Student mobility also opens Europe for students with families

Experiences Erasmus+ Erasmus+ for higher education
During their Erasmus+ exchanges, Miikka Kurunlahti and Vappu Väisänen learned that family life is possible for students abroad as well as at home.
Children playing

When Miikka Kurunlahti and his family arrived in the small town of Norden in the north of Germany in February 2015, he was a bit nervous about whether the house rented through Airbnb really existed. They had been travelling by train and aeroplane from Oulu since the early morning hours and now it was already evening.

Fortunately, they found the place, got the keys and moved in. The house was the only thing Miikka had been worried about as he feels he had had enough support in choosing the place of study and making the arrangements for the four-month exchange period. In his own university he had been advised by the unit of mobility services and received advice from students who had previously studied in the same institution.

During the first couple of weeks, they learned to know their new home town and found the shops and playgrounds. Then Miikka’s studies at the technical university of applied sciences in the nearby city of Emden began. He chose German, English and project management to his programme as he wanted to improve his language proficiency.

Studying in an international group

Vappu Väisänen graduated as a class teacher from the creative arts oriented primary teacher education at the University of Oulu in 2020 and recalls her exchange at the University College of Teacher Education Vienna in spring 2016.

“It was a very eye-opening experience. I was able to compare the education systems of the European countries and see what the attitudes to teachers were like in different cultures,” Vappu says.

Vappu chose Vienna as her place of study because the university offered studies that were compatible with her degree. The cultural offering of the city also appealed to her. When Vappu’s mother agreed to come with her to take care of her 2-year-old son, the decision was easy.

Both Miikka and Vappu completed their courses mainly in an international group consisting of exchange students. Vappu was also able to do a teaching practice teaching English in English to primary school children at a local school.

Miikka found the courses useful, but Vappu was more critical about the level of teaching.

“The level of the courses varied. Some teachers had not given the pedagogical point of view very much thought. On the other hand, some of the teachers focused on promoting cultural knowledge between different European countries, which was great.”

To Vappu’s surprise, she was not able to do the courses that had been agreed in advance. Instead, she was offered a module targeted at exchange students without any kind of tailoring.

Language proficiency and new perspectives to own field of study   

Now that five years have passed since Miikka was studying in Germany, he considers language proficiency the most important benefit from the exchange. At work, he has needed especially English a lot.

“I went abroad specifically because languages had been difficult for me and I wanted to put myself into a situation where I had to speak. In Emden, I realised that no one else was speaking perfectly either and the most important thing is just to get your message through.”

Vappu says that with hindsight, gaining a wider perspective to her own field has been the most important thing for her.  

“I am grateful that the education system here in Finland gives everyone the same opportunities. University education is efficient here and we learn essential things in the courses.”

The teaching practice enabled Vappu to see the practices used in Austrian schools. Planning classes with a person from a different culture was eye-opening as it forced them to discuss matters through and make compromises.

Miikka and Vappu gained more confidence from the experience and internationalisation became natural to them. Making friends with people from different countries was also a great experience.

Family life abroad

When drawing up the Erasmus+ programme, efforts have been made to increase the equality of students in different life situations and to ensure that students with families can also gain international experience.

If they have underage children, exchange students receive additional support in addition to their Erasmus+ grant. The grant may also be awarded if the child or children stay in the home country. The student applies for the separate grant from their own institution together with the application for the exchange.

The family grant was important for both Vappu and Miikka as without proper financial support, they could only have dreamt of going on exchange. 

Both of them encourage people with families to go on exchange in Europe and ensure that it was an experience for the whole family.

“It is not any more difficult or more expensive than in Finland,” Vappu summarises.

“The life of a family with children is fairly similar in Finland and in Germany,” Miikka agrees. The day is structured by going shopping, cooking and childcare, but the environment is different and the family has new experiences in their everyday life without even looking for them.

Miikka’s wife and their children aged one and three went to Germany with him. They still browse the photos together and reminisce about the time in Germany.

“For us, it was an experience we will always remember.”

Miikka encourages families going on exchange to reserve time at the beginning and end of the exchange period for settling down before the studies begin. After the courses ended, Miikka and the family travelled in Germany and the neighbouring countries. He recommends travelling by car to others moving around with small children, too.

Vappu’s mother cared for Vappu’s son during the day and every now and then also went travelling with him to give Vappu an opportunity to take part in the evening activities organised for exchange students. She enjoyed their time in Vienna a lot.

“Living abroad also gives a lot of new experiences to the child. My son became more open although he was not even in daycare. When he went to the playground with his grandmother, he could start to play with another child even though the only word they both knew was auto.” 

  • Project type: Erasmus+ for Higher Education, Student mobility
  • Coordinators: Oulu University of Applied Sciences and University of Applied Sciences Emden/Leer, and the University of Oulu and University College of Teacher Education Vienna
  • Project period: Spring term 2015 and spring term 2016
  • Partner countries: Finland, Germany and Austria
  • Funding: A student with a family who goes on exchange may receive additional support in addition to their Erasmus+ grant if they have underage children. The grant may also be awarded if the child or children stay in the home country.

Author: Päivi Kärnä