Host a foreign exchange student from Switzerland

Find your student

Are you a fan of fondue? Well Guten Appetit as they say in Switzerland, because your exchange student will surely want to teach you their local recipe.

By understanding more about our Swiss exchange students’ lives back home, it will help you gain insight into their culture and background and prepare you for a successful hosting experience. Let’s start by learning about what’s typical in Swiss communication, home life, education and food, as described by our program participants.

Educational system

After kindergarten, there are three basic school levels: primary school (ages 6-12), lower-secondary school (ages 12-15) and upper-secondary school (ages 15+). Upper-secondary school includes specialized schools, vocational schools and baccalaureate schools. After lower-secondary school, many students choose to attend Vocational Education and Training schools (VET) where coursework is combined with apprenticeship opportunities. This system is the reason the unemployment rate for young people is so low. Swiss students study the language of their canton, or state, plus one language from another canton. Most students begin learning English in primary school. Sports and clubs are common extracurricular activities after school. Many students also take academic courses during the summer and on weekends during the school year.

Tip From EF: Swiss students may not be aware of options that are available to them in American schools such as electives, classes of varying difficulty and extracurricular activities. Encourage your student to sit down with a counselor or registrar prior to the start of school to help understand options and expectations in class. Talk with your student about the importance of homework and participating in class as the impact these will have on their grades may be unexpected.

Communication style

Swiss are known for being direct communicators and appreciate having context in conversations. They tend not to engage in too much small talk, yet they are polite, clear and honest. When greeting both men and women, direct eye contact is appropriate. Close friends may exchange three kisses on the cheeks, first on the left, then the right and back to the left. There are four official languages in Switzerland: German, French, Italian and Romansh. Each canton has the authority to decide which language their canton will use, thus being the primary language taught and spoken in schools.

Tip From EF: Give your student space to speak directly and make sure you have open and honest conversations about language expectations in the home. Help your student by explaining American norms for expressing concerns and appreciation. Share expectations clearly and directly with your student to ensure that they are understood.


Hello/good day

Wie geht es dir?

How are you?

Food habits

Swiss tend to wake early, as many businesses open at 8 am. Breakfast is eaten between 6 – 8 am. Breakfast foods are usually light and may include fresh breads with butter or jam, various cheeses and coffee or tea. Muesli (granola) and cereal are also popular and typically eaten with yogurt. Lunch is eaten between noon and 2 pm, and dinner is eaten around 6:30 pm. Traditionally, Swiss eat meat, potatoes, bread, cheese, pasta, vegetables and milk products as their main staples. They eat mainly fresh food, rather than frozen or processed foods, and are proud of locally sourced meat, dairy and produce. Many Swiss shop at their local farmers market on Saturdays.

Tip From EF: Your student may need time to get used to the difference in meal times. Be clear about what time you will be eating meals, and give options for appropriate snacks as students adjust to the new schedule. Encouraging them to help with grocery shopping and meal preparation will also help them adjust.

Home life

Families in Switzerland are very close and family members tend to live near each other. Small families are common, with one or two children on average. Swiss parents receive four to six weeks of vacation time. This time is generally spent vacationing. Soccer and ice hockey are the most popular sports in Switzerland. Cross country and downhill skiing are also popular, with ski resorts located all over the country. Swiss value punctuality and responsibility. A favorite saying is, “If people are late, they are either not wearing Swiss watches or not riding Swiss trains.”

Tip From EF: Swiss students may be used to extended vacations with their natural parents. Plan some fun activities to do with your student throughout the year. These do not have to be grand activities and can be as simple as going for a hike, cooking a meal together or exploring nearby communities. Because your Swiss student may be accustomed to always being on time (or early), be sure to discuss what time you will be leaving for school, activities, etc.

Ich bin begeistert meinen Schweizer Austauschschüler zu treffen.

I am so excited to meet my Swiss exchange student.

Möchten Sie etwas mehr Toblerone?

Would you like some more Toblerone?

Hosting advice from our Swiss exchange students

“I wish my host family knew that we have a lot more freedom in Switzerland and I am considered an adult at a much younger age, so to be patient if sometimes I take time to understand expectations around curfew or other rules.”

Tip From EF: It is helpful to be clear and direct with household rules and expectations early. If there are any misunderstandings or issues that come up, communicate with your student and IEC to ensure everyone is on the same page. Additionally, Swiss students may not understand suggestive communication. Instead of saying “it would be nice to have you home for dinner,” it will be easier for them to understand “be home by 6 for dinner.” It is helpful to review and reiterate the rules often.

“I wish my host family knew that I prefer to have everything planned and like being on time.”

Tip From EF: Swiss students are typically punctual and organized. Talk with your student about your family’s schedule and typical daily routine. Your Swiss student may be more affected by time and punctuality than you are used to in your home. You can work together to try to come to a routine that works well for both of you.

“I wish my host family knew that I use public transportation all the time in Switzerland, so it was a shock when I realized there is no public transportation in my American town.”

Tip From EF: Many students have a difficult time adjusting to the lack of public transportation and are not used to involving parents in their social plans. Let your student know that asking for a ride is common in the US and requesting in advance is very important as you may need to schedule plans around car availability. Talk to your student at the beginning about transportation: how they’ll get to and from school, extracurricular activities and social events.

Find your student

Let’s connect!

Talk to us directly: +1 800 447 4273

Send an email: [email protected]

© EF Education First 2011-2021. EF High School Exchange Year is operated by EF Educational Foundation for Foreign Study, a non-profit corporation designated by the U.S. Department of State to operate a J-1 student exchange program. Note: Featured photo/videos do not include prospective students, and are representative of program participants.