Exchange experiences

"I believe that being an exchange student is a must-have experience. Perhaps it may sound like a cliché, but it certainly blew my mind, opened completely. The curious eventuality of living and studying in a totally different place, and most of all, the fact of sharing the experience with other pilgrims from many parts of the world: being strangers and become friends in an unknown place", Diego Olivas Arana tells, describing his exchange experience at University of Helsinki.

Exchange time abroad can be an emotional rollercoaster as living in a different country and experiencing a new culture is sure to raise different kinds of difficulties. For Diego, it was the darkness during the winter time, as he couldn’t sleep or, on the other hand, couldn’t wake up. But as he points out well above, the experience is still worthwhile for the very same reason and that is partly why the time is usually remembered with the kind of warmth as Nadia Zullo does when she sums up her experience:

“I am beyond happy with my exchange year and I'm so sad it is over already. I would do it again one hundred times and I don't think there's something I'd do differently.” But what brings students from all over the world to Helsinki? Why should you come here? Maybe some of the last academic year’s exchange students can explain.

Why did you decide to study at University of Helsinki?

– Well, that is for sure the million dollar question! I chose Finland because I believed I had to be there, for some uncertain reason. Miksi [Why in Finnish]? Because in the last years, I have been seeing Finland in many ways. Just a brief example: I discovered I had relatives living in Helsinki; I started to watch Aki and Mika Kaurismäki’s movies; I met many Finnish exchange students in my home university; I used CouchSurfing and hosted a Finn at my place for a month. As you can see, there was an unexpected series of small events that made me think I had to go there and know the place.

Was studying and student life at UH different compared to your home university? And on the other hand, do the universities share any similarities?

– Students’ life in University of Helsinki is not that different from mine. But when it comes to infrastructure there is a difference, I guess, as PUCP [Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, his home university in Peru] has just one very big campus. It is full of green areas and, I am not kidding, filled with deer and squirrels! Also, at my university we first have two years of what we call general studies, courses of all kinds. After this, we specialize and study our major subjects for two years, in my case, journalism.

What were your favorite places or things to do in Helsinki or Finland in general?

– I arrived in winter 2014 and apparently, it was an unusual winter, because it was not as cold as usually. But for a South American like me, it was freezing! But still, I loved Finland from the very beginning, despite that. I loved walking through the green areas of Vuolukiventie and having drinks with my mates in Kallio. I loved to make random trips to Suomenlinna and to have great meals for hours at Metsätalo’s UniCafe. And on Sundays, eat pizzas at Kotipizza!

Why did you decide to study at the University of Helsinki?

– Choosing Finland as my destination was not one conscious choice I took by myself. There were different scholarships available and my friend and I wanted to go together to Ireland. At the last minute, though, those two scholarships were cancelled and we had to decide among the other options we had. We chose Finland and between Helsinki and Tampere, we decided to head to Helsinki.

What were your first impressions when you came to Finland?

– I still remember my first thoughts during the journey by bus from the airport to my new house: I loved Helsinki at first sight, I thought there were many parks and green areas and this made me very happy, I just couldn't wait to visit the whole city!

Was studying and student life at UH different compared to your home university? And on the other hand, do the universities share any similarities?

– Student life at the University of Helsinki was completely different compared to my home university [Università degli Studi di Roma Tor Vergata, Italy]. I really don't know if they share some similarities, but what I know is that everything in Helsinki was easily accessible and everybody knew how to do their job. Personally I loved everything about the University of Helsinki, from the library to the exams and had a hard time getting used to my home university again because I couldn't find the same accurate organization I enjoyed during my exchange year [academic year 2013–2014]. Also, studying at UH was easier to me, because while most of the exams at my home university are oral, the exams at UH were written. I find it easier to write than to speak, but that’s just my personal taste.

What did you miss about your home country?

– During my fabulous year in Helsinki I didn't really miss anything from my home country apart from my family and close friends and, perhaps, Italian pizza! But right now I'm missing just everything about Helsinki. Yes, even winter temperatures, too!

Why did you decide to study at the University of Helsinki?

– I have always wanted to go abroad because I really like to meet new people, share with them our different cultures and traditions, and be able to speak with them in languages other than my own. I also wanted, and I still want, to study abroad to find out how other universities work.

I decided to study at the University of Helsinki, because in the European Union there are very few universities, which offer courses for Russian Language. When I checked Russian courses available at University of Helsinki, I decided to choose it right away.

Was studying and student life at UH different compared to your home university? And on the other hand, do the universities share any similarities?

– Studying at University of Helsinki was completely different compared to University of Pisa; unfortunately Pisa is very badly organized and is really matchless to University of Helsinki, which is highly organized with several comforts for its students. Besides services like UniSport, there are simple things like the services of the library: there are a lot of computers with free internet connection, free printers, spaces for studying, and of course, books for loan.

Also, I prefer the teaching style at UH, because there is a real and very useful communication and interaction between teachers and students. The teachers at UH I have had the pleasure to work and study with are all really kind. The way of teaching helps students as it encourages them to study more and better.

What were your favorite places or things to do in Helsinki?

– My favorite places in Helsinki were parks and its small isles, like Suomenlinna and Seurasaari. Especially in May when I spend beautiful days there.

Are you happy with your exchange experience? Would you do it again?

– I am really very happy about my exchange program and my mind is full with rich emotions and experiences. The only thing I am sorry about is the fact that it the exchange was too brief [spring semester 2014].

Whoever would like studying abroad, I really recommend University of Helsinki, because there are a lot of lovely people, who can help you in whatever you need.

I just arrived home and decided to leave again as soon as I finish my bachelor's degree.

I wonder if I'll get back to Helsinki!