Tan York Cheng
Master of Applied Finance

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Why did you opt to go for the Student Exchange programme? Which country did you go to and which university? How many modules did you complete during your time there? How soon were you able to expedite the completion of the programme by enrolling for these modules, i.e. able to finish the programme quicker by 4 months due to taking on more modules in the exchange programme, etc?

​It was indeed a rare opportunity for me to be able to schedule some time off work to go for the student exchange in Finland as part of my Master of Applied Finance studies , while also juggling a full-time job and taking care of my aged parents.

As I have always been curious about the Nordic countries, I chose to go to the Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland for the student exchange. The fall term was also shorter at Aalto University as compared to what was offered by most of the other universities. Also, timing played a huge part in influencing my decision. On the day that I finished my Equity Valuation & Analysis exam paper, that very night I flew straight to Helsinki. And after my last exam paper at the Aalto University, I was able to fly back to Singapore the next day to return to work. It was such a miracle that there were no clashes in the schedule of my classes and exams.

Though I did not complete the degree programme quicker by going for the student exchange, I was able to better manage the overall schedule of my studies. As I am a lecturer with the Ngee Ann Polytechnic, the fall term at Aalto University coincided nicely with my school holidays, which allowed me to complete three modules during the exchange stint. As a result, I only had two modules left of my degree programme when I got back to Singapore, which meant I had more flexibility to juggle between my work, studies and family.

Describe the difference(s) in campus life and culture over there as compared to Singapore’s.

Some of my Finnish classmates seemed rather shy and tend to converse in Finnish most of the time even though they had a good grasp of the English language. It was awkward initially when ​​I had to look for project mates to group with for assignments and also during the first few project discussions. Though it did take some time, the awkwardness wore off eventually and all went well thereafter. I got to know and understand them better and found them to be really great and friendly people! ​There was also a wide diversity of the student population on campus as there were many other exchange students from all over the world. I remember being in a project group where I had classmates from Finland, Belgium, Russia and it was all so interesting to hear about the various different cultures. One of them even had the impression that Singapore was full of sand and palm trees, because her friend who came to Singapore for a holiday, had only shared photos she took at Sentosa!

Were there any challenges or barriers that you had to overcome when you first arrived in Canada? For example, getting used to the weather, food or even language, etc

Weather is definitely one such challenge that I had to get used to. It was around 19 degree Celsius at Helsinki when I arrived. But to the Finns, it was perfect summer weather. I must have been an amusing sight to behold when I walked around cladded with layers of clothes.​ I got used to the cold after a while and really appreciated the clean, crisp air. Also the cold was like natural caffeine to me – just three minutes in the cold and I woke up shivering instantly!

Language-wise, it was not much of a barrier as most Finns spoke English. It was only at the supermarket where we had to rely very much on Google translation as almost all the labels were in Finnish. For each visit, we had to spend quite a considerable amount of time Googling for the names of the food, ingredients, etc.

I never quite realise the extent of ‘overcrowding’ in Singapore till I arrived at Helsinki. The population size of Helsinki is about a tenth of Singapore’s, but with approximately the same land area. It felt really refreshing not to be stuck in traffic congestions all the time or to be jostling with people everywhere I go. That said, there was once in Helsinki when I felt scared and helpless as I had lost my way around and to my dismay, there was not a single person in sight. Thankfully a kind Finn came by where I was stranded, gave me directions to where I wanted to go and also waited with me in the cold for the bus to arrive.

Could you share with us one of your favourite memories in the exchange programme?

While in Helsinki, I shared an apartment with two other students from Hong Kong and Taiwan. It was such a sheer coincidence that my Taiwanese flatmate had actually brought along a rice-cooker and I, a thermal cooker. We ended up cooking our dinners most of the time together with two other friends living in the same block. Each meal was very family/ Asian-like as we had rice, a few dishes and different kind of soups.

I recall a memorable occasion where we shared over dinner, how our paths had crossed, even though we had all come from various parts of the world with other choices of universities that we could have opted for. Instead, we had chosen to be at the Aalto University in Helsinki Finland and housed within the same apartment. The fate that brought us all together was surreal.

How do you think the Exchange Programme has benefited you academically? Did it also benefit you on a personal and/or professional level?

Academic-wise, I had enrolled for Behavioural Finance and Decision Making as well as Marketing of Financial Services which are not offered in my Master of Applied Finance programme, during the student exchange stint which I felt were beneficial. ​Apart from that, the friendship gained especially with my flatmates is what I would always treasure.

Further, I also managed to squeeze in a weekend getaway to Oslo in Norway, where I visited and reconnected with a friend whom I had not seen in a decade. Coincidentally, the first time when we met, he was on a student exchange programme from France to Singapore many years ago.

Apart from attending lessons and completing assignments, what after-school activities or programmes did you participate in?

I was at Helsinki for a total of about six weeks. Other than the usual plethora of tourist places, I also made a trip to Tallinn, Estonia ​​with my flatmates and other friends.​ As alcohol is heavily-taxed and not quite readily available, the locals usually like to visit Estonia for their alcohol and indeed, we saw quite a number of Finns bringing back cartons of alcohol.

What is one piece of advice you would give to your fellow school mates who are looking to enrol for the Student Exchange Programme?

Sometimes, you may need to make a conscientious effort to go out there to make some new friends. You never know – some of these friendships might just last a lifetime.​