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Exchange programme at the University of Jyväskylä

Hello, everyone! This is Anna Opykhtina, a student of the Faculty of Communications, Media and Design with a major in Journalism. In the spring of 2021, I completed a mobility program at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, and now I’d like to share my experience with you.

Exchange programme at the University of Jyväskylä

  • How I found out about mobility programs

    The opportunity to go abroad for an exchange semester is one of the criteria I paid attention to when I chose HSE. Even though many universities have academic mobility programs, HSE has the most adequate and complete information on its website. There is a catalog of universities, specialties, a list of necessary documents, reviews from participants, statistics, and contacts of managers – everything is for you, just come in, choose, and go. Therefore, I was confident that the exchange with the help of HSE is not a nice picture for naive applicants, but a real opportunity.

  • Why I needed an exchange semester

    Before applying, I have been abroad several times, so exploring the world was not my main goal. Another popular reason – to practice English – was also not so relevant for me: there were no journalism programs in English-speaking countries. In Europe, English is still a foreign language, so there are only a few native speakers. Although both traveling and practicing the language are important factors to study abroad.

    For me, the most important thing was to dive into a different educational environment. HSE is a strong and demanding university, and takes a lot of features from Western universities, but education in Russia is often criticized. I was curious: what does foreign education mean, why are we so focused on it? Is there more practice implemented into the studying process?

    And this comparison was also a challenge for me. I had not known if studying in a different system, in a different language, or if such «another system» suited me. I decided that the best way to put my abilities and preferences to test was to go for 4-6 months exchange semester at a foreign university.

  • How I chose a university abroad

    In Higher School of Economics, you, of course, can study not only economics, but there is a much greater emphasis on the socio-economic and technical areas. Since you can only take an exchange semester in your specialty (mine is Journalism), I had a list of 11-13 universities where I could study media, communication, and journalism.

    Then I screened out some Asian universities, because at the time of selection Western culture seemed closer to me. By the way, I do not think like that anymore :).

    The next step was selecting universities that invite students in the bachelor's degree and in my year of study, and do not require knowledge of a second foreign language or a special certificate in English. For example, I have a good command of German, but I do not have any language certificate, and my English proficiency is proved by Cambridge exams, not IELTS or TOEFL, which provides certain limitations.

    When the list of universities was reduced to 5-7 universities, I began to look at scholarship opportunities, courses in each of the universities, the cost of living in this country/city, and the duration of the trip.

How difficult was it to pass

Anna Opykhtina

How my exchange was affected by the coronavirus

When I was applying, I understood that there was a risk of program cancelation. The same happened in the previous spring semester and in the fall semester, not everyone was able to travel abroad. I hoped that the pandemic would go down, but it didn't work out that way.

Two months before my planned departure, the host university offered me either to transfer my exchange to the next semester, but without a scholarship, or to study online, or to try to come to Finland, provided with the fact that the borders are practically closed to everyone.

I know that some Russian guys managed to reach Jyväskylä by car, but according to the reviews, it was a stressful adventure. Some were not completely sure that they would not be deployed at the border.

I chose the safest option – an online semester. This way I was not threatened with flight cancellations, difficulties with documents and entry, or the risk of getting sick in a foreign country. I admit that at first I was afraid: what if the virtual semester would not be that interesting. But now I do not regret at all – there are many advantages of such a variant, which I will discuss a little bit later.

Anna Opykhtina

What I did in Virtual Finland

I did 90% of what the guys who were able to come to Jyvaskyla did

I communicated with students and teachers a lot, despite being online

In vain I thought that English cannot be pumped in a non-English-speaking environment.

Another cool educational activity that I participated in is the Team&Client Project Course

What I think about studying in Finland

In short, I liked the Finnish education system

Speaking of courses, they are different from the ones in HSE

Another cool feature associated with courses is lecture diaries

By the way, I was so imbued with the ideology of Finnish education that after the end of the main semester, I applied for a Summer School in the Humanities at the same university, the University of Jyväskylä. There I took a course on the Finnish structure of education in general. And my observations about the individualized approach were confirmed. Starting from kindergarten and ending with courses for future PhD students, Finns try to avoid standardization. You are unlikely to see the group's grades: each student receives their grades personally, sometimes even with a personal feedback from the teacher. There are very few tests and state exams. If a student has difficulties in mastering the program, he or she will be offered additional classes at the school. If the student has no motivation or is too worried about the results, they will offer to talk to a psychologist. In short, they will do everything for your study to be a joy, a pleasure.

There are also disadvantages of course

There are also disadvantages of course

What are the advantages of online exchange?

When I say that I'm an exchange student, I hear phrases like «cool» and «great» in response. When I add that I study remotely, I hear a disappointed «I’m so sorry» in response. And I wonder why. Of course, it's cool to go to another country, adapt there, and live in a different environment. But there are also disadvantages to any scenario: if I went to Finland, then the negative aspects of such a decision would be which I am absolutely sure about.

So I decided to stick to a rule as old as the world: if you can't change a situation, change your attitude to it. At first I resisted and got upset, but then I realized that online mobility is not worse or better than a real trip, it's just a different experience. And there are advantages to other experiences.

It's great to be a pioneer

I am one of the first students whose mobility took place in a virtual format, but everyone has already learned how to use Zoom and Teams. You, along with everyone else, learn to make acquaintances without face-to-face communication, learn to solve your difficulties without the «come and ask» option, learn to cope with a situation when the Internet crashes or your computer shuts down in the middle of an important presentation.

Online mobility was also useful in professional terms. I am a tutor in Russian language and I am conducting my classes remotely, and in many courses I saw amazing applications, services, and just methods for arranging a lesson that I can now offer to my students. Lectures in the classroom would not have given me this skill.

This semester is a good opportunity to concentrate only on studying

You live in your own country, and you study in Finland, so you do not go through any culture shock, or sometimes difficult adaptation. Studying abroad is great, but you need to go there not for the sake of travel, but for the sake of development – for me, the university where I will study is important, the program and courses should be stronger than those that I have already passed. When you are getting used to the climate and the cuisine, you may not be able to compare the academic side. And I was able to compare them, because I focused on my studies, checked whether I could study anywhere apart from Russia, and how good my knowledge and skills were in the international perspective.

Once the adaptation is not necessary, you can devote your free time to some other interesting activities. For example, in addition to tutoring, I worked as a professor's assistant first in Russian language course, and then in an Economics course, and continued to work in the HSE Project Laboratory. For some of my articles, I was inspired by topics from courses I took in Finland

You are working on a lot of important skills

In addition to written and spoken English, you have to cope with the time difference. There's an hour's difference between Moscow and Jyväskylä, but you have to take that into account when you plan your day, so time management becomes your strength, whether you want it or not. And you also overcome the fear of communication: if you want to solve the problem with organizing studies, if you do not want to sleep during lectures, you have to persistently reach out to the studying office, ask questions, start discussions and be active. Then, with the camera turned on, you can sit comfortably in Zoom.

Online mobility is a decent money saver

Even if you managed to win a scholarship, it does not necessarily cover all the expenses. Life in Europe is much more expensive than life in Moscow, even if you do not study in the country’s main cities. And if you have the opportunity to work simultaneously with your studies, you can save money for other courses and trips.


Despite the difficulties associated with distance learning and the pandemic, I am glad that such an experience has happened in my life. I have coped with everything. For the sake of such experience and such a different view of the world, it was worth trying and making efforts!