Wong Hiu Ching, Natalie
University of Bern, Switzerland
Bern, the federal city of Switzerland, has a very long history. Bern is founded in the 12th century and the old city of Bern was selected as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1983. I went to the old city with two American friends and a Hong Kong buddy. Every corner is so well-preserved and it seems like we were going back to the Late Middle Ages. This beautiful old city is surrounded by the Aare river and the roof tiles of all houses in the old city is keeping the same color in red and the buildings have similar heights. I have been doing many researches before departure, but I am still stunned by the City’s beauty when I see it with my own eyes. Therefore, we spent quite a long time to walk around and took a lot of pictures with the nice view.
Besides, there was an exceptionally world-renowned physicist who had lived in Bern for 3 years - Albert Einstein. He stayed in Bern during the Einstein’s annus mirabilis (extraordinary year). Therefore, Einstein is a very famous person of Bern and we went to his old house. In this an ordinary house, Einstein published the theory of relativity and he has been the lecturer in my exchange university - University of Bern. We were all amazed by his life and stories. Even though the house is small, we also spent some time to read all of the information about his life in Bern. I felt so special that I could be somewhat in touch with such a great person closely even we are in a different time space. I look forward to further exploring this historical and stunning city in the following few months!
Our semester finally began on 19 February. Before the semester started, the international office held an orientation week for all exchange students. During orientation week, we had a range of activities and visits, an encompassing university tour, and a sports course introduction to familiarize ourselves with the city and university. The location of the university spreads around the entire city center. Amazingly, I can easily see the Swiss Alps by simply stepping out of the main building or even from the lecture hall. This is because of the unique location of University of Bern, which is near the JungFrau and located on the Swiss Plateau. What more could I ask for when I can attend lessons with such stunning scenery? Besides, the exchange society of U of Bern also created a series of activities for exchange students to participate, which is fun and cheap. During the apéro (in Swiss: gathering with friends at night), I made many new friends from all around the world and we shared our culture. I was surprised to hear that so many people love Hong Kong!
This was my first time to celebrate Chinese New Year outside of Hong Kong. In a brand new environment, I was afraid it would be too quiet as there is no Chinatown in Bern and very few Chinese people live here. Yet, after we held a lunch and valentine's’ day celebration together, I found that many foreign friends loved Chinese food and culture. Around 20 people came to join the celebration. I taught them some Cantonese words and we decorated the common room with spring couplets and made dumplings together. They also made traditional dishes from their home countries, such as Portuguese rice pudding, Italian rigatoni with pesto sauce, Canadian chili, and American pizza. We had a cultural exchange about food and are going to hold another gathering soon!
Winter in Switzerland tends to be cold and dry. The temperature is usually around zero degrees Celsius, and it often snows for a few days in a week. In Bern, there is a small mountain called Gurten, which is a hiking trail and park where locals visit. After snowing heavily for a whole day, the view of the Bernese Alps is stunning. I went there with two PhD students from Mainland China and a girl from Hong Kong. We took a tram to the peak, which is free if you have a libero pass in Bern. It is common for locals to participate in different winter games or sports such as sledding. This is very special for me as I can’t play winter sports or enjoy snow in Hong Kong. The scenery will be totally different in summer. We have decided to go on an excursion when it gets warmer!
Switzerland is renowned for its winter sports and you can easily find ski resorts of various sizes. The Unisport (the university’s sports unit) holds many free sport courses on campus or discounted sports trips off campus. In mid-March, I joined a two-day introductory skiing course in Grindelwald, Switzerland. There were a group of 20 people, including some master’s students, PhD students, and even assistant professors from all around the world. One Polish student previously studied in Shanghai, so we spoke together in mandarin and were excited to share our experience of Mainland China and Hong Kong. I have skied three times before but I’m still a beginner. Yet, the coach, who is a local Swiss and bachelor’s student at the University of Bern, taught us very well. Therefore, I was able to ski on a red piste on the second day of the trip! That was an incredible experience for me in Switzerland!