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9 things I learned from studying abroad. The reality of studying at a Swiss art school.

Updated: May 18, 2020

Cathy Lee is a student from Ming Chuan University in Taipei taking an exchange year in Switzerland at EPAC, Academy of Contemporary Arts as part of the joint Bachelor of Fine Arts.

She travelled widely as a child and visited many countries during Chinese New Year holidays with her family. Cathy always planned to have a career in art and as a child showed artistic talent, inspired by her father’s love of art. Cathy is now studying Graphic Design and is making her own dream come true. A theme that is very close to her heart.

Here are 9 life-lessons that she has learned from her year abroad, studying art at EPAC, Academy of Contemporary Art in Switzerland and living in Switzerland after the busy lifestyle of Taipei.

1. Living in a different country and culture will be different from what you imagined.

I wanted a different experience from other students at university or Taiwan. Our knowledge of Europe and Switzerland is based on clichés and stereotypes that we see in films and television. Now that I am in Switzerland, I can see the reality and it is very different. The way people interact, the way they live and the fact that in Switzerland people speak several languages was a big surprise.

I always wanted to go abroad since I was at high school. I got the bug for travelling from my family and enjoyed every place I visited. That’s probably why I was not scared to leave Taiwan and come to Switzerland because I always wanted to experience something different.

2. The teaching style at a Swiss art school may be just what you need

I chose the program at MCU because they have study abroad exchange programs. I had five universities to choose from in Taiwan but chose MCU because they had a joint Bachelor Degree.

Before leaving MCU I had a choice of either the UK or Switzerland but the UK school was a more graphic design and commercial program so I chose EPAC because of the focus on Fine Art, Illustration and Game Art. The curriculum is more suited to artists, with more painting and project work with the real world.

I am undertaking a project for the final year of my Bachelor Degree and it is very different from what is expected at MCU. Back in Taiwan, the teacher is very close to you and your project and dictates the content so that it reflects positively on the schools image. Here at EPAC, the teachers also supervise closely but let you decide the content and themes. This gives you more artistic freedom and satisfaction with your project.

My project is a story book about how people grow up and forget their dreams. In the end we all become the same, like robots. We can escape this inevitability and the storybook illustrates how you need to understand what you do and why, so that you can influence their own future.

As an artist, while at art school in Switzerland I have been able to do all the things I planned to do. The teachers have been open minded for my ideas and brought me new ways of looking at things but they always keep an eye on my work.

3. You reflect more on your own experiences when you are in a foreign land

The project is hard work. I develop the theme, draw the illustrations and translate the text into English, French, German and Chinese. The focus is on how we change as we grow and includes other ideas such as gender equality.

The story is heavily influenced by the experiences of friends and family in Taiwan. Looking back at others who have changed as they grew up and not taken the chances that were open to them because of pressures to conform. Maybe that is why studying abroad was so important to me. This is a morality tale about continuing to learn and grow from experiences. People in this story at not aware of their situation, they do not see themselves changing and letting their dreams slip away.

4. Studying abroad will bring new experiences

It has been great to be able to have time to myself and to decide what to do. I have more independence now than as a student in Taipei although this can be difficult at first. At weekends I have been able to travel to cities in Switzerland including Lausanne, Montreux, Vevey and Bern and to other countries; Germany, Slovenia, Croatia, Austria, Italy and France which are both so close.

5. You will need to adapt to your new surroundings

What is not so easy is to learn a new language and way of life. Switzerland is very different from back home and it took two or three months to adapt to my new environment. There is a different lifestyle here. Shops are open until 18.30 and in Taipei they are open later and longer, some even open 24 hrs. In Taiwan people go out on weekend and this is family time. As my family is not here, I was able to travel and do many new things and learning some French was a big help.

6. Switzerland is as beautiful and reliable as you have heard

What I appreciate about Switzerland is the scenery. The mountains, lakes, vineyards and the fact that it is all so clean. It makes it easy to live here. It is also a bonus to have a reliable travel system. It is easy to use and always on time. If you plan your travel ahead, the prices are much cheaper and you can get travel passes that save a lot of money. It has given me access to the whole of Switzerland and the countries nearby.

7. Studying abroad helps develop organisational skills

If you want to travel, I have a tip. Make a list of things to do and plan ahead. Make sure you check the details too. This way you will save money and avoid bad surprises. On one train trip I ended up on a seat all night when I thought I had booked a sleeper cabin. It was not a good night’s sleep.

8. Studying abroad helps you take control of your future

On a personal level, I am more confident, more independent and I know more about taking care of myself than other people of my age. Professionally, I have learned a new language and how to adapt to new culture. I also know what I want for the future. In the short term, this will be an internship or job to help me gain experience and use what I have developed by studying in a swiss art school. In Taiwan, your connections are the most important thing but here I have learned that this is not enough and you have to show what you can do. In Switzerland, people care less about your background and more about what you can do and bring to the job or campus.

9. We should all try it

I would recommend it to everyone and I think you can study abroad at any age. My experience in Switzerland has been unforgettable. However, if you want to ski, you should go when you are younger. It’s much easier to learn.

Cathy’s story book is called Clone and will be available in English, French, German and Chinese. These illustrations are taken directly from her book.

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