by Alexandru Giurca
For international students, Finland is becoming a more and more popular destination due to its good reputation and unique lifestyle. The open civic society is characterized by gender equality, good quality of life, and low levels of corruption. In this country, education has always been prioritized. Finland's universities offer many exchange programs both in English and Finnish. Even though living costs might be considered high, the good news is that there are no tuition fees for regular degree students, including international exchange students.
Finns pride themselves in having one of the best educational systems in Europe. A wide variety of programs at different universities across the country cover a great number of topics for everyone's interests. Students who come to study in Finland usually find what they are looking for. The government has invested a lot in Finnish education and therefore all of the students needs are met (well-prepared tutors and coordinators for international students, professional and reasonable housing services, good healthcare services, easy access to information and study facilities etc.) so that focus can remain on developing and improving one's knowledge.
Even if exchange and international students are taken care of when they come to Finland, and almost everything they need for a pleasant studying experience can be found here, its a good idea to know some basic and general things about Finnish culture and lifestyle, so that your stay in Finland can be as successful as possible. Here are some things you should keep in mind or try to remember before your studying experience in Finland.
University life: Relaxed but active
Like all Finnish public places, the university facilities like campuses, classrooms, libraries, canteens etc. might seem to some more relaxed than other typical student environments you were used to. Finnish students are pretty relaxed and quiet but that does not mean that they don't have much to do. On the contrary, when you start your studies in Finland you might notice that your program will be pretty full all of a sudden. Schedules are usually well prepared and timed so that classes and modules don't overlap but it might be that some days are busier than others and sometimes you barely have some free time. It is a good idea to keep a personal calendar to remind you of the all the classes you have, assignment deadlines, exam dates etc. Trust me you will need it!
It is very common that students here often receive home assignments or different article reviews, books to read or different group work activities. You are expected to invest some of your free time so that you can pass modules and get good grades. Regarding the grading system, this might be a little confusing to some. Finnish grading system is from 1 to 5, with 5 being the best grade a student can get and 1 the minimum required to pass an exam.
Teachers are your friends
It is well known that Finnish teachers are well prepared and always ready to help. Teachers here tend to be very communicative and are always available for questions, doubts, comments, everything that might help improve your understanding and their way of teaching. You will notice that lots of surveys and feedback questionnaires will be conducted to improve the teaching quality.
Usually it is common to call teachers by their first name. Being polite and respectful is always valued but asking questions and being doubtful is always a sign that you are interested in their class. As already mentioned assignments and different reports are pretty common and it is widely practiced to send these assignments per email or upload them on different study platforms directly to the teacher; sending your homework on time is always a sign of seriousness and interest. Some might find the classes a little bit dry. Finns in general are not very animate people but rather quiet and objective. This is also the case in the classroom, where you might find that some teachers are talking really slow and present their slides in a very objective manner avoiding chit chat and making jokes. An advice would be to give them a chance, it might be more interesting than it seems!
Classes around here usually last up to two hours. Whether you have a break in between depends on student-teacher agreement (some fancy it others don't). Being on time is very important and it is also a sign of respect and politeness towards teachers and fellow colleagues. For this reason, it is quite common that classes start at quarter past so that everyone can be in the classroom when the lecture starts.
Students & free time
Usually, each university in Finland has a student union. This is a great place to meet Finnish students and other international students, get a better inside on studying and student life at that university and in the city you live in. You will find other students who are ready to help with about anything you need, from information on your studies to organizing different excursions, study groups, to different free time activities such as sports, dancing, music, arts etc. you name it. Studying is important but managing your free time in a pleasant way also helps a lot and can also be healthy!
So before you pack and head to the North it is advisable that you do a little bit of research on Finnish culture, try to understand what it is about and what to expect and try leaving your preconceived ideas at home. Be prepared to meet taciturn and quiet people, cold weather and long dark winter days but keep in mind that this is all part of Finland's unique charm. Common sense, being willing to understand and learn, being motivated and interested in your studies and keeping an open mind will help you break the ice and quickly become a successful student in Finland!