Interns from Switzerland receive preparation that’s second to none. Twelve public Swiss universities are consistently ranked among the best in the world, and the federal government has allocated 26 billion Swiss francs (about $26.6 billion) for the promotion of education, research, and innovation over the next four years.
Add to that the diversity of languages spoken by Swiss students’ French, Italian, German, and Romansh, as well as English and Switzerland’s population of 7.6 million provides a pool of some of the best-prepared interns that a company could wish for.
Recently, more and more graduate programs at Swiss universities require students to do internships, and they are typically an integral part of the coursework. Students are now seeking internship placements in all fields of study, from mechanical engineering to architecture, from hospitality management to accounting.
Internships give students the opportunity to immerse themselves in an industry, to put into practice what they have learned in the classroom and the lab, and to develop their interpersonal skills in the workplace. In other words, interning prepares students and recent graduates for life outside academia and makes them more competitive when they enter the job market after graduation.
What’s in It for the Employer?
If you’re an employer in, say, the San Francisco Bay Area, some of the best universities in the country are in some cases literally across the street. What added value would a Swiss student bring to your company?
Here’s what U.S. employers who took the plunge told us. The typical Swiss intern:
- Offers a valuable international perspective.
- Is multilingual. Most Swiss students speak two national languages in addition to being fluent in English.
- Stays for the long haul, up to 12 months. Local students tend to prefer shorter summer internships.
- Brings commitment: Coming all the way across the Atlantic Ocean for a year requires preparation and dedication. Also, students’ visas are directly linked to their employers, and therefore, they are fully committed to stay for the length of the internship.
Tony Wessling, founder and principal at the brand development agency Chromium in San Francisco, explains that his motivations behind hiring a student from Switzerland were twofold:
We were looking to develop international business contacts, so a Swiss intern projected the right image and was able to help us develop marketing materials in German.
Furthermore, he adds, Chromium’s Swiss intern gave the company valuable insight into European culture and thinking. As for the character of Swiss students, Employers will find a person with intense dedication, attention to detail, and cultural sophistication, all of which contribute to the growth of the company, Wessling says.
Similarly, a CPA firm with an international clientele base has been hiring Swiss (and European) students since 2006 to assist them with German-speaking clients. When asked about the added administrative burden of hiring international students, which involves obtaining the visas, the firm said the process was straightforward and uncomplicated. It’s not as challenging as you might expect!
But it’s not only small- and medium-sized firms that see the value in hiring Swiss students. The social media powerhouse LinkedIn decided earlier this year to target students from the School of Computer and Communications Sciences at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne for six-month internships.
What’s in It for the Student?
With the job market as competitive as it is, getting international experience to add to their resume before Swiss students graduate is incredibly valuable. The United States is a natural choice for an internship in particular, the San Francisco Bay Area, which continues to attract young and ambitious people with its entrepreneurial spirit, openness, and “can-do” approach to business. Fabio Duma studied marketing, services, and communication management at the University of St. Gallen. He says his 12-month internship in California was one of the best decisions of his life. On a personal level, he was exposed to a new way of thinking that strengthened his understanding of another culture. On a professional level, not only did he experience the American business culture, but he also gained confidence by working in an international setting. And he brought that “think-out-of-the box” attitude back to Switzerland.
Mathieu Gaist was fresh from completing a master’s degree in accounting, control, and finance at Hautes Etudes Commerciales, the business school of the University of Lausanne, and he knew the importance of gaining experience and an international perspective before starting his career with the goal of working at a top-flight accounting firm. He interned during graduate school at Ernst & Young in Geneva, but when he got an internship offer at the well-known CPA firm Spott, Lucey & Wall in San Francisco, he says he jumped on it.
What about the Visa?
Any foreign student who wants to do an internship in the US can do so for a period of up to 12 months by participating in the US Department of State’s Exchange Visitor Program. To participate, the student needs to obtain a J-1 visitor’s visa by finding a sponsor organization in the US. There are currently 76 organizations that are qualified program sponsors listed by the Exchange Visitor Program. These sponsor-organizations are usually nonprofits, and many European countries, as well as several large corporations, such as Microsoft and GE, have gone through the procedure to become sponsors. Every year, thousands of recent graduates and university students from abroad apply for a J-1 visa, and it is worth noting that a cap on the number of J-1 visitors admitted might be reached soon for this calendar year. Just like finding the internship, it is the student’s responsibility to seek out a sponsor organization and provide them with the necessary information.
The sponsor organization works very closely with the employer to make sure that both the student and the employer meet the eligibility requirements set forth by the DOS Exchange Program. The employer fills out the internship placement plan, a two-page form called the DS-7002 that defines the content of the internship. It is then the responsibility of the student to gather all these forms and apply for the visa. To be on the safe side, it takes about four to six months for a student to secure an internship, find a sponsor organization, gather all the documents, apply for the visa, and be ready to travel to the US.
The total cost of an application is $1,500 on average but easily rises to $3,000 depending on the sponsor organization and the added services they offer, including health insurance, internship placement, and other services. Sometimes, the students will pay the full amount, but usually the employer will cover some of the cost. It all depends on the size of the company and the arrangement between the student and employer.
Most internships are paid or the intern receives a stipend to alleviate the added cost of living for up to one year in the US.
Where to Find Swiss Students
There are several ways to go about finding interns from Switzerland:
- Contact us at swissnex San Francisco at UniversityAffairs@nullswissnexSF.org.
- Contact the Swiss university internship placement office.
- Contact a sponsor organization that connects employers with students.
Swiss students themselves find internships through a variety of channels, from personal and professional contacts to recommendations from their university’s academic advisors.
Remember that all Swiss students with a J-1 visa are doing an internship as part of an exchange program. For each foreign student doing an internship in the US, an American student gets the opportunity to intern abroad. Everyone wins!
Are you a Swiss student who worked as an intern in the United States? Have you hired Swiss intern at your company? Contact us and tell us your story at UniversityAffairs@nullswissnexSF.org.
About the author
- J-1 visa: http://j1visa.state.gov/
- Exchange visitor’s program: http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_1267.html/
- Student program information and eligibility: http://j1visa.state.gov/participants/how-to-apply/eligibility-and-fees/
- Employer program requirement and eligibility: http://j1visa.state.gov/programs/intern – employers
- Designated sponsor organization list: http://j1visa.state.gov/participants/how-to-apply/sponsor-search/?program=Intern
- Sponsor organization eligibility: http://j1visa.state.gov/sponsors/become-a-sponsor/
- Swiss universities portal: http://www.swissuniversity.ch/universities-of-switzerland.html
- Swiss universities of applied sciences: http://www.kfh.ch/index.cfm?nav=2&
- The Ranking Forum of Swiss Universities:http://www.universityrankings.ch/en/