Anna Kurkela from Papu Design
Anna Kurkela with the famous Asia Exchange blocks.


Time to take another glimpse into the lives of our former students. This story takes us to Bangkok, Thailand where Anna Kurkela studied at Siam University in 2010. What makes her exchange out of the ordinary is that she didn’t go there alone, but with her husband and 3 and a half-year-old child in tow. Is it even possible to have a family and still go on adventures on the other side of the world? Read more to find out how Anna balanced her studies and family-life, and how the exchange had an effect in shaping her future career.

Going on an exchange in Asia was a bit of a spur of the moment decision for Anna. She liked traveling and had been thinking about studying abroad, but Asia was still a mystery to her. Anna’s husband had been friends with the co-founders of Asia Exchange, Tuomas and Harri, since they were teenagers so she had the opportunity to follow Asia Exchange’s story from the beginning. She had always liked challenging herself and felt that an exchange in Bangkok would provide the perfect chance to push her boundaries.

You get to know the culture so much better when you’re living in another country rather than just visiting it.

At the time, Asia Exchange did not have as many destinations as it has now, but Bangkok immediately caught Anna’s eye. She was intrigued by the juxtaposition of a modern city and nature that you could find there. Even though Bangkok is a huge metropolitan city, the exotic islands of Thailand are not far away. It is also a good base to travel to other parts of Thailand and outside Thailand, as well.


Bangkok skyscrapers
Bangkok is the most populous city in Thailand with over 8 million people.


The first thing that always gets asked when somebody has studied abroad is whether they experienced any culture shock, but in Anna’s case it wasn’t a problem. She already knew Thailand was going to be completely different from Finland, and not everything was going to work as smoothly. That’s why it’s important to keep an open mind and not to have any preconceptions about the country you are going to visit. If you think a country is going to be a certain way, and it doesn’t live up to your expectations, you’re going to be disappointed. Asia is not like Europe, and that is part of its charm.

Open mind is also needed if you traveling with a child. Huge metropolises are not necessarily seen as the most child friendly destinations, but Anna’s and her family truly enjoyed their time in Bangkok. On the days Anna had school, they would stay in the neighborhood and maybe go to a park, a pool, shopping mall. On weekends, there was more time to explore areas outsides Bangkok. Even inside the city, there are so many little streets, shops and restaurants to discover that for a little child it feels like he has stepped into another world, though Bangkok can have the same effect on adults too.

Bangkok had such a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. People were nice to you and you felt welcome wherever you went.

Koh Lao Ling beach
The small island of Koh Lao Liang was one of Anna’s favorite places in Thailand.


However, Bangkok, like any other city, has also its unpleasant side. During her exchange, Anna noticed how unsustainable the way of living in Bangkok was. Garbage, plastic wraps and disposable products were everywhere, and scarcely anything was recycled. Sustainability and ecological living has always been close to her heart, and her time in Bangkok only cemented her journey towards a more sustainable future.

After the exchange, Anna had kept herself busy. She studied fashion design in Finland and after graduating, she decided to start her own company. Papu Design, a design company for women’s and children’s clothing, launched its first collection in 2012. Sustainable development is an important part of the company’s blueprint; Anna wants to design clothes that will last and each design has a story behind it.


Anna Kurkela in Shanghai
Exploring the streets of Shanghai with her two children.


Today, Papu Design has expanded into other countries around the world. In Asia alone, their clothes are being sold in Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. Asia is a still big part of her life, and her business trips often take her to that side of the world.


Anna Kurkela in Bali, Indonesial
Anna and her family enjoying the sunset in Bali.


Anna has not stopped traveling either. This spring she just came back from a year-long trip around the world, and once again, she was not making this trip alone. Anna had her husband and two children with her when they explored Europe, Asia and the United States. Proving that you can be a mother, have a family and still not lose your sense of adventure.

Having children won’t stop you from living. It’s all about your attitude!

Visit Papu Design’s website for more information about the clothes and the stories behind them. You can find all their products on Weecos, a sustainable marketplace.


Read more about studying abroad in Bangkok here

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