Exchange Stories – Martina Åvall in Japan

Martina Åvall is a former International Business and Logistics student from Metropolia Business School. While in MBS she did a year of exchange studying in Kwansei Gakuin University in Nishinomiya, Japan. When she came back we got to interview her and hear about her experience.

Why you decided to go for exchange

“The exchange was a natural thing for me, I didn’t have to think about it twice since the idea of travelling abroad has been a big part of my life from an early stage. Even most of my friends are foreigners.”

What makes Japan unique or special for you?

“For me, the most unique feature of Japan is the fact that it is a country with a long history and a strong, defined culture, although nowadays it is being influenced by international elements. Even so, any product or idea adopted from other countries will be transformed based on Japanese preferences. It is a country that has developed by its own for a very long time.”

How were you perceived there as a European / Finn by your hosts?

“Most Europeans that go there (the ones that do not have very specific facial features) are usually asked if they are from the U.S. As a Finn, I got asked about the Moomins, Santa Claus, Marimekko and things like that. In general Japanese people don’t know much about Finland but they have an endless curiosity regarding it, especially since the Nordic lifestyle has been a trend in Japan lately.

My host family treated me like one of them ever since I arrived there and the fact that I speak the language helped with that a lot. In the university you can easily manage just with English but everywhere else you need at least basic Japanese skills, especially when dealing with public institutions. Most Japanese people know English grammar but they are very self-conscious about their speaking skills. This is changing now however, since there are more courses in English and opportunities to speak the language with others.”

Have you travelled to other regions of Japan or neighboring countries while being there?

“In total I’ve been to 16 other cities in Japan, 3 of which are Okinawa, Tokyo and Yokohama. I haven’t visited other countries because I tried to get the most out of Japan itself. South Korea is only a 45 minute flight away though.”

How different is the Kwansei Gakuin University from Metropolia?

“Extremely different! First, the campus in Nishinomiya is enormous and it co
ntains libraries, fast foods, horse stables and sports fields. The classes that are
exchange student oriented are usually the same size as in Metropolia but the ones focused on international studies can range from 20 to 250 students! The academic year in Japan starts in April with the graduation usually happening in March. All the exchange students that are there for one academic year will participate in three semesters: the autumn semester, the winter seminar (Jan.-Feb.), and the spring semester. The duration of the normal BBA programs is 4 years and the last 2 years are heavily career oriented, with seminars, and courses on this topic, as well as a personal guidance counsellor.”

Would you recommend foreign exchange to someone else?

“Without a doubt! If you have the chance to go, don’t hesitate for a second. Even if you need to take a loan for it, go! It’s a great opportunity and it teaches you so much more than if you would go somewhere on vacation, even a long one.”

Exchange japan

Olivia Nastase (With Martina Åvall), Edited by Helena Ikonen, Pictures by Martina Åvall