My exchange semester here is about to come to an end, and now is the perfect time to look back at the past four months with calm contentment while shoving my life into a couple of suitcases.
When I arrived in August, I was lost like a needle in a haystack and honestly had no idea what to expect. Of course it didn’t take too long for things to start rolling smoothly; new students are always taken good care of, and there are always several people and organizations making sure that exchange students quickly get their lives into order in the new city, and get socialized into the exchange student community.
Linköping is definitely a university town, and as we know, many of the traditional student activities in Finland, such as sittningar and overall parties have originated from Sweden. Student associations at the Linköping University are very active – there are always events to attend and parties to party.
BBQ party on campus
A bicycle is absolutely a must-have in Linköping. Most of the student apartments are located a couple of kilometers away from the campus, and biking to the city center takes about the same time as taking a bus. Furthermore, the campus is formed as a wide road with the university buildings on both sides, which means that two buildings you need to go to can pretty far away from each other and biking within the campus is very convenient.
The main reason I wanted to come to Sweden was, as for most other Finnish students here, the language. I had heard many people complain about not learning the language as efficiently as they would have liked to, and I have to say that this was a bit of a problem for me as well. I had been registered on international courses despite my wishes to study in Swedish, but the people at the university’s International Office were very helpful when I wanted to change my course plan. Since in Sweden it’s common to have only one course running at a time, I got to study three out of my four courses in Swedish.
However, I spent my free time with other foreigners, as I got close with a group of around a dozen exchange students during the first couple of weeks here. Throughout the semester, we arranged different activities ourselves – canoeing, ice skating, a weekend trip to Gothenburg, countless corridor fikas and cooking dinner together, often several times a week.
Even though I didn’t get to know quite as many locals as I had hoped, I ended up learning much more than just the language by spending time with this very international friend group. For one thing I can say that even though I have always appreciated the Finnish education system, the appreciation is taken onto a whole new level when I talk to people who are constantly impressed about things that I would just take for granted. I definitely enjoyed my stay, and I will miss my friends as well as the city and the university, but I’m also very happy to return home, knowing that I can always come back across the gulf for a visit.
God jul och gott nytt år!
Linköpings universitet (Marketing, 8/2014-12/2014)
I have now lived here in Birmingham for two and a half months, and already quite a few stereotypes of British people have proved right: they do call you sweetheart in corner shops, they are as polite as they are said to be, and they do apologize a lot. Even though I have always loved the British accent, the culture itself wasn’t the main reason why I chose to apply to the UK. I wanted to improve my studies during the exchange and to be honest, even though I knew how to speak English I was quite jealous of people who were really fluent and natural with it. So I thought that maybe an exchange semester in the UK would provide interesting courses and give me more courage to speak English at the same time. So far I have been happy with my choice; lecturers are really engaged in the subjects they are teaching and assignments that we are given are interesting and close to practice. There are many discussions held within lectures and I have found it easy to be part of those discussions as well – even though I’m often the only exchange student there. My English is also more fluent now, but unfortunately I am not yet able to grasp the strong British accent.
Birmingham itself wasn’t so familiar to me before I came here. It is actually the second largest city in the UK with almost two million residents. Almost half of its residents are migrants and you can really notice the ethnic diversity everywhere you go. It surprised me as well that there are more canals in Birmingham than in Venice. However, the canals are less of a prominent feature than they are in Venice, since Birmingham is much larger than Venice. Birmingham is often said to be the ugliest city in the UK but it has its beautiful places as well, and in my opinion this is really a compact and nice city to spend an exchange semester. You get the feeling that you are living in a big city but at the same time distances are not too long. I am particularly happy to live here at this time of the year as they have the Frankfurt Christmas market in the city centre. Almost the whole city centre turned into a Christmas wonderland in the middle of November with beautiful Christmas lights and lovely stalls selling food, drink and Christmas ornaments.
Birmigham city centre canals.
The location of Birmingham is also perfect for exploring England. Public transportation is fairly cheap and as Birmingham is located in the middle of England the distances are not long. Most of the exchange students here prefer organising trips on their own but the Student Union organises trips to other cities in and outside of England as well. I’ve myself visited London, Liverpool and Oxford and we are planning a trip to Manchester.
People from Birmingham are called ”Brummies” and they have this really strong ”Brummie accent” here which caused some problems in communication during the first weeks. Even though I still sometimes struggle to understand what some students say in lectures or what people say to me in the street my overall picture of people here is a really positive one; for example one Sunday I went for a run in the morning and some nice old man shouted good morning to me as if it had been the most normal thing to say to some random girl.. That really made my day! People might also start a chat with you in cafes or in a library.
My home street
The application process went smoothly and I found the personnel of the university very helpful – they answered to all my emails very quickly and were willing to help me with all my questions. Birmingham City University guarantees accommodation for exchange students, which was quite relieving information when I first got accepted to the university. In other words I didn’t have to worry about the flat, I just registered on the university’s website and ticked a few boxes and that was it – after a few weeks I received an email from my university offering an accommodation. I live next to my campus so it takes five minutes to get to the lecture and two minutes to the university’s gym. I share my flat with five other exchange students. Even though I was used to living alone in Finland I have been more than happy to share a flat with other exchange students. It is one of the easiest ways to meet new people and to get used to living abroad as you are all quite lost at the beginning.
All in all I have had a splendid time in Birmingham and I can warmly recommend an exchange in the UK. Especially if you’re a friend of tea, love good music (no matter where you are, at the gym or in a bar, it’s always surprisingly good) and want to spend you’re exchange in a lively city and explore England at the same time.
Birmingham City University (Management and Organization, 9/14-12/14)
Greetings from beautiful Zürich, where I am currently attending my exciting exchange semester. The main reason for me to apply to Zürich was the German language. Someone might roll their eyes for this – why wouldn’t I go to Germany if I wished to improve my German? I didn’t actually have any reasonable excuse for this; I just knew I wanted to do my exchange in a German-speaking country but not in Germany. After arriving here I haven’t regretted my choice for a second.
Zürich’s beautiful city center.
Of course Switzerland is a special case when it comes to German language. Switzerland has its own, very confusing Swiss German dialect with for example different pronunciation and many own words. However, in school and in all official situations, people use High German, which is the one I have learned. In a store, the cashier doesn’t say ”danke schön” but ”tanke vilmal”, but for example all the courses at the university are taught in High German. In my experience Swiss people also really like speaking German with foreigners, and they don’t mind switching to High German as soon as they realize you are not a Swiss.
Before my actual courses started, I attended a pre-semester language course. There I also met people who were in the same situation as I was with my language skills; we all knew German well enough to have conversations, but were so insecure that we didn’t feel comfortable doing so. With each other it has been easier to improve since none of us is a native speaker. For example, I have a group of friends with a French, a Dane and a Finn, and we often speak German with each other. After only two months I am much more fluent and don’t stress about grammar anymore when I speak. It’s more important that people just understand me, anyway.
Celebrating a friend’s birthday over a dinner
For many parts, Switzerland is quite similar with Finland – I haven’t really experienced any big culture shocks. Swiss price level might of course be a worrying factor for those, who consider Switzerland for an exchange destination, but that didn’t really shock me, either. For most things the prices are pretty much the same as in Finland, and after all, you can’t really come to Switzerland and expect things to be cheap.
Travelling, however, is extremely easy here. The public transportation both inside Switzerland and to abroad works like a well oiled machine. Zürich is a city where they apologize, if the train is two minutes late! Switzerland is also so small a country, that with just two hours by train you can get to completely different sceneries. I am still utterly amazed every time I get to see the Alps from close by.
Stunning view next morning at lake Oeschinen
Exchange is a thrilling adventure, but it does, however, also improve your patience. Things don’t always go as planned; international office might lose your scholarship, Kreisbüro might require the weirdest things, or you have to drastically change your original course plan. I, for one, am not so good with unexpected surprises, and exchange has helped me to work with that.
I have noticed that on an exchange, for some reason, it’s also easier to act more spontaneously. Maybe back home I am safely settled to my routines, but in here, in a new environment and on an once-in-a-lifetime adventure it’s better to just go with the flow. That’s how you might for example find yourself on a sauna-roadtrip with a couple of other Finns, because a Swiss magazine wants to make a big article about that – yep, that really happened.
Exchange semester opens your eyes to new cultures, adventures and people, but also makes you appreciate home more. So if you are considering an exchange or maybe an internship abroad, I can recommend it most warmly. CIA TuKY’s International Week 2014 is approaching and if you wish to hear more experiences from TSE students, they will be telling their stories and answering questions on the 6th of November.
University of Zürich (Accounting and Finance, 9/2014-12/2014)
Hälsningar från Sverige!
I started my exchange semester in Gothenburg at the end of August and the timing seemed to be perfect – we were lucky enough to do all the sightseeing before the allegedly inevitable rainy season started. So far Sweden has treated me well!
In Gothenburg everything appears to be within walking distance. The university buildings are located in the very heart of the city but so are two football stadiums, an ice stadium, a huge exhibition centre, the biggest amusement park in the Nordic countries…just to name a few examples. There’s nothing impressive in having stadiums and amusement parks, but the fact that they are all located within a 2 kilometre radius without making the city centre congested – well, that’s something. The secret behind that is, in addition to the short distances and plentiful cycle lanes, the well-organized public transportation.
It goes without saying that I haven’t experienced any cultural shock after arriving in Sweden. Gothenburg is in many ways similar to Turku, only a bit bigger with the population of over 500 000 people. Both cities are located on the west coast, by the sea. The nature here, including the archipelago, reminds me of Turku. I can even buy bread made by Fazer when I go to the grocery store! So why choose a country located so near Finland?
Main building of the Gothenburg University
The choice I made was, of course, a combination of several factors. Learning the language was an obvious one and so was the course selection offered by Handelshögskolan vid Göteborgs universitet. Not all universities offer courses in logistics or supply chain management, so I was more than happy to find some in Gothenburg. In Sweden it is typical to have a maximum of two courses running at the same time – either one full-time or two part-time courses. On one hand it is useful to focus on one thing at a time, but as it happened to me, I chose a course that turned out to be too easy and was stuck with it for a month. Hopefully my next courses will be a bit more challenging!
When it comes to learning the language, I have already managed to round up a group of people who share the same problem – knowing (almost) all the possible grammatical rules but lacking in confidence to speak. So far we have had dinner and quite a few cups of coffee together while speaking Swedish only. In addition to Finns, some of the group members are immigrants from Asia, some are exchange students from other European countries who have at some point decided to start studying Swedish just for fun. So not only am I practicing Swedish but doing it with a bunch of interesting people from all over the world – that is, of course, one of the best things about studying abroad.
Liseberg Amusement Park
Other than that, Gothenburg is an excellent choice if you want to explore Scandinavia – both Norway and Denmark are just around the corner. In my case, I am actually more familiar with most of the countries located in Central Europe than with those two but that’s about to change during the semester.
I guess cosy would be a good word to describe Gothenburg with its countless cafés and the delicious cinnamon buns they offer. In a way I’m already looking forward to wintertime and the excuse to explore all the cafés when it’s too dark and cold to stay outside. One month down, three to go!
Handelshögskolan vid Göteborgs universitet (Operations & Supply Chain Management, 9/2014-1/2015)
My exchange here in Peru started pretty smoothly. The University of Lima had arranged a taxi driver for me from the airport to my new home in Miraflores. I live in a house with 12 other people but I’m the only exchange student while others are working, doing research, volunteering and one even spending her retirement days. The room costs me 1150 soles (300€) monthly. The house is maintained by a family that also runs a vegetarian lunch restaurant downstairs. My studies began with a four-week, free Spanish course to where the daughter of the family kindly escorted me on my first day. I learned a lot about where to go and what to do. Finding information here can be sometimes tricky when everything is not available online.
Trekking up to 2800 meters
Universidad de Lima is one of the most expensive universities in Peru and it has a beautiful campus. There are only 30 exchange students studying in the University of Lima. Here university studies start at the age of seventeen and it takes 5 years to get the bachelor’s degree. The lectures can be anytime between 7 am and 10 pm. I’ve taken mostly 5th year courses, which are arranged usually only early in the morning or late in evening. I couldn’t stand the idea of waking up before 6 am so now my classes are from 6 pm till 10 pm.
Taking photos of a school campus for the course of photography
Upon arrival my only goal was to learn Spanish but I was warned of the need to study hard in the University of Lima. Many of the courses do have a lot of small assignments and group work. My favorite course is photography. I have one course in English and the rest are in Spanish. Before coming here I studied Spanish for two years in high school and one at the university. However, since I’ve never really used the language before, the beginning was difficult to say the least. The courses are a bit demanding only because of the language but luckily the teachers are flexible and have promised to teach me after class and give me modified assignments if needed. My language skills improved a lot during the first weeks and now, after 2,5 months, I can survive and understand well clearly spoken language. Nevertheless, Spanish spoken on the streets is still a bit difficult for me.
A view from Miraflores to the sea
The University of Lima also provides various free time culture and sport activities, e.g. poetry, painting, chess, trekking, martial arts and dancing to mention a few. I’ve chosen afro and contemporary dance to my schedule so I can have dance lessons up to four days a week.
The traffic culture is totally different here with all the speeding, honking and overtaking. Taxis are really cheap but a bus ticket is just a fraction of a taxi price. A 11 km taxi drive from my house to the university costs about 10-15 soles (3€) whereas a bus is 1,5 soles (0,5€) and with a student card 1,2 soles (0,4€). I don’t use taxi drives that much because of the matter of safety. Plus taking a bus is an everyday adventure. The traffic is often jammed, so it can take anything between 35 minutes to over an hour to get to the university. Choosing the right bus is also interesting. I need to look at the numbers (sometimes there are two lines with the same numbers going to different locations), the bus colors and locations listed on a side of a bus or listen to the conductors’ shout. Most of the buses have conductors collecting fares and shouting to hop on or off faster. The buses are most of the time full with people standing in every corner of the bus. There are also performers and sellers who come to the buses in hope of getting a few coins. Like I said, a real experience.
On a mototaxi ride
Foreigners get a lot of attention here – in a good and a bad way. Females get a lot attention from men, people in general are more helpful and come to talk more easily to foreigners but sometimes just because of the intention of selling things or ripping off your money. In Miraflores I have no problems with walking from a bar to my house in the middle of the night alone. Overall it’s pretty safe here in Peru though one still has to be careful and pay attention to the surroundings. Once I got false money in my hands and it took me three hours to get a report of an offense from the police. Never trust anyone, they say. But Lima is a very big city with many different districts and there are areas where even a Peruvian man wouldn’t go. Only a five minute walk from the touristic places the surroundings can be totally different: old buildings, no sight parks and definitely no tourist police. There are also citizens of Lima who have never been to the center of Lima.
Here the people don’t have the same possibilities and its the relationships and connections which matter. In this world if you don’t have money to take care of your health, you die. I thought that the collective culture wouldn’t work this way but in a culture like this inequalities do not only exist but are actively maintained and are expected to exist.
On a trip in Huaraz
I’ve had a privilege to see what the life is like in the poorer neighborhoods though it is not recommended to do alone as a foreigner. I wanted to see all sides of Peru and I just loved seeing people dancing there despite how they do it just having fun while in the better districts people have got skills and I feel too inferior to dance salsa next to them. In overall, Peru has a very complex culture which means that rules don’t necessarily apply and there are a lot unwritten norms concerning how people act. Adapting to the local norms happens via watching what people do. Peruvians also tend to lie which is a bit confusing. I’ve been trying to find out the reason and it seems that people do so at least in order to look better, e.g. economically in one’s eyes.
Meeting with friends on a beach. Two girls on the right side have been exchange students in Finland.
All in all Peru is an interesting country full of differences. In addition to the culture, geographic circumstances vary a lot and Peru is divided into the coast, mountains and jungle. In Lima there is wintertime at the moment, the sun is barely shining anymore but in the north there are about 30 degrees and sunny. Distances are long and the longest time I’ve sat in a bus was 16 hours from Arequipa to Lima. The two-way trip cost me 165 sols (40€) while plane tickets would cost about 100 dollars.
To conclude, Peru is often quite unknown in the eyes of a tourist but has so much to offer. Peru has a very rich culture and history, and its gastronomic culture has been said to be one of the best in the world.
Universidad de Lima (Management and organization, 3/2014-7/2014)
Sitting here on my bed writing this, I can tell you that I am very happy for choosing Vienna to be the place for my exchange. I have now lived here for two and a half months and can say that this is a great city to live in and I’m not alone in my opinion; Vienna is, by one quality-of-life study (http://www.mercer.com/referencecontent.htm?idContent=1128060), the most livable city in the world! There is always something to do, whether it’s chilling in the park Prater and checking out the amusement park, having a “wiener mélange” in one of the many cafés or going to a party with live music next to the Danube River. Of course there are times when a Finn misses having a proper sauna and salmiakki close by, but I am still very happy to live and study here at the amazing campus of WU!
Hanging out at Schönbrunn
If I’m completely honest, the application process to study at WU (Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien) was a piece of cake. I had taken all the mandatory German courses at the level C and a couple of other courses as well (if you wonder about my back ground with German language) and was in schedule with my studies otherwise, so I don’t think those factors hurt me during the selection process. I chose WU and Vienna as my first choice for exchange because the University’s good reputation, interesting study programs, German language and of course the central location of Austria in the middle of Europe (=travelling!). In addition I found the website of WU easy to navigate and that helped a lot when filling in the learning agreement etc.
During the application process everything was done via e-mail or otherwise online. Everyone answered my questions very quickly and thoroughly and I felt well taken care of from the very start. When it comes to actually arriving in Vienna and all the administrative things, with housing, banks and sim-cards etc., I got all the information straight to my e-mail. Upon arrival I already had an apartment (furniture and dishes included), a person to pick me up from the airport, course schedule ready and a survival booklet to help me find my way around in the beginning. Like I said; piece of cake.
Before coming here I decided to take part in a Cultural and Orientation program organized by WU as well as a Pre Semester German course. Together they cost for European students about 350€, but they were worth the money. During the three and a half weeks of these programs I saw Linz and Graz, visited most of the main attractions of Vienna, got to know many of the people also enrolled to the program and did all the administrative things concerning the start of studying at WU. I also refreshed my German and got a certificate to prove it! So if you have the time and the money to come to Vienna already in February (spring semester starts in the beginning of March), I highly recommend to take part at least one of the programs, cause it is, if nothing else, a great way to get to know people.
I live in a student housing called Gasometer B with one flat mate with whom I share the kitchen and a bathroom with. It is quite far from the center of Vienna and also the campus, but because of the amazing public transport system I haven’t suffered from it at all. It is also a very cool place to live with the building being an old gas tank and us having a metro station, shopping mall, movie theater, our own bar and gym all in the same area of two blocks. There is also a nice group of exchange students living here, so you have always someone to hang out with on the roof top drinking beer or to take the night buss home with after a night of partying! However, if I now got the chance to choose my housing again, I would prefer to find a room in an apartment with Austrian roommates. A couple of my friends have done it and that is the best way of improving your German here and also they do have a lot of fun and the apartments tend to be in areas closer to the center.
The studying itself differs a lot from the Finnish pattern that I was used to. Course schedules are hard to plan, because lectures are not arranged every week and the times and weekdays vary a lot. If you have to courses that are arranged at the same time more than once, you basically have to drop the other one, because lectures are mostly mandatory. Also the group size of courses is a lot smaller with a maximum of 30 people per course. That is also why you have to be awake and ready with options on the day of the course registration. Luckily for me, Nettiopsu had thought me a few tricks, so I got all the courses that I wanted. That was not the case for most exchange students though.
The orientation program included a scavenger hunt.
At WU they offer a wide variety of courses in English, from Finance to HR and everything in between. Courses are also available in German, if you think you can handle it. Most courses offered are worth 6 ECTS, (yay!). I have courses only in English and one Business German language course myself. I haven’t found the courses too hard or too much work, but they really make you do work throughout the course and not just study for the test and that is different from most of the course at TSE. Even though many of my courses have small presentations on every lecture and a lot of group work, because of the weird time tables of lectures I find myself having a lot of days off during the week. This has given me an opportunity to get to know Vienna and cities around Austria and in the nearby countries as well. The now ongoing three week Easter break does not hurt either…
When it comes to prices, Vienna is for the most part a bit cheaper than Finland. Because of the public transportation, you don’t really have to use cabs, alcohol is a lot cheaper and available in every store, going out can be cheap if you know where to go and food is affordable everywhere, even in the “nicer” grocery stores. Even though Vienna is a beautiful city with a lot of things to see and do, you have to be prepared for rude people and learn at least some German to be able to live here. Even though you can get English service in most places, there are still a lot of customer servants that don’t speak English almost at all, so a couple of German sentences can be very useful here. Also I must say, that this town is full of people that are nice, but if you want to do something that is not “according the rules” like have 9 people in an 8 people table, you will have a problem. Rules are rules. If the shop is supposed to close at 5pm, you cannot go in to the shop after 4.50pm and so on. Austrian people do not bend the rules for anyone.
Ski holiday at Zell am See
Travelling from Vienna to all around Europe is easy and also quite cheap, when you find the right offers. I have organized most of my trips myself, but if you are feeling lazy the Erasmus Buddy Network of WU organizes along with their weekly parties and other events a range of trips around Europe and Austria, including Amsterdam, Krakow, Salzburg and Budapest for example. The only trip I have taken a part in by the EBN is the annual Ski trip to Zell am See and I can tell you, that it was awesome! Otherwise I prefer smaller groups and to make my own schedule so travelling with EBN has not been the thing for me but I believe it can be fun as well. Even though travelling is awesome and important, I cannot emphasize the fact enough that Vienna is an awesome city in itself and it’s important to know the city where you say you live in. I’m glad to say that I’m getting there!
To conclude my long ramble about the awesome life of an exchange student in Austria I must say, that I can recommend Vienna and Austria to anyone who likes cafés, skiing, a brand new, high tech campus, affordable living and easy travelling. But now I’ve got to run! I’m meeting with friends to get some drinks soon. Auf Wiedersehen!
Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (International Business, 2/2014 – 6/2014)