It can be quite daunting to even find your way to the dormitory for the first time in a foreign land with all the luggage and probably no internet,” says Shruti Shyam, currently pursuing her second year Masters’ in Computational Science and Engineering at ETH Zürich. Fortunately, help by and for Indian students was available.
When Shruti and a few of her batchmates landed with their bags in Zurich last year, they knew they had a major challenge ahead of them. The primary one being, to feel settled while they commence with their Master studies in a new country that speaks a different language.
Fortunately, by now the Indian students and researchers at ETH Zurich had decided to organize a better welcome for the new students. They had launched with the idea of the One-Day-Mentorship Programme.
Arun Balajee Vasudevan, a Ph.D. researcher at the ETH has been in Switzerland for four years. Arun is one of the key members organizing the mentorship programme.
With the positive response to the initiative, Arun and his team are now working on welcoming the new students for the academic year 2018.
“We have been working for past two weeks by connecting with the students over emails. Students will start in coming in this weekend onward (August- September 2018). We are calling this year’s initiative ‘Mentor Buddy 2018′,” says a cheerful Arun.
Speaking to Namaste Switzerland, Arun gives us a glimpse into the formal Mentorship Programme and his other informal initiative, called ‘Samwad’.
‘SAMWAD’ and the Mentorship Programme
Arun is also part of ‘Samwad’ – an informal group by the Indian students who meet up every Friday at the ETH Zentrum campus and brainstorm over different topics with a focus on India. “The topics range from Karma yoga by Vivekananda, Jallikattu issue, temple architectures, Bitcoins, Nobel prize winners, Indian calendric system, financial markets and so on,” he explains.
The ‘Samwad’ members also organize seminars for the students frequently. “One such seminar included a talk on “Emerging Opportunities in India and Switzerland”. It was organized in coordination with Credit Suisse and Swissnex India. In another seminar, we invited the founders of a Swiss-Indian start-up to explain their core concept to the students. Some of the students showed interest and got themselves involved in that start-up,” he elaborates.
One of the major aims of ‘Samwad’ is also to act as a bridge between a large growing Indian expat community and Indian student community. Arun says this helped in following up on the Mentorship Programme in an informal way.
‘Samwad’ has been active for two years now, and it was in one of these meetings that the idea of mentorship came up.
The Mentorship Programme for new students is a common practice around the world. Why is it then a unique one at the ETH? Arun says, “I am not sure about entire Switzerland. But, as far as we know, we think it is one of the first attempts in Zurich to have such an initiative. We were told that a similar programme existed 10 years ago. It was conducted by ETH student community for international students. But, we don’t know much about it.”
The goal of this initiative is to help the students with initial settling before they begin with their studies at the ETH. By way of this programme, the mentor and mentee are linked a few days before they travel to Switzerland.
They coordinate among themselves over emails/calls on where and when they should meet. The mentor then takes the student to his/her new accommodation and informs them about various details such as:
- How to register at the ‘Kreisburo’ and for the upcoming semester
- Superstore chains like Migros and Coop in Switzerland,
- Where to buy Indian groceries
- Indian restaurants and anything else that the student needs information about,” he delineates.
The mentor also tries to address their academic doubts on the choice of courses, supervisors, and guide and connect them with the right contact person.
For the academic year 2018, ‘Samwad’ has collaborated extensively with the Indian Student Association of Zurich (InSaz) “We want to extend the One-day Mentorship Programme to a semester-long one. We plan to organize more collective activities like talks/seminars, weekend trips and among others.”
Samarth Shukla, a Ph.D. student at the Computer Vision Lab at ETH Zurich is an active member of the Indian Student Association of Zurich (InSaz). “One of the main objectives of InSaz is to help new Indian students to adjust to life in Zurich, and we felt the mentorship program greatly facilitates in fulfilling this objective. As a result, we actively collaborated with the Samwad team this year to jointly conduct the program and build on top of the process that was started last year. We have also tried our best to ensure the mentor is from the same degree program as the incoming student so that better academic guidance can be given,” he explains.
“Overall I am very happy with the programme. We got some good advice on where to buy groceries, Indian stores and general tips for living, managing budget and studies here. In fact, I signed up to be a mentor for InSaz this year,” says Shruti.
The Mentorship programme is for Indian students of both ETH and University of Zurich (UZH). The first mentorship initiative helped around 20 Indian students in 2017. In 2018, there are currently 22 mentors at the ETH helping the 36 incoming students and one student and mentor at the UZH.