Interview with Clarice Omondi: "Kenyans are quite hardworking and resilient people"

Clarice Omondi is an international student from Kenya, who came to Finland almost two years ago to pursue her Master's degree in English Philology. Attracted by the Finnish education system's reputation, she left her home in the southern hemisphere, which is vastly different in culture, climate and language, and moved to this Nordic land of lakes and snow; this was her first jaunt abroad. Keep reading below to find out how Clarice has settled into life in Finland, and about how student life in Kenya differs from Finnish student life.

What made you wish to come study in Finland?

Education in Finland is ranked among the best in the world and is also free. These two factors motivated me to pursue my Master’s degree in Finland.

How did you find settling into life in Finland? Did you experience any culture shocks?

I like Finnish food a lot, but the first few times I experienced stomach upsets when I would eat at the Unicafe. However, I got used to it later on. Also, when travelling to school or any other place I had to keep checking the bus, train, metro and tram schedules as well as making use of a map. This is something that was quite unfamiliar to me, since in Kenya, buses are always available ready to pick up passengers.

What surprised you most about Finland?

The fact that people hold one another and kiss in all public places, including in classrooms during lectures, haha. To be honest this is quite foreign to me.

Did you find the Finnish climate difficult to get used to, being so different from Kenya's?

When I first moved to Finland from Kenya, I had to adjust to many things. Firstly, the weather patterns; I noticed that the summers are relatively hotter than in Kenya, and during this time, most Finns wear shorts and small dresses to suit the weather, which is a bit uncommon coming from Kenya. Then came the cold winter and the temperatures suddenly drop to minus degrees. During this time I experienced lots of migraines and it caused me so much discomfort, but I learnt from friends to take lots of water and ibuprofen to ease the pain.

Can you tell us a bit about studying at university in Kenya?

My Bachelor's degree in Kenya took four years. I was in a public university and I therefore obtained a student loan, which made focusing on learning easier. Also at that time, the government subsidized the fees in public universities and this meant that the student loan was enough to pay fees as well as cater for our living expenses.

In Kenya, the lecture halls were quite spacious. The student’s cafeteria offered meals to students at subsidized price, however those who never wished to eat at the cafeteria were allowed to cook food in their rooms. The university had built student hostels within the campus premises and this was quite convenient.

What do you wish Finnish people knew about Kenyans?

Kenyans are quite hardworking and resilient people. Despite the fact that we face harsh economic times, most Kenyans work hard in both formal and informal sectors, to make ends meet and to support their families.

Has your study program at the University of Helsinki lived up to your expectations?

Yes in all ways I could think of. I like the fact that at the University of Helsinki, the lecturers are quite engaging and willing to go the extra mile to help students. They are also very interactive. The lecturers involve the students in all discussions, and marking as well as awarding marks is quite fair. In addition, the lecturers are available for consultation.

What the best thing about being an international student at the University of Helsinki?

The University of Helsinki is the best university in the country. It makes me really proud that as an international student I am getting the best quality education.

In your opinion, what things at the University could be improved for international students?

Extending more grants and scholarships to international students so as to cater for living expenses as the cost of living in Finland is quite high, especially housing.

How have you managed with learning Finnish and finding work?

After I settled in Finland, I realised that life was much more expensive here than in Kenya. For instance, food, clothing and rent are more expensive here. I had to look for a part time job so that I would be able to cater for all my expenses. It wasn't easy to get a job as fast as I would have wanted because of my Finnish skills, so I have had to put up with manual jobs, like cleaning for a while.

What are your ambitions and plans for the future?

I am quite hopeful though that when I graduate with my Master’s degree in English Philology, I will be able to get a job in my field. Besides, I am learning Finnish as it's a requirement for most jobs. I plan to apply for my doctoral studies when I complete my Master's degree at the University of Helsinki. I also do hope to work as an English teacher in Finland eventually.