Imagine spending an entire semester exploring a new country, immersing yourself in unique cultures, and traveling the world – all while getting to take business courses that excite you. Well, the Michigan Ross study abroad program enables business students to do just that and more!
During the second semester of junior year, students get the chance to spend a semester abroad, whether that be in Paris, London, Stockholm, Singapore, Australia, or others. For me, I chose Helsinki, Finland. While the choice to visit a Nordic country may sound a bit unconventional, I hope to encourage others to step out of their comfort zone and consider the exciting, unique options that Michigan Ross has to offer.
COME IN WITH AN OPEN MIND
The Ross School of Business stands out at the University of Michigan for its direct exchange program. Ross sends out smaller numbers of students to each country, with international students coming to Michigan Ross in exchange. Due to the nature of this program, spots are limited in each country. This program ultimately enables a more immersive experience compared to what most programs are able to offer.
When I first heard I was going to Finland, I was excited, but also nervous. I had never met anybody who had been to Finland, and I got comments like, “Why would you go there? It’s so cold!” (In reality, Helsinki, Finland never reached the cold extremities that Ann Arbor, Michigan gets every winter). However, I told myself to keep an open mind and began researching all the incredible things I was going to do. I also started messaging the Michigan Ross students also heading to Finland, helping me feel more at ease that there would be some familiar faces arriving in the completely foreign country.
Looking back at my semester in Helsinki, I am so incredibly grateful that I took the leap. What made going to Finland so special was its uniqueness. While I knew many classmates who were going to Barcelona, Spain and Florence, Italy, I was one of six traveling to Helsinki. Being with a smaller group pushed me to make friends at my exchange school with students who weren’t American. Through university-organized events and reaching out to others, I can now proudly say I continue to stay in touch with friends I made from places like Austria, Singapore, and Finland – many of whom were other exchange students in Helsinki.
A special experience I had during my time in Helsinki, Finland was getting to celebrate Wappu, a national holiday that brings Finnish university students together in the center of the city for a day full of celebration. Specifically, university students in Finland wear special overalls for social events, with each student wearing a specific color of overall depending on their major (i.e. business is green overalls). Students also collect patches to put on their overalls, with each patch representing a different event you attended. Wappu marks the beginning of Spring and the start of graduation season, which celebrates high school students moving onto university and university students moving onto careers. As a student, I got the opportunity to wear overalls too, exposing myself to the culture and getting to experience one of the biggest holiday gatherings in Finland.
Looking ahead, I encourage other students to keep an open mind and consider the potential of studying in a country that may feel a bit less “common.” The Ross School of Business offers programs in so many incredible countries and your semester abroad can be an opportunity to take the road less traveled. Getting to grow close with new friends and explore a country with engaging cultural events is a rewarding experience.
TAKE THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
For me, studying in Helsinki provided me with an experience that most students can’t say they’ve enjoyed. From learning all about Finnish culture to making friends with people across the globe, participating in a small group of Michigan students enabled me to engage on a much deeper level. Coming back to Ann Arbor, people were eager to hear about my experience in a place that was somewhat foreign to most.
Going abroad also provides a great opportunity to travel a country. And the best places I visited were often found on roads less traveled. While I did my fair share of visiting more touristy cities like London, Paris, and Barcelona, many of my favorite memories came from places like Latvia and the Arctic Circle. Going to places like this provided an added layer of thrill and excitement, where I saw and learned about places I never would have imagined visiting.
As an example, I’ll highlight my experience in Riga, Latvia. The great thing about Europe is that many places are affordable to get to, whether that be by train or through budget airlines. When looking into fun places to visit, my friends and I were on the lookout for cheap airfare. This is where we discovered Riga, paying less than $30 for the flight.
Exploring a city I knew nothing about alongside new friends made Riga a special experience. The highlight of my trip was the walking tour around the historic city center. We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the tour; we ended up being the only group to show up creating a completely private, personalized experience! Our tour guide was a sweet older man who arrived with a Latvian flag that he waved throughout the tour and we enjoyed his humor and entertaining, quirky personality. The tour took us all around the old town, where we learned about the varying architecture styles featured and visiting beautiful sites. My favorite was the House of Blackheads, located in the town square, which is a beautifully detailed building that was reconstructed after World War II and comes complete with statues and ornaments. Another highlight was the Cat House, a building that features two cat statues at the pointed top, in which our tour guide gave insight into the tale for why these cats appear. I always enjoyed beginning my visits to new cities with a walking tour, which provided me with a greater appreciation and knowledge of the city. At the same time, I received a local’s recommendations on the best things to do. And the best part? Walking tours are typically completely free! Just make sure to leave a tip.
Opportunities to take the road less traveled can come in many forms. Beyond traveling, I also got to explore unique paths through my courses at my host school, classes that aren’t offered at Michigan Ross. My personal favorite was my Sociology of Fashion and Consumption class, where we learned about topics like the post-gender movement and explored the growing intersection of fashion and technology. My Intercultural Communication class also stood out thanks to the diverse classroom environment. The course consisted of exchange students from all over the world, as well as Finnish students. Having so much diversity kept this class extremely interesting; we often compares cultures with my classmates and discovered more about how we were similar and different. Taking unique classes in a new country enables students to try exciting courses they otherwise would not have taken and also learn how to collaborate and connect with students from a wide range of cultural backgrounds truly beyond what is possible at Michigan Ross.
IMMERSE YOURSELF IN THE CULTURE
No matter where you choose to study abroad, take advantage of the opportunities to get involved in your school and city. Getting to appreciate and understand a new culture is an extremely rewarding experience, and a main part of the semester exchange program. Here are some ideas to help you start thinking about what that may look like for you:
Get Involved on Campus: Many universities have clubs and events going on for students to take part in! At my host school, Aalto University, there was even an entire committee of students who hosted programming for its exchange students. From a campus tour to meetups and scavenger hunts, this helped me to meet other exchange and Finnish students. While I was certainly lucky to have this committee at my school, you can also seek clubs to join that align with your interests. No matter where you go abroad, students everywhere are just like us and always open to meeting new people and creating an inclusive environment where anyone can participate.
Take A Class (Or Classes) In the Native Language: If you know a second language or want to improve your skills, this is an excellent way to be surrounded by students from that country. This is especially common if you end up going to Spain or France, where Spanish and French are popular minors and double majors here at Michigan. Not only do these classes enable you to improve your own language skills, but it also fosters an opportunity to make friends with local students and use your learnings in the real world, such as ordering at a restaurant.
Look For AirBnb Experiences: AirBnb Experiences features a plethora of fun classes and experiences to take part in, often hosted by locals. From cooking and art classes to tours around the city, these experiences can enable you to immerse yourself in a cultural experience and learn more about the city you are in. For example, I visited Florence and took a yoga class on a local’s rooftop, followed by a home cooked meal where we got to learn all about her lifestyle and favorite parts of the city.
Madelyn is a senior at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, where she is pursuing her Bachelor of Business Administration degree with a concentration in marketing. When she’s not in class, you can find her spending time with her consulting club and sorority, going on runs, or enjoying all the delicious restaurants in Ann Arbor!
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