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Learn French in Switzerland: A fully immersive experience

Hiking in the Swiss Alps, visiting local chocolate factories, wine-tastings, jazz festivals and car shows are not part of your typical language course. Unless, that is, it’s an Alpadia language course.

Learn French in Switzerland: A fully immersive experience
Photo: Alejandro Montiel Miniades

Formed in 1996, the Swiss-based company which offers year-round French and German language courses for adults aged 16 years and over in Montreux, Lyon, Berlin and Freiburg. So, what about the kids? 10-17-year-olds won’t want to miss out, with summer camps run in Switzerland, UK, France and Germany.

The Local spoke to Alejandro Montiel Miniades, a recent student at the Alpadia school in Montreux, the French-speaking part of Switzerland, to find out what it’s really like to learn in a totally immersive environment.

Originally from Mexico City, Alejandro has spent the last 20 years living in Houston, Texas. He was already fluent in English and Spanish when a neighbour told him how effective they had found studying German abroad. Deciding to add another string to his bow, Alejandro signed up to learn French with Alpadia in Switzerland.

Photo: Alejandro taking in the extraordinary views from the Swiss Alps

“I had always been interested in going abroad to study. My objective was to better my professional language skills. My goal is to work for a multinational corporation,” he says.

Switzerland may be a small country but it has massive pulling power when it comes to students wanting to learn French abroad. Alejandro says his choice of study destination was in part due to Switzerland’s environmental reputation.

“I wanted to be in a country that was going to allow me to feel what it’s like to be surrounded by nature at all times. Everybody is very aware of taking care of the environment,” he explains.

He also wanted to further explore Switzerland’s various cultures, languages and traditions.

“Despite only having 8 million in population, it’s very diverse. It’s a first-class country with very respectful and kind citizens,” he says.

Prior to jetting off to Switzerland in March, Alejandro studied from home for approximately three months on his own. However, it was only when he touched down in Switzerland that he really came into his own.

“I made my own study guides and downloaded all the information needed to better my skills and then once I arrived I felt a sense of security,” he explains.

Cultural immersion is key

Often language learning is associated with high school-style whiteboards and dusty, outdated textbooks but Alejandro’s experience couldn’t have been further from that. At Alpadia, the learning is in the doing.

“Each day there’s a certain activity that is set up by the school. For example, on Mondays, we would watch French films and on other days you would maybe visit a chocolate factory as a group. Other days it was cooking traditional French crepes and then we would all get together and eat with the teachers and students,” he says.

When set classes are over for the day, the learning experience continues with the friendly locals in the town of Montreux. Situated on the breathtaking Swiss Riviera, overlooking the Alps and Lake Geneva, Montreux also has a rich musical legacy. It has been home to many celebrities including Freddie Mercury, David Bowie and Ella Fitzgerald and regularly hosts top musicians from around the world during its various music festivals, including the internationally renowned Montreux Jazz Festival.

One of the highlights of the course is this cultural immersion. Alejandro says this helped his language learning process immensely.

“I was able to communicate with locals. I was able to go out into different parts of the country and in many cases, they only spoke French, not English, so I was able to really get in-depth experience with the local people.”

Fully customised programmes

Catering for adults of all ages, levels of experience, commencement dates and course lengths is a big job, but one that Alpadia has mastered during their years in operation. If you’re looking for something in particular, it’s likely they have an option to suit you.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ALPADIA COURSE OFFERINGS

One of the most popular aspects is the ability to choose from a range of accommodation options, including student apartments, studio apartments, hotel bed and breakfasts or like Alejandro’s intensive, around the clock immersion, staying with a host family.

“I stayed with a host family. It was incredible. They were the most amazing people I could have asked for,” Alejandro enthuses. “They were so kind and courteous and would always be looking out for you. They made sure we were right at home and treated me and the other roommate as if we were their direct family.”

This personalised experience is not just limited to the stay with the host family but extends throughout all levels of the learning experience.

“The environment of this school is a very catered environment. It’s a small institution. Everybody knows you by name. You’re a person. You’re not just another student or another number in their statistics,” he says.

“It’s a very family-orientated environment. Everybody is extremely kind and polite and they’re always making sure that each and every single day you’re there, you’re having the top-class experience,” he adds.

Lasting connections

Alejandro made lifelong connections with many students during his stay in Montreux.

“At the end you come out loving each and every single one of the individuals that were there. You really end up missing everything because of what an amazing experience it is”.

Photo: Alejandro and his classmates visiting the Cailler chocolate factory

Students are encouraged to keep in touch with the school after they leave. Alejandro says he would definitely consider returning to further his language studies in the future, although at the moment is hoping to put his skills to good use and find his dream position in a multinational company.

“With all these experiences that I’ve been going through in the past month and going abroad and learning the language, I hope it will help me into my professional career,” he says.

“At the end of it, I definitely felt like my language skills had significantly improved because I’d learnt a lot of new words, a new vocabulary. I was able to carry conversations for longer periods of time and I just felt more secure with the language.”

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This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Alpadia.

EDUCATION

‘They feel conned’: Swedish universities fight for PHDs hit by new residency rules

Sweden's top universities are to call for doctoral students to be exempted from Sweden's tough new permanent residency rules, arguing that it will damage both academic standards and national competitiveness.

'They feel conned': Swedish universities fight for PHDs hit by new residency rules
At Lund Technical University, a majority of doctoral students are international. Photo: Kennet Ruona/LTU

In a post on Wednesday, Astrid Söderbergh Widding, the chair of Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions, said that Sweden’s universities had agreed to submit a joint letter to the government “very soon”, calling for parliament to put in place a special exemption for PHD students to make it easier to stay in Sweden after their studies. 

The parliament, she wrote, “should introduce an exemption for doctoral students and young researchers from the requirement to be financially self-sufficient”. 

Previously, doctoral students were eligible for a permanent residence permit if they had lived in Sweden with a residence permit for doctoral studies for four out of the past seven years. Apart from a slim set of requirements, this was granted more or less automatically.

But according to Sweden’s new Migration Act, which was introduced in July this year as comprehensive legislation to control the number of asylum applications, they now need to be able to additionally show that they can support themselves financially for at least a year and half.

The new law means that the rules for permanent residency are now the same for all categories of applicants, including doctoral students.

Stefan Bengtsson, the rector at Chalmers University of Technology, said that the change would mean as many as 400 to 500 doctoral students, many of whom have built up considerable expertise, might be unable to stay in Sweden.

“This makes for an uncertain future for those from outside of Europe who have applied to come to Sweden for an academic career, which is cause for great concern and disappointment among those who came here under other circumstances,” he told The Local. “Some of them may, of course, feel like they’ve been conned

But what was even more worrying, he said, would be the impact the change to the law might have in the longer term. 

“This change to the law could contribute to giving Sweden a bad reputation. This will create difficulties in recruiting internationally and damage our long-term skills supply.”

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At Lund University, the majority of doctoral students in the science and technical faculties are from outside Europe, while Söderbergh Widding, who is also vice chancellor at Stockholm University, estimated that about half of doctoral students were international. 

Söderbergh Widding told the TT newswire that the change was “a devastating death blow”, which put to waste a “previously hard-won battle to make it possible for doctoral students to obtain a permanent residency permit after four years of studies”. 

She said in her letter that the change contradicted the research policy proposition from December 2020, which stated that the “number of foreign doctoral students who stay in Sweden should increase”, and said that giving residency to doctoral students was a good way to increase this.  

Ole Petter Ottersen, the rector of the elite Karolinska medical university, told the newswire that he thought the change in residency laws would damage Swedish competitiveness. 

“This is not good for Sweden. This will damage our ability to attract and recruit talent from other countries. For a country that lies on the periphery, the goal should be to make it easier, not harder, to recruit competence.” 

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