My name is Lorena, and I am a 2nd year Master´s student at Stuttgart Technology University of Applied Sciences, Germany (HFT Stuttgart, 2022), studying Business Psychology on the Master´s level. I will share my experience from last winter when doing my exchange semester at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki, Finland. In this blog, I will tell about my semester abroad and give my insights about the preparations.
How I decided
When starting my Master´s studies in 2020, I already decided I wanted to go abroad for one semester and study in a foreign country. Luckily, my university has many partners all over the world, – with Metropolia University of Applied Sciences being one of them, – and it made the whole process of going for an exchange semester here quite easy. The main reasons for choosing Finland and Helsinki as my destination were three:
1) I wanted to study in English and in a relatively big city
2) I wanted to study at one of the partner universities to avoid study costs via the European Erasmus+ program (The European Erasmus+ program, 2022)
3) I wanted to move to a country and get to know a culture where I have never visited before, and that was Finland!
So, I started the preparations. First, I applied for an exchange at my home university. When the acceptance e-mail arrived, I was the happiest person and felt like I could start my semester abroad right away. But as with every big change in one´s life, a move to another country takes time and good preparation, so I started to organize myself.
Preparations before departure
The most important aspects were probably the accommodation and the correct course enrollments at the Finish university, as well as the procedure with everything you leave behind when leaving for six months.
The first decision for me was the one about the housing: Do I want to have my own apartment, or would it be fun to share a flat with other students? Is it important for me to live in the city center or do I want to find a cheap accommodation in the outskirts? Those were the main questions to think about before applying for any kind of housing. In the end, I decided to use the easy and affordable option of applying for a room in a shared flat from HOAS, and I was surprised and happy how easy this process was. Now, after more than three months here in Finland, I am sure that choosing to live in a HOAS apartment was the right choice for me. I really enjoy living with other students and get in touch with internationals from all over the world. Additionally, I appreciate the short distance to the campus and the opportunity to book the sauna for free!
The second issue I had to think about was the handling of my room at home. I had to decide whether I want to sub-rent my room in Stuttgart or cancel the rental agreement completely. In any case, I needed to make sure that all my belongings were stored safely during the six months I would not be home. Luckily, I could sub-rent my room with all the furniture and store my other belongings in my mom´s place, so that I didn´t have to rent a storage.
Another matter I had to keep in mind was my status at my home university. At my home university, I needed to pay the semester fee, and everything went on as usual. But in any way, I recommend checking the regulations carefully to always make the correct enrollment at home uni.
As I am doing my semester abroad within EU, I can benefit from a lot of privileges I have as an EU citizen. For example, I do not need to worry about my visa, my health insurance, or my phone contract, as I can just use all my German contracts and they work in Finland without any additional costs. Meeting other students from all over the world showed me how much extra work many students from non-EU member states had in comparison to EU citizens. So, if you plan to leave Europe (or come to Europe from another continent), you should start very early with various preparations.
Another important topic was the selection of the courses I wanted to attend in Finland. I was able to choose from a selection on the exchange website (I needed to attend at least 5 courses). This is not a trifle matter in a country where the language of tuition can be something else than English (in my case Finnish), and I had to take special care to not mess up the course lists. Ending up in a class taught in Finnish would have been a big surprise for me!
My approach for choosing courses was then reading closely the course descriptions and making a list of minimum 8 courses and topics I liked the most. Having 2-3 courses more than I actually needed on my list, made my life significantly easier when it came to changes in the schedule and overlapping of timetables. But even if your home university or your study coordinators give you strict guidelines which courses you are allowed to attend and which not, the best tip I can share with you is to stay calm and try to arrange everything with both study coordinators, from both universities. They will help! My experience showed that in the end almost everything worked out somehow and even with a lot of regulations regarding possible courses, we were all able to find a suitable solution for everybody.
My arrival in Finland
After telling about all the preparations and organizational matters, I also want to give some insights to my student life here in Finland and differences I experienced in comparison to my home university.
In the first weeks, all the lecturers explained their schedule and the rules of the class. In general, I found my way into the courses easily, and I really liked the atmosphere. The courses I attended were mostly based on a lot of group works and project-based assignments. In the end, I did not have a single class where I have to write an exam, all my assignments are either group projects, presentations or individual written assignments. This approach of teaching made it very easy to get in touch with other students and to stay on the ball with the tasks. But it might be a different experience for students who are used to teacher-centered classes.
A difference with my home university, that I was a bit afraid of, were the long lecture hours. For example, I have one course that officially lasts from 12am to 4pm in the afternoon, which first sounded quite long and exhausting for me. It turned out that all lecturers are very caring and think about enough breaks, from little coffee breaks to longer lunch breaks, just as what we felt necessary. Before my stay I was a bit afraid that the courses would be very difficult and challenging, especially with the fully English teaching. But this worry luckily turned out to be unnecessary and the workload is really feasible.
One more positive insight I want to share is the cafeteria. Lunch at campus is really delicious, varied and healthy and with only about 3-5€ for students, extremely cheap. In this aspect, the Finnish university surpasses my home university by far. This might be related to the Finnish food culture, where lunch seems to be the most important meal of the day.
Tips and insights
I want to finish this blog with some tips that are close to my heart and might help some students that are planning their own exchange semester. My first and most important suggestion is simple: Keep calm and take it easy! Moving to a different country with a different language and a different culture is not easy for anybody. Arriving in Finland in the beginning of January meant arriving to a very cold and dark place. When I left the airplane, it was 3:30 in the afternoon, almost completely dark and around -18°C. Falling into stress and already thinking about all the differences to home would have been counterproductive. In my experience, it was the best to do everything step by step and avoid worrying about everything at once. For me it turned out to be a very good decision to arrive in Finland a couple of days before the orientation days started. By choosing this approach, I had enough time to settle, arrange my apartment, have some orientation, and get over the first excitement.
Another recommendation is very basic and easy as well: take your time! Studying abroad, especially at a university which welcomes a lot of foreign students for an exchange semester, means meeting a lot of new people and making hundreds of new connections and friends. At Metropolia, we even had some WhatsApp groups with all the incoming exchange students already before the semester started. It helped to connect and meet other exchange students, although our semester and all the lectures started completely online (due to the pandemic in winter 2021). Having the need for making new friends in the first days and weeks can be extremely stressful. After going to that whole process, I can ensure that there is no need for feeling pressure at all. If you want to meet people and make new friends, your semester abroad is one of the best opportunities you will ever have!
At the same time, be ready to feel a bit overwhelmed and strained by so many social contacts, that is completely fine as well! You really don´t need to meet everybody in the first few days. In my experience, exchange students are extremely outgoing and open minded and always look for new people, no matter when you meet them. Take as much time as you need to settle and get along with the new life and start meeting people and making friends as soon as you feel ready. There are plenty of opportunities – from strolling through a park to shopping in the city center, or partying in a club – I was always able to find some people who were up to join some activities. Just be yourself and do whatever you like to do. You will find many new friends!
Al in all, I can just encourage everybody to use this great opportunity of moving to a foreign country and gaining thousands of new experiences. I went back home with countless amazing memories, new impressions of Finland and its neighboring countries, great travel experiences, and improved English. Most importantly, I got many really good new friends from all over the world!
Lorena, 2nd year Master´s student at Stuttgart Technology University of Applied Sciences, Germany (HFT Stuttgart, 2022), studying Business Psychology on the Master´s level.
HFT Stuttgart, Stuttgart Technology University of Applied Sciences. https://www.hft-stuttgart.com/
HOAS (2022). Homes for Students. https://hoas.fi/en/
The European Erasmus+ program (2022). Studying Abroad: https://erasmus-plus.ec.europa.eu/opportunities/opportunities-for-individuals/students/studying-abroad
Greetings from the Metropolia International Relations Officer:
How to get started with your exchange studies abroad?
If you would be interested in Metropolia as your exchange destination, please check if your home university has a partnership agreement with Metropolia. If yes, please check the academic offering and further information concerning the exchange possibilities at Metropolia at https://www.metropolia.fi/en/international-relations/exchange
If you are Metropolia student and would like to go abroad as exchange student, please refer the possibilities and application in OMA: https://opiskelija.oma.metropolia.fi/group/pakki/opiskelijan-opas/palvelut/kansainvalisyys/opiskelijavaihto