COMING from a family of doctors and pharmacists, it is not surprising that Tan Chia Huei chose to specialise in the biomedical field.
Having originally majored in Chemical Engineering at Bath University in the United Kingdom, she found she enjoyed doing research in the final-year project of her undergraduate degree.
“I feel that biomedical engineering is exciting, not only because it is inter-disciplinary, but also because the range of research projects taking place all have improving medical healthcare as the main goal,” she says.
Explaining how she ended up at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, she says she was keen to continue with a PhD but wanted to learn about other areas in research and improve her knowledge in biology.
Once she had decided on Biomedical Engineering, she “googled” for master's degree programmes in the subject and ETH Zurich was one of those that came up in the search.
She had already heard of ETH as it is known for science and technology and has an excellent track record for research.
“Albert Einstein studied at ETH and later became professor of theoretical physics there!” she says.
The master’s-level lectures are all held in English but undergraduate courses are still in German.
“There is a lot of freedom in my programme when it comes to choosing courses.
“One just needs to meet the credit point requirements in order to graduate,” she adds.
In her first semester, Chia Huei attended courses in biology, microbiology, biomaterial sciences and physics.
“If my German had been better, I would have had an even wider range of classes to choose from but the list of English-language courses are growing each semester.
“The lecturers are usually full-professors and research leaders in their field,” she notes.
Students also benefit from listening to guest lecturers from industry, and class trips to research institutes and companies.
Chia Huei says that only 20 students are selected for her master’s programme each year, and she is the only Malaysian in the class.
Although her command of German is improving, she says English is widely spoken.
German courses are available to all international students at ETH at minimal cost.
Classes are held once a week. There are also two-week intensive programmes held before the start of each semester.
ETH has a few student apartments but these are not easy to get, she says, adding that most students rent apartments in the city or on the outskirts.
Chia Huei has a room in a two-bedroom apartment, for which she pays CHF575 (about RM1,700) a month, inclusive of utilities.
“Food is the most expensive item here, especially meat, but since I am a vegetarian, my grocery bills are not as high.
“Like most students, pasta is a staple for me as it's quick and easy to prepare,” she shares.
She also has rice with various vegetable curries or tofu.
On average, she spends about CHF30 (about RM90) a week on food, which includes her “compulsory bar of dark chocolate”.
“No shopping basket is complete without chocolate,” she says, adding that she visits an Asian grocery store once a month to stock up.
A passion for food
Eric Siew has known since the age of 15 that he wants to be a chef.
He used to try and recreate dishes that he had sampled in stalls and restaurants at home.
Currently a chef, Eric completed his diploma in hospitality and tourism in Sunway University College (Sunway) before signing up for the advanced diploma in European culinary arts programme at the Domino Carlton Tivoli (DCT) Hotel and Business Management School, Lucerne, in 2002.
“From my time in Sunway, I learnt basic skills, including the correct cutting and cooking techniques.
“That helped me tremendously when I was at DCT. I learnt to prepare many European dishes there,” he shares.
Eric, who stayed on campus, recalls how he and his friends used to cook and share food from their countries.
“It was like pot-luck, but in the international sense,” he says, adding that he zealously went through recipes and notes every night in order to prepare for the next day’s classes.
He spent about CHF9,900 (about RM28,600) per year, inclusive of fees, food and accommodation.
His advice for anyone thinking of studying in Switzerland is to go for it.
“It is an experience I will always cherish,” he shares.
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