Stanford experience by Tommi Bergström

Well hello! This is Tommi Bergström speaking. I’m a 4th year finance student at Aalto Biz. Last summer Aalto provided me with an exceptional opportunity to be a part of the Aalto-six crew who attended Stanford’s International Honors Program. From the magical lecture halls to the wildfires at Yosemite, IHP was definitely the most important experience of my life, both personally and professionally.

After seeking for inspiration from the reports of Aalto Evangelists from the last few years, I found out that many of them discuss about academia, courses, dining, exercise, practical tips etc. Me and Aaro Koski actually took the exact same courses and did practically everything together, so you can read more about them from Aaro’s report. Instead, I’m going to focus on the life lessons I learned or 5 Commandments, if you will, on what makes Stanford and Silicon Valley the mecca of entrepreneurship and innovation, and what our beloved university and culture could learn from them.

5 Commandments

  1. As a Finnish Student, Thou Shalt Not Be Ashamed of Your Expertise

In a place like Stanford, you immediately feel insecure about your skillset, education and expertise. The natural mindset of a humble Finnish student is that every student at Stanford is a superhuman. Well, what I found out was that actually this is not the case. During the first few weeks I realized that all the way from kindergarten to university, our educational system provides us with such an amazing general knowledge on the world, life, and later business, that it makes many other countries envious. We may not be the best public speakers or have the best confidence, but boy do we know how to do stuff. We should cherish and embrace this knowledge and understand that our hackers, artists and hustlers are just as good, or even better than those at Stanford.

Commandment #1: wherever you go and whatever you do, wear that Finnish flag and Aalto University sweater with pride and honor.

  1. Thou Shalt Always Give People A Chance

One of the key principles of Silicon Valley is that you can get a meeting or a call with practically anyone. The key thing behind this mindset is that you can never know the opportunities a person might give to you. We actually gained some first-hand knowledge on this, since we got to meet amazing people from the world’s largest tech companies and C-level executives gave us assistance and insight in our school projects.

Commandment #2: from now on, always give people a chance to present their opinion or idea. You can never know if the end of the rainbow lies behind that person.

  1. Thou Shalt Always Do Good Deeds

Another phenomenon that has granted Silicon Valley and Stanford a place of being the hub of technology and innovation is their so called “Pay-It-Forward” culture. Pay-It-Forward was actually first introduced in a play called Dyskolos in 300 BC in the mighty Ancient Greek, like all cool things, but it has since been adopted by all top entrepreneurs in the Bay Area. It basically means that you help others to help yourself. But how does helping others help yourself, you may ask. Stanford Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky described in her book “The How of Happiness”, that practicing acts of kindness makes other people appreciate you and later reciprocate. So let’s be kind!

Commandment #3: Pay-It-Forward. It gives back, brings mutually shared joy and also promotes the attitude of gratitude within the receiver.

  1. Thou Shalt Always Be an Entrepreneur

One of the most valuable lessons that Silicon Valley taught me was: no matter where you go and what you do, you should always try to be an entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur doesn’t necessarily mean that you found your own company in your parents’ garage, bootstrap your way to greatness and ultimately give a key note speech at Slush. It means that you always take initiative on behalf of others and strive for impact. It means that you’re always ambitious, proactive and self-driven. It means that you constantly investigate, experiment, test and iterate and learn in the process. We should all make a promise to ourselves that we’ll be entrepreneurs for the rest of our lives, and we should try our best to live up to that.

Commandment #4: No matter what you do or where you are, be an entrepreneur!

  1. Thou Shalt Always Learn Primarily from People, Not from Books

Let’s face it, the single most important thing that makes the Stanford IHP worth experiencing, is the people. Be it in Stanford or at Aalto, venture outside the library and classroom, meet people, hear their stories and ask questions. When you’re sitting in the backyard of a cabin at Lake Tahoe and an Icelandic mathematician or an aspiring human rights lawyer from Western Australia asks you a question that makes you think of your life and the whole world differently, you understand that the power of the world and society lies not in money, business, science or technology. It lies in the interaction of great minds like us, the students and the game-changers of tomorrow.

Commandment #5: The greatest lessons you can learn, come from other people and their experiences, ideas, passions and stories. Focus on learning primarily from people, not from books.

Final Words

Commandments and BS aside, you should definitely apply. Do not think about GPAs or CVs, just apply if you’re interested even in the slightest. At Stanford you get to do amazing things, meet exceptional people and learn life changing lessons in an inspiring environment. I’m truly grateful for Aalto University for making this possible.

In case you have any questions, hit me up via email, Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Telegram, FB, Instagram, MySpace, Google+, IRC, Kuvake or just come talk to me if you see me down the street. I sure as heck have a few more commandments and stories from Stanford in my back pocket.


Tommi Bergström