My name is Laura and I am a business student at Laurea University of Applied Sciences. Some background information about myself would be that, as a young girl me and my family moved to Istanbul, Turkey where I attended an English-speaking kindergarten. As I was so young, I learned to speak English very quickly just by listening and playing with the other children. After a few years, my family and I moved to the United States of America, first to Tampa Bay, Florida and later to Seattle, Washington. By the time we moved back to Finland and I started the second grade, my English was fluent. I studied in English at the International School of Vantaa, until I started high school.
Living abroad at such a young age, made me attracted to the idea of living abroad in the future. As a student at Laurea, I heard of the possibility for student exchange and decided that this was my opportunity to study abroad. After reading about different countries, cities and schools, I decided on Ostbayerische Technische Hochschule Regensburg (OTH Regensburg) in Regensburg, Germany. I had traveled to Germany before and always really enjoyed it, and the school itself seemed very inviting for exchange students. I started school at OTH as an exchange student in September of 2018 and returned to Finland at the end of February 2019.
Before going on exchange, I researched the school’s website, the city and Germany itself thoroughly. I found many blogposts about exchange students living in Germany and all of them made it sound amazing. By attending the Go Abroad meeting, where we were given the possibility to discuss with students returning from exchange, I got confirmation that I had made the right decision, because everyone had only positive things to say about their exchange experiences.
OTH has around 11 000 students and you can study engineering, business studies, design, architecture, health or social studies. The city Regensburg is one of the most beautiful cities I have seen. It is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Germany. As most of the population consists of students the vibe is very energetic and there is always something happening in the city. The city center is full of restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars. The public transportation works great and students can use it for free, by showing their student id’s.
I was of course nervous about the upcoming exchange but mostly felt excited. The last week before I moved to Germany, I started feeling worried, sad and anxious. Moving far away from my friends and family did not feel so appealing anymore and I started to wish that I could cancel my exchange. On the day I moved, I could not stop crying. I felt overwhelmed and stressed on things like, making friends and finding my way to the city and then my dorm. I was also very homesick. I had read that Germans in the Bavarian area (which Regensburg is a part of) don’t speak English well. This had me worried on how I would manage, since I barely knew any words in German. Also, the possibility of huge cultural differences was on my mind.
My advice to anyone questioning whether it would be better to cancel going on exchange – don’t! At least until you have tried it. The sadness and stress that I was feeling faded straight away on the second day, when I became friends with the other exchange students. I was also very lucky because at OTH we had the best tutors. They helped us with everything we needed and helped us settle in, living in Regensburg. From the very beginning, the tutors organized events for us to meet each other and to help us to make friends. Also, the international office was always so helpful for example in sorting out student accommodation related issues.
Our tutors were with us for the entire six months and they organized weekly gatherings, usually in one of Regensburg’s many pubs. They were very committed to making everyone’s exchange enjoyable. In September we only had German courses and orientation. This meant getting to know each other by attending classes together and going on tours of our city and other nearby cities. The tutors arranged barbeques, dinners and pub crawls. They were so invested in making our orientation month amazing, and they succeeded.
I can honestly say, that after my first night in Regensburg, I did not feel homesick, stressed or alone anymore. September 2018 was one of the most wonderful months in my life. I made so many friends and had the most fun.
In October, when school started properly and the rest of the students returned to Regensburg, I noticed that Germans are very similar to us Finns. They are hardworking, motivated, but also like to chill with friends drinking beer. One of my concerns had been, that the Germans would not speak English well. This was never an issue, in the whole time that I lived in Germany. Regensburg is a student city, so most of the population is young and their English skills were extremely good. I found the courses at OTH, to be very interesting. Some of the German students attended the same courses as us, so this gave us the possibility to integrate with locals too.
For me, most of the cultural differences, that I noticed were with other exchange students. I had roommates from Spain, Italy and Brazil and they were the most wonderful people. One of the differences that I noticed was that, I was used to being on time everywhere and my roommates thought of schedules more as guidelines and that they did not need to be taken so seriously. Our tutors being German told me, that for them much like for Finns, schedules were extremely important and that it was rude to be late. As time went by, I noticed myself starting to be more flexible with schedules too. When me and my friends would make plans to leave the house for dinner at 7 p.m., it was more likely we would be leaving at 9 p.m. In the beginning this annoyed me a lot, but later I started feeling less stressed about it and noticed I had adapted this relaxed attitude.
Another thing that I noticed, was that how late people from Spain and Italy are used to eating dinner. Dinner would be at 9 p.m., or even at 10 p.m. and before this it would be impossible to meet up or go anywhere.
I did not really suffer from culture shock during my exchange. It was very interesting to discuss our different cultures and learn about different countries. Everyone was very interested in Finland. Usually the first reaction to telling people that I am Finnish, was “It’s very cold there, right?” or “It’s so expensive there and you are all rich, right?”. I was surprised at how much my love and appreciation for Finland grew during exchange. I felt so proud about my country and how well everything works. Even though things in Germany work quite well too, I often noticed myself thinking how far ahead Finland is in recycling, plant-based options for food, the overall well fair. The quality of our education is highly respected abroad.
I was extremely lucky to find such amazing friends during my exchange. We became each other’s support system and family. We traveled, partied, studied and lived together for six months and I know that we will be friends forever. During the summer of 2019, I visited one of my friends from exchange, in Italy and many of us met up in October for the Oktoberfest, in Munich. We stay in touch via whatsapp monthly, sometimes weekly and I miss them every day.
Advice for people going on exchange would be, to not forget people at home. For me, the exchange experience was so amazing and fun, almost like being in a happy bubble for six months. Even though this was great, I should have stayed more in contact with my friends at home. I noticed that I often felt like I did not have enough time to talk to my friends or that they wouldn’t understand what was going on in my life. This only made coming home more difficult.
When I returned to Finland, I felt like I had to leave my family (exchange family). I felt heart broken and alone. For six months, I had been surrounded by my friends every day, so being alone felt strange. It all got better once I got used to being home. If I ever go on exchange again, I will make sure to stay more in touch with my friends.
Going on student exchange was the best experience of my life. It was so much fun, and I got to travel a lot in Europe, since it is so cheap and easy to move around from Germany. I met so many amazing people from all over the world and made friendships that will last a lifetime. I learned a lot about different cultures, and I realized how fulfilling it is to live in such an international environment. This fall I will be starting a master’s program in Vaasa University and will be studying international business. Because of my exchange, I understood that this is something I am extremely interested in and want to pursue. This particular master’s program offers the possibility to do a double degree, which I am considering. I would be studying the first year in Vaasa and the second year in a university in either France, Germany or Czech Republic. I also have the possibility to go on another student exchange. This will give me a good advantage for my future career in this field.
Overall, going on exchange was the best decision I have made. I became more independent and tolerant. It made me confident that I can work in English and that I can do this anywhere. I found direction on what I am interested in studying and the field of my future career. I would recommend going on exchange to everyone who has the possibility to do so. Everyone’s experience will always be different but based on mine I would advise to take that leap in to the unknown and trust that everything will be all right. It is worth it.