Exchange student trips keep on gaining popularity. For some, the opportunity to travel is a deciding factor in coming to Finland.
Choosing where to do your exchange might not come down to a good city and the best university. For many foreign students it’s not all about Finland, but rather what’s right next to it.
”Before they come to Finland many students have already decided where they are going to make trips during their exchange.
The stories from the trips to Russia and Lapland play a role, when people are choosing their university”, tells Mikko Koistinen, one of the founders of Timetravels – a travel company specialized in student trips.
Fiona Nolan, an Irish exchange student studying at the University of Jyväskylä, confirms the phenomenon.
”A friend told me that the trips here were amazing, and there were a lot of travel opportunities in Jyväskylä. So yes, it was a factor”, the Dubliner tells.
Every year in Jyväskylä more than 300 students take part in trips to Russia and Lapland organized by the Erasmus Student Network and either Timetravels or Bair Travels. ESN Sweden also coordinates a cruise on the Baltic Sea open to all exchange students in the Baltic region.
According to Maiju Mitrunen, the ESN Jyväskylä travel coordinator, the autumn trips are a bit more popular than the spring trips.
”But some trips sell out no matter what: the trips to Lapland are usually fully booked. The Russia trips might be more prone to react to things like weather”, she explains.
Especially the Lapland trips offer an opportunity to bond and gain new friends. It’s not only a chance to go skiing but to get acquainted with the indigenous Sámi-culture, learn how to survive outside in the cold and go to the sauna every night.
”One international degree student told me the trip summed up her whole experience in Finland”, Mitrunen explains.
Nolan remembers best swimming in the freezing Arctic Sea.
”When you were there, you were like, OK, let’s do this. But when you think about it afterwards, you realize how crazy it was.”
Koistinen admits that making the trips more ”extreme” has increased the popularity of the Lapland visits. The biggest expectations usually revolve around seeing the Northern Lights, however.
But can transporting poor exchange students to distant places truly be a good business? For Timetravels – at least – it is.
”Our profit margins are fairly small, because we’re talking about student budgets here. Incomes are based on large volumes and chains of trips during the peak seasons. Big volume however means also a lot of work”, Koistinen says.
Being responsible for almost all trips aimed at exchange students, Timetravels gains roughly million euro turnover from them.
New openings are also sought. This spring ESN will be organizing a trip to Åland, which Mitrunen hopes to be a success.
”It also remains to be seen, whether the visa-free cruises to St. Petersburg will become a hit later on”, Koistinen says.
Mitrunen also hopes that more Finnish students would be encouraged to take part on the trips.
”Many students don’t know that you can get on the trips at times for free, if you volunteer for ESN. I met my best friend on a trip to Russia”, she reveals.
Correction 7.4.2010: Maiju Mitrunen was in charge of 90 exchange students in Lapland, not 19 as incorrectly mentioned in a caption in a story about student trips in Jylkkäri 06/2010.