One topic I always love to discuss is education. It obviously is a significant aspect of our lives as students. Having gone through different education systems, I have really appreciated the varying approaches to teaching.

In the US, my classes usually meet 2 to 4 times a week, for an hour or an hour-and-a-half. Here, in Switzerland, my classes meet once (except for one that is twice) per week. Each meeting is 2 to 4 hours. The meeting frequency and length are swapped between the two systems. Both have advantages. Multiple meetings gives time to digest and remember the information. Longer meetings can get through more material.

Professors in the US write on the blackboard. They talk us through the thinking as we all scribble in unison. Here, the lecture notes are on slides, and students just add a few details of their own in the margins. I personally prefer to write my own notes; it helps me remember the information better.

In the US, we had problem sets that were due weekly. Here, some classes have exercise periods to do sample problems. That way, if we have questions, we can ask the TA’s. However, sometimes the problems are not completable in the time period and we’ll have to finish it on our own. Also, people can just not do the exercises. There is no feedback or grading system, so it is easy to fall behind. In other classes, there are group or individual projects. It usually involves a presentation and writing a ‘scientific paper.’ A few classes are based completely on a final exam.

Following the ECTS system, students here take 30 credits a semester. (That is roughly equivalent to 30 hours of class a week.) It really depends on the courses picked, but my classes here are 2-4 credits each. I’m going to be taking 8 classes AND doing a project this semester. (Just that sentence makes me feel overwhelmed.)

As a side note, a little about what I’m doing here: All of my classes here are somewhat related to my major (chemical engineering) and more importantly, interest me. ‘Heat and mass transfer’ is a class I need to graduate. ‘Safety of chemical processes’ shows me how not to die on the job. ‘Chemistry of food processes’ and ‘Food biotechnology’ give me insight into the manufacturing process and it’s always good to talk about deliciousness. ‘Organometallic chemistry’ provides a good background in catalyst science. ‘Recycling of materials’ and ‘energy conversion’ go with environmental science, but I’m interested in renewable energy and processes. ‘Bioinspired artificial intelligence’ links biology and computer science/engineering together. I always enjoyed programming, but this one is a bit of a stretch for my knowledge. We get to build robots though (and maybe even 3-D print them)!

I had a hard time narrowing down what to take while being overwhelmed by the number of classes I was taking. Back in the US, taking ~5 classes is normal. Here, it is ~10. Apparently this isn’t the case in all of the ECTS universities around Europe. Typically, each class carries more credits. I’ve never taken so many technical classes at once. I hope I survive…

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