Finns Finding a Way to Study in Holiday Paradise

No doubt, Asia is among the fastest growing economic regions and who says no as a young student to swop the harsh winter period in northern Europe for studies in Asia’s tropics?

Every university school term a number of Scandinavian exchange students, primarily Finns, study on Phuket at the satellite campus of Prince of Songkla University. It turns out that Asia Exchange from Finland enables such students to go there since four years back.

Asia Exchange catering to freemovers
During the autumn term of 2011 Anna Vuorinen and Antti Säynätkari, both 23 and from Helsinki, took full studies at the Faculty of hospitality and tourism on Prince of Songkla University’s (PSU) Phuket campus – in the eyes of many a paradise destination.

One logically assumed that their studies aimed at a career within hotels and tourism. But when seeing them before their departure, (along some 28 other Finnish students) back to university studies in Finland it turned out that they were studying real estate and business, with a major in Real Estate Economics.

“This faculty is responsible for the business education on this campus,” explained Antti, as they were about to attend a farewell dinner hosted by PSU.

“And our exchange was arranged by a Finnish company called Asia Exchange [AE],” added Anna.

AE, since 2007, offers ‘freemovers’ an opportunity to take part in study-abroad semesters at selected partner universities – currently in China, Indonesia, and Thailand.

In Thailand students can opt for Kasetsart University and Siam University in Bangkok or PSU on Phuket.

The universities represented by AE are ideal for students who are interested in Asia, but aren’t able to find suitable options via their own universities or are left outside the placement quotas.

Unless the student’s home university has a bilateral agreement with the host university, finding a study place on one’s own is very troublesome and the tuition fees are high, AE states on its website.

There are not enough available options but thanks to its services more students interested in Asia get to study there and get discounts on fees. In addition, in its role as a representative for Asian universities they can most often decrease the administrative steps of the home universities.

So far students from over 100 universities have participated in such semesters via AE, including 30 % of all the student movement from Finland to Asia.

“They are trying to expand their target markets also to other Scandinavian countries and other parts of Europe,” says Anna.

Mostly business courses on PSU
AE, the only facilitator for foreign students at this Thai university on Phuket, encourages students to plan their studies carefully and to include the course syllabi in their study plans to help their home universities make decisions about transferring credits.

The home university also decides any scholarships. The university paid for Anna and Anti’s student term fee (1400 Euros per person) to study abroad.

“We can’t replace the official courses back home, but our student point total will get us closer to graduation after the term here. As for the freely chosen courses, we can use those in our Master’s studies,” said Antti.

“Lots of Finns come here from many different schools and most students can get scholarships if they apply for it.”

Most of the courses Anna and Antti chose study on were business courses; such as international business, marketing, strategic management and human resource management.

“There were some international courses that were quite close to tourism but we did not choose those as we felt they were less suitable. For our education in Finland the basic business courses were better,” elaborated Anna.

“The courses we studied here are a bit different than back in Finland. It has been O.K but the overall quality here hasn’t been that good. I think that if studying like tourism or hospitality back home then this school would be really good because of this faculty,” she also thought.

Case studies challenging
A few other things both the Finnish students especially noted were the obligatory classes and secondly the many case studies which they found striking. Says Anna: “In our university we don’t have to do that many cases studies, or it depends on the course, whereas here all of the courses have case studies. But if you compare altogether the amount of work it’s about the same. Here you cannot skip it while in Finland you can if you know it.”

”And we had a lot of in-class exercises and group assignments, which is different from our university in Finland where it’s only a lecturer speaking and maybe asking questions,” said Antti.

“I find that nice because in Finland you just go to the classroom and basically just listen and that’s it. Here’s much better because you get to do something and speak. Then you learn the things better than if you just listen to it and then study at home” Anna added.

New great friends back home
As for interaction with Thai students the language barrier was obvious even though all courses are taught in English on this faculty.

“Most students couldn’t converse in English that well, said Antti. “That’s a shame ‘cause they did put together the exchange students and Thais for the reason that we would be able to mix and get to know each other but it was really hard.”

“And it really depends on in which school year they are; there’s one course where they are in their third or fourth where we could see a difference in that they are more used to English,” said Anna.

“The teachers also say the studies are much harder for Thais because of the English language. But anyway it’s good for them that they are forced to use it daily – then you learn it!”

“Some are really active even though they don’t know English that well; they try to learn and come to speak to you at the best of their ability,” added Antti.

“But we’ve made friends outside the school.”

And noteworthy: when returning home they have made new great friends from all over Finland as well!

“Next summer in Finland we can travel to meet our new friends,” Anna smiled. “You usually know people mostly where you live but it’s also nice to have friends around Finland.”

Without exception, students have described their time in Asia as the best experience of their lives, according to AE.

Preferring Phuket to a major city they had time for leisure too and the favourite pastime activities were sunbathing, snorkelling, and cable skiing according to Anna.

“It’s been a really great autumn for us, a good mix between lying on the beach and going to school and actually learning something,” ended Antti.

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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