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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)

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!

Hello from Buges, Belgium

I got to spend my exchange in Bruges Belgium. And I was in luck to have that time before the pandemic. I actually didn’t have any other beside Belgium, because the teachers visited in our school and told about Vives university and I liked it. I applied and it was actually pretty easy to get in there. I was the only Finnish person in there.

I was in study exchange so most of my weekdays went at school, studying. I study hospitality and management but there it was mainly business and we also had some basic knownledge about Belgium itself.

Spare time went by with exploring Bruges, tasting beers and eating. A lot of fries with good sauces, clams, different waffles and of course beer. My favorites!

And longer weekends and holidays by visiting other cities. Bruges was so beautiful city!

 

 

Greetings from Glasgow!

I spent 4 months in the ever rainy Glasgow and I got to say I really enjoyed my time! This luckily happened before all this covid stuff so we had the chance to attend lots of events and trips with my flatmates who were from all around the Europe.

The studies were really great in my opinion, the teaching was high-quality and the course content was spot on. I managed to learn a lot of new and important stuff that could help me in future projects besides gaining a lot of new material for my portfolio. Most of the classes were practical which I really liked, though it was always backed up with some proper theory to get going.

We had a lot of freedom when to do our course tasks which meant there was quite good amount of spare time to spend, which I did by spending time with my flatmates. The school (Glasgow Caledonian University that is) held great amount of events we took part of and we also did some trips to smaller islands and whisky distilleries by ourselves. Our exchange held great amount of time sitting in Glasgow’s pubs having some pints of Scotland’s finest beer Tennent’s and watching some Celtic FC’s football (which they are crazy about).

The study culture was quite the same as in Finland from my experience, though it did contain more self-study as the teacher would usually just link the material and everybody would go through it on their own phase and ask for help if needed. The people studying was bit younger than we usually have in Finland which was probably the biggest difference. The amount of studying/working for the courses was roughly the same as we’ve had in Finland

Groetjes uit Utrecht!

Living and studying in the Netherlands was quite the experience for me. It wasn’t the “best time of my life” as most people say after their exchange but I did live a lot, make great memories and stories and I would do it again any day. Here’s a few tips you might find useful if you consider Utrecht as your exchange destination.

Studying in Utrecht can be different to Finland depending on the university you study at. I studied Music Marketing & Management at the HU University of Applied Sciences and I had school 2-3 times per week for a few hours and the whole study program was incredibly easy. For anyone wanting to study music business, the program in HU is a fair choice but I reckon there are better schools and programs out there. I was personally disappointed in the program. If you want to make the most of your exchange and don’t want to focus too much on school, HU is the place. It’s stupid how well you can do with minimum effort. For the folks who actually want to study and learn, Utrecht University is your jam.

Utrecht Science Park

Netherlands is a great destination country if you want to travel around Europe, as many countries are just a train ride or a short flight away. Trains are relatively expensive but you can find cheap flight tickets if you take advantage of different student deals that are available. I focused mainly on enjoying the student life in Utrecht and exploring the different cities within the country but did visit a few countries during the Autumn.

Windmill in the outskirts of Utrecht

One major thing to take into consideration is accommodation. To put it simply: housing in Utrecht is terrible. If you want student housing, you need to book and pay for it the minute it is possible, even if you don’t know if you got accepted into the school. The rooms will go very quickly and if you’re not able to get one, the school can’t do anything for you. I didn’t get student housing and ended up living 6 months in the upstairs of a very sketchy driving school, which later on turned out to be illegal. So don’t be like me, be early! The rents in Utrecht are high and most flats have mildew but that’s just the way it is here. Ain’t no changing that.

 

Rainchester

Manchester, The Arndale at 08:23 am. Photo by Pedro L (2020).

Living in Manchester, especially during winter, is a very interesting experience. It gets pretty similar to wintertime in Finland, just change the snow for rain. The sun rises around 8-9 am and it sets close to 3-4 pm. Streets are wet and you ought to carry an umbrella at all times because you never know when or where the rain is going to catch you, yes not even the weather forecast helps. But don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy my time in there. Manchester is a very vibrant and intercultural city, there is always something different happening which means there is always something to do.

For example for Halloween, streets and stores would be decorated giving the city a really festive environment. Diverse types of happenings related to the festivity and even huge sales at stores are part of the celebration. It is fun to see how everybody gets in the mood and prepares themselves for such event.

Manchester city centre decorated for Halloween, Photo by Pedro L (2019).

Studying in Manchester has also been a nice experience, though it differs from what I am used to in Finland. The teaching methods consist mostly of lectures and assignment as opposed to the Finnish methods that are more related to discussions and group work. There is also a marked vertical hierarchy between teachers and students which does not occur in Finland, where there is a horizontal treat in the class. However, all of this made this experience unique a very enriching, understanding and living another different culture have made me a more flexible and versatile person and I believe this will also help me in the work-life.

Berlin place to be

I spend my summer 2019 in Berlin Germany. My practical training was in youth social work at UFA Fabrik e.V. which is part of worldwide Settlement neighbourhood houses. During four month living in Berlin with local roommate and only speaking German was a great trip.

Free time was mostly hanging around in parks, fleamarkets, seeing great gigs, going theatre and art exhibitions. Also lots of pubs and club life includes naturally when you live in Berlin.

Working life was more communal in Germany than in Finland. At least in the social field. We spend lots of time together also in our free time some afterwork beers and culture happenings.

Breda, the capital of North Brabant

I spent 6 months on my favorate city in Netherlands, in Breda. my trip started over a year ago and it ended just before the covid-19 pandemic reached Europe in february. I really fell in love to Breda. The architecture, the landscapes and the people. I Traveled to Breda 2 weks before my school started there and had plenty of time to get to know the place and the people there. And during that period it was +30 degrees everyday which was a bit different from Finland in september.

The city of Breda has about the same amunt of people living there as Tampere, but the area of the city is way smaller and the city is almost 1000 years old already so it has some really beautiful old buildings there. The gate abowe is a picture of the entrance to the prison of the city.

Finding a place to live as a foreign exchange student was really a handfull but after searching for about 6 weeks i managed to move into a small house with a yard (shown above). The downside of the flat was that i needed to share it with the owner who was a local musician in the respectful age of 75. So no parties in the house or any excess noise whatsoever. Thankfully the city centre wasn’t that far away so i could enjoy the student parties and the many pubs of the city.

I studied Biotechnology as a minor in Avans university and it involved a lot of different projects from cultivating Hela Cancer cells to studying beer DNA and isolating specific genes from the Yeast strains involved with beer making to study the effects of fermentation to the fravour of beer. It was a really interesting time in my live.

Czech, in the blink of an eye

In the blink of an eye, it is now September when the sky turns greyer and the leaves turn more yellow in Finland, and I somehow still haven’t grasped the fact that I first set foot in the Czech Republic 8 months ago. The time I spent in a little Bohemian town called Pisek was just over 3 months. It was short, but it is meaningful.

I arrived at Prague late evening on a chilly January day and made it to Pisek after quite traveling. The next day I was introduced to the studies at The Film Academy of Miroslav Ondricek (FAMO) by the International Coordinator, Daniel. FAMO campus was not huge, but compact and was ideal to any cinephile, and even had some mini-exhibitions of vintage filmmaking gears. I learned a lot during the time there on traditional filmmaking through not only lectures about Film History, Production, or Scriptwriting but also from the hands-on experiences and through profound discussions with the lecturers. There was movie screening weekly on campus, which went through some of the classics of the Hollywood silence’s golden age to German Expressionism. However, one particular project that has been immensely influencing my vision, and lenses, is to produce from scratch and to direct a short film without any dialogues. Working on the project, I had many opportunities to discuss and to be consulted by the experienced and well-known filmmakers, scriptwriter, and producer. Unfortunately, the filming of the project was later canceled due to the coronavirus and the tough restrictions of the Czech authorities, and thus, the learning was switched to online platforms, and exams were introduced as a replacement. I kept on studying remotely with FAMO teachers even after my challenging journey back to Finland and ultimately decided to keep on finishing my uncompleted project here.

Let’s move on with the fun part: the life in Pisek. The city is small but incredibly scenic with old buildings, a stone bridge that crosses the Vltava river. I usually did some running on the riverbank and enjoyed the view.  The city is not at all touristic, so for me, I was living a very original and local lifestyle. I also realized that most inhabitants did not speak English at all, so I tried practicing my limited Czech vocabulary whenever I could, whether it is just an “Ahoy!” or “Děkuju!”. Living in Pisek was way cheaper than in Tampere, so I took the opportunity to go to some local restaurants sometimes. Besides having many good sausages and cheap beer, I also learned that Vietnamese people are considered a minority in the Czech Republic, and that was how I got to eat my home dishes a lot more frequently here. I have also grabbed the chance to visit Prague before social distancing happened, in which I booked a charity tour from a local and learned the 1600 years of Czech history. It was fun while it lasted.

It was an eye-opening learning experience for me, as I learned a different form and a different approach of moving images from what I learned in TAMK. In TAMK, there is a more contemporary aspect in teaching and there is also more freedom in making video arts than in traditional filmmaking. TAMK students are also independent artists of their own, while in FAMO, students are filmmakers that should follow the written rules and processes to enter the film industry. However, my opinions and ideas were both heard and given constructive comments from the lectures in both institutions.

That’s said, I wholeheartedly appreciate the experiences I gained living in Czech and studying at FAMO, given the extraordinary time that we live in. I will definitely come back to the country to immerse in its culture a bit more, and to learn more from this country of rich history in filmmaking. As an update, I have just finished shooting the project I started at FAMO independently, and as well made a short video of my journey back to Finland from Pisek here: https://youtu.be/-OMioBrBzCI

Enjoy!

Minh Pham

Note: The images and video in this post are taken by the author