Bringing Zurich to a close

Dear Friends!

Our semester in Zurich is slowly drawing to a close! Lea and I have exams this week and next week, and then I’m leaving next Saturday to go to Amsterdam for a few days, then Brussels, over to Aix-en-Provence, (visiting friends) and then back to Zurich for a couple more exams. I’ll be leaving Zurich for good on June 19th. This semester has gone by incredibly quickly! We are scrambling to find free evenings to invite over, for one last dinner, each of the friends we’ve made here. We will hopefully also have one last Deutsche Potluck!

Factory Planning

Yesterday, Lea and I had our first oral exam, together-Factory Planning! It was quite an experience, since in our engineering studies in Toronto we had only done written exams before. For this exam however, a group of 2-4 students complete it together. Each of the students randomly chose 4 questions written on small slips of paper, and the professor asked each student one by one to read a question aloud, and answer it. Often the questions were quite general, and after giving an overview of the topic, the professor asked us to delve deeper into one angle or another. These exams test quite different skills than a written exam, since it is not enough to know the right answer; one must also be able to not just coherently explain what one knows, but also have the ability to guess what answer the professor is looking for. The depth of knowledge has to be quite deep, since the professor may choose to press any question deeper as he pleases. Since we had the luck of being in a team of 2, i.e., only the 2 of us and the professor in the room, it was quite a fun and funny exam!

A similar electronic implant

I also have to finish my research project in the next couple weeks. I’m working on the Neue Walk project, a project involving several universities across Europe. It is quite fascinating research: the basic goal is to get paraplegics walking again. There are two main approaches: one is to regenerate the neuronal tissue, and the other is to bypass the problematic area of the spinal cord via an electronic implant. The lab I am with is working on the 2nd approach – I have spent the last couple weeks optimizing the printing of tiny electrode arrays, which are being implanted into rats and monkeys. The project looks very promising, based on the successful results with rats. Hopefully, in a few years, human studies will be successful too! This research has whetted my appetite for doing a PhD, but I have no idea yet in what area I would want to do it. There are so many things which interest me! From bioengineering to agriculture, from the progress of developing countries to psychology, from quantum physics to philosophy, there are so many topics which fascinate me, that it’s really difficult to choose!

Life on a boat

On a more mundane note: today we used our Swiss bank accounts for the first time! (Unfortunately, we have to close them when we leave Switzerland.) We made a transfer to the Croatian bank account of the company from whom we are renting a catamaran, for a fantastic sailing trip this summer! I got my Captain’s license 5 years ago, and each year since then, Lea and I invite the 16 most interesting, intelligent, enthusiastic-about-life students whom we meet during our travels, for one incredible week of sailing on the Mediterranean! One of the best things about sailing is that you can pull anchor one day, point to a place on the map, and spend the next night there! There is complete freedom, and thus we never come up with a strict itinerary, basing our trip rather on local advice and the wishes of the crew. We usually try to visit a variety of places, from wonderful snorkeling opportunities in natural reserves, to watching dolphins, to cliff diving, exploring Yugoslavia-era submarine caves, discovering little jewels of Mediterranean towns on the islands, Venetian castles etc..

We are going with students from 10 countries this year. It will be an incredibly interesting week, full of many fascinating debates about life! With this description of a couple of our plans for the summer, I sign off. I hope each of you reading these blogs have been a little inspired, have maybe realized how important it is to travel while you’re young and relatively care-free, and have become a little happier in your outlook on life! Der Friede seid mit euch!


La vie!

Dear friends,

Fribourg, Switzerland

Pâques 09' 022

The Alps in the spring

Pâques 09' 007


I finally have some time to write an update of our fast paced lives as I am on the train to Fribourg for a weekend with some French friends. There is so much that has happened since we last wrote that it is hard to know where to start. The most exciting is that I went skiing! You may ask, what’s the excitement?  Its Switzerland after all. While those living here might be used to being able to ski during all the months of the year, for me it was a totally new and fascinating experience.  It actually wasn’t in Switzerland, I went to the Chamonix region, to a little town called St. Gervais to visit a friend who lives at the base of Mt. Blanc. We woke up early, packed our gear into the car, and drove 10/15 min as far as we could get up the mountains. Then we slung our skiis and snow boots on our backs and starting hiking. After a short hike, we reached the much awaited snow! There we changed our gear, put on our boots and skiis (a special type that allows your foot to lift out of the bearing as you walk), and started our treck up the mountain. We were essentially walking up the regular ski hills that were not operating anymore. There was such a difference! It is a whole new experience to walk up a ski hill slowly, taking the time to breathe in the beauty of the scenery around you, instead of whizzing down at breathtaking speeds. The forest was alive with the life and sounds of spring mixed with the regular beat of our skiis taking step after step. After climbing around 1000 m vertically, we arrived at the top of the ski lift. For those of you who ski, you will know that there is often a net just before the end of the ski lift to catch all those who are too eager to exit the lift properly. We decided to have lunch there, and thus spent a blissful hour suspended in a sort of hammock above the Alps. The panoramic view was absolutely incredible! We were literally on top of the world! Skiing down was another experience unto itself. I think I can safely say that I have never skied in as heavy snow as that day. It was interesting to note that there were even some areas that we had skied over that morning, which already by the afternoon were brown with mud.  What a day! Was fur ein Wochenende!

This is what spring should look like

One of the only things I regret from this exchange was that we have hardly spent any time in Zurich. Overall in the semester, Hanna and I were counting that we have spent in total only 2 or 3 weekends in Zurich! There was always something going on outside the city/country, and thus we are both eager to explore the wonders of Zurich in the summer, when it looks more like the picture on the right v.s. our experience so far (left).

Our experience of Zurich so far

Our dreams for the coming summer days

In a city that is 14% the size of Toronto

But let us recount some of our experiences about Switzerland as a whole. There are some things that strike you about Zurich, or Switzerland as a whole. For one, it is by far not as multi-cultural as Toronto. Another thing that strikes you is the famous punctuality of the Swiss. While I believed this was more of a stereotype before coming, it’s for sure by far the most orderly society I have ever lived in. Just yesterday, I had to calculate at what time I should leave one place the next day to get to a meeting, and just by plugging the information into Google Maps, I was able to get accurate information about which streetcars to take from where, when. The impressive part was that the next day, following the directions, I arrived within the minute to my destination. There is a placard inside each streetcar which announces the next couple of stations, how long it will take to get there, (continually updated with traffic information), and what the next connections are from the upcoming station. I could go on and on about the stellar performance of the public transport here, but it does have one slight downside. The drivers will never wait for you. In Toronto, if the driver sees you running for the bus, waving at him frantically, he will more often than not wait for you. The one downside of this punctuality is that here they are less understanding. Another phenomenal thing here is the sheer number of street cleaners. A whole army of personnel with brooms, vacuum cars, etc. are on patrol around the city at all hours, ready to pounce on any garbage you happen to let drop.

Another super exciting thing since I last wrote is that Bassem came to visit me! We had been planning the entire trip for a couple weeks, and I was excited to get a whiff of my Canadian life again. We spent an absolutely beautiful day all around Zurich bathed in sunshine for the first time in a long time. It was so warm that we decided to rent a paddle boat and paddle out into the middle of the Zurich Lake! What bliss! The Alps rising majestically above the clouds on one side, and the medieval towers of Zurich rising up on the other.  We were so busy soaking up the sunshine and view, that we didn’t notice until almost too late that a big ferry boat was bearing down on us. It honked its horn at us, but we couldn’t get out of the way fast enough, so it ended up coming close enough to us that we were able to push ourselves off it as it came by. Some adrenalin to brighten up our day. The next day we had decided to visit Lausanne, a beautiful city in the French part of Switzerland. Now Bassem told me that a friend of his — a guy named Mat Callagher, a British man studying hospitality in Zurich who had worked with him in Dubai — was coming to Zurich for a couple days just to spend time with him. So he told me to organize all our events for three. I tried to pry Bassem about this friend and all I got was that he was supposedly just as crazy as me and that we would get along well. So we went to the airport to pick up this mysterious friend of his before we set off for Lausanne. We walked into the airport, and Bassem got a call from Leyla. I asked Bassem if I could say some words to Leyla on the phone, and Bassem said “no” and put the phone down. I asked him why he wouldn’t let me talk to her, and Bassem said, “Because she’s right here!” I turned around, and there was the mysterious Matt Callagher in person! Leyla Beriker! What a perfect surprise! We ended up spending a night in Lausanne, followed by 2 days around Zurich, and a beautiful day hiking around  Zug, a tiny, adorable city (village) not far from Zurich.

Love to you all from Fribourg!



Unicycling Championships

Dear friends!

It’s been a while since our last post, but the news of Hanna’s engagement was a hard act to follow news-wise. Nevertheless, our lives have been rolling forward since then, with each adventure crazier than the previous one.  The biggest adventure for me (Lea) since my last post, took place in a little sleepy Swiss city (by our measurements, village) not far from Zurich. One of our good childhood friends, Gergo Wettstein, was competing at the European Unicycling Competitions, and we were going to cheer him on. It was a whole 3 day competition with over 800 competitors throughout the days.

There were a plethora of different competitions such as speed, high jump (the world record was broken by Martin Sjönneby, now it’s 132 cm high) flat, street, hockey, etc. Gergo’s specialty is flat, which is perhaps one of the most beautiful and awe inspiring competitions. Each competitor has a set amount of time and a flat gymnasium floor in which they must impress the judges. Here is a video of Gergo on YouTube with a sample of some of the tricks he did (here’s one from a few years ago). Absolutely incredible!

Martin Sjönneby breaking his own world record in high jump

European Champion!

We held our breath as he kept making it past each elimination round until it was time for the final 2 to fight it out for the title of European Champion. After a spectacular performance by both contenders, which must have been very hard for the judges to judge, Gergo was declared the winner, European champion!

After celebrating, we heard that the Street competition was just about to start. Now the Street category is one where contestants are designated an area of the street, with preferably a variety of “obstacles”, such as steps, statues, walls, sculptures, etc., and they are given time in each area to impress the judges. Watching everybody warming up, an idea came to me. What if I borrowed Gergo’s unicycle and competed? I asked the race director, and after a second of thought, to my surprise, he agreed! So I had half an hour before the race, to brush up on my dormant unicycle knowledge, and learn as many new tricks as I could. I tucked a couple new tricks under my belt, and borrowing Gergo’s unicycle and helmet, I headed into the race in the women and juniors category. We had time for around 6 tricks in each area of the street, which was my biggest challenge, as I didn’t even know 6 tricks in total. But nonetheless it was an absolutely thrilling experience to have the all the champions cheering you on from the sidelines!


In competition

Then came the senior boy’s category, and wow, was there a difference! Most of the tricks they performed did not seem humanly possible in my eyes. They jumped down and up onto garbage bins, pedaled along precariously thin rails, and twisted, spun in the air, completely defying gravity.


Gergo competing in Street

The race finished and we headed back to the party tent in attendance of the results ceremony. After listening to a number of speeches by the mayor of the town, president of the organization, etc. the time came to announce the winners of the street competition. 6th place, 5th, and 4th were announced, and we stopped paying attention. Then came 3rd place, and to our surprise, Gergo was announced as bronze medalist! I ran up behind him to take photos of him on the podium, and was positioning myself to capture the best shots, when they announced: “And in second place, representing Hungary, we have Lea Janossy!” It turned out that they had put the females and the males in different categories, and since there were only two girls, I was in last place as the silver medalist! It was an incredible moment to share the European Championship podium for a minute with Gergo!

A photo shoot in a car that had been destroyed by and for the competition followed suite, in celebration of these two wins: one very well-deserved, and one completely by a fluke chance. Enjoy!


Gold and Bronze


Last and Silver

Bis nachste mal!



Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have very exciting news for you! I am now engaged to my fiancé Tony! We plan to get married next summer, after I finish my Master’s degree at U of T.  Life is incredibly exciting!


Tony and Hanna

It has been a while since I last wrote, so let me share some stories about the past few weeks. The weekend of March 23rd, I joined the Hungarian Scouts for a weekend close to Zurich. It was wonderful to be surrounded by lots of screaming monkeys again! It was great fun to sing and play games with them, and very nice to see that many of them spoke Hungarian perfectly, despite having been born in Switzerland! Their parents did an excellent job of keeping their cultural heritage alive in their families.

The weekend after, Lea and I went to Rome for Easter. We were very lucky to receive tickets from a priest friend of ours, to the Saturday evening Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica with the Pope! We stayed with various absolutely wonderful friends the whole time we were in Rome, and ETH paid for our train tickets (they were covered by the course we were taking at the FAO – Food and Agriculture Organization) so our trip ended up being quite inexpensive. It is incredible how cheaply it is possible to travel in Europe if you have just a bit of an adventurous spark in you…


Tony and Hanna in Italy

You have probably seen Lea’s description of our fantastic experiences in Rome already, so I’ll skip to the week after: I went to Transylvania for a week with my then-boyfriend Tony. Transylvania is very interesting, since parts are still deeply rooted in Hungarian culture, and yet in the 1900’s was annexed to Romania. There are still hundreds of kilometers of towns where the population is largely Hungarian, except for the civil servants. Since Transylvania has all the salt mines, and much of the manufacturing and production industry in Romania, Romania has great interest in keeping this part as its own territory, despite some separatist movements. Anyway, it was very interesting to see the “invisible” conflict between the people: i.e. a constant competition of which nation had more flags up, etc.

I flew from Rome to Kolozsvar, where I met Tony. We slept at the house of a Pastor of the Reformed Church, and it was very interesting to talk to him and his wife about how they balanced parenthood with constantly serving the people of the church. They have 6 children, all of whom are musicians with perfect pitch! The next morning we went to Deva, to visit an ancient castle ruin, and an orphanage. The castle was beautiful; set at the top of a cliff with a sheer drop on all sides. It is inaccessible except for a winding, steep path up the slope. Naturally we let our imaginations run and came up with all sorts of stories about possible battles and sieges the castle must have faced in its long history.

But the orphanage was an even deeper experience, due to its fascinating story. There is a priest in Transylvania who recognized the need to give homes to children who come from starving and abusive families, so 30 years ago, he started the first “Arva Haz” (Orphanage). Since then, he has opened approximately one new house a year, each with a couple hundred children. The system is very well thought out: volunteer families move in to the community with their own children, and “adopt” (not legally, just practically) approximately another 10 children. So the “adopted’ children grow up in a family unit, although they all have their meals together in a big cafeteria etc. It is very difficult for these families, not just due to the emotional and physical stress due to caring for ~13 kids, many of whom bear deep psychological scars from childhood experiences at home, but also financially: they receive only 20 Euros per kid per month from the state. This means they have to somehow feed the children from about 50 cents a day. This is of course impossible, so they rely greatly on donations from local supermarkets, etc. but it is a constant battle to make ends meet. It is interesting to note that when we talked to many of the children, they all declared that they were quite happy to be living with their surrogate families. In fact when given the choice to go home to their biological families for the summer break, many children prefer to stay in the safety and loving surroundings of their surrogate families rather than return to the violence they experienced at home… It was heartrending to hear one of the 15 year old boys tell us he wants to be a priest, and that he’s glad that that he was born into such a horrible family, because this way he can commiserate with and have far greater empathy for all the poor he will serve when he will become a priest for these communities… Many of the youth end up going to college or university, and grow up to lead relatively normal lives as adults, thanks to the loving care they received from their surrogate families. It is truly an incredible sacrifice for the surrogate parent volunteers to devote their whole life to raising not just their own, but many other people’s children too while still working full-time. These moments make me realize just how much it is possible to give of one’s life.

After Deva we went to Zabola, to visit an old aristocratic family. They own about 10,000 acres, enormous forests, and live in a beautiful old renovated castle. In Canada, many people think that these old noble families have completely died out in Europe, but actually they still exist! The young couple has two small children, for whom life is a paradise: running around outside in the fields and forests all day, going horseback riding, etc. Although there is a huge difference between the income of this family (mainly from the business of sustainably logging their forests) and the average income of families in the villages surrounding them, they commit themselves to accomplishing so much good in the villages, raising the standard of living, providing cultural opportunities, etc.


Zabola Castle

We then went to visit the “Csango”, a group of Hungarians who still very strongly adhere to their own flavor of Hungarian traditions and culture. After the veritable palace at Zabola, it was quite the change to be in a village where over 80% of the families had no regular income, and just lived on subsistence farming. There were no paved roads, most people used horse drawn wagons instead of cars, and although the people dressed modernly, there were houses without running water. It was absolutely fascinating to speak with the villagers. 100 years ago, this community lived completely independently of its surroundings, producing all their own food, creating their  own furniture, using sheep’s wool and flax for making their own clothes, etc. They had no need for and no dependence on the outside world. However, the youth of the village were taken to fight in the world wars, and then the Communists destroyed their mills, making them dependent on bread from outside sources, and bulldozed down their farms etc. The community tried hard to remain as independent as possible from the Communists, but over the last 50 years, the community has fallen prey to a more sinister danger: globalized culture through the TV. Today, the farmers come home from work, and instead of sitting down with their families around the dinner table to discuss a day’s work well done, they come home and plop themselves in front of the television set, and drool over the Hollywood stars. The effect on their lives is really terrible. Whereas for the last 400 years, their ancestors lived quite contentedly as a farming community, they now aspire to have fancy cars, they are no longer satisfied with small houses, they want to drink Coca-Cola and in fact spend hard earned wages to buy one cherished bottle. Altogether they want to pursue and implement Western society as quickly as possible. What they don’t realize, is that adopting Western society with its materialistic approach to life will not bring them more happiness than they currently have. Unfortunately, the splendid life they see on TV is a false chimera: they don’t know the gory details of life behind the Hollywood scenes; they simply allow themselves to be misled by what they see on the screen. The result of this is that many of the young people today leave the villages to go work in Western countries such as Italy, where they have the satisfaction that they are “working in the West” but actually usually end up working and living in awful conditions. Many of them are very lonely “out West”, through a lack of cultural integration and generally have worse lives than they would at home caring for their cows and sheep. The lure of a capitalistic glamorous life providing happiness is the greatest deception of our civilization today!

A few of the other highlights of the trip were horseback riding in Csikszerda, a concert by the famous children’s choir at Szentegyhaza, and best of all: we had the opportunity to go paragliding at Csiksomlyo! It was an incredible experience to be flying through the air over the beautiful countryside! After paragliding, Tony made a big show of having forgotten his passport in the Csango village, so we went back, and ended up going on a hike in the neighboring hill. At the top of a little Csango mountain, we found a tiny wooden chapel magically filled with roses, and Tony asked for my hand with a beautiful song he had composed. It was wonderfully romantic! After some minutes of crying and laughing from joy, I said yes! So we plan to be married next summer after I finish university. Life is so exciting!

That’s all for now!


Hanna and Lea


Hello friends!

I (Lea) have finally arrived back home in Zurich– it still feels weird to say that – after an absolutely incredible week travelling through Italy. We started by taking a train early Good Friday morning from Zurich to Milano. This is probably one of the most incredible train rides as the track winds alternately through the high Alps and then beside the famous lake shores of Lago di Como, Lago di Lugano, etc. After meeting up with some friends in Milano, and getting the key to our apartment, on loan from another friend gone skiing for the weekend, we headed to the famous Milano Duomo for Easter Friday services in Italian.

Duomo – Milano

As per all my experiences so far in Milan, after visiting the famous and beautiful Castle  Sforzesco, we got completely lost trying to find our way back to our apartment – a repeat of my last trip to Milan in the summer. The next morning we woke up to pouring rain, but that did not deter us from travelling to Roma! Through the maze of hundreds of thousands of people we were able to find Hanna in St. Peter’s square and were some of the last people to get inside the church for the Easter Vigil with Pope Frances. It was an incredible experience to be at the center of an institution with billions of faithful worldwide!

Hanna and I were actually in Rome for a conference at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations headquarters. ETH had brilliantly arranged a course where all the leading scientists working on global problems associated with food security from a global to a local dimension all came in to present their life works to us. The two best things about it was that the course came with a 3 day free Italian Eurorail pass, to enable all the conference goers to travel to and from Rome (+1 day in true extravagantly generous Swiss fashion), and the opportunity to network with all these people who are truly the top leaders of their field.

Pope Franceso on his pope-mobile in St. Peter’s on Easter Sunday

I have to run to class now, but there are still many more crazy stories that will have to wait for the next blog posts.

Hanna sends her love to you all from Transylvania, Romania, where she is spending this week with a friend alternating between sleeping in tiny villages with the locals in exchange for milking their cows in the morning, to old magnificent medieval castles left over from another period in history. She will fill you in when she gets back.

Viele Grusse!

Hanna and Lea


Dear friends!

Life is so absolutely incredible! Already so much has happened since we last wrote!  The weekend of “silence” turned into one of the most beautiful weekends so far. We lived the rhythm of the lives of the Benedictine monks, who live in a stunning age old monastery at the end of the Swiss rail line – in a tiny town called Disentis. We woke up at 5:00 AM to attend the morning prayers (all sung in Gregorian chant) of the monks, which finished just as dawn started to illuminate the fairy tale view. All day there were non-obligatory programs to attend: meditations, prayers, meals, etc – or you could hike! It was warm enough to go hiking in just a t-Shirt, but the snow was in some places knee deep – a typical symptom of the high Alps in spring. It was incredible in itself to be disconnected from all electronic gadgets for a weekend, to have no work that had to be done. The only goal of the weekend was to find a deeper sense of inner tranquility – to regain equilibrium. We came back to Zurich refreshed and ready to take on all the challenges the semester would bring!

The monastery we stayed at in Disentis

The weekend after that we went to visit some family friends in Geneva where Hanna spent the night while I (Lea), went to visit a friend I had met in Brussels almost 2 years ago. I spent another incredible weekend skiing in the French Alps – across the valley from Mont Blanc, in a ski area called St. Gervais. I am running out of superlatives to use, but words are hard pressed to describe the absolute beauty and thrill of that weekend!

St. Gervais, across from Mt. Blanc

It seems this blog post will mostly be about skiing. I (Lea) spent the weekend after that in the mountains as well, this time at a ski hill called Andermatt. There is an incredible skiing culture here in Switzerland! Every Saturday morning at the Hauptbahnhoff, the main train station in Zurich, guaranteed every second person will be carrying a pair of skiis with them as they head out to the plethora of ski hills all within an hour train ride. There is a Ski and Rail program with which you can buy a combined day ski and day rail ticket for quite discounted prices. Once again we were soaring above the clouds at crazy heights and crazy speeds! We wanted to beat our ski speed record, and so using a speedometer on our friend’s iPhone, our max speed was… wait for it… 140.0 km/h! I’m not sure if the app was fully functional, but we had chosen the steepest, straightest, iciest slope to tuck down, and considering the world record is 251.4 km/h, set in 2006 by Simone Origon, it could potentially be possible, if not probable.


I (Hanna) also had an incredible weekend: I returned to Budapest for 3 events. The first one was the Fokolare Mariapoli, where over 1000 people (mostly big families) gathered for 4 days to discuss how to bring morality into business, and how to save the world through love. In a country like Hungary, where most of the population is quite depressed about the future, conferences like these are crucial, and it was very uplifting. I actually arrived in Budapest on Wednesday, but for 2 days there was such a massive blizzard that all the railways and highways in and out of the city were shut down, and several hundred people were buried in snow drifts on the highways and had to spend the whole night in their cars. 2 mothers even gave birth in the middle of the snowstorm while they were trapped on the highway! Hungary rarely has much snow, so the blizzard brought quite a state of emergency. However, after 3 days the highways were reopened, and my boyfriend and I were able to get to the conference.

Focolare camp fires

After the Mariapoli, Tony and I went to Visnyeszeplak, which is a tiny eco-village 3 hours away from Budapest. Although my life is pretty interesting, I must say that these were perhaps the most interesting few days I’ve spent since moving to Zurich! The village consisted of only ~150 people, and it began with several families who wanted to move away from the city to start a family commune type farming community. They found the ruins of a village that had been demolished (i.e. many of the houses had been literally bulldozed down) by the Communists, and were therefore able to buy the land very cheaply. Each family has a responsibility. One family planted many fruit trees, another family has 250 families of bees, another has 20 cows and horses, another 30 goats, etc. There is barely any money used in the village; people barter their skills and products – a day of hoeing will get you a jar of honey etc. Tony and I were really lucky; we were in the right place at the right to help a mother goat give birth to her first baby!

It is a complete paradise for children: although they all have to go to school, they spend much of the day playing outside.  The village is deliberately old fashioned; life is quite tough for newcomers. If a young family wants to join the community, they buy one of the remaining free ramshackle huts with the surrounding piece of land, and often live without electricity or running water for 2 or 3 years before they bank up enough work hours with the other farmers to enable them to start construction on a new house with a well etc. We visited some of these families with 3 or 4 kids who lived in one of these 3 room huts with a kitchen, living room, and one bedroom. Although today’s sophisticated society would look at such squalor with great contempt, it was fascinating to experience the deep peace and joy with which these people live their lives! Since many of them came from middle income families in cities, they knew exactly what they were leaving behind, and chose to come to Visnyeszeplak precisely to live in a tight community close to nature. And despite the hardships, no one we spoke with wanted to ever move back to a city! Although I don’t think I could give up travelling, an intellectual work life and social life anytime soon, I would love to have some chickens and rabbits, and maybe a goat or two in the future!

Pictures to come soon

Bis bald!

Hanna and Lea


La vie est belle

Dear friends!

Life has been so absolutely amazing and filled with activity since our last post. We’ve started class and are even taking a couple courses in German! After attending class for the first week with the courses I (Lea) had picked from abroad with the computer science faculty, I realized that my passion lies elsewhere. The exchange staff at ETH were extremely supportive, and thus it looks like I will be able to switch to take my courses with the Masters of Environmental Science program, specializing in Sustainable Water Resource Optimization.

Water Resource Optimization?

Since travelling to Jordan last year, and experiencing firsthand what it is like to live in a country where one cannot drink the tap water, and the entire country relies on bottled water, I have been intrigued with studying this issue. I am now almost officially doing a minor in Environmental Engineering at U of T, and absolutely loving my courses here at ETH! It makes such a difference when you are studying something you are passionate about!

I (Hanna) also switched many of my courses, from Bioengineering to Management of Technology. I was originally planning on completing a minor in Bioengineering, but it turns out that U of T might accept my Bioengineering courses from Budapest (where I was on exchange last semester) so I decided to take courses which I can hopefully get accepted as core courses, so that I will only have to return for 1 semester of 4th year!

The world is one small place! Last night at the Déjà Bu party in our apartment’s basement, we met a guy who we had skated with at an international exchange event in Toronto two years ago! It was quite a funny conversation: he introduced himself as a physics student here, and mentioned that he had studied on exchange in Toronto a few years ago, and remembered having some intense conversations about life with two Hungarians. He has a completely different hairstyle now, so we didn’t recognize him at all, and started commenting how interesting it is that we met a guy in Toronto who had the same first name and was studying the same thing! And then he pulled out his cellphone and it had a picture of us from the skating party two years ago… It is definitely worth it to get involved in the exchange student network, even at your home university. You usually find fascinating people, and you never know when and in what part of the world you will bump into those friends in the future!

Come again?

The greatest challenge about living here is the Swiss German. It legitimately is another language from High German, and is very widely used, so it is hard to find opportunities to use your High German on a day to day basis. Thus, Hanna and I have started a weekly Deutsch party at our apartment whose goal is twofold: to create a greater sense of community between the exchange students, and to offer an opportunity to speak German with others who are learning.


Flumserberg (~1 hour from house to ski hill!)

Since we have posted last, we went skiing to another incredible mountain in the Swiss Alps. It feels so weird to draw the parallel between the phrase: “the Swiss Alps”, an epitome in the skiing world, and our backyard. We hop on a train every Saturday and in an hour or so, we are soaring down some of the best ski slopes in the world, high above the clouds, with the tips of the mountains showing out above the cloud layer in a splendid panoramic view.



Lunchtime on the mountain

This weekend we are heading to the mountains yet again, but this time for another sort of experience. We will be spending the weekend in complete silence in a monastery high in the Swiss Alps. In today’s world, lived at a rat race tempo, we both find that it is an incredibly valuable experience to spend some time in contemplative silence and prayer, to start the semester with deep peace and defined goals. We’re taking the train as soon as we finish writing this. Can’t wait! Tschuss!

We’ve arrived!

Hello everyone!
We have arrived in Zurich! After an entire year of organizing courses, etc., the big moment had arrived! I (Lea) finished my exams at U of T, where I study Industrial Engineering, in the middle of December, and the semester in Zurich only starts the third week of February, so I just had the most incredible 2 months off in the middle of the year! I started with a little skiing in Canada with the family, followed with a week in London, then a week in Vienna, Budapest for a week, skiing in the French Alps for a week, and finally Zurich. The absolute best thing about Europe is how everything is so close together!

Let us start by introducing ourselves. I, Lea, am a student of Industrial Engineering in 3rd year at the University of Toronto. I am taking part of an official exchange to the Computer Science department at ETH Zurich, one of the best engineering schools in the world, and probably the best in Europa. My sister Hanna is also studying Industrial Engineering at the University of Toronto, and is also on exchange at ETH, with the Bioengineering faculty.

swiss alp trip

The view from our first day skiing in the Swiss Alps!

Zurich is incredible! The land of snow-covered steeples on every corner, a river right through the center of the city, and the Alps as a backdrop: “es ist sehr schön!” The first evening was quite an adventure: we arrived at the train station with 5 large suitcases, 4 backpacks, and 3 pairs of skis and ski boots. We had figured out a system whereby each of us would pull 2 suitcases carry 2 backpacks (one in the front and one in the back), and then attach the rest of the luggage via belts attached to our waists to pull behind us. It would have been one exhausting trip to get to our apartment in this fashion, but luckily one of my (Lea) friends came to the rescue and helped us navigate the (excellent) public transport system. But we could not rest yet: we had an address, but we didn’t know which apartment was ours, and no one was there to meet us since it turned out that the office hadn’t gotten the email and phone message we sent them about when we would be arriving. So we went into a few other students’ apartments and even found an empty one to crash in in case we couldn’t find ours, but in the end our roommate (an amazing Chinese student named Zaq) came to the rescue. We explored Zurich for a few hours the next day (Sunday) and even found a Hungarian church for mass right in the neighbourhood! Then Monday bright and early we started our pre-semester German classes and so are spending our time immersing ourselves in the Swiss culture and language and learning German rapidly. Unfortunately the dialect they speak here is nearly impossible to understand with our foreigner’s ear, but most people speak the “normal” HochDeutsch perfectly.

The best thing so far about the University here is that there is a Sleeping Room! It’s officially called the Relaxation centre, but you can go there any time to take a nap with soft classical music playing in the background in the comfiest beds you can imagine. If you would rather loosen up some muscles in your feet, there is also an option to get a foot massage. And everything is free with your student card! The rest of the world should take note.
Life in Zurich is promising to be a blast; yesterday we invited over our floor mates, and cooked loads of food: 15 liters of chicken broth, and a huge platter of stuffed aubergines, and a whole stuffed chicken etc… It was a lot of fun and we now have enough food for the whole week!
We’ll post some pictures soon so check back in a couple days.
Bis bald!
Lea and Hanna