There is a lot to experience and see in Hasselt, Belgium!

We, our classmates and a few students from Croatia visited PXL University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hasselt as a part of an international school project.

Hasselt is a beautiful place to visit, especially during the winter season. We travelled to Hasselt during December, so it was a bit weird for us to not see any snow on the ground, as we had just left Finland, a place which was filled with snow.

All of the people we encountered during our trip were polite, helpful and social! We loved every second of getting to know more and more people, some of whom had visited Finland or had Finnish friends.

Cultural differences

The biggest cultural difference for us was the lack of snow, but also the architecture and the school life. For example in Finland, it is customary to call the teachers by their first names whereas in Belgium it is customary to call them madam, Mrs, Mr, etc… When thinking about the differences, we realized that even with all of our differences, in tourism and in our personal lives, we were all clicking instantly and gaining new friends.

The university was great, the people were really friendly, as well as the teachers and personnel. Their university was modern and the cafeteria/restaurant was in really good shape, they also served amazing food.

Their way of teaching is different from ours, as they have big auditoriums for every lecture and seminar, whereas we, in Finland, have cosier and more welcoming classes.

Learning and making friends

During our exchange in Hasselt, we learned some things from the speakers, for example information about the Castle of Leut, MICE tourism, SMART theory, SDGs, and Pink flamingos. When visiting the Castle of Leut, we could experience it first-hand, and immerse ourselves in the surroundings of the it. For us, it was a great place to visit, and we would recommend others to visit there too.

Helen: From my point of view, the most impressive activity at the Hasselt exchange was the visit to the castle, as it was the first time I visited a castle and it is a beautiful place!

Overall, we think this experience was great, as it has taught us a lot about different cultures and different people. We made great memories and friends in Hasselt and we would all go back there anytime, just to seek around the beautiful country of Belgium, as the time was a bit limited in the short exchange week we experienced.

Every second was enjoyed, until the last, and we are really thankful for this opportunity and will definitely take part of similar projects in the future.

Text: Alexa Marin, Jasmin Rosengren & Helen Wan, second year International Tourism Management students
Picture: PXL University of Applied Sciences and Arts

How to feel well on exchange and choose the right courses

Hey everyone, I am Timo Beke. Although I have a Finnish name, I am actually from Belgium. I am an exchange student here in Finland for one semester. I am here to study international tourism. In this blog post I will talk to you briefly about my choice for Finland and my time here, but most of all I will talk about how I chose which courses to study. Choosing the right (interesting) courses can make or break your exchange. I had some difficulties with it so that is why I am writing this post.

My experience – well being on Erasmus

When I arrived in Finland on the I forgot why I wanted to be here. It didn’t look like what I thought it would, and Pori was a lot smaller then I had imagined. After a week of being very unhappy and missing everyone at home I wanted to make a change. I thought of what I usually do when I leave home for long periods of time and how I make sure I feel good then.

I realized that I hadn’t been doing any of the things I usually do, probably because of the freezing cold weather and the fact that I hadn’t met anyone yet. Usually I go exploring a lot, I like to be around water, and look at the animals that come and go to drink or to swim. I also do a lot of photography and that has a calming effect on me as well.

Picture: @travel_photography_timo

I decided to start doing more of the things that I usually do, and I immediately started feeling better. I met some people who also like to go out in nature and I found out how to get to the beach. I was so happy to be back near the sea and hear the familiar sounds of the waves and the birds.

It is important to keep doing the things you do at home to feel well on exchange. It doesn’t matter what you like to do, if you like to do yoga, work out, play football or go birdwatching go swimming try to get in touch with like minded people (the local tourism office can help you!).

Selecting your courses – how to choose?

Usually when you go on an exchange that isn’t a full year you get to choose your own courses. This can be quite overwhelming, because, well you don’t know what the courses are about.

To help you make your choice most of the courses have a short description to tell you what they are about. It is important to read those, because there are some things you should look out for

  1. Look at the number of ECTS credits! And ask if there are mandatory courses.
  2. Try to pick courses that are on campus rather then online. As an exchange student school is the easiest way to meet like minded people from the same age. Online courses or self study courses don’t give you the chance to meet people.
  3. Don’t chose the same courses you studied at your home university. It looks like an easy way to pass, but in my experience you either get really bored or confused (or a combination).
  4. Choose courses in your study field, don’t enroll in a wood working class if you are a physiotherapy student (obviously).
  5. Pick something weird or unusual (more on that later)!

With these 5 tips you should be able to pick the perfect courses to make your Erasmus as interesting as possible. The selection can be stressful, but remember that all exchange students go through this and maybe one of your friends can help you. And finally, if you did make a choice you regret, most schools are okay with changes. As an Erasmus student you represent their institution when you go back home, you can get away with way more then regular students if you just ask 😉

Picking something weird – courses you have never heard about

I believe everyone who is going on an exchange should try to pick one weird course. What do you mean with a weird course, you might ask?

I mean, pick a course that you have never seen or heard of before. When you go on exchange the chances are high that you will see courses that you would never see at your home university. All cultures are different and the culture of the place you are going to might influence some of their courses.

My weird choice was the course I am writing this blog post for, “”Well-being from Blue Spaces”. When I saw this I thought what the **** is this! I wondered what it could be and it got me interested enough to read the course description. After I read the course description I still wasn’t sure what it would be.

Picture: @travel_photography_timo

At first I thought is was going to be all about the ocean and the sea and the positive effects they have on people, and about how we can use them in tourism. This was mostly what the course was about, but a lot of it was also about the wellness culture in Finland. Saunas and ice baths really have a big influence here and I really noticed that in this course.

I am not a wellness type of person and I had taken one sauna before I came to Finland, and I said I would never do it again. This course convinced me to try it again and it was a pleasant surprise. I am still not a wellness person and I was purely going to do this course to learn about typical Finnish traditions and how they impact the Finnish view on tourism.

However, at the end of the course we had to make an assignment about food tourism, another topic I had never heard about. It was another pleasant surprise and I really enjoyed working on that topic. It was something I wouldn’t have discovered without doing this “weird” course, but I am really happy I did.

This example just shows it is good to pick something you normally wouldn’t, you might discover something you like! I hope you got something from this for your own Erasmus, and if you want to see more of my travel adventures you can check it out on https://www.instagram.com/travel_photography_timo/ .

Text and pictures: Timo Beke, Erasmus exchange student from Thomas More University of Applied Sciences in Belgium

Moi! Hallo! Hej from Merikarvia! Digital marketing for tourism development of coastal areas

We are three students from three different universities with three different backgrounds… So how did we end up meeting in the middle of nowhere in Finland?

So the thing is that we all applied for a course called Digitalisation Opportunities among Coastal Tourism Entrepreneurs and Networks 2022, not knowing what exactly to expect. We started the course by doing three marketing-related individual assignments. 

On the ninth of May 2022 we arrived at a nostalgic farm, called Koivuniemen Herran Farmi at Merikarvia, and met each other for the first time. On the first working day we were divided into groups.

So, who are we?

Hallo! I’m Tabea. I am an Erasmus student from Dalarna University in Falun, Sweden. Originally I am from Germany. I study social science at a technical university in Kaiserslautern. Since August 2021 I am living in Falun. I ended up in this course because I love traveling and I am really interested in social media. 

Hej! My name is Wilperi, I’m 24 and live in Turku, Finland. I am a third year Bachelor’s student of Business Administration at Novia University of Applied Sciences. I specialize in marketing but later on I have developed a huge interest to tourism and that is why I immediately knew I wanted to participate in this course once I heard about it.

Moi! I am Siiri, a twenty-year-old student from Pori, Finland. I am studying for Bachelor’s degree in International Tourism Management for the first year at Satakunta University of Applied Sciences. Working with commissioners sounded fun, so I decided to apply for this course.

So, now that you know who we are, you should also get to know what we have done. We spent one week at Merikarvia working hard for our assignments. But, what was our assignment? 

Each group got a commissioner to work for, and ours was the Municipality of Merikarvia. One part of our task was to analyze Merikarvia’s online platforms which included their webpage, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Based on our analysis, we came up with how to optimize the use of these platforms and created a few Instagram posts, ready to be published. During the making of these posts we got to visit some really nice locations with beautiful scenery and also learned more about Merikarvia’s history and culture.

Fireplace kräsoora
Relaxing on the dock

The first thought about our commissioner was that we have a bit of a difficult one, because we had such a wide topic. It was challenging to decide what we should do and where we should concentrate. But overall, the assignment turned out very well, and we had so much fun during our week.

Another thing that challenged us was the Finnish language. This was problematic, because only two of us understand Finnish. All social media pages of our commissioner were only available in Finnish. Also, our commissioner was mostly talking in Finnish.

Merikarvia gang

During our stay we got to know our whole group, and we played a lot of social games together, learned how to take care of the animals at the farm and ate a lot of good food. And because this course was held in Finland, we of course had a sauna-night with grilling sausages and making pancakes. We also got to visit the Yyteri beach and hotel, and some of us were brave enough to take a bath in the ocean.

Icebathing

Would we do that again? Absolutely! If you ever have a chance to join a course like this we suggest you grab the opportunity!

We wish you the best! #snyggt


Text: Siiri Romoi, Tabea Busch and Wilperi Jalonen
Pictures: Helena Larilahti, Tabea Busch and Siiri Romoi

Brainstorming with international students

SAMK is one of the best Universities of Applied Sciences in Finland. We have the best quality in tuition and have always been among the six best ones. Every year, before they finish their studies, high school students visit our university to take a look at what we have to offer. In addition to local high school students, we had international students from Italy and Germany, doing an Erasmus program for one week here, come to visit us at SAMK as well.

The student group had the usual tour of SAMK by our staff, and in addition to that, they were taught basics of marketing. They also had some background information on studying international tourism management at SAMK, in which we, degree students and some exchange students also participated in.

We mostly talked about our experiences in SAMK so far and told them about the studies and the many things we can do in SAMK besides just sitting in classrooms all the time. We have all kinds of activities to make the students feel safe and not too overwhelmed with large amounts of schoolwork, which to me has been a very pleasant surprise since coming to Finland.

The international students also had a session of brainstorming, where we divided them in groups and had them discuss about making brochures for Koivuniemen Herran Farmi, which they had visited prior. We had a SAMK professional explain to them the factors of a good brochure, explain the pros and cons, and then give them an assignment to make their own brochures in groups. 

This is the goup of Italian students.

I was helping the Italian group in brainstorming, and in my opinion they did a very great job on dividing the ideas of their project and working as a team to find templates for their brochure to look good. I think they understood the idea of brainstorming, making lists and writing all the possible ideas down before actually getting into the project itself.

Brainstorming is very useful especially when working with a team and having a tight schedule, because when doing a group project, it’s very important for everyone to get their point listened to and taken in consideration.

These were the ideas they came up with for their brochure, as well as a template on how many pages they wish it to be and how they could fold it if they were to do it on paper, which I found really creative and interesting:

The group had lots of spontaneous ideas, which could sometimes be confusing, but everything seemed to work out for them in the end. I was very happy to help them with everything I could, and to be honest, I wasn’t the only one teaching them things, but they also taught me new things about cooperating with my team in a project.  

In the visiting high school students’ opinion, the help of SAMK professionals and degree students was useful, and I hope they got an idea of how it is to study at our university. I also hope that I will see them on SAMK corridors as degree students too, eventually!


Text and pictures: Alexandra Marin, first year International Tourism Management student


My internship in Istanbul

I am doing my internship in Istanbul for five months in Bilgi University’s International Student Advising Office. I study tourism myself, so it was clear for me that I want to do my practical training abroad: it is very important for me in the future as in my study field international experience is valuable.

I was originally planning to do my internship at a hotel in Budapest, but my plan got cancelled due to Covid-19 pandemic. Then I started to search for a new place, and I found this internship position in Istanbul. I applied for it, got an invitation to interview and then got accepted. I felt very lucky to finally have a place to do my internship.

Istanbul is in Turkey, and it is the biggest city in the country but not the capital. The interesting thing about Istanbul is that it is located in two continents: Europe and Asia. So, the western part of the city belongs to Europe and the eastern side to Asia. The population of Istanbul is about 15 million people, and the main religion is Islam. They have prayer calls five times a day but after while I got used to it.

My internship is during the low touristic season, so it is not too crowded, which I like. It is better to visit sights and places when you don’t have to wait in lines for hours. I think Istanbul is a good destination for internship because there is so much to see and do. Istanbul is a very historical city and has many historical places that also attract tourists. I feel like even five months is not enough for everything. Public transport is good in the city, and you can go to many places and all you need is Istanbulkart, which works for every means of transport.

I have also noticed that Istanbul is a very international city and I actually expected to face more cultural differences here. So far, I have liked living here, except the traffic jams. Living here is cheaper for me, so everything is quite affordable including rent.

When I arrived in Turkey, it was a bit hectic because there were a lot of people around me. I have been to Turkey one time before, so it is not a completely new country but last time I travelled to a smaller city in south coast. While living here, there have not been that many Covid-19 restrictions and places have been normally open. Also, we have been able to work in the office, not from home.

My workplace, Bilgi University, is a private university. Recently the university has been ranked the third best in Turkey. It has three different campuses, but we work at the main campus. The office and team are quite small, but I like it because I get to know everyone better. In the team there are two permanent workers and a few interns. The office is having Erasmus interns all the time, usually two or three at the same time. The International Student Advising Office assist only international full-time students. Thus, they have Erasmus office separated. I work at the office’s front desk with another intern and we mainly help the students who are coming to the office ask for advice. The job is nice, and I also get a lot of responsibility at the front desk. The working environment is very easygoing and I really like the atmosphere there.

My work tasks mostly consist of answering emails, advising international students, preparing residence permits and other documents. We also sometimes update social media. Working in an international environment develops my communication and language skills. Even though Turkey and this place may not have been my first choice, it has been an amazing experience so far and I would not change it!


Text and pictures: Annina Koskinen, fourth year student in the degree programme in Tourism

My Erasmus exchange in Finland

I chose Finland as my Erasmus exchange study destination because Finland is a country known for its educational system, which is very different from Belgium. I heard so much about it that I thought I would try it by myself and make up my own mind. Moreover, the Finnish population is known to be one of the happiest in the world – so I went to buy some warm clothes and packed my bag!

The Finns

Once I arrived in Finland, I discovered that the cold was not just about the weather: the Finns are very aloof and like to have their own space. But once I got to know them, I realized that it was only a facade and that in the end they are kind, benevolent and you can even have a lot of fun with them.

Life in Finland

Life in Finland is gentle, everything here is very natural. I realized that Finns spend a lot of time outside, even in winter! There are a lot of infrastructures like barbecues, benches and shelters, which are available to everyone. It is common to meet around a fire to drink hot chocolate, grill a sausage, or cook pancakes, even under the snow.

I had the opportunity to go for long walks in the forest or on the beach. Here I also discovered the sauna culture: almost all Finns have a sauna at home and if not, they just have to go to the city pool. And contrary to their usual shyness, in the saunas there is no more shyness, they drop the swimsuits!

Studying at SAMK

A very important part of my Erasmus is the university, after all, that’s why I’m here! The first time I visited the university, I was impressed by the modernity and the possibilities. There are places to relax, to work alone or in groups and even to have fun with a pool table.

The teaching is indeed very different from Belgium. Here, the students call the teachers by their first name, the timetables are light and group work is encouraged. What I find most interesting is that students can really choose their study program according to their interests, they don’t have to take the same courses as everyone else and there are many alternatives such as concrete projects that can be included in the credits. The school also places much importance on well-being, there are a gym and group classes that are open to everyone.

The Erasmus experience

Being on Erasmus means leaving your comfort zone, going to a country you don’t know and living with people you don’t know. But thanks to this challenge, you grow, you discover a new culture and you meet great people of all origins. You learn to be independent, to live in a community and to accept each other with our differences.

Traveling

Being a tourism student and therefore a travel enthusiast, I have taken advantage of being here to visit Finland and also the neighboring countries. We organized trips to Tallinn, Stockholm and Copenhagen. Of course, there were a lot of us so I was able to practice my travel planning skills. I think it’s good to take advantage of these four months to see as much as possible because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.   

Text and photos: Camille De Borman, exchange student from Haute École Galilée University of Applied Sciences in Belgium

Meeting international students online gives motivation during the pandemic

As a part of the course Managing Activity Services and Events, we had an opportunity to participate in an International Virtual Workshop this Spring. Students from Douglas College, Canada, had created a virtual meeting space, Gather, using an application called gather.town. As participants, we were requested to register in advance, and we were provided a list of topics to be discussed in groups during the workshop. We got to choose three topics out of the possible seven, that we found the most interesting and wanted to take part in.

Before the actual workshop, we had a chance to try out Gather and create our own avatar to move around and communicate with others. There was a short tutorial to get acquainted with the functions of the virtual space in the beginning. It was easy and fun to use and reminded me of the nostalgic video games I used to play as a kid.

The workshop started at 7 PM Finnish time, as Vancouver is ten hours behind and it was 9 AM there. There were students from Canada, Finland, Czech Republic and the Netherlands taking part in the workshop. It was possible to have a video conversation with others when the avatars were close to each other or in a private space, in this case around the same table. There were seven tables in the workshop room representing different topics we got to choose from, and after every session we changed the tables. Each discussion lasted for 30 minutes and there were three of them all together. Each table also had a student or a pair from Douglas College leading the discussion.

The first discussion I took part in was about student events and activities in the participant’s country. It was a wonderful start for the workshop! We started by introducing ourselves, everyone was really active, and the atmosphere was easy-going. We had fun sharing our experiences and it was exciting to listen to others’ opinions. We compared the differences between Finnish and Canadian student life. We talked about what kind of events there are for students, who organizes them, how much they cost, how often do we participate and how would we like to improve them.

The second discussion was about our international experiences. To me, this table seemed more serious than the previous one, even though the topic was comprehensive and freer to discuss about. We again started by introducing ourselves, as the groups had changed. However, this time we had turns answering questions, rather than sharing what comes to mind. The Finnish people were well represented in this discussion, so we were able to compare what kind of international experiences we had in common. We also brought up the opportunities there are for students in SAMK concerning internationality.

The third and final discussion was a chance to give feedback and to think together what would be needed to take into consideration in case organizing this kind of an event in the future. We agreed that it is valuable to network internationally and through an event like this it is possible during studies. Someone even came up with an idea to try out Gather for teaching purposes to maintain students’ interest. The discussion was so active, we got lost on the subject. So, in addition to the topic, I learned about different cultures and countries as well.

Beforehand, I did not know what to expect, but I was excited to take part in this workshop and it turned out to be a positive surprise. The others seemed quite thrilled too, as I came across many smiling faces. It was delightful to meet new people from different countries – and even from my school – via online connection especially because of the coronavirus pandemic. I would totally recommend and encourage you to participate in this kind of event, if you are ever given an opportunity to do so!

Text and pictures: Julia Alankoja, first year International Tourism Management student