Exchange semester at the University of Bern, Autumn 2023

Faculty of biological and environmental sciences

Arrival and first weeks’ impressions

I arrived in Switzerland about a week before the orientation week started, on 4th of September. I had a hotel for the first night, because I arrived late and the pickup for my keys were during office hours. I got my apartment keys next day and got to move in. I had no complications regarding housing, a roommate showed how everything worked and how do I get something if needed, thanks to him! To note, I lived in 6 people-apartment with 2 bathrooms and one fairly sized kitchen (rent 615 francs, which is cheap around there). The exchange students had created a WhatsApp -group for communication, so even before the orientation week started, people were gathering around Bern and getting to know each other, so on my second night I also joined and already met some of the other students and made friends. In September, Bern still had summer weather and the Aare-river was beautiful and so much fun to swim in. I fell in love with Bern within few days of being there.

Everyday life in Bern

Everyday life started out when the studies started and I went to the lectures and usually I had lunch with friends and went to library, coffee shops or somewhere else to study and hang out and evenings we also spent together. I tried to do activities every weekend depending on the weather; hiking, skiing, travelling, joining student events etc. If you didn’t want to, most likely you did not encounter a phase of boredom. University of Bern also offers a free gym and some group exercises, so I used to go to Pilates few times a week. You could also join a semester long “course” for i.e. dancing (these usually cost a little).

Studying at University of Bern

The courses and teaching culture to my experience was quite similar to what it is in Finland and for example, the professors and lecturers they were very familiar with the students, and you didn’t need to have precautions when talking to them. Maybe one note would be that I had few seminars which means that the class size is quite small and usually presence is expected. Being away was allowed only with beforehand notice and a good reason (which was not actually that strict, as I had to be away few times, the lecturers were very understanding). The seminars construct of doing group work and having discussions which explains why you need to be present.


As in many courses in Helsinki, in Bern I did not have many exams. I only had assignments and group works that were evaluated and affecting your course number. What was new to me was that in one course I had an oral exam and I’ve never had one of those and to my understanding few of my friends also had oral exams so that is something that they use at least in Bern.


As in many cities around Europe, cost of living is something to be prepared to. To my surprise, living in student accommodation in Bern was fairly fair priced (I don’t mean cheap), from the point of view that Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in the world. The University itself didn’t offer housing, but there are housing companies in Bern that offer shared living opportunities to students. The housing options are well presented in the University website.

Duration of the semester and holidays

The semester started in the middle of September, and I had one lecture per course every week. Our Christmas holiday started around 21st of December and some of the exchange students went home already at that point. The semester continues until end of January and some of the exams might even end up being in February. Some exchange students were able to schedule the exams for earlier. This was up to the professors, but many were flexible. I even had one assignment due date at the end of February, even though the lectures were done before Christmas.

Surprises during my exchange

How much schoolwork I really had to do and how the amount of ECTS they tell you to do varies. I understand that University of Helsinki must tell you to do certain amount of ECTS, but in University of Bern they told us that you should take maximum 20 ECTS, just so you have enough time for everything else also. In addition, getting used to new country and language can be quite exhausting on top of everything.

What to consider before applying

That you should consider what are your interests and what do you like to do, so you know then to express your interests and get to achieve your dreams. For example, I love to ski, so I did my research regarding skiing areas and tickets in Switzerland and engaged myself with people who also like to go on the slopes in a similar agenda that I do. That guaranteed that I got the best experiences to my taste. So: be you and do you, you will enjoy your time when you get to fulfill yourself.

Coming back to Finland

Returning to Finland was quite a chaos, since I had study leave from my work and the work started 4 days after returning. On top of that I had ongoing studies that needed to be done. So, my advice is to be gentle with your schedule – it takes time to settle back. This of course if you have the opportunity. After a month being in Finland, I finally feel like my crazy schedule has fallen into place. I didn’t have any hard time returning, but the longing feeling to move abroad at some point in time is present and definitely growing!