Geneva is a dynamic and vibrant place to study. Each summer, thousands of young professionals and interns from around the world contribute to the international atmosphere. Located on beautiful Lake Geneva in the heart of Western Europe, Geneva is only a short trip from the Swiss Alps, France, Italy and Spain. Few cities provide better opportunities to learn, grow and develop future career opportunities. For students interested in a career in public policy or international affairs, Geneva is an essential destination.

Below you will find an introduction to visiting Geneva and the surrounding areas during your participation in the program. For practical tips on local transportation, packing, banking, cell phones, and more, please check out the Orientation tab.

Geneva Links

Geneva Basics

  • Population: Canton de Genève: 400’000 inhabitants; City of Geneva: 180’000 inhabitants.
  • Area of canton/latitude: 282 km2 / 375 m (1,227 ft) above sea level
  • Climate: Average temperatures: winter 10°C (50°F), summer 23°C (73°F).
  • Time zone: Central Europe (Greenwich G.M.T + 1). Summer time + 1 hr (last weekend of March to last weekend of October).
  • Lots of purchases are made with cash
  • There are no Checks: if you get an invoice you pay via your bank account or you use the green/pink slip: get cash at the bank and pay with this slip at the post office
  • 99% of all shops (except at gas stations and small tabacs) are closed on Sundays.
  • They normally close at 6:00pm during the week, 5pm on Saturdays
  • Traffic: No right Turn on Red!
  • Pedestrians always have the right of way!
  • Speed limits are enforced with Cameras
  • Switzerland does not belong to the EU – Swiss francs are used
  • Geneva boarders with France: have your Passport with you to cross boarder easy. Buy Euro’s for these trips
  • Switzerland’s Abbreviation is CH = Confoederatio Helvetica

Swiss Culture

Switzerland is more than chocolate, watches, machine tools, and precision instruments.

As you approach living and working in Switzerland, it is important to understand that this is a multi-cultural country with four ( 4 ) official languages (German, French, Italian and Romansch), 26 cantons (states), each one set up as an independent republic ( The Republic of the Canton of Zurich ) with a cantonal president ( a position filled through the rotation the State Ministers), bicameral legislature, and a Federal Government set up as a Confederation of states.

This is the modern home of Direct Democracy. The right of the Swiss people to call for a referendum for almost any issue is ever present.  There is a tremendous sense of autonomy at the personal level that carries over to the Municipalities and Cantons.  Immigration (issuance of work and residential permits is controlled at the cantonal level), Taxation is controlled at the cantonal level (Cantonal Tax Authorities collect all tax revenue and then distribute the appropriate amounts to the confederation, as well as to the municipalities. The tax payer fills out a single tax form). Not only do the cantonal authorities collect and distribute the tax revenue to the confederation, but they determine how the tax will be applied.

Understanding Swiss polity will help you understand the community in which you will be living, the people you will interact with and even how they will interact with you.

Each community and canton takes on a variety of characteristics that are often influenced by whether or not it is a Catholic or Protestant Canton. Even Cantonal holidays will differ.

There is a great regard, both in business and in personal activities, for order, precision, timeliness, and thoughtful planning. Spontaneity is not a normal attribute that is associated with the Swiss, thus creating a huge aversion to risk (both business and personal risk) and resulting in a pragmatic, well thought out approach to both business and personal decisions.

Interesting Swiss Facts

  • Swiss mailboxes have two slots – one for letters, and one for packages. Just as the US has iconic mailboxes, almost every home in Switzerland has the same type of mailbox. The top slot for letters is usually locked, and the bottom section has a door for packages. Unlike the US, letters to be mailed cannot be left in the mailbox for pick-up!
  • Shopping carts have to be unlocked with a coin. In order to use a shopping cart at the grocery store, you have to deposit a 1 or 2 Franc coin in a slot on top of the cart. This will release the chain by which the cart is attached to the next one. When you return the cart to its place, you will get your deposit back – without interest though.
  • Switzerland has one of the lowest crime rates of all industrialised countries, despite having liberal gun laws (2.3–4.5 million guns in a population of 8 million). In 2010, there were only 0.5 gun murders per 100,000 people compared to 5 per 100,000 in the US.
  • Women did not gain the vote at federal level until 1971, and they are still underrepresented in political life.
  • Albert Einstein was working as a clerk in a Swiss Patent Office when he proved his Theory of Relativity
  • The average Swiss citizen eats about 23 lbs of chocolate per year compared to the 11.7 lbs consumed by the average American annually.
  • There are competitions in Switzerland for yodeling, mens facial hair, and cow showing.
  • Switzerland’s capital is Berne; Zürich is the largest city
  • Switzerland has more than 1500 sparkly lakes. The largest is the Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) that we share with France; the largest lake entirely on Swiss soil is Lake Neuchâtel
  • Switzerland is neutral, but has an armed force of about 200’000 at all times, and a small number of professional soldiers. Every able-bodied Swiss male between 20 and 34 has to go through 18 to 21 weeks of basic military training followed by 3 weeks (for soldiers) service each year. Alternative services including civil service after the basic training is possible; exempt from military are certain professions (teachers, train employees) but do have to pay an extra military tax
  • The president of Switzerland changes every year (Elections will be held in December 2013 to elect the new president)


Police in Switzerland

Compared to most Europeans, the Swiss are law-abiding to a fault, rendering even the minimal police presence superfluous. Towns and cities also have their own armed police, operating in conjunction with the cantonal force.

If you do come into contact with the police, they’ll want to see YOUR PASSPORT, WHICH YOU’RE OBLIGED TO CARRY AT ALL TIMES.

Ordinary traffic offences will be dealt with swiftly and courteously – as long as you pay the fine – although police officers, especially outside the cities, may not speak any English and so, should there be any disputes, they may insist you accompany them to the nearest police station to have all the necessaries explained.

For additional information on law and safety, contact numbers, and “what is illegal” in Geneva, please review the attached pdf document.

Laws in Geneva_Duke Global Policy and Governance



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