Life on the Banks of River Po

Ciao tutti!

Greeting from Torino, Italy!

View from Monte dei Cappuccini panoramic viewpoint, Torino

My exchange period started at a weird time in the world, as COVID-19 was and still is changing many things. Nevertheless, the experience has been rich and totally worth it! I want to write this blog post not only as an account of my shenanigans but also as a sort of quick guide to exchange, studies and life in Italy (or at least in Torino) so prepare for a long read (or just look at the photos, that’s fine too).

Arriving to Torino was an experience itself with armed police ushering passengers to fill in COVID self-declaration forms and instructing where to go and what to do, all in Italian of course. Big tip #1: LEARN ITALIAN AS MUCH AS YOU CAN BEFORE YOU START YOUR EXCHANGE! Trust me, it will make your life so much easier.

I arrived quite a lot earlier than I would have had to, mainly because the university website is a mess and information is really hard to find. Big tip #2: get your registration rolling as early as possible. It takes a lot of time and multiple messages to get all your needed information, so the earlier you start the better off you are. And be patient, Italians tend to have a more vague sense of urgency than Finnish people and they do not respond well to aggressive, threatening or accusative tone. Best way to get things done in Italy is to put on a warm smile, remember your  manners and use humor.

Before I arrived I tried to get as many things done as possible. I found myself an apartment from AirBnB, which I recommend if you like to live alone and have some money saved up for your exchange (which I recommend doing anyways for reasons explained later in this post). If you want to save money get a room in a shared flat, which are fairly easy to find, either on ESN official FB groups for your exchange destination and period, on whatsapp groups (see the ESN FB groups for more info) or on the local online marketplace www.subito.it (be warned there are scammers out there, so make sure to verify the place before paying a dime). If you look for apartments on subito.it search in the category of “Immobili – appartamenti – in affito” and if you’re looking for a furnished apartment look for the key word “arredato”. ‘

Torino is a remarkable Italian big city as it has many parks and green areas in and around the city. It is said to be one of the one greenest cities in Italy!

Nice areas in Torino are:

Lingotto – very calm and has excellent connections to city center with the metro, trams and busses. Also close to the business school campuses.

San Salvario – Close to city center, tends to be more expensive but has everything you need very nearby.

Cit Torino and crocetta – Again close to the city center and the Politecnico campus, nice restaurants (cheaper than San Salvario)

Vanchiglia – Excellent choice if you’re mainly going to study at the Luigi Einaudi main campus. This area is easily accessible and as many areas in Torino it is very close to nature!

There aren’t many areas I have felt unsafe in Torino but I would avoid Barriera Milano, especially during late hours as the area suffers from narcotics trade and petty criminals. During daytime it is ok, but honestly I wouldn’t want to live there (just my personal experience).

Italian phone number has come in handy when registering for some local apps or services (for example Satispay, an app you can pay with and transfer money, it’s widely accepted in smaller shops, comes handy often). With a local number you don’t have to worry about using up your fast data as you can get an adequate data plan for just 10€ a month. If you want an Italian phone number (not necessary, you can manage very well with a foreign number, especially EU numbers as the roaming is fee of charge) you’ll need a tax code aka CODICE FISCALE.

 

Tessera Codice Fiscale (tax number card)

The codice fiscale is not mandatory but as it is free and can come in handy I recommend to apply for it, as soon as you can. You can either spend a whole day in a local tax office waiting to submit your application or then you can apply for the codice fiscale and the card at the Italian embassy (they will even mail the card to you in Italy if you choose so). It cost only a couple of stamps and a few minutes. Oh and if you’re a smoker, you need the codice fiscale card to buy cigarettes from vending machines. Codice fiscale is also needed for the monthly subscription to public transport (Bip card).

Arriving to Torino during COVID was interesting, especially since I was one of the first exchange students to arrive for the semester. I spent almost two weeks without meeting almost anyone as restrictions did not allow for gatherings and events. But luckily the weather was good and Torino is full of wonders you can discover just by walking. One of the biggest parks in Torino, Parco Valentino stretches along the river Po on both banks from fairly south all the way to city center and includes a medieval castle, botanical garden, fountains and much more to see. And in general Torino is an easy city to navigate and discover on foot, I walked at least 10km every day for over a week, trying to familiarize myself with my new home town. If and when museums are open, I recommend getting the Abbonamento dei Musei, a museum card that costs abt 30 euros /year and allows you to visit all the museums in Torino without admission fees. Notable museums include the Egyptian museum (one of the most important and extensive Egyptian collections in the world outside of Egypt), National Cinema museum in the Mole Antonelliana, a landmark and symbol of the city, Royal Palace with many different museums in it, Lavazza coffee museum and many many more.

Museo Nazionale di Risorgimento, Piazza Carlo Alberto, Torino

Life in Italy has a very different pace than life in Finland. I had to learn this the hard way. If you are used to late lunches around 14.00-16.00, you are in for some frustration and disbelief as it is almost impossible to find a restaurant that is open at that time. Same goes for most businesses. Small shops, restaurants, offices and other establishments close their doors for couple of hours for lunch, starting around 13.00 until around 16.00, depending on the place. So keep this in mind when you’re planning your daily errands.

Free time in Torino… I have a very skewed experience of this due to the pandemic. For most of my time here going out with friends usually meant hanging out in Parco Valentino (picture below), enjoying refreshments and trying to get home before the curfew. Now as the restrictions have been loosened I have exploited the opportunity to travel as much as I can to places close and to places further. For this I highly recommend saving as much money as you can, since Italy is full of wonderful places to visit! I’m telling to save money, not because travelling here is expensive (quite the opposite in my opinion), but because the more you have buffer in your budget the more places you can visit, especially if the pandemic is not an issue when you arrive.

Networking with other exchange students, Italian flatmates, tinder matches, your next door neighbor or virtually anyone is an opportunity to start an adventure. Italians especially are very welcoming and open people, you might get invited to a family dinner or a weekend trip just after couple of weeks of knowing someone. Travelling with other exchange students is a lot of fun, it saves costs and you get to enjoy accommodations you couldn’t necessarily afford by yourself. And the train network in Italy is delightfully functional, extensive and affordable! With 20-40 euros from Torino you can reach Venezia, Cinque Terre, Roma, Firenze and a huge number of other destinations in just a few hours. It would be crazy not to take advantage of such an opportunity!

Then the less interesting part: studying. Courses are mostly held in Italian but especially in the School of Management there are some degrees completely in English. I have had all of my classes online, so I haven’t even seen the inside of my campus which makes me inadequate to tell about regular student life in Italy. Courses are very “old school” compared to Finnish pedagogy, meaning that they are mainly just lectures with powerpoint slides and very little group work. Exams for me have been all written, but it is normally more common to have oral exams. There’s almost no obligation to attend lectures (at least for my online courses) as they are recorded. The timetables for courses are published quite late, at least in my degree of Business and Management, so again have patience. Many courses have two implementations called streams, which can be confusing so confirm with your professor whether you need to take both or just one as policies vary from course to course. Different streams can have very different structures and methods, so the upside is that you can choose the one that fits your style of learning the best. The university of Torino provides an intensive Italian course of 5 credits to everyone and you should absolutely attend as you’ll need all the Italian skills you can get to make life easier.

Once you’ve been accepted as an exchange student, you’ll get a “Buddy” assigned to you, a tutor if you will, who helps you with all school related issues as well as getting your day to day life rolling. You share the buddy with other exchange students so it will be an excellent chance to network even before you arrive in Italy.

Prices in Italy are generally lower than in Finland, especially food and drinks but Torino is on the more expensive end as is typical for Northern Italy. The culture is also slightly more Central European which eases the cultural shock a bit. Pro tip for saving money in food is to buy your veggies and fruits at local market places, mercatos, from local small vendors on a daily basis. Vegetables and fruits don’t generally last as long in fridge as they do in Finland and the supermarket stuff has lower quality than than mercatos, so if you buy fresh produce for more than two days at a time you’ll probably end up throwing them away. If you don’t like to cook and want to eat cheap but relatively good quality food, I recommend taking advantage of the school canteens, mensas. For 1,8€ you get a hefty portion of good and tasty food (pizza has good price/quality ratio as they are made on demand on the spot).

I am already dreading the day of my return to Finland as I feel I haven’t experienced enough in this city and in this country. COVID exchange has deprived me of many experiences but on the other hand it has allowed the whole exchange community to weld together in an exceptional way as everyone has been struggling with the same issue. Life in Italy is sweet once you allow yourself to flow within it. Getting past annoyances of bureaucracy, disorganization,  different and sometimes illogical practices and the language barrier (use of hand gestures helps more than you’d think) takes some time but the sooner you relax, embrace and accept your new environment and acknowledge that here things work out if you just let them, you’ll be enjoying yourself in no time.

P.s. If you want to hear more about my experiences and get some tips and tricks under your belt, do not hesitate to contact me at wille.holopainen@tuni.fi

Stories from Tirana

When I initially told to my friends and family about my plans on going to Albania for exchange, I got faced with uncertainty, prejudice, and doubt. The overall safety of the country was the main concern of my relatives. After all, Canadian Institute of Technology (CIT) is relatively new exchange destination for TAMK students and since and no-one had been there previously, I really did not know what to expect. For everything, someone always must be the first and this time was my turn. As my exchange period is soon coming to an end, I can wholeheartedly say that I did not feel threatened, once. Reckless driving culture was my main safety concern during my time here, but as long as you stay alert at all times when walking around the city, it really isn’t an issue either.

 

As my exchange took place during the spring period of 2021, 99% of the teaching happened online. Even though I would have preferred in-premises teaching, it was a non-issue for me since I knew it well in advance because of the situation the world was in. I was pleasantly surprised about the quality of teaching because in general, it quite comparable to the Finnish remote studying standard I’ve come to expect. I can only speak from the side of remote classes though and thus, my experience might have been different in a regular classroom setting.

The country itself is very beautiful with its endless mountain ranges, Mediterranean nature, and comfortable weather. As for the capital Tirana, you will experience a culture shock for sure. The infrastructure is not as developed, some areas of the city are very untidy and, in some respects, it does feel like you have gone 20 years back in time compared what it is like living in Finland. To give a few examples, the smoking culture and women’s status in a family are things that caught me off guard while living there.

.

On a positive note, the country is very affordable for a Finnish student. During the whole exchange period, I cooked under five times myself and my living costs were still less than what they are in Finland, where I almost never eat takeout- or restaurant food. Below is a picture of a very popular Greek fast-food item (ironic, I know :D) in Tirana called souvlaki, which costs 80 cents for one in this specific restaurant.

CIT has a full three-year program dedicated for their own finance students on top of the regular BA program and especially the third-year autumn semester’s offerings compliment TAMK’s finance module very well. Unfortunately, I was not able to take advantage of these courses because my exchange took place in the spring period, during which the courses weren’t exactly to my liking, but I made it work. I would recommend CIT as the exchange destination for anyone who wants to experience a lifestyle radically different from Finland, values fully English curriculum and to someone who doesn’t want the exchange period to break the bank!

Greetings from the Innsbruck

I was an exchange student at The Innsbruck University of Applied Sciences in Austria last summer in 2019. It was different the entire semester than anyone might have predicted. The semester began normally, and everything went well like we had the orientation first. After about a month, however, the atmosphere of the university started melting for me and began to effectiveness in my study at the same time. Shortly afterward, our university getting to know new people and places is an exciting experience that broadens one’s horizon like nothing else. I look forward to welcoming me and sincerely my stay in Innsbruck was a pleasant and rewarding one.

White and Brown Concrete Buildings Near Green Trees and Mountains Under White Clouds

The choice to remain for the entire period in Austria was perfect. Especially during tough times, I got to see and learn a great deal. The constraints relaxed towards the final moment, and we were able to fly a little again. During my exchange, I also had the opportunity to visit Germany, and we even traveled a lot to Switzerland. Until the end, my school remained interactive, but it was well planned, and I had no issues with it.

People Riding Bicycle on Road Near Buildings

My exchange, overall, was an incredible experience that I’ll definitely remember for a long time of my life. I’ve accumulated a wealth of experiences and made new friends, so I can definitely suggest exchange studies to anyone, and I can advise The Innsbruck University if you’re thinking of going to Austria. There’s a little bit of everything in town, a wide and beautiful alp, and plenty of shops and small street. Spring is generally short, with winter frequently merging seamlessly around Easter time into summer, and days between July and August averaging around 25 ° C. Also, it has everything that the mountains should offer, from sport climbing to running, and from mountain biking to hiking.

Stars, Milkyway, Space, Night, Astronomy

Greetings from The Hague

Last spring/summer I was an exchange student at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. The whole semester was different than anyone could have expected. Mostly because of the coronavirus. The semester started normally, and everything went well at first. However, after about a month, the coronavirus began to spread in Europe and at the same time began to affect the Netherlands. Shortly after this, our school and almost all companies closed their doors. Fortunately, no total lockdown came at any point, so we were allowed to move freely outside. Most of the exchange students went back to their home countries. I decided to stay in The Hague myself and did not return to Finland until the end of the summer.

 

The decision to stay in the Netherlands for the whole time was great. I got to see and experience a lot despite the hard times. Towards the end, the restrictions eased, and we were able to travel a little again. I got to visit Germany, France, and Belgium during my exchange and we also traveled a lot within the Netherlands. Our school stayed online until the end, but it was organized well, and I didn’t have any problems with it.

 

As a whole, my exchange was an awesome experience that I will surely remember for the rest of my life. I gained a lot of new experiences and made new friends, so I can totally recommend exchange studies for everyone and if you are thinking of going to the Netherlands, then I can recommend The Hague. The city has a bit of everything, a big and beautiful beach, as well as lots of shops and canals. It’s also easy to travel around from there, Amsterdam is about 40 minutes and Rotterdam is about 20 minutes away.

Greetings from virtual Hague!

A virtual cooking class with my classmates during “taste week”.

Since Covid-19 got all actual exchanges cancelled, I enrolled on a virtual one with The Hague University of Applied Sciences. It is quite fitting since my actual exchange would have also took part in The Netherlands. So all though I don’t get to physically be there, I get a virtual snippet of the Dutch culture and lots of interaction with the people of Hague.

My study module is called Artful Business Creations, and oh boy, artful it is. For 10 weeks we have two full school days a week with a different theme like “touch” or “taste and smell”. We have all kinds of interesting classes and exercises diving deeper to these topic, exploring the senses, and relating art and business. I wonder what it would be like in person, but through Teams it has also been surprisingly engaging and lots of fun.

Each ABC team also has their own grand project with an actual client. My team consists of myself and three Dutch students; Anastasia, Simone and Thomas, and we have had great times together, and with our client Dr. Martens. So far, I have really enjoyed Dutch people and their humor. It has been a pleasant experience working together and exchanging creative ideas. Compared to Finland I have really enjoyed the cheerful and engaging style of studying, and the dynamic yet relaxed way of working. Of course the artful course style in itself plays a big factor. This module has allowed me to to try lots of new things like meditation, reflective journaling, online dance classes and song writing.

A meeting with my team mid lunch.

The interesting thing about a virtual exchange seems to be that it takes even more creativity and planning, which is actually a good challenge. Everyone is in the comfort of their own home, but the real purpose of ABC is to get out of our comfort zones. Unfortunately one cannot spend their spare time exploring the target country, but on the bright side managing errands, relationships and other studies can be continued normally. If you aren’t able to physically go to student exchange, I definitely recommend considering a virtual one. Maybe one day I too get to go to The lovely Netherlands and see my classmates in face to face…

Zegenwensen!

BR, Jenni

Munich during Covid-19

After doing an exchange in France the year before, I decided to apply to another exchange program. This time my destination was Munich, Germany. After my arrival to the city we had an introductory week at the school where we would get to know the different classrooms and buildings of the school. We also had an opportunity to get to know the other students during evenings. After the first week the government shut down the school because of the corona pandemic.  The beginning of the semester was moved with a couple of weeks so I spent that time hanging out with the other exchange students.

(Student housing in the Olympic Village.)

After a while we were told that the classes would be held online through Zoom for the time being, and the government implemented stricter rules in Germany. At this point we were only allowed to move around within a 2 kilometer limit from our homes.  I spent that time seeing the sights close to my apartment. Thankfully my apartment was in the Olympic Village of Munich, so I had great places to go biking, right next to my apartment.

(Olympiapark.)

We didn’t do any online classes in my school in Finland so that was a whole new thing for me.  Otherwise the classes would be pretty similar to Finland, except that in Germany we had to do a lot more work. For every course we had a presentation and an essay and some courses had exams on top of that, so I must have written around 150 pages of essays that summer.  A couple months after the lessons started we were told that the rest of the semester would be online so I saw my opportunity and returned home to continue my online classes. This exchange experience was certainly different than the first one, but I’m still glad I went.

Memories from Lyon

I did my first ever exchange studies in Lyon, France in the fall of 2019. I had been in France before a couple times, but never in Lyon. So the city was new to me. I got an apartment right by the river with another exchange student from my school, so we had a nice view from our balcony.  On spare time I would meet up with other exchange students to hang out or go sightseeing. Studying in France was more relaxed than in Finland. I expected more work and stricter rules, but we hardly had any homework, except for a couple projects. We also went for a school trip to Italy to visit milk farms and Parmigiano-Reggiano factories. It was fun to see how cheese was made, and a good opportunity to get to know our fellow students.

(View of Vieux Lyon)

For school we mainly did practical studies, for example we made chocolate pudding in the school’s laboratory to figure out how to decrease food waste in the process. I would also take advantage of Lyon’s position in the map to visit other cities close by. Almost every other weekend I went to a new city to experience a different atmosphere. I had a lot of fun during my exchange and I’m very glad I chose to go to Lyon.

 

(Mount Blanc, seen from the city of Chamonix)

Summer in Cyprus

It was the beginning of June 2020 when I returned back to Cyprus and was very lucky because at the last minute I found a practical training place that could offer me some experience and get more familiar with my field of study. I started working for a nonprofit organization as a content writer making research and publishing articles on different topics that are related to sustainability on the organization’s website. I was disappointed that I had to work only online but that was my only option due to Coronavirus. I wrote several articles at the beginning and after some time, my supervisor asked me if I could help the organization to become more popular and try to spread our ideology of sustainability and using sustainable products. From that point, I found out my love for business and marketing that are extremely important in modern life, and since then they have been my main interests in addition to my studies.

 

Despite the fact that my practical training was not as I expected, life, in general, was really nice. Warm temperatures allowed me to do so many outdoor activities. Rackets on the beach was every day in our schedule with my friends, chilling in the lovely beaches of Ayia Napa and at night for a beer at some really nice bars in Protaras. Snorkeling and exploring the wildness of the Mediterranean sea was an unforgettable experience and also day trips to mountains and to the small waterfalls that are only one and half hour from the coast are extremely nice. Because I come from Cyprus and have lived there for several years, I was familiar with the Country and culture, nonetheless, every time I go I get myself doing different activities and never getting bored.  It’s a great destination for exchange students that love sun, beaches, adventures and definitely I recommend it!

 

Creetings from Central Belt Scotland!

 

Arthur’s Seat with clouds hanging low. Arthur’s Seat is 251 metre tall extinct ancient volcano in the middle of Edinburgh.  It get’s the name from a legend that tells this hill would have been the place where Knights of Round-table used to do their gatherings. UK has several “Arthur’s Seats” with same type of origins for their name.

Moved to Scotland in Summer 2019 and have been finishing my studies at TAMK from here. Did my practical training for a video game company located in Edinburgh during the covid lock-down from the beginning of April to the end of July 2020. At my time in Haiku Interactive Ltd. I composed and produced music and created sound design for a video game called Dwerg Saga. There is not too much to tell of that time. Obviously, I worked from home via internet and saw no one else face to face but my family members. Had daily Zoom meetings with my boss though. Groceries were delivered to our door weekly. Spent most of my free time with my family in our back garden.

The Flat Earth center in Inverness.

At the beginning of August things eased up a bit and we took a holiday at Highlands. Saw Loch Ness but not the monster though. According to news there has been more Nessie sightings this year than usual. I guess these times brings out the freaks from some of us who are not used to have this much time in their hands and nothing to do…

Seal swimming up the River Ness in Inverness.

 

 

Restrictions has hit harder again in UK in October. Especially in Scotland’s Central Belt, reaching from Edinburgh in the east coast to Glasgow in the west coast of Scotland. For example, the pubs are not allowed to serve alcohol after six o’clock, no more than six persons can gather from maximum of two households, and you are not allowed to visit anyone at their home. At least for now day-care and schools are open, but the autumn holiday was extended in Scotland to two weeks to kill off maximum amount of sleeping covid cases.

 

 

It would be nice to see a band live once more or maybe even travel to Finland to meet friends and family. So, skip the student parties and tell your friends to skip them too. Stay safe and stay smart everybody!

Covid-19 in Utrecht, The Netherlands

I had a chance to spend four months in Utrecht, a city in the Netherlands. The Netherlands presented itself as a land of great cheese and bicycles. During my spare time, I rented a bicycle and went to explore everyday life in Utrecht.

When COVID-19 took over Europe, Netherlands closed its schools quite quickly. After schools were closed and everything went online, I started to spend a lot of time with the exchange students who I shared an apartment. We made dinners together, watch movies, talk about a lot of stuff, so I had opportunities to learn how to make Greek or Czech food.