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Studying Abroad in Western Europe, Looking for Advice...


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#1 of 21 OFFLINE   Lisa B.

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Posted November 06 2003 - 04:56 PM

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#2 of 21 OFFLINE   Paul_Sjordal

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Posted November 06 2003 - 05:22 PM

It has been a very long time since I've lived in Europe.
  • Europeans use completely different AC power outlets. The jacks are different, they deliver different voltages, etc. So you're probably better off not bringing over any electronics from here unless you want to mess with the hassle of putting transformers on nearly every power outlet in your Swiss apartment. So yes, buy your blow dryers over there. Less headaches that way. If you're bringing over expensive computers, stereo equipment, etc., then yes, start buying adapters now. Don't bother bringing over a TV (hey, it's only 4 months) as your American TV won't be able to interperet the European signals without another funky adapter anyway. IIRC, the phone jacks are different, but don't hold me to that. I was just a kid and my memory's fuzzy.
  • Switzerland is sorta vaguely close to Germany and I love German blood sausage. Over here in Chicago I can find tons of bratwurst but I can't find rotwurst to save my life. You can't imagine the withdrawal I've been enduring all these years!
  • A few years ago someone told me internet connections were more expensive in Europe than over here. Of course you know how much that sort of thing can change in a few years.
  • If you like mountain country, there is some beautiful countryside for you to explore in Switzerland. In places the Alps are easily as beautiful as the Rockies.
  • Germany (can you tell that's where I lived?) has tons of castles to explore. The former West Germany alone had over 10,000 castles.
  • There are tons of really good art galleries and beautiful ancient churches all over Europe. You'll kick yourself if you don't visit a couple.
  • Never eat pizza in Luxembourg. It's not dangerous or anything, just awful.
Sorry I couldn't be more useful. Have fun!
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#3 of 21 OFFLINE   david stark

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Posted November 06 2003 - 05:54 PM

The voltage is totally different as mentioned above so if you are only going for 4 months then don't bother taking anything except battery powered stuff.

Internet cafe's are usually easy to find in all major european cities now. I haven't been to Geneva for a long time, but I'm sure they are plentiful there. I've had no problems in finding web access while on hol in brussels, barcelona, rome, and loads of smaller places in spain and italy.

I've visited some places in the black forest region of Germany and really loved it. Probably not as much of a tourist destination as france/italy spain.

The tuscany region in Italy is beatiful and has loads of nice wines.

In general stuff (nearly everything) costs more in europe than it does in north america, but if you are only there for a few months then you should be able to last without.

#4 of 21 OFFLINE   Philip_G

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Posted November 06 2003 - 06:28 PM

The vast majority of customers I speak with at night (mostly germans) have DSL now, and the prices are about the same as I'd expect to pay here, FWIW.

if you have a laptop many of the AC adapters will automatically switch between 120VAC and 220VAC, your computer has a switch on the power supply to do this also, they will run on 220 volts (what they use in germany, switzerland too I assume) The outlets are different, but the adapters are like 10 bucks

#5 of 21 OFFLINE   BrianB

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Posted November 07 2003 - 02:16 AM

Quote:
Needs for technology and electronics: Specifically how common broadband or even modem access is in the city, and/or public (or cheap) access to internet.

Internet access is widespread, as are public access internet cafes where you go in, buy a coffee & use a computer hooked upto a highspeed connection, and pay by the hour of use (though most also have discount "subs" you can buy). You shouldn't have any hassle getting internet access.

As everyone else has said, voltages are different and any US appliances will need adaptors. Adaptors aren't expensive or hard to find. You mentioned hair dryers - my US based fiance used to bring her US hair dryer + an adaptor over to the UK, but got fed up with the lack of "drying power" that scheme would provide, and ended up buying a cheap UK hairdryer to leave in my apartment as it was much more effective.

As you're aware, Switzerland is a great "gateway" - you're in the centre of mainland Europe & will have real easy access to all the rest of the continent thanks to the great train network.
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#6 of 21 OFFLINE   Jeff_Krueger

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Posted November 07 2003 - 04:42 AM

I'm currently in a study abroad program for a year in Munich. Question, what will be your living arrangements when you get there?, will you be in some kind of dorm, or an apartment? Internet access seems be available in most student housing, and there are many internet cafes all over the place. It would be almost always cheaper to purchase things like small appliances once you get there. If you can put it in your suitcase and it will work on 220v take it otherwise buy it when you arrive. Shipping is very expensive, by the time you buy something at home and ship it, it will have cost more than buying it there. Plus you will most likely be able to find fleamarkets where you may be able to purchase items even cheaper, than normal. Second hand shopping is much more popular than back home.

I'm not familiar with what there is to see in Switzerland but you can find good deals to travel to many different areas in Europe.

Watch the dollar closely before you go, when you get traveler's checks try to buy them in Euros, it will save you money when you go to cash them, especially if the dollar starts to drop again. I cashed some checks a few weeks ago at a 1.24 exchange rate plus the fee, that definately hurt.

that's all I can think of right now, if you have any other questions feel free to email me.

BTW, some things are a bit cheaper over here, I find groceries to be cheaper, most personal items are about the same prices as at home. Clothing is more expensive so if you like to shop you'll have to hunt for the good deals. Though it is all hard to gauge because Munich is a very expensive city.

#7 of 21 OFFLINE   Tom Meyer

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Posted November 07 2003 - 05:25 AM

Having just returned from a 13 day (was supposed to be 10 but I lost my passport Posted Image ) trip to Europe where I stayed with a friend who teaches at a design school in northern Italy and seeing how to live as a 'student', I have a couple suggestions:

- for music, get an iPod ! You can hook it up to powered speakers and load all your CDs into it.

- for a very cool weekend trip, you've got to go to Berlin. We went there two weeks ago and I found the history & aura of the city amazing. It helped to be traveling with a fluent German speaker so buddy up with one if you can and go there for a weekend. Flights can be had for about 150eu.

- Interlaken in central Switz is the place to go for adventure type stuff like rafting, canyoning, skydiving, etc.. It's also a big stop on the college backpacker route so I'm sure you'd meet tons of people.

- if you're looking for guidebooks, i'd suggest the 'Eyewitness' guides published by Dorling & Kindersly. They have a general Euro guide:

http://www.amazon.co....336751-1346326

plus individual ones if you want. They are great -- tons of pics, good maps, great tips.

Have fun !

#8 of 21 OFFLINE   Ashley Seymour

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Posted November 07 2003 - 08:20 AM

My daughter spent the first semester of 2002 in Turin. Though she tried to get an adapter for her laptop, she still persisted in screwing something up and pluged in to the apartment wall outlet. After seeing a blue flash, she awoke to find herself on the other side of the room.

She went over a lot of Europe and took thousands of photos. She did handglding in Switzerland and made heavy use of the Eurail pass and took the ferry around the Aegean and Adriatic.

She will remember it for ever.
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#9 of 21 OFFLINE   IvanT

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Posted November 08 2003 - 08:56 PM

Some info directly from Switzerland... though not Geneva, I live in Zurich.

Expense of living: Generally, it's going to be more expensive than in the US and you will not normally find as many 'deals' in the shops as you find there. However, some can still be found. Let me know if you wan't some example prices...

Special section on shopping for R2 DVDs: since you will be in Geneva (which is in french speaking part of the country) you will have access to many great movies on french R2 DVDs with not too bad prices. Buying R1 stuff is not usually recommended because of higher prices (and they are not as readily available because of licensing laws passed last year).

As others already said, no need to bring electronics appliances (unless they have dual voltage transformers they are going to get fried on 220 volts that is used here). Swiss wall sockets are quite unique from the rest of Europe and usually cannot fit the more widespread German standard which means that if you buy adaptors for use with devices that can handle 220V you probably won't be able to use them in other countries (and definitely not in places like Italy and UK which again have their own idea of what a socket should look like).

Telephone sockets are also completely different from the rest of the Europe (see a pattern developing here?) though adaptors are easy to find.

The telecommunications system is one of the best in Europe, therefore Cable/ADSL Internet access is widespread and readily available--in the cities it is definitely possible to have it all set up within 24 hours (speaking from my own experience). There are several companies offering this kind of service with tends to drive prices down.

Traveling around switzerland: the easiest way to get around is by train. Trains are clean, safe and very punctual and have great connections with each other and with the rest of the public transport system. Since you will be staying for several months it may be a good idea to get a half-fare train pass if you plan on traveling a lot it usually pays off for itself after a couple of journeys.

I

#10 of 21 OFFLINE   andrew markworthy

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Posted November 09 2003 - 07:28 PM

Switzerland is eye-wateringly expensive, even by European standards. Glorious scenery, though and sometimes there's a new variety of Toblerone on sale that hasn't reached the rest of the world yet. Some lovely architecture, decent art galleries and concerts, but the really 'big name' stuff in this category is elsewhere (principally Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK).

#11 of 21 OFFLINE   Lisa B.

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Posted November 10 2003 - 04:50 AM

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#12 of 21 OFFLINE   IvanT

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Posted November 10 2003 - 06:55 AM

Some answers to your additional questions...

Quote:
I have an IPOD (which, of course, has an international kit I could purchase)
As far as I know IPOD has a dual voltage charger so all you need is the US->Swiss adaptor which you can get here for the equivalent of couple of bucks which is much cheaper than the IPOD international kit...

Quote:
If anyone has any advise on a reliable source for small voltage converters and adapters specific to Switzerland, I would be in your debt.

I don't know about convertors, but as I already said various plug adaptors are easily obtainable here in every electrical goods/electronics store.

Quote:
I am a BIG fan of castles and of Medieval culture in general... Anyone have suggestions on some of the better and more enjoyable Castle visits in this region (say within a day’s train trip of Geneva)?

Don't know 100% (which strange because I live in this country) but the area around Laussanne and Montreux should have some of those if I am not mistaken (is this the kind of thing you are looking for?). Lausanne is about 45 min from Geneva by train, Montreux a little farther.

Quote:
I’m a little concerned since I don’t speak a word of German, and even my French is a bit under-developed
No need to worry... in the big cities almost everyone speaks English, but it would definitely help to learn a few phrases of the local language (French or German depending where you are) as that will make it easier for initial contact with locals even if you switch to English afterwards. Be aware that knowing German is not necessarily enough for the eastern part of the country as what is spoken here is a very different dialect that doesn't sound so similar to the regular German when you hear it.
But everyone will understand regular German too.


Quote:
Thank you very much for that advice- had not really given that much thought. I leave in about 2 months, so I’ll try to keep my eyes open... What would you consider a strong exchange rate?

Unfortunately for you, Swiss Franc has been going strong for quite a while so the general exchange rates are about 1.3-1.4 and it used to be almost 1.8 three years ago...

Quote:
I wondering if the ipod international kit would just be a worthwhile investment (damn laptop firewire doesn’t supply power, or it could charge directly from the laptop!).

My colleague who is American has a US IPOD and it can definitely take 220V without any kind of convertor, just the plug adaptor to be able to plug it into the Swiss socket so yours should be able to do the same.

Quote:
I just didn’t know how expensive the occasional meal out, some groceries or snack foods, incidental personal supplies, etc would be.

An example... 0.5L bottle of Coke is about $0.7-0.8 in a supermarket. In a restaurant a 0.3L bottle could cost 2-3 times that much.

Quote:
Can you tell me more about the half-fare pass?

First question really is whether you are going to have some kind of short term residency permit here or not? Because the half-fare pass is normally only for residents--non residents can only get it for one month duration which is not really a good deal for you.

Assuming that you can get the real half-fare pass, the shortest duration you can get it for is one year and that (as seen here) costs CHF 150. However, if you take a 2nd class ticket to Zurich from Geneva, that costs 140 and with half-fare only 70 which means that with two journeys like that you have already paid it off. Apart from trains, in most cities you can save a few francs on public transport as it also valid there. Unfortunately it is not valid outside Switzerland (and definitely not in UK), however I believe (but am not 100% sure) that some international train tickets turn out a bit cheaper with it anyway.

In large part of Western Europe train systems are standardized to the extent that you can generally buy tickets to the whole journey at once and don't normally have to switch trains at borders, they just change the crew ad go on Posted Image. Except in UK, they are generally state controlled and generally behave like one large system. In Switzerland at least the stations are well marked, usually with signs in English and ticket machines that generally speak English and usually accept credit cards. If all fails, ask somebody Posted Image. If you are travelling within Switzerland you can buy the ticket on the train for a small surcharge if you are in a hurry. Also, reservations are not needed and never required when you are travelling within Switzerland. International travel usually requires reservations.

Quote:
I will be in Switzerland from January through May- what should I expect in terms of temperatures? I have tried to keep an eye on the weather channel website for Geneva forecasts, but wondered if during the winter months I would be an Eskimo or what?


You should expect rain. Definitely bring an umbrella for Switzerland. It can get windy in Geneva because of the lake, but generally the climate is reasonably mild compared to some places. In January/February it rarely goes below a few degrees below zero--here in Zurich there we haven't seen real snow in winter in the last few years. Spring can really get rainy though. To summarize, no, you will not be an Eskimo.

How fast does the train system travel? I’m just wondering how far from Geneva I could get on a day trip (say leave early morning and ride train for 4 hours or so)--- or maybe how long it would take to get over to England by train. Are we talking hours, days?
If you start in the morning and ride the train for 4 hours or so, you can get to the other end of Switzerland at the Austrian border Posted Image. Seriously though, Zurich is only 3 hours away and from there it's about an hour or so to Austria--Switzerland is a small country, but very well positioned so you can use it as a base for travels to France, Austria, Germany and Italy.

Going to London by train would take about seven hours... three hours to get to Paris and then from there on a Eurostar train under the Channel. However, that's really not a particularly good idea unless you really want to watch the surroundings as it is faster (and likely cheaper) to fly to London (the flight is only about 70 min).

Whew, that was a long one.

I

#13 of 21 OFFLINE   david stark

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Posted November 10 2003 - 05:49 PM

for internet cafe's, well I haven't used any for a while, but from memory they aren't much differnet to Canada (a few euro for an hour).

If you want to get from Geneva to the UK (or other european locations) then check out easyjet for cheap flights. Just before you book it check the exact location of the airports as they can be around 1 hour travel from the city they claim to be in!

I personally wouldn't recomend them becasue if anything goes wrong they are impossible to deal with, but the filghts are incredibly cheap. I've had a bad experience with them around christmas time (problems due to bad weather) and so nowadays I would always spend a bit more in the hope that bigger airlines will treat you better in the case of things going wrong, but for a cheap getaway thet can't be beaten.

#14 of 21 OFFLINE   Jeff_Krueger

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Posted November 11 2003 - 03:07 AM

The cheapest place to buy a power converter will probably something like Radio Shack. You definately want to purchase that before leaving. Also you computer probably won't need a converter, if you look on the power supply for your laptop, there will probably be some text that says Input: 100-240V
Output: xxV
if it says that where it says input it should run off of 220V fine, you just need a plug adaptor to let you plug into the Swiss outlet, which should only be a 1-3 dollar item.

Another tip is you may want to look into buying a prepaid cell phone when you arrive (I believe the types of cellphone systems are pretty much the same thoughout Europe)with a prepaid phone it is free to recieve calls, for example anyone can call me from home and talk as long as I/they want and it doesn't cost me anything. With the use of dial around numbers like 10 10 987 it is quite cheap for people to call you (approx 3 cents/minute), plus it will probably come in handy for keeping in contact with other people in you program/people that you meet.
You should be able to purchase a phone for around 70 euro, with prepaid there is no contract to sign.

#15 of 21 OFFLINE   Hakan Powers

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Posted November 11 2003 - 11:50 PM

Targus has a range of good travel products when it comes to power and phone compatibility. Perhaps something like http://www.targus.co....asp?sku=PA033U would take care of your needs?

A couple of years ago I purchased a travel kit containing adapters for pretty much the whole world that was in the $50-$70 range, can't find it on targus.com though.. perhaps they don't make it any longer.

Good luck!
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#16 of 21 OFFLINE   Lisa B.

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Posted November 13 2003 - 04:11 PM

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#17 of 21 OFFLINE   Paul_Sjordal

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Posted November 14 2003 - 12:41 PM

Quote:
I am a BIG fan of castles and of Medieval culture in general... Anyone have suggestions on some of the better and more enjoyable Castle visits in this region (say within a day’s train trip of Geneva)? I’m a little concerned since I don’t speak a word of German, and even my French is a bit under-developed --- but I’m hoping to find a buddy or two and set out on as many day long adventures as I can--- any tips on the bigger or more impressive castles and related sites would be wonderful!

King Ludwig II (the mad king) built the most spectacular castles. In fact he built so many castles and built so elaborately his own doctor killed him to save Bavaria from bankruptcy. Posted Image

Oh, Bavaria is in the south, so it's reasonably close to Switzerland.

Anyway, his most famous castle is Neuschwanstein , which was the model for Disney's castle. Several of his castles are now tourist attractions, so it shouldn't be hard to get info on them.

Have fun!
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#18 of 21 OFFLINE   david stark

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Posted November 14 2003 - 05:45 PM

Quote:
When your family calls you, do you mean "free" as in you don't get charged the long distance fee? Or did you mean "free" as in if you receive an incoming call it doesn't count toward your prepaid minutes? That would be really sweet if only outgoing calls went against your prepaid minutes!

In Europe if you are on your home network then you don't pay for incoming calls on your mobile, the caller pays all costs. Be warned though that it is probably more expensive for people to call you on a mobile (from abroad or locally) as opposed to a fixed line phone (unless they are on a mobile on the same network).

Quote:
I should steer clear of easyjet because they can be shady. Maybe it's not so bad forking over additional funds knowing that you won't get royally screwed in the end.

My experience was 3 days before christmas and I was flying home for christmas. After 6 hours in the airport they just said the flight was cancelled (due to bad weather) go and pick up your bags and leave. All they offered was a flight to London (as opposed to Liverpool) the next day or a flight to Liverpool on christmas eve.

Now I'm earning more money I won't even consider them, but if you are on a lower income then it can be a very attractive offer, but if you do take it, just take into account if things go wrong thier customer service is not the best.

If you want to get from switzerland to scotland for the least money then I think either easyjet or a coach is going to be your best bet. A coach will take a damn long time. maybe you suggest you both travel and meet in the middle somewhere.

#19 of 21 OFFLINE   Matt Gordon

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Posted November 15 2003 - 04:24 AM

Another great place to go for castles is the Loire Valley in France.

Chambord, Chenonceau, Cheverny, Villandry, etc. are all in that area and are beautiful castles.
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#20 of 21 OFFLINE   Jeff_Krueger

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Posted November 15 2003 - 08:58 PM

Quote:
When your family calls you, do you mean "free" as in you don't get charged the long distance fee? Or did you mean "free" as in if you receive an incoming call it doesn't count toward your prepaid minutes? That would be really sweet if only outgoing calls went against your prepaid minutes!
When you are in your home network any calls you recieve are totally free, you don't use any of your minutes. It is true that it can be more expensive for people to call your mobile phone but with 1010 987 or similar numbers it is still very cheap, far cheaper than you would ever be able to call with out having a landline put in. If you travel outside your network then you also pay when people call you.


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