You may have already asked yourself the following question: “What is it like to do a semester abroad during the Covid-19 pandemic?” or “Can I still have a great time and make new friends in my semester abroad despite Covid-19-related restrictions?”.
Daphne – an International Business student at Karlshochschule – recently returned from her semester abroad and can definitely answer “yes” to this question. In the succeeding interview, you will get interesting insights into her experience abroad, as well as some advice on what you should pay special attention to when starting your semester abroad.
Julia: Where did you spend your semester abroad and why did you choose this country in particular?
Daphne: I spent my semester abroad in Kokkola, which is located on the western coast of Finland and has around 50,000 inhabitants. Our partner university there is called Centria University of Applied Sciences and offers three different study programs to exchange students – Business Management, Technology, and Health Care & Social Services. The reasons for spending my semester abroad in the country that has almost half as much saunas as citizens are quite diverse. Firstly, I’ve never been to a Nordic country before and since Finland is famous for its beautiful nature – including numerous lakes as well as huge forests that are full of mushrooms and berries in the late summer – I decided to explore this country, which is also known as home of Santa Clause.
Julia: How were your courses abroad and how does the university in Finland differ from Karlshochschule?
Daphne: Generally, the Centria University is very similar to the Karls as it is also a multi-disciplinary, dynamic and international higher education institution with around 3,000 students, meaning that the classes are very small and students are not only told different theories but have the chance to learn through practice and distinct workshops. Consequently, studies at Centria are very practically oriented and characterized by the internationality of its students and staff. As I was taking numerous courses offered by the Business Management department, I realized that there were significant similarities to the courses we already had at Karls during the first four semesters. However, it was very interesting to look at the same topics and issues from a different perspective in order to gain some new insights.
Julia: What were your highlights and what challenges did you face during your semester abroad?
Daphne: My personal highlights during this time in Kokkola were definitely the international friends that I got to know during the first weeks there and with whom I was travelling a lot throughout the whole semester. We did not only explore the South of the country where we saw big cities such as Helsinki, Turku and Tampere, and went to multiple national parks, but also rented a cottage house close to a lake for a couple of days where we went hiking and obviously had our own private sauna in a wooden cabin. One of the absolute highlights was our trip to Lapland – including several activities like cross country skiing, the visit of a reindeer farm, the stay in the Northern Lights Village where we saw aurora, a husky safari and a snowmobile tour.
Daphne: The biggest challenge regarding my semester abroad was getting to know locals, which was particularly due to the Corona situation and the corresponding online lectures even more difficult than it might have been without this issue. Since almost all of the exchange students of Centria were living in the same student dormitory and attended online lectures from there, I spent most of the time with other internationals and didn’t meet as many Finnish people as I would have wished. However, I fortunately got to know some Finns in the first weeks of university when I was still able to go to the campus.
Julia: How did Covid-19 affect your semester abroad and what were the restrictions in Finland?
Daphne: Luckily, the Covid-19 situation in Finland and especially in the sparsely populated region around Kokkola has not considerably affected my semester abroad there. Even though we could only go to the campus during the first weeks before they changed most of the courses to online teaching, we still had the possibility to go to restaurants, bars and clubs as well as to travel within the country. Even in the shops and supermarkets wearing a mask was not required but highly recommended, which we obviously did in order to protect ourselves and others. Looking back, it was a great decision going to Finland because especially in these times it was extremely valuable still being able to experience the study life and country as best as possible with regard to Corona.
Julia: What advice can you give to students who are about to start their semester abroad?
Daphne: Apart from the most common tips such as “Be open-minded” (which is surely correct), I would recommend students who are going abroad for a semester to make efforts in order to meet locals as this provides the opportunity to experience the country as well as its people and their culture from a different perspective. In my case, I did not only learn a lot about Finland but also received multiple valuable tips what to try – including different food, drinks, locations and so on. At the same time, it might be helpful to be aware that you’re probably going to meet many other international exchange students and learn a lot about their home countries and cultures, which is super interesting – thus, try to avoid spending too much time only with people from your own country in order not to miss out on making new international friends. And lastly, if you are motivated enough to document your time in your host country by keeping a journal or only making some notes – that might be a very nice memory for the time after your semester abroad.
Through a semester abroad, you not only develop professionally by studying abroad at another university for several months. More importantly, the unique experiences you gain during your semester abroad contribute to your personal development by getting to know a different culture, diverse people from all over the world and new perspectives that might inspire you to think differently in the end. Undoubtedly, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic makes a semester abroad more challenging and uncertain. However, Daphne’s experience in Finland shows that you can still have an enriching time abroad despite some restrictions. Ultimately, it obviously depends on what the Corona situation is like on site, but also how you deal with it. With that in mind, try to make the best of the situation you are currently in. Stay healthy everyone and keep your positive attitude! ?
Article by Julia Fiedler *JF – International Business – Intercultural Management (B.A.), 5th Semester