First month in the US

Hey all, it’s been a while again!

Now that I’ve been here for a month it’s time to get to the topic about actually studying in the USA. Let’s start with getting here, however.

I flew here on New Year’s Day via Amsterdam (a very nice airport) with KLM/Delta Airlines. Both did a good job with friendly service, arrived on time and didn’t lose my luggage. I counted a very American three warm meals on Delta’s ~9-hour flight from Amsterdam to Detroit!

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Flying over Greenland – halfway there!

The airport bureaucracy in Detroit went very quickly despite the long line (they take your fingerprints and ask a few questions before luggage pick-up). If you have a connecting flight in Europe you need to get your boarding pass stamped before going to the (US-bound flights’) gate.

There are multiple options for getting to Ann Arbor from the Detroit airport. One of the most popular options is the Michigan Flyer (http://www.michiganflyer.com/) which is what I and many of my friends here used. They operate at ~1.5 hours intervals and one-way ride costs $12. There are also other shuttles and of course the Uber/Taxi option.

Since I arrived on January 1st when nothing is open and none of my housemates were home (nobody spends holidays in Ann Arbor, apparently) I ended up staying in a local motel, the University Inn (https://universityinnannarbor.com/) for the first night. A delightful surprise with big and quite clean rooms and even breakfast included in the price. It’s the kind of motel you see in all classic American road movies and I can recommend it to anyone looking for a good no-frills place to sleep in.

The 2nd day was spent getting the keys to the house I subleased a room from (three minutes walk from the Ross building), settling in and buying all kinds of miscellaneous items I couldn’t bring from home (nope, standard Euro-sized bed linens aren’t compatible with America). Americans have just a little different ways of doing the everyday stuff which can make you feel a little stupid at first!

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The Ross School of Business building in the U-M campus.

Despite school officially starting on January 3rd there are basically no classes on the first week. The school starts with an orientation day where they give you your M-card (a very valuable equivalent to the Finnish student I.D. with which you can ride the local buses and use the huge 4-floor Intramural sports complex for free, enter the libraries after midnight and even withdraw money from the ATM with a local bank account) and stamp your I-20 immigration documents. Getting the I-20 stamped and enrolling in at least 12 credits worth of courses (Aalto requires 15) is crucial for maintaining your immigrant status, so make sure to get these done!

The first orientation day is the only mandatory school activity on the first week, which really surprised me. We had an optional US culture workshop day where we explored many of the stereotypes about Americans (most of them are true and yes, you can eat chips for lunch) and familiarized ourselves with the campus area in the -24c Michigan winter! As you’d expect there are parties and other activities organized almost every night before the classes start. It can feel quite lonely during the first few days before you get to know people so I highly recommend going, good times!

The actual classes started on our 2nd week here. Most exchange students will be on waitlists for many courses due to University of Michigan’s course enrollment system being very unfriendly to exchange students1, so generally your class schedule will change during the first few weeks.

Studying at Ross is quite different from Aalto. Most courses feature a lot of material you are supposed to read before each class and many professors ‘cold call’ students with questions about it, so skipping the readings is not advised; activity points are a large part of the grade and you can also be removed from the course for missing classes (usually 3+ times).

There are generally fewer class hours and more homework than in Aalto and it’s not uncommon for the study rooms to be packed with students until after midnight, including weekends! The professors also host ‘office hours’ where you are expected to show up at least a few times to ask about assignments or just do small talk. Cold calling and expecting appearances on office hours varies by professor however, and so far I haven’t been to any. Regardless of the course there is a lot of discussion during classes, the professors put effort into learning each student’s name and powerpoint presentations play a very minor role.

Most courses have a mid-term exam just before the Spring Break and final exams at the end of the semester. However the elective courses that exchange students mostly take often replace exams with case projects and I only have one course with mid- and final exams. I will revisit the subject after Spring Break.

To sum it up: the courses themselves present a lot more work than Aalto, though the difficulty level is generally lower; expect to participate in conversation during classes; don’t assume just because you don’t have classes you can party and travel all the time; in the end the grades don’t translate to Aalto (purely pass/fail), so how much weight you place on acing the exams and getting activity points is up to you.

Finally, Ross offers many ways to form the curriculum for your exchange semester, whether you want to add diversity to your major/minor or try something completely different – the amount of available courses is immense. I chose something in the middle – here’s a quick review of my selection.

FIN 320 – Real Estate Fundamentals

A course on real estate finance taught by Peter Allen, a local real estate developer with decades of experience. Even though centered in the US real estate market and regulation, I feel the course is interesting and very useful for exchange students as well – the fundamentals are quite similar all over the world. This course really made me consider getting into real estate investing, at least as a hobby. It is a huge amount of work for a 1.5 local credit course though and the only one I’ve spent full nights on. Regardless I do not regret taking this course. Side note: Peter holds his office hours in the neighbouring Pizza House restaurant after class. As a 1.5 credit course this one ends before Spring Break, after which it is built upon by the follow-up course…

FIN 321 – Commercial Real Estate Finance

Lectured by another real estate professional – more on this after Spring Break

TO 411 – Support with Excel

An Excel course taught by (among others) Hila Etzion. A very useful course for anyone who needs Excel in their work (everyone does, right?) and is not super proficient in it, this one goes deeper than the one in Aalto. Even as a relatively experienced user I’m still picking up new and useful things, though the difficulty level is not very high. Altogether I’m happy with the course, it’s nice to have a lighter one among the heavy stuff.

TO 414 – Advanced Analytics

An R programming course focused on data analytics, taught by Sanjeev Kumar. In addition to Sanjeev being an awesome professor and all-around good guy, the course is tremendously useful for anyone working with large amounts of data. The course starts with the basics and then ramps up really quickly, so it is suitable for both experienced and inexperienced programmers¬† (if you’ve never touched R, you will need to study on your own before the course, but it is in no way impossible to do). As a Finance major, a must-have course for me and probably the most useful out of all my courses here. The workload is on the heavier end, though.

TO 428 – FinTech Innovations

A new course lectured only for the 2nd time, FinTech Innovations provides a comprehensive look into the world of modern Financial Technology, including blockchain, cryptography, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and many other applications of the technology like mobile payment systems. It is lectured mainly by Andrew Wu, a young and very enthusiastic former ‘flash trader’ with an impressive resume. Some later courses will be lectured by Bob Dittmar. This is another very contemporary and useful course, especially for someone like me who didn’t even know what a blockchain is before coming to the class. At least for now, very light workload.

PUBPOL 423 – Political Campaign Strategies

My foray into “the other side”, PUBPOL 423 is a course from U of M’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. This very interesting course is taught by Rusty Hills, the current Director of Public Affairs for the Michigan Attorney General. Rusty has spent almost two decades in politics and it shows in the classroom: he has an incredible amount of insight to share about public policy and campaigning and is very passionate about it. This is the most conversational class I have and you should be interested enough to keep up with the daily US news to be able to participate in the discussion. Not necessarily the most useful class for an exchange student (though for anyone wanting to go into politics, Rusty’s teachings generally hold for all parliamentary democracies), but so very interesting. The Public Policy students are also quite different from the Business School students, which is intriguing. Medium-to-high workload.

So that’s my agenda for these four months. In addition to classes there is a huge amount of different student clubs you can join like Consulting clubs, Investment Clubs, Craft Beer Clubs and so on…

Whew, that was one long post! Congratulations if you made it this far. That’s it about studying for now, next time I will write about the trips I have made here, as well as more about cultural activities.

Thank you for reading, until next time!

Niklas

 

1Basically you are given points to “bid” to secure your place on a course before the actual registration period, but as an exchange student you can only bid on courses with no pre-requisite courses. After the bidding system closes you enroll on first-come-first-served basis and the most popular courses will of course be full (since Ross students have completed prerequisites and can bid). After the course bidding closes, you can enroll on courses with pre-requisites by e-mailing the instructors and asking for permission to enroll (normal procedure in Ross, include your Aalto credit transcript in the e-mail).

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