colourful dragon statue in china

From Exchange Student in Shanghai to Co-founder of Asia Exchange – Harri

The story of Harri Suominen, Asia Exchange co-founder and CEO

I was about to graduate from my university that autumn but saw an eye-catching add on a campus notice board about going on an exchange in Shanghai. I didn’t have to think it twice. I’d been on an exchange in Athens, in Greece, before and knew what an astonishing and altering experience a study abroad semester could be. I applied to Shanghai the next day.

Harri interview founder Harri studied abroad at Shanghai University during autumn 2005. Photo by Fabian / CC BY

I was soon accepted to the program and was very pleased to be going to one of the largest, and moreover, most rapidly growing business and finance centers in the world. I saw this as an asset considering my future career in business.

As soon as we landed, at the airport, I couldn’t help but really take in how massive of a city Shanghai is. 18 million people was a bit more than what I was used to in Tampere or Athens.  The billboards, buildings and infrastructure were bigger than what I’d ever seen, anywhere – and the air was duly thicker with traffic pollution. I knew instantly that I wasn’t going to be bored for the next three months.

high buildings under the blue sky in Shanghai. If you live in a city this big, you do not get bored very easily! Photo by Jac8023 / CC BY

Many international students lived on campus, with other international students, and I stayed there in the beginning as well. With a couple of my friends, we moved to a privately rented apartment after a couple of weeks, however, and halved the rent we would had had to pay in the university accommodation. I lived with three of my friends in a very spacious apartment near the campus and paid, in total, 500 euros a month. There would have been several other accommodation options available as well but since we were only staying for a few months, the shorter leases were harder to come by. We lucked out.

Chinese people are standing in a dark street during night in China. The best way to learn a language is to communicate with locals. Photo by Free-Photos / CC BY

The study load wasn’t too overwhelming but you always had to be prepared in class, and in attendance! The grades were mostly based on the essays we wrote but there was an extensive final in the Chinese language. We had been able to pick freely from a choice of electives and I took ‘Chinese Language, Culture and History’ and ‘Chinese Economics’. The language studies took most of my time, with 12 hours of class a week, but I also felt it was the most important thing for me to study there. Chinese isn’t an easy language to pick up but slowly you did get to hang of it. In addition, you learnt a lot every day when eating out, shopping and taking taxis since you cannot really communicate with the locals in English.

You might also be interested in: Shanghai University (Shanghai, China)

Even though Shanghai is surely the most Western city in China, it’s definitely not short on fascinating and exotic thing to see and explore. The people, the culture and the architecture are so different. Everything is really very affordable and you can really make a hobby of eating out in restaurants as well as shopping.

Everything doesn’t work as it does at home but in general I had an overwhelmingly positive experience. I’m pretty sure I’ll return to Shanghai one day!

Find out more about studying abroad in Shanghai

Asia Exchange is a Finnish company providing study abroad opportunities in Asia Pacific for students from all around the world. Want to get travel tips and new blog posts straight to your inbox? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter! If you have any questions about studying abroad, feel free to contact us! We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.