Stories of JES members – Laurin Novak


Morjesta, mun nimi on Laurin ja mä oon itävaltalainen.

How I ended up in Jyväskylä

Let’s start with the one thing, that always starts somebody’s life: parents. During my upbringing, mine always advocated for getting life experience through taking action and, living abroad for an extended time was definitely part of that. So the easiest way of doing that was going for an exchange semester during my studies at university.

So there I am in the spring of 2018, filling in my application for the Erasmus exchange program. Honestly, the University of Jyväskylä (JYU) was not my first choice. In fact, it mainly made it on my list because I had not many alternatives when it came to partner universities of TU Wien (my home university), that take Bachelor’s degree students and had enough courses in English. So April of 2018 came and although I didn’t get into my first choice, I was accepted to JYU and ultimately, my life took a turn for the better.

Starting a new life in Jyväskylä

So there I am in early August of 2018, arriving in this mid-sized city in Finland with a name, that I was unable to pronounce properly. Suddenly I realized I was there alone in a country with a language, that is, mildly put, not trivial to understand and far from easy to speak. However, I quickly found other exchange students to hang out with and spent the rest of August enjoying the unusually good weather at different lakes and partying with my new friends.

Following a vacation life for the first few weeks, September finally came around and the semester at university started. After a month I hadn’t really gotten to know students from Finland but around that time, I heard about a mini hackathon called Techrace co-organized by the Jyväskylä Entrepreneurship Society (JES). As a software engineer, participating just felt natural, especially with the amount of free time I had at hand.

My first steps with JES

So there I walked to the tall office building in Lutakko on a grey autumn evening, not knowing what to expect. Around 15 people were attending the event and most of them seemed to know each other quite well, which is not necessarily a perfect situation, to get to know new people but one guy came up to me and started chatting with me. He was the total opposite to how I perceived Finns back then (quiet, shy, you name it). In the following weeks, he took me to more JES events and introduced me to a lot of people. Some of you already know, who I am talking about: Spiros. This guy started my JES ”career” and if it wasn’t for him, I would not write these lines.

At the end of the hackathon, the chairman of JES, Mikko, told me about their excursion to Fallup, a student conference in Helsinki a couple of days later and decided to join them on the day trip and it was great. My interest was sparked and I started attending every event of JES there was, even the ones fully held in Finnish because the socializing before and after the events made it totally worth it.

Cold days, warm people

In early October, at the monthly brunch of JES, I was lucky to meet a well-connected person who goes by the name Renne. We were both studying Information Systems and he did an exchange in Wien at my university before, so we had a lot to talk about. He was also the person who introduced me to Dumppi, the association of Information System students at JYU, with their great events and community.

The ball started rolling and I got to know the people better. One of those was a blonde gut full of energy, who skipped the small talk and directly went forward with explaining to me the secrets of public speaking: Tuomas. He happened to be the person, who I spent half of the following summer with and showed me the beauty of the Kainuu region.

All good things end. Or do they?

Somehow I managed to apply successfully for student tickets for Slush 2018 and as it turned out, most members of the JES board were also going there. I got to spend two awesome days with them in Helsinki, which included my most memorable Karaoke experience. This was singing a song with Spiros and Tuomas, which I completely underestimated in the amount of lyrics and the difficulty of its language, Swedish: Boten Anna.

A couple of days after, the last JES event of the year took place: a fancy party to celebrate the successful year called Kartanojuhlat. It happened to be at the last weekend of my exchange and it was like an awesome goodbye party for me, since most of the Finnish friends I made during my time in Finland were there. I was introduced to the new ”foreign minister” of JES for the year 2019, Samuli, who was planning an excursion to Central Europe for the following year and (non)surprisingly, they came to Wien.

Post Erasmus depression

After 4 unforgettable months in Finland, I was sitting in the airport of Helsinki waiting for my flight to Wien in the early morning of the next day. All those good memories made it really hard to leave the country I fell in love with, so to reduce the pain of leaving, I did the only thing, that I could think of, to make the goodbye easier: booking a flight to Jyväskylä in February, two months after my exchange.

This 10-day trip turned out to be the right decision and I was told about the Vappu celebrations in spring and how awesome this time is in Finland. Spoiler alert, it was. Eating those JES pancakes at Harju on the first of May. Yummy 😀

The summer of my life

Fast forward to the summer of 2019, which I was able to spend in Finland, thanks to my employer, Firstbird, which allowed me to work remotely instead of sitting in the office in Wien. Spending two months in Jyväskylä made it possible for me to spend more time with the people I had met previously. By accident, I found out that one of the former JES board members, Katarina, is listening to the same niche music genre and she introduced me to her group of festival-goers. Let’s see, if our planned trip to Defqon this year in 2020 will take place as planned.

After traveling the country and spending countless hours in different saunas and paljus all around Finland, September came and with it the JES trip to Wien. I happened to be in Finland by car, so three brave JES members joined me for a road trip to Austria via Sweden, Denmark, and Germany. It was a journey with more or less good music and a couple of ”weird flex but okay” meme moments (shoutout to my fearless passengers Otto, Samuli, and Tommi).

JES in Wien and the rest of 2019

After arriving in Austria, I had the honor to introduce JES to the beautiful city of Vienna and its startup ecosystem. We had really interesting company visits and perfect late summer weather for enjoying the Austrian cuisine and wine outside in the vineyards in the south of Wien.

After two more quick visits to Jyväskylä in the autumn including another great edition of Kartanojuhlat, I managed to get the rest of my studies done that required my attendance in Wien. This meant, that I could finally move to Jyväskylä for good.

New year, new me

Before my move, two of my dearest JES friends, Tiina and Tuomas, came to Austria for a week in early 2020 and I had the chance to show them the culture of the classic Viennese ball.

Now, here I am, taking my next steps with JES and participating in the strategy board and Discovery Tuesday team, to give something back to the awesome community JES has built. I want to thank all the great people, who accompanied me on my JES journey. Without you, I would not sit here in this cold Finnish April writing these lines.

Thank you for reading my story – if you happen to be thinking about doing an exchange or going abroad otherwise: Just go for it.


Stories of JES members is a blog series, where former and current active JES members share parts of their journey. The blog series consists of stories about the role JES has played in the lives of the writers, and how they have ended up doing what they do today – and everything in between.