Tuomas Kauppinen, one of the two co-founders of Asia Exchange, has wide knowledge and years of experience of Asia. He has had a front seat in the heart of the continent for 8 years. He has lived in Shenzhen in China (2012-2014) and for the past 6 years, his home has been in the colourful and vibrant hub of Hong Kong. He has seen and experienced the development in Asia over the years and this year also in terms of COVID-19. He was happy to share his experiences and thoughts about the present and how he sees the future.

Hong Kong is one of the best performing places in Asia

The countries in Asia have taken different measures and strategies to overcome the pandemic. When it comes to for example testing, many Asian countries are also ahead of others. Hong Kong does testing and tracing very carefully. China already has a mobile app for contact tracing. Tuomas emphasizes the importance of systematic and efficient testing.

“Having the domestic test capacity is important as then there are possibilities to do testing also whenever the next crises happen.”

Hong Kong has taken control of the COVID-19 epidemic. Photo By Bady qp

Hong Kong has taken control of the COVID-19 epidemic. Photo By Bady qp

Despite of Hong Kong’s close location and connections to China and Wuhan, the number of COVID-19 cases is low compared to the population. Many days there have only been a single-digit number of new infections, some days even zero new cases.

“I think Hong Kong is actually one of the best performing places at the moment in COVID19-wise. We have around 7,6 million people in the city but only a little bit over 1000 infections. We have been able to keep it very low here in Hong Kong. All in all, I think that Hong Kong is a good place to be right now. Everything kind of actually functions pretty normally here.”

The mentality of the people is the key to success

Asia including Hong Kong has already gone through one severe pandemic, SARS, in 2003. Europe, on the other hand, was in front of a quite new situation when the pandemic started to spread. As one of the biggest reasons why Hong Kong has been successful in fighting against the coronavirus Tuomas mentions preparations:

“I think Hong Kong and many other Asian countries were more prepared. Since SARS the whole society has been more prepared for that something similar could happen.”

He thinks that the key to success is the mentality of the people as in many countries in Asia the restrictions given by the governments are followed carefully.

“That is actually one of the most important things here. It’s not only about government restrictions, but the people are also more like naturally bit worried and thinking about their safety. Everybody wears a mask because people want to do so. In fact, it was even illegal to wear a mask before the pandemic because of the social protests last year. Everyone just started to wear them, and it’s been working perfectly.”

The key to success is the mentality of the people as in many countries in Asia the restrictions given by the governments are followed carefully.  Photo By Victor He

The key to success is the mentality of the people as in many countries in Asia the restrictions given by the governments are followed carefully.  Photo By Victor He

Tuomas gives credit also especially to Taiwan, that has a larger population than Hongkong but only a few hundreds of cases:

“They also produce tests and masks and everything that is needed domestically, so Taiwan has been doing extremely well.”

Even though the situation in South Korea got quite bad for a while, the semester of Asia Exchange’s partner university was postponed only with 2 weeks and after that, the students were able to live quite normally.

“South Korea was also one of the first countries to have a mandatory test for anyone arriving to Korea.”

He also thinks about other things that might differ Asia from other parts of the world:

“Some Asian countries, like Malaysia, have pretty young median age. Maybe COVID-19 is not affecting that much there as maybe somewhere else when it comes to deaths.”

Definitely something to learn for all of us

2020 will be a challenging year for most of the businesses around the world, also for Asia Exchange after a successful start at the beginning of the year. The programs of Asia Exchange were able to start normally, some with special arrangements. The destinations where the students could not go to campus, studying was transferred to online. The programs that started during the worst times of pandemic started fully online. Global crises still always have a significant impact on businesses around the world.

“Most likely we are not experiencing as many students as last year, which was our record year.”

2019 was a record year for Asia Exchange in terms of student mobility.

2019 was a record year for Asia Exchange in terms of student mobility.

The global situation is extremely challenging, but Tuomas wants to stay positive and look for the future. The partner universities of Asia Exchange are also pretty positive about September intakes:

“It’s been a huge challenge of course but also good practice for people around the world. I think there is definitely something to learn for all of us. There are some success stories already how the situation has been handled in specific countries like Hong Kong, South Korea, or Taiwan. We should definitely benchmark how these countries have been performing, what they have been doing, and why. I see that almost all of the countries we are representing at Asia Exchange are performing pretty well.”

Studying abroad is still a life-changing experience

Tuomas wants to encourage everyone who is interested to study abroad in Asia:

“I just want to share that it is safe and good here in Asia. We at Asia Exchange have a pretty good understanding of the situation and all the universities that we are working with are definitely welcoming our students. They offer of course online study possibilities if needed. They are well prepared.”

He also highlights the responsibility Asia Exchange is taking:

“We are extremely flexible in terms of our application deadlines. Most likely we will be one of the only options for anyone to apply as late as June, July, or even August for our programs. We try to get all the application deadlines as late as possible. There is still time to decide. We have also student favourable cancellation policy in place. Both application fee and tuition fee will be refunded if there are any COVID-19 related things that are causing the cancellation of a program or a student is not able to travel or participate. We are already looking forward to 2021. I really recommend anyone to apply through us as it is very safe. If anything happens, it is still possible to cancel.”

Tuomas has also a message for all the partners of Asia Exchange:

“We are all working in the student mobility. That is a beautiful job and very essential, important work that we are doing. The COVID-19 is, of course, affecting our industry a lot so I’m pretty sure that many of us are experiencing less student mobility happening in 2020 than we have been used to. On the other hand, I see some huge possibilities here already for the future and Asia is definitely a safe and good choice. Student mobility, sharing the knowledge, understanding and cultures are very important for our global community. We all need to work even harder than normal to make it happen. We at Asia Exchange want definitely to be part of the development, we want to increase the student mobility and help our students, sending institutions, all the partners, and host universities through the crisis. “

Tuomas is frequently on the road to meet potential and present partners. This is something he enjoys a lot of his work.

Tuomas is frequently on the road to meet potential and present partners. This is something he enjoys a lot of his work.

No one can say for sure when the world has overcome the COVID-19, but it is sure that the situation will only be temporary. Eventually, the world will recover. Everyone who has a dream about studying and experiencing life abroad should keep those dreams alive:

“It will be a life-changing experience for sure. Most of our students always say that studying abroad was the best experience of their lives. There are a lot of opportunities to learn. It’s not only beneficial career wise, but there is also something new to learn and see. We have some beautiful destinations to explore and experience. “