Finnish Girls on Exchange: 3 European Countries, 3 Experiences

Last month “legal aliens” of Helsinki shared their experiences of living in Finland. But how is it like when a Finn goes to study overseas? Her Campus asked Finnish girls who went to three different European countries at different years for exchange to share what surprised them abroad and how did their life change after this. Read and get inspired!

 “In the Netherlands we are encouraged to compete with other students”

Anni Kinnunen, 25,currently on exchange semester at Leiden University, the Netherlands. She studies religion at her home university in Helsinki.

“Choosing the Leiden University was more or less a coincidence. At first I wanted to do my exchange in Spain to improve my Spanish, but my Spanish skills weren’t good enough to apply there. So I ended up applying for my second option which was Leiden. I applied there because I could do the courses in English and because Google showed me that the city was very cute with all the canals and pretty houses. The Dutch culture and society doesn’t differ too much from what I’m used to in Finland, so I haven’t had any big cultural shocks – at least not yet. There are some small things that I find different here. For example, I think the local people are more open and easy-going here. Someone might even start a conversation with you in a supermarket which I don’t think would happen in Finland. The weather here is warmer – there are even budgies living in my backyard! I was also shocked about the amount of the rain. Even my roommate from England says that it rains too much here in the Netherlands. Also, I like how the student associations have organized events for the international students. For example I go every Monday to a board game night and there is a big party for exchange students every Wednesday, just to mention a few things. However, I find the courses a bit more demanding here than at the University of Helsinki so one might not have time to attend too many events after all. Luckily, I have made friends here with other very nice exchange students and we tend to do all kinds of fun stuff when we have some free time. If not, we just get together and study in the library.

In addition to that the teachers are quite demanding here and it is sometimes hard to pass the courses, students are sometimes encouraged to be competitive with each other. For example, I have one course called "Dutch Debates" where we get an assignment for every class and then in a class we are divided into smaller groups and in a group we must decide which member of the group did his/her assignment best and is the "most valuable contribution" of that time. The MVC will get extra credit from the teacher. For me that felt little bit funny and strange because in Finland we are most often encouraged to do team work instead of competing with other students. But in the other hand, it makes you work harder for the assignment. I think that this exchange period has already taught me a lot. For example, I have improved as a student and my English has improved a lot. But mostly I think I have gained some courage to be more open with new people and things. I used to always hesitate to join student associations and parties even though I wanted to, and as a result didn’t make so many friends in my home university. But after I get back in Finland, I think I am going to do so many more things like that. I have also always dreamed about living abroad. After this experience I know what it is like and that it is possible and not that scary after all!”

“ I gained more confidence during my year abroad in Glasgow”

Aija Holopainen, 23, did her exchange year at the University of Glasgow in 2013-2014. She studies English philology at the University of Helsinki.

“I really wanted to do an exchange year in the UK, I guess partly because I’m an English major, and partly because I’d always been interested in staying in the UK for some time. I wasn’t looking to go to Scotland in particular, but at that time Glasgow University was the only place where I’d be able to stay for a full academic year instead of just one semester, and I really wanted to stay for two semesters. So, I ended up in Glasgow partly by chance, but I was very happy that I did!

In Glasgow I stayed in self-catered university accommodation, and what surprised me were all the fire safety regulations residents were expected to follow. I had great flatmates and neighbours, so I was quite happy living there, but some of the regulations seemed overly strict and unnecessary. For example, we weren’t allowed to have a small couch in our kitchen/dining room because it could catch on fire...I suppose in a student village with hundreds of freshers and Erasmus students they want to be extra careful.

As for my studies, I really liked the way courses were organised in Glasgow. In each course there was a weekly lecture and a small group session, which was really useful, and each class was only about 50-60 minutes long. I personally liked that a lot, because I easily lose concentration in really long class periods.

Also, I was happy to find how friendly Glasgow was as a city – every time I needed to ask for help people were very kind and understanding. Before I left for Glasgow I wondered if I would make friends and if I’d be lonely, but the different university societies and organisations had plenty of events where it was quite easy to go to because the atmosphere was so inclusive.

I think I gained more confidence during my year abroad, because it taught me that I could manage new situations and new circumstances. I also met lots of students from different countries and lots of different personalities, and I think getting to know them gave me some new perspectives on things. In Glasgow I also met my current boyfriend, who was on exchange like me.”

“The level of education shocked me the most in Budapest”

Varpu Ruskotaival, 31,did her exchange semester in Budapest Business School in 2008. That time her major was hotel and restaurant management which she studied at Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences.

“For a long time I was debating with myself whether to go to Dubai or Budapest for exchange. In the end I decided for Budapest, as it was somehow more natural for me: Dubai would have been more about luxury and business style, but Budapest felt artistic and intriguing. The choice was made easier by the fact that I’d been to Budapest once before with my then boyfriend, as his friends live close to Budapest. I knew the city was beautiful and it held a lot of interest for me at the time, and I was also interested in learning Hungarian. Budapest was also a lot cheaper option, not just because of living expenses, but because the school in Dubai would have had an expensive tuition.

What shocked me the most in Budapest, was the level of the education - and the students. Some of the teachers were so old school you could have imagined it was still the 1950s. One particular teacher (we called him nazi-László) made us copy by hand the notes he had made for us every class: all we did was write and listen to him read pretty much exactly what he had already written on the slides he showed us on an old-school overhead projector. On top of that he was yelling almost every class about something, especially if someone dared to bring food or drinks to the class or still have their hat on. On the other hand he was way too easy for us exchange students: our “exam” at the end of the semester was to show him our copied notes so he knew we had written everything down, and then he asked as one question about the notes. If we could answer half-decently, we passed with flying colours. On the other hand, I also met one of the best teachers I’ve ever had in that school, but then again, he wasn’t Hungarian but British.

The students were mostly lazy as hell and doing only the bare minimum. In some of the group works I had to do most of the work as no-one else was doing anything, but what was more shocking was the extent of cheating. In one of the math exams I participated, the students were talking to each other about the right answers so loudly, that it was actually noisy in the exam hall, and very hard to concentrate on the exam. In the end the teacher threatened to take 10% off of everyone’s points if the students wouldn’t be quiet, but they quieted only for a minute, just to continue the chatter a moment later. Most other exams weren’t as bad, but in every exam I could see people passing notes about the right answers and whispering to each other.

Overall though, I loved the people there: they were very welcoming and warm. I also loved the local foods like goulash soup and the bakeries they had everywhere - and everything was so cheap! There were plenty of small, unique little cafés and restaurants, often built in the basements of buildings (which probably wouldn’t be possible in Finland because of all the bureaucracy and health and safety regulations and so on) and overall a ton of things to do and see. The city itself is very beautiful with the river Danube running through it and the many bridges over the river, and a lot of green hills on the other side. It is very worn out, and a lot of the buildings are in horrible condition and covered with graffiti, but that’s part of the charm at least for me.

I wouldn’t say that anything major changed after the exchange for me, however, I did fall in love with Budapest even more deeply, and ever since then we visited there once a year with my ex, only to move to live there for a year in 2012, and that year changed my life. I don’t know if all that would have happened if I’d chosen to go to Dubai after all. Budapest still holds a special place in my heart and is my favourite city on Earth. Even after moving back to Finland, I visit there several times a year if I can to see my friends and some of my favourite spots - and to find new ones. And to practice my Hungarian. Next time I’m going there is in less than two weeks, and this time I might also organise a course on body awareness, so let’s see if in the future I will also have some kind of professional affiliations there.”