The Student Exchange Programme (SEP) at IIFT is all about traveling and experiencing different cultures in foreign lands. While applying for SEP, I felt that the exchange college hardly plays any role, especially for an MBA student. When I started planning for my exchange trip, college life during SEP didn’t even account for 10 percent of the plan because obviously who goes on an exchange programme to attend classes? Right?!
Well, now when someone asks me what I liked the most about my exchange, I would definitely say that it was my exchange college – the Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki, Finland. It’s because of the way that Hanken made me feel that I would want to go back there over and over again. People usually don’t opt to go to a college in Finland because of the extreme cold weather, but it’s not every day that you get to go out in the snow, in -17 degrees, hands freezing and breathing fresh ice cold air. The added benefit: you can make a snow angel pretty much anytime you want; all you need to do is dive into a heap of snow (you can find them pretty much everywhere). I traveled to dozens of places in Europe, but no country welcomed me as warmly as Finland did. I just can’t stop appreciating the hospitability of the Student Exchange Committee at Hanken. The day we landed in Finland, a tutor, who was assigned beforehand to every incoming exchange student, came to pick us up from the airport. That was the day we met Aleksi, a super energetic guy who loves Indian food and share an unhealthy interest in WWE with our very own Faraz (PS: the two turned out to be soul mates by the end of the exchange programme). On the 17th of January, the college schedule just said “Richter’s Welcome”. Richter was the director of Hanken and I expected a long and boring welcome speech. But you can’t expect the happiest people in the world to offer such a plain welcome. The director welcomed us all with a toast of champagne and the famous reindeer snack of Finland! That was just the beginning. Next up was the Finnish Sitz which was organized by the exchange committee for all of the exchange students. A “sitz” is a traditional three-course Finnish dinner along with booze and lots of raucous singing, with singing being the most interesting part of the dinner. So they gave each of us a booklet full of weird songs. One of the songs went like-
“She’s a lady in red, she likes to do it in the bed, sing naa-na-na-naa,
She’s a lady in blue, she likes to do it with two, Sing….
She’s a lady in brown, she likes to do it up-side down, Sing….”
Interestingly all parties in Finland is that all parties are mandatorily followed by an after party and so was the sitz. Barely before we got done with the sitz, we were informed that the exchange committee had organized a pub crawl for us! It wasn’t an ordinary pub crawl. The exchange committee divided us into teams and each team was given tasks to complete. That was the day I did frog jumping to cross the streets of Helsinki, made a human pyramid in a bar, learned to shotgun a beer and clicked random selfies with strangers whose faces I can barely remember now!
The exchange committee in Hanken usually organizes trips for the exchange students. Our first one was a day trip to Tallinn. They took us on a two-hour long cruise. It was my first cruise ride and there I was, sailing in the Baltic Sea, all the way to Estonia. There was a Korean exchange guy who came with a huge suitcase and I wondered what he really got for a day trip. On our way back, the EC took us to “SuperAlko”. That was where I felt the necessity for a suitcase. The alcohol was dead cheap and people stacked up, almost as if for an entire year. It was a lovely day exploring the beautiful small town with new-found friends and enjoying the best pancakes in the world (they had pancakes with salmon, chicken, bacon and what not!).
The best part about being in Hanken was that the EC makes sure you fall in love with Finland and being in Finland meant being in the official homeland of Santa Claus. Of course Santa’s hometown lay beyond the Arctic Circle and never in my wildest of dreams, did I ever imagine that I would find myself in the Arctic, mesmerized by the enchanting snowy land that is Lapland. The EC made it happen and I will be forever thankful to them for giving me such amazing memories. Lapland was a dream come true. It’s like a vast endless stretch of white land, so quiet that you can actually feel the peace within. We stayed in Levi which is the biggest and the most popular skiing center in the world. I never believed that snowflakes actually existed in beautiful forms and it was in Lapland that I saw them – all different forms and equally beautiful. The EC also arranged activities for us such as snowmobile rides, snow-shoe walking, husky-reindeer rides and all of them were once in a lifetime experiences. The nights were crazy with happening parties and beer pong tournaments in the cottages and of course, going off in search of the elusive Northern Lights! I will always remember that one night when we lay on the snow, gazing into the beautiful sky.
The EC kept organizing parties and activities and I could keep writing on and on about them but long story short, they played a huge part in making our stay more special. The kind of effort they put into welcoming the exchange students is commendable and I am glad that a happy accident resulted in me joining Hanken for my exchange programme!