Academic year in an “exchange student bubble” – foreign students refuse to let the corona bring them down
Lapland University of Applied Sciences has a group of 20 foreign students who study in Kemi. These young people live responsibly in their corona bubble, but they have still managed to get a lot out of their exchange study period.
Markus Sieberer, Markus Mayer and Nicole Körner from Austria and Hansi Strobel
from Germany came to Finland and Kemi in August as part of the double
degree programme in mechanical engineering. This programme is based on
an agreement between Lapland University of Applied Sciences and
Technicum Wien, in which selected mechanical engineering students can
study at another partner institution for one academic year.
Finland still has relatively few corona restrictions in August
compared with Central Europe, which further lowered the threshold for
Hans, Markus, Nicole and Markus to accept an exchange opportunity from
Things were much stricter even in Finland in the early part of the year when the exchange study period of Zsolt Lieszkofszki from Hungary and Franziska Letterer from Germany began in Kemi.
Making the most out of the exchange student bubble
Foreign students have lived virtually isolated from other students
and other people in general. Members of the group are in close contact
with each other, and the young people feel like a family.
The exchange students have made the most out of their time in
Finland, boldly experimenting with arctic hobbies that even many Finns
give a miss.
The group has gone hiking in Norway and downhill skiing in Saariselkä
and Ruka. They have also been able to ride snowmobiles, play ice
hockey, and go on a Husky safari. The list goes on: fat bike trips,
cross-country skiing, ice fishing trips, and ice swimming.
- The first time we cut the hole in the ice ourselves, Hansi points out, and Zsolt pantomimes how they broke the ice.
No wonder, then, that everyone eagerly nods their heads when the talk changes to getting a taste of sauna.
- And we learned the numbers in Finnish by going to play the bingo! Yksi, kaksi, kolme, Zsolt reiterates.
As their most recent stunt, the group participated in the LumiVisio
snow sculpture competition organised by the City of Kemi. This was
another first for everyone, but the chemistry of the tightly knit group
worked well, and their sculpture titled “Kemi Ark” took first place in
the public vote.
The students give generous thanks to the school’s international coordinator Sanna Moisanen and leisure counsellor Jukka "Jupe" Ikäläinen for guiding them to such activities.
The students received a certificate in recognition for the public
vote in the City of Kemi’s LumiVisio competition. In the photo, the
students from the left: Markus Mayer, Nicole Körner, Franziska Letterer,
Markus Sieberer and Hansi Strobel.
Memories to bring back home
The exchange study period of these six people took place at a strange
time in history. Still, the active and curious group has experienced a
great deal. When asked what kinds of memories they will take with them
from this period, Markus Mayer from Austria is the first to respond:
- I have learned how to study independently. Here a teacher does not
carry a pile of books in front of you, instead you must search for and
weigh up information yourself.
- And that everyone in the group helps one another, Zsolt adds.
Nicole and Franziska believe that they will never lose memory of the
northern lights, how beautiful and impressive they were, as was the
nature of Lapland as a whole. They all agree that they have improved
their courage, proactiveness and especially their skills in English by
leaps and bounds.
Markus Sieberer was impressed by the memorable freezing temperatures
and also by a Finnish phenomenon he calls a “circle of trust”. People
and friendly and can trust each other. For instance, international
students are able to use the school’s valuable pieces of equipment.
Teachers trust them. He recalls another example when they rented fat
bikes in Keminmaa.
- We had prepared to pay a rent security deposit of hundreds of euros
and to show our identity cards, but the entrepreneur simply handed us
the keys to the bikes and asked if we would pay now or upon our return,
Markus explains in wonder. Trust generates the desire to act in a way
that is worthy of trust. That is how the circle is created.
The miserable side of the bubble
The “exchange student bubble” has worked. So far, none of the students contracted the coronavirus while their stay in Finland.
Following the early autumn, the students arranged their evening
parties and sauna nights amongst themselves. The students are most
annoyed that they did not make a single Finnish friend during the whole
- We had heard that becoming friends with Finns is slow, you always
keep a social distance, but the corona made even all our attempts
impossible, Markus Sieberer laments.
Time for a final push in studies
Hansi, Markus, Nicole, Markus, Zsolt and Franziska are all studying
to become engineers. They have their own study plan for the exchange
period in Kemi, which includes plenty of independent work in groups.
For many days the exchange students have been almost the only students
in the Kosmos building. They strictly adhere to corona instructions.
Masks stay on their faces, and they enter the facilities in groups of up
Luckily for the students, the restaurant lockdown in March did not
apply to staff or student restaurants, and the Sun restaurant in Kosmos
has been open as usual.
- It would have been horrible if it had been closed as well! A ready
lunch is one of the high points of the day. Besides, the food here is
cheap and really good, Markus Sieberer lauds, and the others nod again
No further outings or road trips are planned for this spring, instead the last two months will be spent strictly on studies.
The exchange students will return to their respective home countries in May. They all are due to graduate this spring.
There are still another 20 foreign students in Kemi. The University
of Applied Sciences will not have any new exchange students during the
rest of the year due to the corona lockdown. The exception to this rule
are double degree students in mechanical engineering, with another four
students arriving in Kemi next autumn.