15 years Asia Exchange – 15 years of Studying Abroad with 10,000 Students
The pandemic hit student mobility worldwide. In 2022, countries re-opened their borders, and students worldwide could finally fulfill their dream of studying abroad. Consequently, Asia Exchange hit record numbers and first time ever, helped a four-digit number of students to get life-changing experiences abroad. But this milestone is not the only reason to celebrate for the Finnish study abroad provider – Asia Exchange is celebrating its 15th company anniversary in 2022. These 15 years have provided more than the two co-founders were unable even to dream back when coming up with the idea for the concept. Besides all the student experiences and even some “Asia Exchange babies” in this world, Tuomas and Harri found their significant others thanks to the business trips in Asia. Running the company is more than a job or a way of life for the two edupreneurs.
Where it all started
“I’m sure you have heard about Nokia? What most people don’t know, besides once being the most popular mobile phone, Nokia is also a town of 30,000 people in Finland. That’s where it all started. That is also where we grew up and became friends with Tuomas. During our university years, we studied abroad in Shanghai. Our exchanges were life-changing experiences on a personal and professional level. That made us think about opening innovative study abroad opportunities for thousands of other young people in Finland and abroad”, explains Harri Suominen, President of Asia Exchange.
After Tuomas Kauppinen and Harri Suominen from Finland had finished their exchange semesters in Shanghai in, China, in 2006, the two friends had a dream to still travel the world and combine it with their innovation of running a study abroad business so that everyone could have life-changing-experiences. Asia Exchange was born with a shoelace budget, and growth happened organically. The first years it was a serious but fun side-project besides the daily jobs for Tuomas and Harri.
Harri still remembers vividly how this concept idea took shape. “One evening in 2006 at our shared apartment in Helsinki, Tuomas started to talk about an idea of contacting selected Asian universities at desired destinations and helping freemover students from the West to study abroad easily and affordably, the same time when easing the administrative workload also from the sending universities. We innovated how it would be possible to have a 24h acceptance, discounted fees, and go together with friends. We knew quite little about the industry, but retrospectively, that was a blessing. This is common for any start-upper in many industries – it’s even beneficial to be a bit naive and unaware of all the challenges ahead of you. This is how you can have the will and desire to start doing things instead of just planning.”
Where We stand today
“Lots of things have happened since my first meeting with Guangzhou University in China in 2006. At 25, still a student, I was wearing my brand-new tailor-made suit, nervous but inspired as a new-to-become entrepreneur. I felt lucky that the university liked our proposal. Still, it took until 2008 that we had our first student abroad. Some years later, my own journey continued to Hong Kong, where I nowadays live with my Chinese wife and our two children.”, recollects Tuomas, the Chairman of the Board, about the early days of Asia Exchange.
Today, Asia Exchange is the number one international study provider, not only concerning students’ nationalities but also due to their international team. We have enabled 10,000 students from 109 countries and 734 sending universities to join study programs such as a semester abroad, gap year, full degree, or summer school at 22 partner universities in 14 countries. While Germany, France, Scandinavia, Benelux, and the US are the most represented nationalities, Asia Exchange has had students also from countries such as Yemen, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, Syria, Palestine, Iran, and Ukraine, just to name a few. Moreover, Harri and Tuomas decided to expand beyond Asian borders during the pandemic. In 2020, they founded Beyond Abroad to extend their operations to a global scale, offering study programs also in Europe and Latin America.
The solution- and student-oriented thinking has paid off. 2022 has been a record year due to 25 professionals from 7 nationalities working relentlessly from multiple locations in Europe and Asia. Together, Beyond Abroad and Asia Exchange send over 1,000 international students to study abroad this year. This has given me confidence to set an ambitious goal for the future of helping 7,000 students to study abroad every year. Joonas Salo, Sales And Relationship Manager at Asia Exchange says, “Since starting at Asia Exchange in 2020, there has been one big factor that has contributed not only to our success during the past 15 years but also to our survival during the pandemic. Innovation. It has been present since day one and also goes back to the roots and foundation of Asia Exchange. Innovation doesn’t happen without the people in the organization, and I am confident Asia Exchange will remain the most innovative provider in the industry in the future as well”.
How Asia Exchange overcame challenges
In the past 15 years, we have also encountered several hurdles, the Covid-19 pandemic being the biggest. Tuomas shares insights into how we have overcome challenges: “During the Covid-19 pandemic, we decided not to remain still and fear what’s going to happen to our industry and company but fight to find still safe ways to enable student mobility to desired destinations. Consequently, our sister brand, Beyond Abroad, was born, offering affordable programs in non-Asian destinations such as Costa Rica, Ireland, and Portugal. This is also when we introduced the eCampus concept, the Around the World program (2-3 continents in one semester), and our flight emissions compensation model. I’m proud to say that curiosity and perseverance for innovations have been our driving force to stand out for the benefit of adventurous students since day 1, and those still are carved into our DNA and values.”
“Nevertheless, looking back on all these wonderful 15 years, I feel privileged to be part of this industry. I am grateful for all our more than 10,000 international students who have trusted us, our partners, employees, interns, and other stakeholders, and of course, my co-founder Harri”, adds Tuomas.
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Our vision and mission
Asia Exchange has become a forerunner in student mobility. The key to success is never to stop learning. Even after 15 years of operating in the student mobility industry, everyone on the team learns new things daily. Understanding the impact and importance of increasing student mobility is one of the biggest realizations. By increasing student mobility, Asia Exchange is doing its part in making the world better.
“We want to congratulate Asia Exchange. This is a big milestone worth celebrating together. It has been mutually beneficial to find a partnership where our missions align: The goal of supporting universities and students in facilitating engaging global experiences in the future. We at ISEP have valued our partnership with Asia Exchange over the years and look forward to continually strengthening our relationship”, congratulated one of our partners in student mobility, Dr. John Lucas, the President, and CEO of ISEP.
For Harri, one of the biggest motivators to grow as a company is the positive impact internationalization has on our society. “We help young people to increase their cultural knowledge, self-knowledge, and understanding of how our world works. Moreover, if more people had lived and studied abroad, we would not need to witness Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine. We would not need to have that deep political polarization in the US and we would not need to be worried about where the possible next nuclear strike might happen in the world.”
Asia Exchange will continue to do what it can do best, mobilizing students worldwide and enabling life-changing experiences for young people. Jiří Dufek from the Czech Republic studied in Thailand with us and shared his lasting impression of his semester abroad: “I want to thank Asia Exchange so much for making all this happen! I am not exaggerating when I say it was, without a doubt, the best semester ever! There wasn´t a single day since I returned when I wouldn´t remember my semester in Asia. You were right when you said that going abroad would change our lives.”
Today, 15 years after the two co-founders continued chasing their study abroad dreams, the Asia Exchange team, has a mission far bigger than “just” enabling life-changing experiences for young people. The mission is to make our world a better place by increasing mobility and internationalization, which can prevent even wars from happening in our world.
Find out more about Asia Exchange or Beyond Abroad!
About: Asia Exchange is the world’s largest and most affordable study abroad provider focusing on Asia. In 2020 Asia Exchange launched a sister brand, Beyond Abroad, which offers non-Asian study-abroad destinations. Since 2007, Asia Exchange has helped more than 10,000 students from 120 countries to study abroad in the most desired destinations. The current receiving partner universities are located in 14 countries: South Korea, Malaysia, China and Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Portugal, Italy, France, Ireland, Cuba, Mexico, and Costa Rica.