Metropolia Student Go Exchange: Petja Lasarenko

Hello! I am Petja, 35 years old, and currently doing my Double Degree year in the Faculty of Economics and Business at the University of Basque Country in Bilbao, Spain. Earlier in my life, I have completed a degree in Restaurant Food Production, Restaurant Chef, and courses in Pedagogy at the University of Helsinki.

I started studying BBA in European Business Administration at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences in 2017. Here in Bilbao, I am focusing on Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, Econometrics and Statistics. I hope to combine my Economic studies and the studies I have done in Sustainability in Metropolia for my bachelor thesis and future career. I am interested in human behaviour, consumerism and their relation to economic growth and sustainable development. My motto since the entrance exam has been “aiming higher”. I felt that I had reached the apex of my earlier life and careers, and Metropolia’s BBA programs offered a great way to start aiming higher.

What do you think about the exchange program at MBS?

First a little background about my studies and motives.

I postponed my Double Degree period by one year, mostly because I was working full-time for the first 2,5 years of my studies and fell behind with the credits, but also because I wanted to finish as many courses as possible before leaving Finland. I only have a few courses pending at Metropolia which I hope to complete remotely. Leaving Finland, coming to Bilbao and starting my exchange was a jump into the unknown. Earlier this year, while I was stuck and living in Colombia for three months because of Covid-19 and closed borders, I decided that I will leave nothing behind when I leave for my exchange – once leaving on the road, staying on the road. I wanted to aim for truly international experiences, not only exchange but whatever might come after that. During the summer, when I finally was able to return from Colombia to Finland, I gave up my apartment and (almost) everything I own. When I arrived in Bilbao in August, all I had was two bags of clothes, 40 euros of cash and a hostel room for a few nights. It did not take me more than a few weeks to get an apartment and build a network of friends, but still, the only thing I know for sure is that I am staying in Bilbao until June/July 2021. After that, the next step is to get an internship placement. It might be here in Spain, or Singapore, Colombia, or the USA, who knows where. At the moment, there is nothing tying me down and that I call freedom.

That is my story in a nutshell, but even one wouldn’t make such dramatic changes, I think that the exchange program at Metropolia gives an amazing opportunity for self-development. Integration into another culture, confronting challenges outside a familiar environment, facing a different kind of approaches to learning and teaching, and stepping out of one’s comfort zone leads to deeper understanding, enhanced self-confidence, and independence.

Do you have any special experience during this situation?

I would say that my good and difficult points mostly relate to cultural differences. While administrational matters in Finland and Metropolia all run smoothly and according to pre-fixed schedule, here in Spain things are quite the opposite. Everything is taken care of eventually, but it might take some time and require an immense amount of patience. Just as a simple example, it took 5-6 weeks after the start of the semester to finally get my courses registered and get access to the study material. As a good point of that, no one stresses about anything, quoting my local friend: “don’t worry, you’ll be fine”. If there is one thing above all that I have learned here, it is patience.

The studying itself in these circumstances is quite simplified. There are face-to-face lectures but most of the studying is independent reading and doing exercises, no group works or projects. It might be because of the unusual situation or different approach to teaching, but many teachers here seem to teach for the test, not so much for understanding the subject. When the teachers in Metropolia always try to give a reason or real-life examples why certain things are taught, how they could be used in professional life or how they are used to run a company, here in Bilbao they teach how to use the tools, often failing to give a motive behind them. This lack of rationalization, when one doesn’t know why he/she should learn that particular thing, has a big impact on students’ study motivation. For the students who are motivated to seek the information themselves, this increases the workload quite significantly. I definitely appreciate the Finnish school system and teaching methods a lot more nowadays.

Related to the previous paragraph about the workload, another thing I have learned during my exchange is to be merciful for myself. I am a person who is always pushing himself to the limit, but during my studies here I have learned to take some time off. Even studying here is quite intense, it is totally okay just to forget my laptop for a day, pack my backpack and hike to the mountains to admire the beauty of the country. If you end up in Basque Country, take your time on the mountains.

Can you share a few tips from your exchange experience?

  • Use the opportunity, you have nothing to lose.

Do it. Go for an exchange. Get out of your comfort zone. Going for exchange is a unique opportunity to learn about yourself, develop yourself and learn about different cultures.

  • Forget the prejudices but do your homework.

Our perception of a country and its culture is built by media and by the opinions of others. While pushing aside your negative prejudices of a country or its people, it is still very advisable to dig into the history of the country, its culture and getting a basic knowledge of acceptable and avoidable behaviour. Here the key is simply critical reading.

  • Learn the local language.

To truly connect with the community and learn about the country and culture, you will need to understand the local language, or at least it will help a lot. Showing interest to the local language also shows respect towards the country.

  • Connect with the locals.

While it might seem very fun and convenient to stick with other international students, I would advise to get out of the comfy circle and challenge yourself with the local people. Sometimes it might feel hard to get through to people, but once you get to know locals, your cultural experience will be much deeper. In this challenge, knowing the language (a.k.a. showing respect) will make a big difference.

  • Give something back.

While being eager to learn about the local culture, do not forget to give something back. Most likely the local people are just as interested in your culture as you are in theirs. Think learning as an exchange trade between you and the locals, not as an intake for yourself.

If you have any questions or want to follow my life on the road:
IG: @petjalasarenko
LinkedIn: Petja Lasarenko

Written by: Petja Lasarenko
Edited by: Nhi Nguyen, IBL 18