Category Archives: Culture

Culture and Arts, Film and Television, Music, Music Pedagogy, Media Production

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.

What’s up Seoul,#RepublicofKorea

I arrived at Incheon Airport on the 29th of February, when the coronavirus was blowing up and spreading uncontrollably in South Korea. Therefore, before coming to Korea, I expected a chaotic scenario at the airport, but everything was organized logically, and seeing everyone wearing masks was a relief. Seyoon is one of my most close friends in Mediapolis. When I just arrived at the airport, Seyoon’s father was there to pick me up and he drove me to my dormitory in Seoul. Thanks to him, I reached my dorm safe and sound.
I struggled a bit on the first day of figuring out how to charge the T-money card known as the public transportation card. Because that card can only recharge by cash, and I didn’t have any cash with me at that time either.

I was lucky that I have my old friend who has been living and studying in Seoul for 3 years. She helped me a lot with getting a new SIM card at a reasonable price, learning basic Korean language, and taking me around Seoul.

After I got the admission from Sungkyungkwan University (SKKU), I was added to a Kakao group with all the upcoming exchange students. Before coming to SKKU, my buddy (tutor) Yewon already contacted me to help me prepare everything documents and essential things for my exchange period. Because of the pandemic, we hadn’t had time to hang out with each other at first. But later, when the situation in Korea was controlled much better, we finally had a chance to meet up and catching up with each other about how everything was going on.

I’m always a big fan of the Korean concept and visual arts, so right after the art gallery and exhibition were allowed to open again, I went to some with my friends and my tutor. They were so well organized and mesmerizing. Sometimes, I didn’t need to go to any exhibition, because they exhibited some artworks everywhere, specifically, in the subway station

    
             (Inside Magritte exhibition)                             (subway exhibition)


                                                      (subway exhibition)

Because of the pandemic, I had online classes for the whole semester. Enrollment in Korea is much more competitive than in Finland. And to be honest, I couldn’t enroll in one course I like because I was late only a few seconds on the first enrollment day. I had to email the professor for letting me enroll in that course if there was any vacant slot for me. Luckily I finally got in. There was another story on my enrollment day. As I was so hustling to enroll in the course, I made a mistake in typing the course code, so BAAM! I enrolled in one course I thought I would never do which requires a lot of coding. I struggled a lot with that course, but thanks to that, now I got a new skill in coding with processing which I think I already forgot 70% of it. The learning system in SKKU is not that different compared to Mediapolis since we all studied online and had daily, weekly tasks after every lecture. In the last 2 weeks, we had some group meeting at SKKU campus with the professor for getting some instruction for the final project.

As normal, the spring semester would end on the 19th of June. However, this year there were a lot of things happened, so my semester ended much later (5th of July). After finishing the semester, I went to Busan which is a beach city in Korea with my friend as a short summer vacation.

Back in March, when I didn’t have many assignments and projects to do, I had a day hanging out around Seoul with my friend in Itaewon and Hongdae, and I also filmed it. You can check the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zW9ZYyY98jY

Photos were taken by Hy

 

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

 

Daily hikes up Steep Hill! Greetings from Lincoln, UK

 

Lincoln Cathedral, United Kingdom

I spent my exchange in Lincoln, a relatively small historic city in the eastern midlands of England.

My studies at The University of Lincoln were mostly theoretical and consisted of a lot of reading and writing academic texts. I study film and screenwriting, which made the theoretical nature of the education a bit frustrating to get used to at first, because back at home, all we do is very much practical. I’m used to learn things by doing things, and I’m not good at writing essays at all, not to mention the inability I have to focus while sitting still for long stretches of time… But I’m very proud of myself for experiencing and learning from these differences!

I will miss this place a lot. Lincoln is an old Roman city full of history, and one of those places where history can literally be touched and felt.

There are ruins scattered throughout the city centre and the Roman city walls built around a steep hill called, well, Steep Hill. If I remember correctly, it features the steepest street in all of United Kingdom with shops on it, and leads to the nearly 1000-year-old Lincoln Cathedral and Lincoln Castle sitting on top of the hill.

It only makes sense that I spent most of my free time hiking up Steep Hill, looking at Antique shops, sipping hot chocolate in bookshops, walking in nature, exploring tiny old villages around the neighbouring counties (and I even ventured as far as Wales and Scotland! But I never got the chance to visit Ireland as I had planned to go there in the summer, and well… that didn’t work out as I had planned).

Let’s just say I got very used to having sore feet.

I think back on my time in Lincoln with a sense of bittersweetness. I had a wonderful time there, but I wish I had done much more and travelled much more. I wish there had never come a situation where I had to return home before summer, because I had made so many plans specifically for the summer months. But what did I learn? Never wait until summer to do anything! Maybe that’s why Finns love to do the sauna + lake thing so much in the winter months…? 😀

I will definitely l return to Lincoln as soon as I can afford it and the virus situation has settled down! And this time I’ll visit Ireland as well!

 

Greetings from Gdansk

Greetings from Poland

I really enjoyed my exchange in Gdansk. The city is nice and beautiful and it’s easy to travel to other cities in Poland. The public transportation is good and really cheap compared to Finland. Also the taxis are cheap so you know you can always get to where you need to go. 

I’m really satisfied with my studies during my exchange. I chose good courses and I’m really happy with the progress I made during my studies. During my exchange I focused on my instrumental skills so pretty much all the courses I chose had something to do with cello. I didn’t have a lot lessons that required my presence which allowed me to focus on practicing. I had approximately one hour of school per day. My days consisted of going to practice in the morning then a lesson or two during the day and back to practice after seven pm when there were class rooms available again. 

 

During my free time I would go and visit the city center or hang out with other exchange students. We had a really good group of exchange students and we explored the city together. We also made trips to other cities in Poland. I lived in the music campus so I went to the student concerts whenever I had the time. It was truly great to have live music so close to whereyou live. 


The school is surprisingly big. I didn’t realize there would be so many students in it. I think it’s bigger than any music school in Finland. It’s a good thing since there is a lot of courses you can choose from so you have more options on what to focus on. Also you can do bigger projects since you know there are 

 

enough students. However I think in Finland the students are more on the same level with their skills while in Poland there are some really good musicians and some that aren’t quite as good at least at the beginning of their studies. 

All in all I have had a really great time with my exchange. 

Quiet life in a quiet city

I did my exchange studies in International College of Liberal Arts (iCLA), which is a part of Yamanashi Gakuin University in Kofu, Japan. Kofu is a small city in the Japanese scale with a population of almost 200,000 people. It’s around the same size as Tampere, so it didn’t feel tiny for someone from Finland. The city center has everything you need and there’s also a big shopping mall one short train ride away. The area is surrounded by beautiful mountains and Mt. Fuji is visible from the campus on a clear day. The area is known for it’s grapes, peaches and it’s famous warlord from the Sengoku period, Takeda Shingen.

Due to the situation with the ongoing pandemic, all the courses were held online. I study media and arts and could find courses and workshops relevant to my studies, like graphic design, interactive art and the basics of game development. The credits (as of now) are worth double in the Finnish system. The online teaching works okay, but for some courses it’s been quite a challenge (like acting class). I also heard that the online teaching will continue on the autumn semester as well, so if by any chance someone is going there, keep that in mind. The courses itself have been okay and I have learned some new things. There’s also quite interesting workshops available which you can experience in Japan only, like shugendo and Mt. Fuji excursion.

It’s hard to say what normal studies at iCLA would be like. I’ve heard stories of the normal student life with all the festivals, galas and trips. For us, everything got cancelled (understandable). We didn’t have the entrance ceremony or any of the offline orientation programme. The student lounge closed after a few weeks into the semester and we were told not to hang out together or travel. There were no places to exercise in, the hobby clubs were closed and the Wi-Fi outside of the locked student lounge didn’t support gaming either. Even the meal plan we all had to enroll in served the meals in plastic boxes so we wouldn’t eat in the same space. It was a struggle to adjust to this new lifestyle at first because suddenly all the things you were used to were taken away, but after some time you learned to live with the situation.  I am not blaming the school for taking all these precautions, but I feel like something else could’ve been given to us in return. From what I’ve heard the situation is really different from the previous semester. Everybody seems to truly love iCLA and were sorry that it had to work out like this for me.

Something to keep in mind when moving to iCLA: everybody has to be a part of the meal plan (unless you have a doctor write you an confirmation that you can be excused due to allergies or health issues) and the food is served three times a day, usually in the cafeteria, the dorms are separated by sex and connected to the school building itself and the staff is very helpful and willing to answer questions. There’s an art room for artists to work and sew in and a student lounge connected to it where people could meet and play together. The average age of a student is around 20 years old, so keep that in mind if you’re an older student wishing for company around your own age.

To spend time people usually talk with each other or visit the restaurants nearby. Sometimes we would go to the mountains or karaoke, but as the situation was what it was, there wasn’t much to do. However in a normal situation I am sure people would be able to experience many wonderful things in this city, join hobby clubs and meet lots of new people. And any nerd would be happy to hear that Yamanashi’s mountain area is the inspiration for Pokémon’s Viridian Forest! It truly felt like that as well. You will know if you visit the forest during summertime. If you’re into anime pilgrimages, Yuru Camp is based in Yamanashi and can be seen advertised all around Kofu.

Based on other’s stories and the nice personnel in iCLA, I would recommend the school to anyone planning on going to Japan for an exchange. However I would not recommend going anywhere during a pandemic. Stay safe!

 

Discovering immersive storyworlds in Aarhus, Denmark.

 

I started my studies in February as I landed in rainy and windy Denmark. Study group of ours, consisting of 10 different nationalities all over the world were warmly welcomed by the VIA University’s friendly staff on our first day. I could immediately feel hygge vibes within the school, people and city.

The New Screen Experience exchange studies have been covering all kinds of new media from VR to AR to XR together with stories. Our school is located at the industrial Filmbyen separated from main campuses together with 80 media companies around the area. 

Living in vibrant young student city with more than 60,000 students creates inspiring environment. Aarhus was nominated for the culture capital of Europe 2017,  I could see cultural projects taken further what it comes to art, architecture and technology. It is also easy city to access everywhere with bike, bus or tram within 20 min from different neighbourhoods. 

Aarhus is full of student events, museums, underground scene, flea markets, concerts, and festivals. Nightlife and pubs is the place where you easily socialise and meet new people besides school. Weekly sport activities and routines also helped to adapt with the local life even more. As a Fin, of course I had to find local sauna, and happily there was free public sauna around the Bay Area. Setting for the sauna was amazing with industrial harbour views, but disappointedly sauna experience wasn’t as hot as I expected. However, cold Tuborg pilsner tasted great afterwards!

 

When the corona outbreak happened all social events have turned into a lockdown, with studying from home and socialising online. Luckily spring have provided with great sunny weather to cycle around city and the restrictions have allowed enough freedom go out and gather in small groups. There have been a lot  to explore in local nature parks, lakes and sandy beaches. Just spending time in outdoors have made so much improvement daily life that I couldn’t image having quarantined in any other place.

However corona pandemic made this spring pretty special for studies, I could still make some comparison what it comes for the studies itself. I could see right away that the atmosphere in Filmbyen is pretty similar, like our studies at the Mediapolis. Studies are more hands on production, problem solving and group working. Some differences I could still see in course structures, since here the studies are in three different modules for the minor. As in our study minor we have more freedom over courses during the minor. Both have its benefits, but I felt more motivated about the module based program which were more structured to one topic and technology at the time, instead of having multiple topics whole minor. Overall study experience have been really interesting with visiting lecturers, groups tasks and online working.

I can fully recommend Aarhus as an easy going vibrant place for studies and living. Especially encouraging our media and film students to discover possibilities of new media in an inspiring environment.

안녕하세요 from Seoul!

I came to South Korea for my exchange studies on the 26th of February. When I arrived, COVID-19 was already an issue around here, but Seoul National University of Science and Technology (Seoultech) decided to keep their exchange program regardless.

I live on campus, on a very nice dorm room with my own kitchen, washing machine, and bathroom, and I was pleasantly surprised by just how big this campus is! We have a gym, a few cafés, multiple convenience stores, and a lot of places to just sit down and study.

Some cherry blossoms on campus.

The area where the University is located is a bit far from all the touristy and famous parts of Seoul, but the subway here is gigantic and covers almost everything you need!

Pro tip: Google Maps doesn’t really work here, since they only trust national apps – so Naver or Kakao Maps are your new best friends.

Hanok Village – traditional Korean houses

I ended up picking 6 classes, which is a bit more than the recommended and needed amount, and I will admit I regret it. It feels like more work than I had in Finland, specially since the teachers require weekly tasks to count our attendance for the online lessons (all our classes are online, because of COVID-19). Nothing compares to my Korean friends, who seem to have double the workload the exchange students do.

Despite the global pandemic, Korea never instituted a lockdown, so I was still able to visit the local highlights on my free time! The language is for sure an issue, since outside campus most people don’t speak English, but Koreans are incredibly hospitable and friendly, and they go out of their way to help even without speaking a word of it.

Gyeongbokgung palace

Cherry blossom season was for sure the highlight of my time here so far! I spent most of my free time hunting for nice cherry blossom spots, since the big parks were closed to prevent big crowds. It became a fun little adventure, and luckily, there are cherry blossoms everywhere! I’ve been having a blast photographing everything around here, and I carry my film camera almost everywhere I go. 

 

  

I still haven’t left Seoul to visit Busan or Jeju – since travelling was prohibited until May 6th. Something good came out of the online classes though: I can easily travel and attend the classes as long as I have my computer with me.

Lanterns in Temple for Buddha’s Birthday – 30th of April

I’ll return to Finland in the middle of July – hopefully, and I’m very lucky to be able to still experience my exchange studies in my dream destination in a situation where the entire world stopped, Korea didn’t, and the experience has been great so far!

Sziazstok from Hungary!

I am also one of those who had to interrupt their exchange studies due to the current uncertainty. I still got to spend a lovely one and a half months in Budapest, Hungary.
I studied in the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design. They had just finished building and renovating the campus in late 2019, so it was sparkling new and had a fascinatingly sterile feel to it. The facilities were amazing, they had a studio for everything: ceramics, metal-working, wood-working, textile, printing… It was the first time I saw such a big campus and studying there made me feel like an actual university student.

I went to MOME to study ceramic design, so I spent most of my time in the ceramic studio spaces. I also took some life model sculpting classes. My classmates and professors were very accommodating and nice to me, perhaps because I was the only exchange student on those courses. Most of them spoke English, but my courses were held in Hungarian and the professor explained things to me in English afterwards. I really enjoyed studying at MOME and I miss the campus. My courses changed into online courses which I continued (and finished) after returning to Finland.

Studying in Budapest did not differ much from studying in Tampere. I had no problems adapting to the culture. I took a course to learn the basics of Hungarian at MOME and I also learned some things beforehand, so it made things even more easy. I am always interested in learning new languages and Hungarian was most definitely interesting.

As for free time, I spent most of it with my dear newfound Erasmus friends (and a few Hungarians too!!). We went to see tourist spots and thriftshopped to the max. Most often we would gather in Budapest’s many ruin bars. There was a bar called Klub Vittula, which ended up being our most common hangout. I always had a great conversation starter when I met new people there…

There was always something to do in Budapest. Our campus had lots of activities too, like movie nights and free yoga classes. The price of food in restaurants was very cheap and for a vegetarian there was many places to choose from. The public transport was easy, and the city was beautiful. The cherry blossoms were blooming in March, right before I left.

 

One weekend we traveled to lake Balaton, the biggest lake in Hungary.

 

 

 

I am honestly still sad and gutted that my exchange plans went awry and I had to leave, but life goes on. I am really hoping to have another chance to meet all the cool people again and to just sit and chill at a ruin bar. Maybe someday!

Filming Sea Turtles in Guatemala

I spent 3 months in Guatemala (Oct-Dec) filming the research and conservation activities for sea turtles. It was part of a fine art studies internship, and I spent most of it in a rural area by the Pacific Coast, about 20 metres from the water. I also helped the researchers there quite a bit, as help was needed. Work there was hard and time-consuming, but purposeful. I had complete freedom to do things my own way, but I always had to consider that I wasn’t there for my own gain, but for helping others. I liked that very much.

During November not many turtles hatched, so I had more free time to travel within the country. I got to hike a volcano and spend the night camping and watching a neighboring volcano erupting every 5-15 minutes. I got to kayak in a large lake among volcanoes. I got to hike in the jungles and on warm, month-old lava, visit Mayan ruins, experience the Day of the Dead and eat all the avocado and pineapple I ever wanted (and get all the mosquitoes bites I never wanted).

 

People here are very chill when it comes to work. Sometimes too chill, as scheduling tends to be overly flexible most of the time. With that said, people do get the job done, just without much stress. Most of my work with others was helping them, as my work was something only I could do.

Overall, it was a great time and I am glad I got to experience it!