My academic experience abroad was not too different to my experience at King’s. I selected my modules before I left, but once there found that switching things around was much more flexible than the system at King’s. My class sizes were pretty small, none larger than 40, and the smallest being 5, which again is similar to the Theology department at King’s since it tends to not be the most popular subject to study. Assesment was a lot more relaxed than in England, and I think that was the main difference. Never have I experience such a casual approach to exams. In England throughout school and university the examination culture is much more intense, you are subjected to study leave and have a long time to prepare for pretty intense exams, for example having a 3 hour exam is pretty common. However in Finland exams were more casual and much shorter.
I applied through HOAS which was the university housing system, and finds housing for students of all the universities in Helsinki, thus I lived with people not just at my university but at other universities in the city. I had a studio flat to myself, but the building was full of other international students with studio flats so we all got to know each other really well and it was easy to socialise. The accommodation was expensive, however it was still cheaper than its equivalent in London.
Vappu: This is the May Day holiday in Finland. It’s a national holiday where everybody parties in the streets, and all Finnish people wear their high school graduation caps – which are basically sailors hats. The celebrations officially begin with the ‘capping’ of a statue in the city centre which is a short ceremony in which the statue given it’s own graduation hat. It’s a really cool tradition and it’s nice to see old Finnish people in the street wearing their treasured 50-odd-year-old graduation hats!
Travelling: I travelled all over Finland and Northern Europe, I went to Estonia, Latvia, Russia, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. I loved all these trips and I travelled to almost all these places by boat and this was such a fun way to travel. Cruise ships are a good place to buy duty free things much cheaper than they are in Finland. Also if you travel from Helsinki to St Petersburg by boat it’s the only route to Russia for which you don’t need a visa.
Pirates of the Baltic Sea: This is a party cruise put on for Erasmus students where you travel overnight to Sweden (it takes 18hrs) and then spend the day there and then party all night on the way back. You are also given an all you can eat (and drink!) buffet. Of course get your moneys worth of beer, but don’t fall overboard! And don’t get so hungover that you don’t even make it off the boat the next morning! (This is common) My friends and I spent the night singing karaoke and it was a lot fun.
The city is expensive, so what many Finnish people do is take the boat to Tallinn, Estonia which is dirt cheap in comparison. In fact I had a lecturer that used to commute from Estonia. It’s a good way to buy cheap alcohol as you can get duty free alcohol on ships, and also in Estonia alcohol is cheaper, amongst other basic things. The boat only takes 2.5hrs and Tallinn is a really beautiful city to see. A day trip to Tallinn was one of the first things I did with loads of people from my building and it was a great way to make friends with people at the start.
The Snow: The snow and general weather. I have never encountered snow on the scale I did in Finland. It falls really thick and it’s fun to go sledging. You will of course hate the cold, I think the coldest we got was around -20C (And this was considered a warm winter) but it is an interesting experience to have.
Saunas: I actually wasn’t a massive fan of sauna-ing but it’s a really Finnish thing to do and it’s fun to get crazy hot in the sauna and jump in the freezing cold sea, or straight into the snow.
The metro: It is never delayed.
Finnish Student Culture: There are so many Finnish student traditions, such as sit-sits which are themed dinners where you come dressed up and sing songs and take shots. They are always followed by a great after party. Also Finnish students all have their own boiler suits or ‘overalls’ and they cover them in badges which they collect throughout their time on their degree.
Reflections from home
It was a really good experience to have, it made me a much more independent person, and a much more outgoing person. It opened my eyes to many cultures and different people that I never would have encountered before. If I could change anything about my experience I would tell myself to do even more. For example there were many cities in Finland like Nokia and Turku that I never visited and countries that are cheap to travel to from Helsinki such as Lithuania and Belarus that I never got a chance to go to.I do miss the experience and am really glad I chose to do it, I think anybody considering studying abroad should definitely do it because you will have an amazing time wherever you go in the world. It’s a lot of fun to find yourself in a city you’ve never lived in before with people you’ve never met, it’s the kind of adventure you should embark on when you’re young.