Master Thesis Results

Our research project “Equality, (Im)mobility structures and International students: A study of international students’ experiences during the pandemic in Finland” is progressing. The master’s thesis of Ella Sirva, who conducted her thesis research in our project, has been approved. The master’s student regards one specific group of international students, exchange students more precisely “Exchange student’s unique experiences during Covid-19 – To stay or leave?” She bases her results on eight semi-structured interviews conducted in the summer of 2020.

The qualitative data was analyzed in a concept driven way whereas Ella Sirva additionally divided the interviewees in three groups.

Group 1

  • Including two out of the eight interviewees
  • Exchange students who stayed in Finland but returned earlier than planned
  • Original plan was to stay after their studies and explore different parts of Finland which changed when courses moved to online and social events were cancelled
  • Left already after 1-2 months within their study period as remote teaching made it possible to fulfil their studies abroad from their home countries

Group 2

  • Including two out of the eight interviewees
  • Students who arrived in Finland but left immediately when the pandemic situation got worse and could still fulfil their studies abroad due to remote teaching as group 1

Group 3

  • Including four out of the eight interviewees
  • Students who stayed in Finland throughout their whole mobility based on worse Covid situation in their home countries

Furthermore, the reasons of the students whether they stayed for their mobility or not were divided in push and pull factors after Mazzarol & Soutar’s (2002) research.  As the meaning of the word “push” says were these the reasons for the students to leave and “pull” for them to stay. One of the biggest push factors was the student’s social network as friends helped each other out and spend time together although the city shut down and public events were cancelled. A participant had made Finnish friends and as other international students left the interviewee still had these people to spend time with. On the contrary, another interviewee’s friends were planning to leave or already had left which also led the participant to leave. Another factor was the support and information from different resources as the home country`s recommendations, the universities and parents and friends’ opinions. Everybody and every institution reacted differently to the ongoing situation whereby one recommended to stay in Finland the other recommended the return. Additionally, the financial aspect influenced the student’s decision to stay or leave. As the student cafeterias closed, the interviewees reported increased grocery bills and if a return was planned flight tickets back home were added to the bill. Through the interviews the necessity and importance of the Erasmus scholarships was shown which stresses the need of improvement within the Erasmus program. On the other hand, two interviewees said the cancellation of trips and events and decreased parties and alcohol consumption made it possible to save money. Thereby the first sub question “What actions did the exchange students take during Covid-19 pandemic and what factors affected their decisions?” was answered.


Overview of all push and pull factors after Ella Sirvan (2021)

Push factorsPull factors
Having to stay at homeOwn will to stay
Online teachingThe risks of travelling back home
Friends leavingHaving friends in Finland
Recommended returnSupport from different sources
Unsure financial situationApartment contract
Finnish language skillsKnowledge about Finland

Answering the second sub question “How the exchange students used their agency to modify their exchange experience during a pandemic?” was answered by dividing the agency in the own and collective agency. Both kinds of agencies were analyzed after Tran and Vu (2018) international student agency concepts and refer to the third group of students who stayed in Finland.


Concept after Tran and Vu (2018) applied on four interviews


BecomingAccepting the situation and taking responsibility of own life in a foreign country and experiencesPlanning to travel within Finland as replacement of cancelled trips
Needs-responseResults from a specific need or demand for international students as being alone during pandemic or learning needsAfter accepting the situation and overcoming being lonely they started to see other students and also interact with their friends back home through online platforms
Struggle and ResistanceProblematic or otherwise tough situationUnfavorable situations from the beginning as to leave or stay
Collective Agency for ContestationCooperation others to solve a common problem and/or building and strengthening groups and relationshipsExchange students who stayed in Finland created stronger support system and relationship

could have ever hoped for from an exchange period

All in all, Ella Sirva portrayed with her thesis the different experiences of exchange students in Finland and offers suggestions for improvements. The students were overall satisfied with the Finnish universities’ educational performance during the pandemic however, a new support system for exchange students’ personal life could be improved in the future. Especially the Erasmus network needs to be a reliable source of information for the exchange students in a time of crisis. Furthermore, a unified overview of the current situation, restrictions and instructions among universities or countries would be beneficial. It is recommended to maintain at least an overview individually for every country and its guidelines. The recommendations are based on current exchange students experiences and try to be a guideline for future crises similar to Covid-19. As these results are a part of the bigger research project “Equality, (Im)mobility structures and International students: A study of international students’ experiences during the pandemic in Finland”, following results will provide new knowledge and insights in varied contexts as different international student groups and their experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic are regarded.

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Mazzarol, T. & Soutar, G. (2002). Push-Pull Factors Influencing International Students Destination Choice. International Journal of Educational Management, 16(2), 82–90.

Sirva, E. (2021). Exchange students unique experiences during Covid-19 – To stay or leave?. Master’s thesis. University of Turku

Tran. L. T. & Vu, T. T. P. (2018). ‘Agency in mobility’: towards a conceptualisation of international student agency in transnational mobility. Educational Review, 70(2), 167–187.