When I started studying at my university in a very student-friendly city in Olomouc in the Czech Republic, I realised immediately that student life could bring an incredible amount of opportunities for me. I joined the national association and took part in many EFPSA activities as well. Unforgettable experiences of meeting international students at EFPSA events inspired me to challenge myself to spend one semester abroad.I found it quite easy to decide which country and city it should be in. I have always wanted to visit Nordic countries and as my Psychology Department has signed the contract with Finland only, Helsinki became my destination no.1. Luckily, I have been accepted, and my Finnish adventure started at the beginning of January.
Communication with the University of Helsinki was very quick, clear, and efficient. All of the Uni staff was helpful with the official documents, signing up for courses and exams. I liked that the semester was divided into two periods (January – middle of March, and April – May). Thanks to this, I could focus more on fewer courses at one time. I could choose book exams as well so I studied these topics on my own and just passed the online exams after that. I highly recommend the Finnish course for Exchange students because I learned a lot not only about the language itself but about society, culture, national holidays, traditions, etc…. and these classes were pretty funny. ☺
Next to the very warm welcoming at the Uni, I appreciated the buddy system so much. They organised a get-to-know evening for us, a city tour, guiding tours around the university campuses. They joined us for the official Uni Welcome Day, helped us to finish all required documents and to make the public transport card. Thanks to it, I felt ready to start studying there in two days, which was amazing. They invited us to students’ events (until all were cancelled ☺) and shared some tips for student activities with us. Even in corona time, they prepared an online meeting about the national holidays and traditions (the biggest national holiday would take place there normally at that time).
As far as accommodation, it is a bit demanding to find a room for an affordable price. Uni provides nice accommodation in many buildings all around the city. However, I recommend applying as soon as you know you are accepted (or maybe even before).
Similarly to Norway (as Mary told in her story earlier), Finland belongs to the most expensive European countries. Going out is quite a money-spending occasion. You would pay from 7 to 10 Euros for one drink. Fortunately, I met many international students right the first week of my Exchange so we usually organised our own events soon. Otherwise, you can save lots of money with student prices and discounts, especially on lunches in the Uni canteen (less than 3 Euros per meal) or public transport tickets (around 3 Euros per journey and 30 Euros per month). If you are worried about the money issue, you should not. You will never get bored in Helsinki, even with a low budget. I filled every single day in with some activities. I visited many museums and galleries for free, watched an ice hockey match, went to a concert in the beautiful concert hall. I enjoyed the traditional student party called Sitsit (and many others, haha), joined workshops, and panel discussions organised by Uni. Basically, Uni is open to all people and you can really feel the study spirit everywhere. Libraries are usually full of people no matter their age as well as gyms and other Uni facilities.
In general, I found the Finnish society very peaceful, welcoming, and egalitarian. Finnish people indeed need a bit more time to start talking to you but when I did it; all people were very nice, helpful, and open-minded. Almost all Helsinki inhabitants can speak basic English at least so it was pretty easy to talk to them. Next to it, I was totally surprised by the quiet everywhere as well (even in public transport).
Last but not least, I fell in love with nature. Finland is called “the country of a thousand lakes,” which is very true. Even though Helsinki is the capital, you can reach national parks very quickly. It is the city “built in nature” and surrounded by the sea. Next to the capital, I visited many places such as Åland Islands, port city Turku, Tampere city famous for the Moomin fairy tale, or medieval town Porvo. I enjoyed an amazing trip to Archipelago while sleeping in a tent just next to the sea during the night-less nights in summer. On top of all, my biggest dream became true when I spent one week in Lapland in winter, literally in the middle of nowhere. At the place, where you can really feel connected with nature, experience the Finnish sauna, watch the northern light, sleep in a quinzee, and where you don’t have to think about anything else.
The last semester has brought many more experiences than I had expected. Similarly to students all around Europe, COVID made that time exceptionally and unusual. I would describe my Erasmus in Finland with the same words. This situation has taught me really a lot. I have experienced all emotions from happiness to sadness and uncertainty. However, I cannot be more grateful for this opportunity to stay in Finland until the end of my Exchange. Thanks to cancelled events and online lectures, I got to know Helsinki very well, enjoyed watching sunsets by the sea as well as the time spent in nature. Living alone abroad made relationships with other students even stronger. I am sure I will never regret making my decision and I will remember this life-changing experience forever. Finally, I really want to encourage you all to step out of your comfort zone and go for challenges! It is definitely a worthy and very enriching experience to grow!
Author: Veronika Kocmanová
Master’s in Psychology at Palacky University Olomouc