*In collaboration: Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences
I studied a bachelor’s degree in tourism at Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences on their Porvoo Campus, and oh, how I miss those days! I’m often being asked about my studies, so finally, here’s a more comprehensive information package about them. I also share how my tourism degree has helped my career development throughout the years.
I started my studies in January 2011 on a brand-new campus in Porvoo, a small but beautiful old town around 50 km from Helsinki. I graduated in the spring 2014 and after that, I’ve been working as a tourism professional both in customer service and in marketing. Nowadays I run my own business.
Haaga-Helia offers programmes both in Finnish and English. Find out more about the international study programmes in Haaga-Helia here.
Work trip in New York
What is it like to study at Porvoo Campus?
If we’re being honest, however, moving to a strange small town in the midst of a freezing winter felt scary at first. Luckily, my best friend moved there as well and we became flatmates in the Kevätkumpu Student Residence. As Haaga-Helia and other universities offer tourism programmes in Helsinki as well, I was a bit anxious about living in such a small town. However, I can say now that I’d choose Porvoo again, anytime. This small town has found its own, special place in my heart.
Most of the students move to Porvoo from elsewhere, so everyone is being thrown out of their comfort zone, also in their free time. We quickly formed a tight-knit group of friends, most of whom are still my dearest ones. When nearly all of your buddies live in the same dorm and go to same lectures as you, there’s always lots to talk about! My life felt like an episode of ‘Friends’ where everyone lived right next door.
Porvoo is an adorable town. Being a popular destination for weekend trips, the town offers a variety of delicious restaurants and cafés, that could rival even a bigger city. The old town is cozy throughout all seasons. Everything is within a walking distance – which is great as the public transportation in Porvoo is not something to brag about.
Porvoo Campus itself is a wonderfully modern place to study. Huge glassed walls bring the sunshine in and unconventional choices in interior design make studying so much more inspiring.
A few students commuted daily from Helsinki, so that too is possible. I, however, would recommend living in Porvoo for the first two years of study; during internships and for the time of thesis writing you can live anywhere!
How to prepare for the entrance examinations?
Finnish universities often hold entrance exams as a part of the application process. I was particularly anxious about the mathematical part of the exam as that has always been my weakness. With the kind help of my friend’s brother, we practiced calculating percentages thoroughly the night before, which helped me pass the section on an acceptable level.
Another part of the exam was an interview, which was my moment to shine. The questions were rather simple and focused on my personality and suitability to the industry. The best tip is to avoid “wanting to study tourism for the love of travelling” as that is way too generic and doesn’t really show a deeper understanding of the industry. I told the interviewers that I’m especially interested in developing the Finnish aviation sector.
The entrance exams also include written tasks, details which I have happily forgotten. The score of the exams and the interview are combined with the score formed of your high school grades, so even though I didn’t get full points of the exams, I got in.
What do tourism studies include?
My bachelor studies in Haaga-Helia lasted for 3.5 years. Studying tourism doesn’t mean learning everything about travel destinations but instead focusing on the commercial part of the industry, such as marketing and sales, languages and maths, entrepreneurship and service design. Every semester usually includes a project where you can implement what you’ve learned in theoretical studies. During our studies, we had projects such as organising an event, making a business plan and creating a travel package. The studies also offer an opportunity for networking with lecturers and people in the industry – I really recommend cherishing that. Often people prioritise the student life and parties throughout the programme and after graduation find themselves with just a certificate in hand with no experience. Luckily, I understood, in the beginning, the importance of networking and the possibilities it brings.
Studying in a university of applied sciences is very much bound to practice instead of memorising theory, hence making it worthwhile to put what you’ve learned to good use directly.
Internship in Finland or abroad
An important part of tourism studies in Finland is internship. The tourism studies in Porvoo give you a choice between doing one 5-month internship or two shorter ones. The internship is the most important step towards working life for many students, so one should choose carefully. I always dreamed of doing my internship abroad but eventually, I got offered such an interesting position from Finnair’s marketing team that I didn’t even think twice. Marketing and aviation had always been somewhat of a passion for me, so I couldn’t have hoped for a better place for my internship. I spent six months at the Finnair HQ doing marketing tasks concerning the Finnair Plus loyalty programme, and I was instantly welcomed as a member of the team and got to show my expertise. During the internship, I got to know many Finnair employees, of which I have really benefitted throughout my blogging career. When the internship was over, I even spent some time writing in the Finnair blog!
It’s essential to bring forth your own interests and know-how as it really can work as a business card later for the same company or through recommendations.
Exchange studies around the world
To be honest, one of the reasons I chose studying tourism in Haaga-Helia was the possibility of doing exchange studies in Hong Kong, where they offered plenty of aviation modules. Many tourism students spend a semester in exchange studies abroad. Most of the places are in Europe but quite a few in other continents too. You apply for the programmes during your studies. The exchange destinations in Asia are extremely popular – I still feel lucky that I was really chosen for the semester at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University!
The exchange semester is often one of the best memories of your studies and I firmly believe that spring 2013 will stay in my mind as one of the best experiences of my life. Studying in a completely different culture will open your eyes and brings a handful of specialised skills for later. My first jobs in tourism were in customer service at Helsinki Airport, so understanding of Chinese culture and basic skills of the language proved to be helpful.
The half-a-year spent in Hong Kong was also significant regarding my blogging career as I got to explore more of Asia. Just before returning home, my blog was awarded the title of ‘the best Asia blog in Finland’.
Memories from Hong Kong
Before finishing your studies, you’ll write a thesis. These are often done as commissioned projects – I did mine as a social media strategy for a British travel agency. It was really useful for my career, as I spent a couple of months learning more about social media marketing. Too many times people stress about their theses. To avoid that, choose a topic that really interests you and take some time focusing on that. I conducted mine during my studies while working two jobs – everything’s possible!
The first steps in my tourism career
I started my career while I was still at uni. My first goal was to land any job at Helsinki Airport. I spent my first year of studies seeking jobs and in January 2012 I got a part-time job as a security officer. I commuted on a bus from Porvoo for a year and even when it occasionally meant skipping sleep, four-kilometer midnight walks in the snow and very long working days, it was all worth it. When I had opened a door to the aviation industry, I knew it was only going to bring me new opportunities.
After being a security officer for a year, I got a job as a check-in agent, working at the service desks and gates of the airport. I spent a couple of summers doing that and also did some random shifts while studying. To be honest, sometimes I still miss this job.
However, just after graduating I was offered the most important opportunity of my life; a job as a PR Lead in a new travel start-up called CreateTrips. I moved to Helsinki and during the next three years, I was deep in the Helsinki start-up scene and on business trips around the world. The job took me to places like Bangkok and Singapore – I really got the first bites of business travelling and realised that my life was never going to be the same. I could never again return to a ‘normal’ 9-to-5 job.
When CreateTrips ceased, I felt that I was ready to start as my own business – during the past years I had developed important skills in marketing and sales and met with a such a big bunch of travel industry people that I knew my network was going to be worth gold.
At my first job, Helsinki Airport
First business trip in Shanghai
From tourism studies to the job of my dreams
It all leads here. Now, in spring 2018, I’m sitting here at the airport again, this time at Starbucks with my laptop and a soy latte, and I couldn’t be happier with my career. My heart is still beating as passionately to the tourism business as on that day when I first stepped through the doors of the Porvoo Campus. Throughout the years I developed my travel blog into a profession, and I train hotels and other tourism operators into being better social media marketers.
I always want to remind that any diploma by itself will not open doors, so it’s essential to portray yourself as a professional from the first day of uni and make the studies and building networks count. Without studying tourism in Finland and Hong Kong, I wouldn’t be doing the job of my dreams today – but it has required lots of work too.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been the perfect student, but a quite average one instead. The most important thing is to have a passion for whatever you’re doing. Still every time I’m on a plane and have a look outside I can’t believe how far my studies in tourism have brought me.
Be fearless in the pursuit of whatever sets your soul on fire.
Business trip in Switzerland
There is still time to apply for Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences’ international study programmes this year, so if you’re as fascinated by the tourism industry as I am, then now’s the time to chase your dreams! I can’t recommend the Porvoo Campus enough!