With the advent of Facebook, I know an awful lot about the kids of my childhood friends. I see photos of their report cards, homecoming football games, prom gowns, teenage pregnancies and school sporting events. It’s been evident from the beginning of this journey in the Swiss school system that my children are traveling down a very different path.
Allow me to quickly explain some of the differences. Schools here are economically and culturally diverse. Collège, my daughter’s path, is extremely academic. At age 16 she was balancing eleven different subjects. My son, at an electronics apprentice school, attended classes and atelier from 8:00-17:00, five days a week. With the exception of gym, the occasional ski trip and minor theatre; school is purely about learning.
With learning comes huge responsibilities. My daughter’s chemistry classes had emergency protocols in place due to dangerous experiments with chloric and nitric acids, sodium hydroxide and chloride gasses. Her physics professor discharged a gun on two occasions in the classroom to calculate velocity and water resistance. And my son built Nikola Tesla’s coil which generates electrical bursts of 200,000-400,000 volt electrical arcs.
Now it’s September and kids all over the world are heading back to school. Friends and family are proudly posting pictures of their children packed up and heading off to university. My children, on the other hand, like most Genevan kids between the age of 18 and 25 are still living at home. For the first time ever, our family is being questioned with undercurrents of criticism about this unusual phenomena.
My American cousin, who becomes an empty nester this year, reminded me how in the US leaving home for university is a rite-of-passage; the child becomes an adult. My Dutch in-laws express their concern that my children are missing out on the fraternal bond of student societies. To put it bluntly, in both countries if you’re still living at home after you’ve finished your high-school studies, you’re a loser.
I decided to ask my son (19) why his friends continue to live at home. His answer was “debt.” He explained how his school repeatedly taught the importance of living within one’s means, the cost of debt and the serious ramifications of unpaid debt here in Switzerland. Since most students continue their education in Geneva they can easily live at home and concentrate on their studies which are intense, non-flexible and unforgiving. Because the annual tuition is so low—CHF 1,000—they are expected to succeed, and do so in the required time-frame. There is no room for failure and no flexibility in time or course load.
When I asked if he felt he was missing out on the student culture of his cousin’s university in Delft, he responded, “No worries, mom. I’ll have that experience during my Swiss military service.”
My daughter gets the most criticism from our family. She’s in her second year of medical school at the University Hospital of Geneva (HUG). We’ve offered to rent her an apartment closer to school but she turns it down. Her response is “why should I live on my own if I don’t have a job or my own family? Anyway all my friends are happy living at home, or they just don’t have the budget to share an apartment with me.”
I’m certainly not going to complain. I love having young adults in my house and I don’t believe this nonsense that they are missing out or stunted. They are intelligent, they travel, they cook, they go out with friends, they work and they volunteer. All-in-all this Swiss path has resulted in well-rounded, responsible adults.
A few statistics about University students:
- Average cost of living and education:
- In Switzerland, 65% of first year students live at home. – University of Geneva. Keep in mind that many cantons don’t have universities.
- 10% of Swiss students had debt in 2016. – Swiss Office of Federal Statistics
- 70% of US graduates have student loans. Average debt is $37,172 – CNBC Feb. 2018
- 73% of Dutch students had debt in 2017 (up from 43% in 2012). –FTM On average students borrowed Euro 12,000 in 2017. –RTL News
We are a group of international women living in Geneva, Switzerland. If you would like to learn more about our activities and excursions, visit our website at www. aiwcgeneva.org.