Geneva, Switzerland School Visit

Ellie and I just got back from a week in Geneva. It was my first time in Switzerland and, I have to tell you, Geneva is now at the very top of my “Favorite Cities in Europe” list.  It had everything I love about Paris (language, culture, incredible food, beautiful architecture) but cleaner, friendlier, and with the addition of the incredible views with the lake and the Alps. Further, it’s compact, easy to navigate, and with a great public transportation system.  Did I pay $10 for Band-Aids? Yes. And $9 for blackberries at the farmer’s market? Also, yes. But other things, like our hotel, Swiss wines, and local public transportation were surprisingly affordable.  I spent the first few days visiting schools and then we had four days of exploring the city, eating tons of cheese and chocolate, and making a day

trip to Lausanne.

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t love every school I visit. In fact, I had enough concerns about one of the schools I visited during our trip to Geneva that I took it out of the database and sent an email to our members about my concerns.  And then I visited a school on the other end of the spectrum. One that I could not wait to let you all know about. This school is the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies.

Where do I even start?

The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies was founded in 1927. It’s technically a private, not-for profit institution, but also get 40% of their funding from the state as they are seen as providing a service of public utility. They previously housed their facilities in a historic villa on Lake Geneva but built a new campus that opened in 2013.

I just need to take a minute to tell you about their facilities, as they are truly breathtaking.  They are located just around the corner from the UN. The six buildings, which are located just around the corner from the UN Headquarters, are referred to as petals due to their shape.  The school facilities are in the first building while the expansive and impressive library extends into the second petal as well.  The campus includes a conference space, where the Dali Llama recently spoke, and offices in the other buildings are rented out to organizations and NGOs with similar missions. For this reason, the entire facility is referred to as the Campus of Peace. The value of sustainability was incorporated into the structure. The building uses geothermal heating and cooling and also has a weather center on top to detect when shutters need to be shut and open.  There is housing in viewing distance with 260 beds, and another newly built with 600 beds just 15 minutes by foot from campus.  Rooms costs 700 CHF+ (convert to US dollars) per month.

There are only 1077 students, so the robust facilities are especially impressive. That said, in recognizing that students may also desire the student life opportunities provided by a larger university, they have an arrangement with the University of Geneva that allows students to utilize their facilities and services. This includes things like sports clubs and facilities, medical, student associations, study spaces and just about anything else you can think of!

The school has six master’s degree programs.  The one I want to tell you about today is the interdisciplinary International and Development Studies program.  All students in this two year program take the same core classes, which include Stats, Research Methods, and choices from core classes like Gender and International Affairs and Development, Global Governance and Regulation, and Extraction, Poverty, and Inequality. Students also take electives from the five disciplinary program, which are Anthropology and Sociology, International Economics, International History and Politics, International Law, and International Relations/Political Science . The rest of the courses are primarily centered around the student’s specialization. Students are required to chose one specialization, with the option of two from:

  • Conflict, Peace and Security
  • Environment and Sustainability
  • Gender, Race, and Diversity
  • Global Health
  • Mobilities, Migrations, and Boundaries
  • Sustainable Trade and Finance
  • Human Rights and Humanitarianism

Skills based workshops are also a mandatory part of the curriculum and help students with career related skills, Skills based workshops are also a mandatory part of the curriculum and help students with career related skills, be it public speaking, digital platforms, or how to work as a consultant. The third semester includes either a study abroad opportunity or the capstone project, an applied research project in which students work in groups to work on real research mandates from NGOs and other international organizations. The fourth semester is focused on the dissertation.

The reputation of the school, location, strong career services department, relationships formed with organizations, and active alumni association help in the employability of graduates from this program as well as others. 90% of students find relevant work within 4 months of graduating. 37% work in the public sector, 27.5% work for non for profit, 21.6% work in the private sector and 13.9% in academia.  About half of the graduates stay in Switzerland and the other half take positions

Did I mention that Kofi Annan is an alum?

I often talk about the value of the international exposure that is provided by having friends and classmates from around the world.  85-90% of the students at this school are international-from over 100 countries-so there is not one dominate culture. This can be challenging, but also incredibly mind expanding.  The administrator I met with, explained it in a way that gave me goose bumps.  She said….

Imagine that you are in a class with 20 people from 20 different countries.  The school doesn’t teach topics like chemistry-which have one universal truth.  You may be talking about something like WWII. You have the “facts” that you were taught through your textbooks at school as well as the cultural narratives you have learned about it through media, family, etc.  You may have classmates from Germany, China, Uganda, Angola, Canada, and more-all of whom had different textbooks and cultural narratives.  These different points of view include topics pertaining to values, culture, and politics. Having what you saw as “facts” challenged can be uncomfortable, but this is where incredible learning occurs.

She spoke of how Switzerland is a neutral country, it’s an appropriate safe place for students to have this discussion. The safe place does not, in this context, mean avoiding the difficult and uncomfortable conversations. It means creating an environment where different points of view can be expressed and heard in a way that leads to growth, learning, and perspective shifts.

Since the programs at the Graduate Institute are focused on the problems of the world, they are developing students with the know knowledge, skills, and global perspective that is required to truly make an impact. And now I have goosebumps again.