Name: Sapphire Andersen
Major/minors: Double major in English and Political Science, minor in Women and Gender Studies
Program: Nene Field Ambassador Scholarship Program, Aalto University
Location: Mikkeli, Finland
Term: Summer 2016
Can you tell us about your experience as a Nene Field Ambassador?
I was the Ambassador in summer of 2016 when I traveled to Aalto University in Mikkeli, Finland. It’s an international business school so I studied business while I was over there, and I took a class in non-profit management and one in managing technological change.
People are always surprised to find out that I was not a business major, but I was able to find the classes very relevant to things I was working on; I’ve always had a passion for non-profits and I’ve worked with them through the Community Engagement Center and the Collaborative [at UNO].
How did you find out about the program?
I found out about the program in 2015 a few days before the scholarship application closed. I wasn’t able to apply then but I knew I wanted to keep my eye out for it when it rolled around in 2016. I had always wanted to study abroad but I had never found the opportunity to do so. I was unsure about taking that step forward, but the Nene Field Ambassador Program makes that a little easier and gives you the opportunity to do something you hadn’t thought of in a place you hadn’t thought of.
Why did you choose this program?
People always ask me “Why Finland?” and the honest answer is that the school was already chosen through the scholarship program. Finland isn’t a country that many people think of right off the top of their heads when they’re thinking about studying abroad, but I think that’s what I really enjoyed about it! It’s a completely different culture than I was used to, and it changed my perception of what culture is like in north-eastern Europe.
Look for those opportunities that are outside of the box.
- Sapphire Andersen
What was the application like?
The online application was due in February and then there were interviews. I think it’s a great way for the selection committee to get to know you as a person beyond what’s written on your application. And as an applicant, it was reassuring to meet the people in the study abroad office who would be that support system while I was preparing to go abroad and while I was abroad.
The application process is great on both ends in that it really gives you real world experience of interviewing and applying. I know a lot of people find that nerve wracking and it’s easy to get yourself worked up. But the selection committee just wants to get to know you!
What can you tell us about Aalto University?
If business or international business is your thing: this is absolutely the opportunity for you. I was intimidated about keeping up with the coursework over there, but you are able to connect with your professors and your classmates just as you would at UNO.
The thing that threw me off about Aalto University in particular at first was the way that their modules, or classes, were set up. You take a class for three or four hours a day, and you do that for three or four weeks and then you move on. It’s very unlike what we’re used to here at UNO where you take four to five classes for a whole semester that alternate. I found that I ended up liking how Aalto University’s classes were set up, because they gave me something to focus on.
And the professors over in Mikkeli are visiting professors as well. I think that is something unique that you won’t be able to find at other universities, so take advantage of it!
Did you experience any culture shock or was there anything that surprised you?
Over in the summers in Finland, there is so much daylight! The sun didn’t set until 3 AM and even then it was still very light outside. As someone who is used to Nebraska when it gets dark at 10 or 11 PM and it gets dark, I had trouble adjusting at first to how bright it was all the time. I had a hard time sleeping and it was the weirdest thing to me. You’ll be surprised at the things you run into!
What were some of the highlights of the experience for you?
I feel like I learned a lot about myself and how adaptive and independent I could be. Living on your own in a different country is a challenge, and you end up learning a lot about yourself and how you deal with situations where you’re not completely in control. It can be intimidating but it’s such an incredible learning experience that I know I wouldn’t have found here in the states or here at UNO, because this is a place I’m comfortable.
Although the experience was recent, has being an ambassador influenced you in any tangible ways?
My personal experience over in Finland shaped my perspective at an opportune time in my life. Coming back and finishing my final semester in the fall of 2016 was so stressful, but my experience just gave me a whole new perspective about what was important to me.
In Finland, they’re very in touch with nature, they’re very introspective, and they take a lot of time to themselves, which is something you don’t see a lot of here in the United States. We’re running around all the time, we work 40 hours a week, as a student you have classes on top of that… there’s so much stress and pressure and responsibility put on you. Being able to take a step back and have a different mindset was something that was really valuable to me.
Any advice for others considering study abroad?
I know that it doesn’t always work with schedules or it doesn’t always feel like it’s financially an option for you, and I was in that same boat until I found the Nene Field Ambassador Scholarship. Look for those opportunities that are outside of the box. I don’t know if I would have looked into Finland, but it ended up working out, and now I would give almost anything to go back! The ability to be open to new places, ideas, and people is something that is absolutely priceless that comes with studying abroad.
Are you interested in being the 2017 Nene Field Ambassador? The Nene Field Ambassador Scholarship Program fully funds one UNO student to act as ambassador in new worldwide partnerships. This summer's Nene Field Ambassador will head to Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan to study Japanese language and culture. The deadline to apply is February 15!
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