

The project team combined proven teaching methods, such as classroom sessions, with innovative formats such as research-based learning outside of the university. They also used a blog to connect the students and create a platform for knowledge transfer: The students shared the results of their research on the blog and were able to use it to prepare for the subsequent discussions. At the same time, instructor Yonca Krahn, who taught the seminar in its first iteration, used the blog to give the students direct feedback. The blog could also be used for peer feedback from fellow students. “It is important to us that students also try out new educational methods in our module, for example electronic publishing of academic content, or peer feedback, and that they also improve their communication skills,” explains Mischa Galati.

Team des Lehrmoduls Switzerland for Incomings
Juliane Neuhaus, Yonca Krahn and Mischa Gallati have developed the "Switzerland for Incomings" module.

Opportunity for the subject area

Another learning objective of the module is not just to give the students basic knowledge of the methods used in social and cultural anthropology, but also to enable them to apply this knowledge in other areas. Are the students really able to achieve this objective given that most of them do not have a background in social and cultural anthropology? “It was difficult for some of them to get to grips with and implement our methods,” admits Yonca Krahn. She also found it difficult to give a balanced assessment of the students’ achievements. “Of course we wanted the students to use the ethnographic methods correctly, but we had to take into account that the concepts were new to them.” She saw it as a great opportunity to introduce her own subject and scientific methods to students who were not specialists in the area. Overall, Krahn is very happy with the outcome of the first course: “I think that our interdisciplinary approach was a success and the use of new teaching and learning methods was worth the effort.”

Challenge of bilingual teaching 

A few points will nevertheless be changed for the next course: “We’re reducing the number of topics,” says Yonca Krahn. This will give more time for discussion about the research findings and the content of the materials. In addition the course will now only be offered in English. For the first course the instructors originally planned to teach some of the material in French or German and to allocate the students to different language groups. “However we gave up this idea quite early on as it was clear that for some students using English as the common language in the classes and for reading the texts was enough of a challenge.”  

“Switzerland for Incomings” will be offered for the second time in the Fall Semester of 2019, led by Juliane Neuhaus. The module has attracted a lot of interest: There have already been more registrations than there are places available. The first two courses have been made possible thanks to support from the UZH Teaching Fund. It has not yet been decided if the module will be made permanent. “An aim of our pilot project is also for other departments to adopt the concept and offer ‘Switzerland for Incomings’ from the perspective of their subjects,” concludes Neuhaus. 

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