By Darshit Saruparia,
Electrical Engineering, 5th Year
Aalto University, Finland (Autumn 17-18)
The idea of semester exchange stuck me right in my freshie year when someone came for groundwork in the wing and talked about the existence of something like this. Fast forward two years, and there I was preparing applications for universities, meeting seniors and wandering around IR office. It was the period of summer internship when I received the confirmation mail from Aalto, and I was pretty excited about the adventure awaiting down the lane. There are a few funded exchange programs among which Aalto was one. I didn't know about it and I was almost prepared that I have to spend it all from my pocket until one fine day I received a mail from Aalto about the (Erasmus + Global Mobility) Scholarship. After completing my internship, I went to home for a month, expertise my cooking skills (Vegetarian Issues :p), and geared up for the cold climate.
The journey above the greyish brewery of winking clouds was 'blue' as I flew from the chaotic, never sleeping Mumbai to the so heard and read, calm and cold, the land of whites and blues, the saunical Helsinki. As soon as I laid my foot upon the Scandinavian land, and felt the gust of freezing air I realized for sure that the coming four months are gonna be one tempolloaster ride.
The city tervetuloed ('Finnish for welcome' ) me with it's appealing infrastructure as I was traveling in a left-hand drive to my apartment. As I was gazing outside the window, parallelly I kept my ears tight and leaned toward the slow accented Icelandic Mentor who was driving me and talking about the University's culture, the common occurrence of Aurora Borealis, and how to make the best out of my stay in Finland.
The Orientation Week
The registration process was quite simple and hassle-free. The exchange coordinator completed the formalities and provided me with a SIM card, Local Transport, and Bank Account application form and other necessities. Soon after it began the orientation week. The university students are divided into Guilds which is basically different departments and each guild has quite a complicated Finnish title, mine was Sähköinsinöörikilta(SIK). To add further, each guild has its own overalls, on which you are supposed to stitch badges which are to be earned as you go along the course of your studies. The whole aura around in the first week was like a "High School Movie", summer fields, football, and tug of war matches, 90's rock playing in the backdrop, students sitting with Beer CAN-PACKS, enough to make you realize that you are on an exchange.
The Finnish Culture
'Finns' are stereotyped as the shyest and most reserved species on earth. They are all mad as a bag of frogs but very lovable. The only thing you need to do, to bring the Finn out of him\her is to get them few cans of Karhu. Also, the country has more number of saunas then its entire population and Finns are crazy about it. A very traditional Finnish thing to do is staying in a summer cottage on the lake, having a sauna and getting whipped with birch branches.
There cannot be sweeter greetings in any language but Finnish. The way they say 'Moi Moi' or 'Moikka' is exceptional.
The university hosts some crazy parties (Bordelli is one among them), traditional sitsits, and many other events for International Exchange students.
The academics in the University is quite different from IITB. First of all, there is no attendance policy in most of the courses (Pheww, thanks to that). A semester is divided into two periods, and courses exist that run for single periods or for both the periods. The course organization varies from prof to prof. Assignments and projects decide significant part of your grade and few courses have no exams at all. The academics overall is simple as compared to our institute
The most important purpose of the exchange was to travel and I tried my best to suck the marrow out of it. Four months and a total of 11 countries, from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean, from partying in the cruises to passing out after pub crawl in some random cobbled street of Budapest, from Sky Diving at 4 km above the surface to skydiving inside a coffee shop after eating some earthly brownies, Europa offered it all.
The old towns, the quaint churches, the lit up bridges, the ferries on the river, the mannequins in show windows and the women walking with those long stilettos. Who would not fall in love with such a magical place?
The autumn is a great time to visit Finland as one gets to see the ending of summers, the varied blossoming colors of the autumn and the start of the dark winters. The experience of getting out from a Sauna and diving right into the Baltic sea with your body in supine position in the icy cold water, under the sky full of stars is the one I will never ever forget. Finland, I forgive you for being so cold! Please let me return!
I could go on writing endlessly about the experiences, the places but let's save them for later. I would say this was the best opportunity I got to travel, to experience different cultures, to try out new things in life and I would definitely recommend you to go for an exchange if you can. Try to adjust your courses, (Better if complete them beforehand), step a little out of your comfort zone and an experience of a lifetime will emerge out of it