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Greeting from Oita (Tampere), Japan (Finland)

My student exchange in Oita University was an interesting one. Due the current epidemic, the borders to Japan were closed the entire time so I had to do exchange remotely. In fact, there were some hope to visit Japan at the end of the exchange, but the situation didn’t change so we stayed in our home countries instead.

Despite the fact, that I couldn’t visit the country itself, the classes were interesting ones and teachers were talented. The classes focused mainly on Japanese language or learning about Japanese history, culture or society. Some of the courses were quite exhausting, as we progressed fast and there were lot of homework. And it wasn’t helping that I worked full-time during the whole exchange (remotely too). So, I had to make some arrangements to work things out.

My student exchange setup

Compared to Finnish studies, things are a bit different in Japan. In Finnish classes some people will always be late, we tend to multitask something else at the same time (especially during Zoom sessions, I am looking at you :D) and we start the lecture after little ‘warming up’ after 5 minutes or so. In Oita University studies, on the contrary, almost nobody was late, and students had to focus on lectures because the pace was fast (and partly because we were required to have webcam on the whole time). Not to mention, teachers usually went straight to the topic, thus lectures started immediately.

When it comes to spare time activities, it’s unfortunate that we had none, even remotely. The only interactions we had with exchange or Japanese students were during the lectures. Not that I had time for spare time activities, but it would’ve been nice to get to know some people, nevertheless.

Overall, the exchange was nice despite the letdown of never visiting Japan. I learned a lot from the courses and improved my Japanese skills. Therefore, I can recommend their exchange student program. But maybe one day, after this epidemic is over, I will visit Oita for real and jump into the onsen I have so dreamt about:)

Greetings from Athens, Greece!

I am in Athens, Greece for my practical training abroad (at a Greek tech company) — I ended up staying a bit longer than planned. The people, the food, the weather, the beaches, and the culture kept me wanting to stay.

Athens is known for the Acropolis, an ancient citadel located in the center of the city! I got lucky and ended up staying with a friend in Plaka which had an amazing view of the Acropolis from his balcony, as well as an active archaeological site!

View from the balcony

 

Snow in Athens!

 

 

 

 

 

Neighbors in Plaka!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first few months Greece was under strict lock-down but we had some interesting neighbors to keep us company!

The biggest difference between work culture in Finland and Greece i’d say are the working hours, at the company I was working at work starts at 10:30-11:00 and then ends around 7:00-8:00, which means we are always eating late!

Working at the company in Greece was quite demanding, but it is not difficult to find some of the most beautiful places in the world with a just a ferry ride away from Athens. The food is excellent, the wine flows, and the water and beaches are amazing! That’s why I decided to stay longer than just the 5 months. I encourage anyone to take an opportunity to come do their internship here!

Swimming at one of the most famous spots in Milos without any tourists

 

 

 

Greetings from Ensenada, Baja California.

I am In Ensenada for a Semester. The weather here is amazing and the food even better. The most popular dish you can find around is “tacos de pescado”. It is possible to find plenty of seafood around but always together with tortillas. Also is recommendable to ask if something is spicy, as most of the sauces are quite hot.

Ensenada is quite known because “El Valle de Guadalupe” There are plenty of wineries. It is a nice tourist place but a bit expensive compare with Ensenada center. Craft beer is getting very popular around the area as much as wine. The most famous breweries are from the city and few others from Tijuana.

 

There are few beaches around the city, and Playa Hermosa is the most popular, which is closed at the moment due to contamination.

During my free time, I go cycling and walking around the city or the beach. I like to visit some local bars like “Baja Alta” or “Wendlandt” where in my opinion, they have the best craft beer.



I am studying business administration student, and I am attending five courses at the Cetys university. The classes are virtual, but in September we will start hybrids classes, face to face and virtual at the same time.

So far I feel we have a massive load of work. The study method is way too different than in Finland. Instead of having few courses for two or three months and after that, having some other courses, we have all of them every week till the end of the semester.

Each course class lasts for two hours with no breaks and they are two times a week. The teachers always give homework, and the homework must be done within a team for the next day.

For every task we have, the teacher makes a new team. At the end of the week, we have five different tasks to do with five different teams, and it is very confusing. Then we don’t know anymore with who we are doing what.
The way they organize everything is very messy and confusing. I guess the local people are used to it but it is very stressful situation for an outsider like me. I do miss a lot the Finnish way of organizing the classes and courses.

Greetings from Oita, Japan/my living room!

After years of planning, I finally embarked on a study exchange to Japan, at Oita University to be specific. The twist is that I didn’t set foot anywhere near Japan and completed the entirety of the exchange remotely, from the safety of my living room in Tampere. This was of course all due to the ongoing pandemic and the fact that no foreigner without residency was/is allowed into the country. As I completely missed out on the aspect of immersing myself in the local culture, this post will solely focus on the academic side of things.

The exchange program at Oita mainly focuses on Japanese language and culture. I personally enrolled on four Japanese language courses and four courses touching upon different aspects of Japanese culture. My days generally started at 7am and ended at 12, that being Finnish time. The scheduling was worked out rather well by Oita University, taking into account the fact that there are people attending the lessons across many different time zones.


Compared to what I’m used to at TAMK, the lessons at Oita had less interaction between students. That could of course simply boil down to the fact that the lessons were implemented remotely. Overall, the interactions with other students were relatively limited. I didn’t have any contact with others outside of classes and related coursework. I didn’t really mind this as I’m more of a lone wolf anyway, but I still suppose it would’ve been nice to connect with someone on a deeper level. That being said, the lessons were very efficient. I can’t really elaborate on this. I guess I could say that the structure and the flow of lessons was very efficient.

Overall, the most valuable thing I got out of this program was the Japanese language studies. The quality of the Japanese lessons was top notch with great teachers and the lessons went a long way in improving my Japanese. While I feel like I mostly missed out on the cultural and social aspects of an exchange, I can still say I’m happy I took the chance to do this exchange remotely. While far from ideal, it was still the best thing I could’ve done under these circumstances.

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.