Text and photos: Aleksi Jolkkonen
Moving to another country feels sort of like starting all over, except it’s not. You have this wonderful feeling of freedom and lust for exploration and that is one of the best parts of starting your exchange journey. Mine started off by applying to spend 9 months at the University of Salford, just half a year before I realized I was actually going and had no place to stay there.
My exchange was also very different because I received another degree from Salford; I am now Bachelor of Science in International Business. The exchange was an experimental double degree programme that went fairly well for all of us students. I cannot say if this was useful for me yet, as I am still about to enter the proper working life. Only time will tell, but it was surely more interesting than the regular 5 month exchange.
For your convenience, I have narrowed the story into different topics to help you find your way.
- Apartment hunting
- First deadlines and University of Salford
- The city of Salford and Manchester
- Food and living
- I miss high tech Finland
- Travel times
- Friends, fun and tips
1. Apartment Hunting
For some reason, I don’t stress much about anything and will handle the rigors of life pretty well. This “superpower” came in handy when my classmate and I realized we didn’t have place to live in Salford. It came out pretty straightforwardly as we were applying for the student accommodation of University of Salford. All of the student accommodations were filled. But no matter “there are always the private ones” I said and boy was that a hassle.
We tried to contact different renters from the private markets, but nobody seemed keen on answering emails. Literally one month and no emails and the time finally came when I hopped on the plane with the destination of Manchester and no place to call home there.
As the plane landed through four layers of clouds towards the airport over green fields, I knew that England was going to be completely different from Finland. There were no forests or lakes anywhere! Getting out from the airport was pretty easy as there were trams and trains going to both Salford and Manchester.
We were “lucky” to not get the apartment application soon enough. The John Lester and Eddie Colman court student apartments were not up to the Finnish standards where I stayed with another TAMK classmate. This came out as a stressful meltdown for my friend of whose place I was staying at. After the shock, we gathered our courage and ventured to Salford Shopping Centre to find some food and basic things; cutlery and coffee.
Having found everything and looking like a newlywed couple, we carried all of the stuff back home for some relaxing wine and cooking. The first day was one of the longest I can remember from the exchange.
When my flatmate arrived, we booked AirBnB for couple weeks to find an apartment for ourselves. I had never stayed with AirBnB. It was a very pleasant experience as our host was funny and conversational when he was around. We got many tips on the areas not rent, which was very nice. Manchester and Salford are not like Finland where pretty much every area is safe.
With our home base set up we started to look for apartments. The best sites are probably www.zoopla.co.uk and www.rightmove.co.uk. They have most of the apartments and the phone numbers where you need to call for inquiry. I think we called nearly 100 different places and finally got some viewings set up. For couple of the viewings the agent never came to show us around, but those neighbourhoods seemed a little dodgy.
Through amazing luck and frustrating back and forth calls, we found a place that looked very clean and Scandinavian. The windows couldn’t be opened and it was a little hot during sunny days, but was at an excellent area near MediacityUK. It is the home of many broadcasting companies and one of University of Salfords campuses.
Here’s a little list of things to do to get rental from private market:
- Call a lot and just try to get a viewing
- Don’t pay anything before you can see the rental agreement and the apartment
- There is a reservation fee for apartments to get them of the market. This is the renter agents cut from the deal. Ask what it includes and confirm that this is everything.
- Before agreeing to anything, ask help and clarification from https://www.manchesterstudenthomes.com/Local
- Ask how the rental reservation fee and rent is going to be payed. International Students usually need to pay the rent in full for the duration of the stay.
- Also ask about the deposit and which scheme is used for it. They all need to go through some government scheme.
- Follow the agencies instructions and take pictures of everything in the apartment when you get the keys. Also test all appliances.
For us the rental reservation through PhilipJames was around £450 and rent was £700 per month for 52 sqm apartment. Water and electricity were around 50£ a month and we rarely used heating. The deposit for the apartment was around £800.
Also remember to ask about the regular maintenance things that are the responsibility of the tenant, such as lightbulbs and things like that.
It was a big hassle to get the apartment as the rental agreement was around 50 pages long. The renter’s rights are not very good in UK and for some reason we ended up paying some extra fees after we left.
2. First Deadlines and University of Salford
Awesome, slow, relaxed and specific are just some of the words popping in my mind whilst thinking about the University. Scheduling was very interesting as we got to choose our own lectures and seminars. Mine stacked for Monday and Tuesday with one Thursday lecture to maximise weekend’s length. The University had around 20 000 students with a very nice campus area. It had everything you could think of: separate lecture buildings, cafeterias, art gallery, sports centre with swimming pool and sauna, lunch places, Subway and even a bar!
The studies at University of Salford gave me a new perspective to the academic world, and the differences between countries. Everything seemed to go in slow motion there, which was both good and bad at the same time. Most of the modules I attended were similar to those of in TAMK and in a way, I was studying the same things again.
Unlike TAMK, they had both lectures and seminars there. TAMK only has “lectures”. They might sound different, but the lectures of TAMK just combine the two and make everything happen at once. At UoS the idea is to have one large group lecture first for the theory and then have some sort of applied task for the small group seminar days. I like the idea this way, so you can actually digest the knowledge over a night and then remember it afterwards.
The teaching quality was very good, and for a non-native English speaker, it was very understandable. The accent was usually quite bland and the lecturers spoke slowly enough for good comprehension. Now keeping that in mind, I have been studying in English for the past two years and mostly consume written and spoken media and material in English. This helped me quite a bit over my classmates from TAMK, who had a little adjustment period for the language.
I have listed everything below that I did at Salford
Task list for the first semester – September to January:
- International Business: 3000-word market entry strategy for bicycle company Halfords. 3 months DL.
- International Business: Exam. 5 months prep time.
- Applied Business Research and Analysis: 3000-word applied research report about a freely chosen topic. 4 months DL.
- Business Ethics and Sustainability: 3000-word report on Sustainability or Ethics from a freely chosen company. 4 months DL.
Task list for the second semester – January to May:
- International HRM: 2500-word essay on a foreign country and its HRM practices. 3 months DL.
- International HRM: Exam on course topics. 4 months prep time.
- Strategic Management: 3000-word group report on Coca-Cola strategic analysis. 3 months DL.
- Strategic Management: Essay exam on 2 topics out of 5 questions. 4 months prep time.
- German Language: Spoken exam. 8 months prep time.
- German Language: Written exam. 8 months prep time.
As you can see from the humble list here, there was not that much to do in a year. For me, most of these tasks were something I have previously experienced unlike the British students that have never done anything applied, like the research report. And, I managed to complete nearly every task in a week of coffee filled reading and writing days. Instructions for these tasks were also very informative and the lecturers were approachable for further guidance. Sometimes it felt like spoon feeding…
3. The City of Salford and Manchester
Before I left Finland, I thought that my destination was going to be Manchester. This was however not so true as University of Salford is not just a name, but the University is in Salford that is an adjacent city to Manchester. The situation is somewhat similar to Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa. To make things more confusing, Salford is actually part of Greater Manchester county that holds around 2,5 million people. Though, the population of Salford is 248 700, and is quite the same size as Tampere.
The city of Salford is not much to look at and resembles one of those rough neighbourhoods that you hear about in the news. It has actually been one of those areas where bad things happen, but its gotten better from what I heard and saw there. There is not that much to see in Salford, except the University and MediacityUK, that has all of the big broadcasting companies and nicer areas there.
It has one large shopping centre called Lowry Outlet. There are mostly clothing stores and small boutiques there. The area is very nice to walk around as it’s a former canal harbour with many waterways like Amsterdam.
The other interesting place is the Salford Shopping Centre, that has all of the major grocery stores such as: Tesco Extra, Aldi and Lidl. They have some speciality stores like Poundland and Post office, but mostly the everyday essential stores. It’s around 20 min walk away from the university.
For restaurants, I would just go to MediacityUK with the bus number 50 from UoS. This bus is also free between the two campuses for the students. Though only between the main campus and MediacityUK campus and not to the Manchester city centre. To there you need walk for 45 minutes or take a bus for £2.
The city of Manchester has quite many things to do that Salford doesn’t have. It has one very large shopping centre called Arndale. There you can find all kinds of clothing stores and department stores. It also has quite the variety of restaurants near it. For touristy things, I’d suggest you check out the following things in no particular order:
- John Ryland’s Library
- Manchester Museum
- Central Art Gallery
- Football Museum
- Science and Industry Museum
- Cloud 21
- Central Library
These are mostly the things I remember the best as they are all at a walking distance from each other in the city. I’d suggest you take two sights for one day, so you won’t run out of them so fast.
For commuting around the city, it is easiest to just walk everywhere once you get there. Though during night and evening time, I’d suggest using cabs or Uber. Even if it seems safe and there are streetlights everywhere, you can never be too sure about the dark times. I didn’t run into much troubles as I’m quite big guy and the people are generally very nice there.
4. Food and Living
First of all, this story is not going to be about the campus food as I have no idea what that is. I can count with my fingers the times I ate at TAMK before my exchange. However, for someone who has lived in Tampere and loves hot wings, the ones they have at the campus, in a bar called Atmosphere, are the best ones you can get in Manchester. This is definitely not a joke. The second best option is TGI Fridays and their appetizer habanero wings. It took me 9 months to come up with these two options, whilst trying to help my hot wings cravings with countless non-qualifying options. I even started to experiment with my own homemade ones in desperation.
But sometimes you can’t eat out and must go back to home through the grocery stores and I would say it’s very similar to Finland. The food is almost at the same price level and maybe a bit cheaper on the healthier option side if you like to cook. The only really expensive stuff is fish, but you can still afford to cook sushi every now and then, maybe for someone special. They have the same basics are there as in Finland. This was a very pleasant surprise for me as I tend to be a bit strict and picky about the food choices I make. So, for those health nuts who have special diets without gluten, wheats, sugars, soy, milk, pork and processed foods. it’s just alright and you won’t die from starvation.
Once at home, the houses are be a bit different from what we are used to having back in Finland. For example, there might be gas heating and cooker, and two taps for water. Water seems to be the major difference as our apartment shower had lights and different settings for it, just like a space shower! And what often houses this shower, is the bathtub. They are everywhere in UK. Though don’t get too comfortable with everyday baths as the heating and water bill might be a bit higher than in Finland. The electricity price levels are around double or more depending on the company you make the deal with.
To lower the electricity bill, me and my flatmate rarely used the heaters in our home and just got these cliché hot water bags that you see in English soap tv shows. Warm blanket for winter is also a must. The thing with English houses is the lack of insulation so it gets a bit hot during summer if you forget to close the curtains and very cold during winter. The coldest I remember at our apartment was around 15 degrees Celsius during some January evenings. Our apartment even had double glaze windows which was a plus for the single ones they usually have there. Now compare that to the Finnish ones with four or more layers!
Another thing I didn’t expect was the change to my body. I am more used to being in cold now than I have ever been before. Sometimes it’s too hot indoors as we have constant temperature from 20 to 23 in Finland. The English people used to have funny looks when we Finns said it was cold indoors. They said “But you live in the coldest part of Europe, with snow and everything? How come you are cold?”. To what we answered; “Its only cold outside where you put on clothes and take them out indoors where it’s warm, because we have heating and insulation” and we’d all laugh for the stereotypical expectations for us “tough” northern people being not so tough after all.
5. I miss High Tech Finland
Very usual sight for our place
I’m sorry to say, but the word “f*king developing country” slipped out from my mouth every now and then when something involving internet, buses or general digital services was on going. To think that in 2017 in Europe that is the most developed area in the world, one can simply not walk into a shopping centre and have internet connection in their phone is just absurd for someone who has had that kind of access for 10 years now. This was maybe the biggest difference between Finland and United Kingdom.
Starting with our everyday cause of happiness, frustration, conversation and socializing device, the smartphone. In Finland, the no data limit 3G and 4G connections have been around for a while as the world is going more wireless, but in UK this is not the case. There was only one company that had this unlimited access and every other company had data limits of around 5-10Gb per month. And some houses like ours didn’t have up to date broadband connection like light fibre connections. Just to compare our 2009 built house near the media company hub of the north got access for 5mb internet. In Finnish cities, the norm is around 50-100mb that costs half or third the price. Though the worst of funniest things was the text messaging. People actually communicated via SMS there.
Also, nearly every service that involved money was done with paper. Everything required signatures on paper and sent through snail mail. These things seemed very bureaucratical and slow. But, when it came to those everyday normal services involving people, everything was surprisingly fast. Like going to grocery stores or ordering something via post order. For example, if you get Amazon Prime, which is free for students for 6 months. They sometimes deliver small items on the same day and usually the next day. In Finland, anything takes at least a week.
6. Travel times
I actually ended up technically visiting 5 countries during my exchange. First trip was to Münich in Germany to have a guy’s classmate meetup there. The second trip was actually sprung from that one and I went to Haague and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Those were just before Christmas and I decided to take a little week long de tour through Paris to Stockholm and then to Finland for Christmas with family.
My final adventures were at United Kingdom where I went for a hiking trip to Wales to do Welsh 3000s with my mom and the last trip through London for couple days before I departed back to Finland.
I could go on and on about the adventures and sights I saw, but sometimes it’s best to see for yourself. Like on top of the Snowdon mountain. No picture can fully give you the same feeling as just standing there, feeling small and insignificant with wonder.
7. Friends, fun and tips
Coming back to more practical matters on exchange in University of Salford. The social activities in the University are numerous. I made the rookie mistake of not joining a society or sports group during the first semester. I thought the studies are going to be extra tough, coming from University of Applied Sciences. Though, in general TAMK is a bit tougher sometimes.
The majority of social activities within the University happen through these Societies and Sports clubs. You could compare them to the clubs that the engineer students of TUT have. All of them are mostly open to join and they have a little entrance fee for the semester. I joined the swimming club and this fee covered the track payment at the sports centre.
If you got scared about the sports part, there are societies and clubs for nearly everything you could think of. It’s good to go to the society and sports club fairs that are organized at the beginning of every semester. Just don’t make the mistake of joining too late, as this is how you can meet other people there.
Meeting people is generally easy during your exchange as people are usually curious about the foreign students. Lectures are not the best of these situations. Unlike TAMK, it’s very hard to connect during the lectures as there is not very much interaction between the students.
Being proactive and joining a society or maybe organizing exchange student get together evenings is one way. Most of our social activities and meetups were between other exchange students. Funnily, the core group that came to be our friend group were the people I met on my second day there. To think that a simple Facebook post about a city exploration day could spark this kind of friendship was amazing.
Our friend group mostly hanged out at someone’s place for pre-party or something in like movies or eating out. For movies, I’d suggest you check out one of the Imax theatres. The screens are bigger than what I’ve ever seen. There are Vue theatres as well. Movie tickets cost anywhere from £5 to £15 depending on the theatre and time of the show.
For more sporty options I would check out the Go Air Trampoline park, where you can make a group reservation. Even if you haven’t jumped on a Trampoline it is still much fun as our group had complete beginners and nearly experts flipping different tricks. For a bit different activities, there is the Boulder Depot that has one of the largest bouldering walls in Europe and Chill Factor for indoor downhill skiing and snowboarding. Salford Snow organizes regular trips and social activities in Chill Factor.
Those social activities usually include variety of bars and nightclubs and there are quite many of them. Best options for nightclubs to visit is the Deansgate area and Printworks area. These areas have the more familiar dance floor pop and techno music types of nightclubs. For a more indie and hipster atmosphere, you could check out the Northern Quarter. Oxford Road is also one place that has Fifft, where most student nights end up.
There are so many options for bars, but I’d say Pint Pot is my favourite. It’s just 10 min walk away from the campus and has that cosy English pub atmosphere. For something different like cocktails, I’d try Font or even Alchemist that is a bit more expensive.
I hope my lengthy stories have been of interest to you. I will leave you with a little list of tips for Manchester and exchanges. Thank you.
- Don’t leave your things un-guarded as UK is not like Finland.
- People are generally nice, but remember to be careful. Especially women.
- Have cash available as sometimes the cards don’t work.
- Use taxi if you are going somewhere during evening.
- Don’t walk under the street tunnels during evenings
- Prepare for a little lower living standards and get those extra blankets for winter.
- The lecturers and professors are there to help you, so ask questions if you don’t know.
- Join a society or sports club that might interest you. You’ll meet new people this way.
- It doesn’t rain all the time in UK, but umbrella is useful.
- Join social activities even if they sound a little scary. People are as excitedly scared as you are in new situations.