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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.

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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 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

¡Hola Amigos! Greetings from Baja, California!

¡Buenos días! from Ensenada, Mexico. 

As you can see from my photo collages below, I had an amazing time in Ensenada, Baja California; Situated about 2 hours south from San Diego. Over the course of Five Months, I had done so much things I’ve always wanted to do; I learned independence and made alot of new friends from around the world.  I attended various wine festivals where they make most of Mexico’s wine for the whole country in Vineyards up in the mountains where it’s a warmer climate. I surfed all the time as well as got my first tattoo which didn’t cost too much at all. The food on it’s own though — Wow! It was so amazing and also spicy if you like it that way 😉 But overall, honestly helped me develop myself as Finland is quite  a peaceful and chill place .. here you can jump out your comfort zone and go explore.

Just a Collage of Some Good Times

I studied in a private university where I only had a few classes a week, relatively from 16:00 – 20:00 and always had three day weekends for exploring. The teachers were really chill if you explained beforehand your plans but there was alot of presentations but we all managed to get really good grades from those. We travelled alot as a group and visited various landmarks within Baja California with a few good friends from the universities, had dinners with their families and of course had a lot of parties too. It was roughly around 25’C- 35’C depending on the hour of day but you always wore shorts and light clothes regardless. Would definitely recommend going there because you can easily hop across the border to Los Angeles and San Diego for shopping and exploring there as well.

Memories in Mexico & Surfing Waves

All in all, would for sure go back some day. With love, from Mexico 🙂

Conor Caldwell

Instagram: @designedbyconor

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.

Greetings from Munich

I spent two semesters abroad in Germany, Munich. I went there in September 2019. The school life in Munich was not that different from what I have used to in Tampere University of Applied Sciences. Some of the courses I had was though by professors who had enormous experience on the topic from corporate world. It was pretty nice to notice that the professors were enthusiastic in teaching and the topics were made to be interesting through a real life stories.

In my spare time I used to go to the gym, nearby my apartment. It was really easy to get the membership at the gym and the atmosphere there was nice. I used to go a lot into the restaurants  and have a some food and beer with friends. I really enjoyed the food culture in Bavaria.  When I had more time I was spending a day visiting the sights. There was so much to see in Munich only, sadly the COVID-19 situation came later and I wasn’t able to visit in every place I wanted to. At least I went skiing on the Alps.

The studying and working culture doesn’t differ that much between Germany and Finland. Only major thing is that the teachers feel to be more respected in Germany than they are in Finland. I think it might be because of the masculinity aspect of the country. In Germany there are more hierarchies than in Finland and people tend to be more masculine, where Finland is feminine country.

München, Olympiastadion, Olympic Park, Stadion

https://pixabay.com/fi/photos/m%C3%BCnchen-olympiastadion-olympic-park-2516492/

Hallo! Greetings from Berlin!

I spent six months in Berlin doing my exchange studies and I had a great time! The university was Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft Berlin (HTW), and very different from TAMK, in my opinion. There was not many spaces to study with friends and their library is pretty different, it was more like Tamk’s silent room. You can not go inside with your bag, jacket, food/drinks, you have to leave everything in a locker outside, and you cannot make any noise. Also, if you want to rent a book you need to ask the librarian. One nice area with sofas to study and meet your friends is, surprisingly, a bar. Yes, there is a bar in the uni.

Facilities aside, I had some nice courses and good teachers. The duration of classes were three hours and fifteen minutes, those fifteen being a break in the middle and the teaching style was similar to Tamk’s.

I lived in a student residence called Victor Jara together with many Erasmus students, which was awesome! Everyone had its own studio but lived in the same building.  There was a big common area outside, felt like a private park, with some chairs, grill and even a beach volleyball court. And there was also a student bar in the building (that is Berlin, my friends) that opened every Tuesday and Friday and had the cheapest drinks possible.

First picture in the area outside the building and second picture is the bar, Bierkeller, when we celebrated its 65 years.

There is loads of things to do in Berlin on your spare time! It is a huge and multicultural city and you can find anything you want. The history and the culture of the city, and the country, is impressive and you can learn about it just walking through Berlin or going in one of the many museums. Museums of history, art, photography, technology, everything.

Berlin is a beautiful city (a bit dirty though) with a lot to offer. There are many touristic places to visit, food from all over the world to eat, a lot of vegan too, and people from everywhere. The thing I loved most about this city was its freedom. People are free, they dress and walk in the way they want and no one is judging or being judged.

Berliner Dom and Brandenburger Tor.

One thing you must, and probably, know is that Germans love sausage and beer! And unlike Finland, a lot of cheap beer and alcohol.  Berlin is also known from its street art, which you can see everywhere, and for its club night life. It is the techno city, and it is crazy. If you are going there, be free and enjoy!

“I love my life” (all photos were taken by me).

 

Greetings from China

My study exchange in Shanghai was for 4 months. During this time I learned a little bit of Mandarin Chinese, how to move around the city and how to survive in China.

First of all, everything is surprisingly hard when you don’t speak the language. Many Chinese people don’t know even one word of English and are not eager to even try to communicate with Western people. After few weeks of being in Shanghai and getting to know the most important words in Chinese everything got simpler.

During my free time I traveled inside China, studied the language and did some shopping. Shanghai has bigger shopping centers than you can even imagine!

Studying in China differs a lot from studying in Finland. In China teachers are really strict, schooldays are every day +10 hours long and students go to school in the morning about one hour before the first lecture to prepare themselves for the school day.

Shanghai is a city that never sleeps. There is always a traffic jam with hundreds of electric scooters chaotically going from one place to another, restaurants are open till midnight and buses are always crowded with people.

Shanghai is definitely a place everyone should visit even once!