Dear future Erasmus student,
So, you’re planning on going to Finland, yay! Good choice! You’re probably wondering why you’ve signed up to the most random year abroad country you could possibly choose. I mean it’s literally unknown to most of the world, unless you’ve watched confessions of a shopaholic, and if anyone does know about it all they can think of is darkness and snow. But don’t worry I’m here to tell you that your decision was a great one, you’re about to embark to one of the most magical countries in the world so be prepared to be blown away!
My name is Shannara and I’ve been living in Helsinki for 10 months now, due to the same Erasmus program. Now this place is amazing but as much as Aber tries to prepare you, they can’t. It’s not their fault, things just don’t work the same so be prepared to feel very confused when you arrive in this strange place. But no need to worry, that’s where I come in. Within this letter, I’m going to give you a few tips and tricks that I wish I had before, and when I first arrived, and I hope that they help you.#
Tip number one; learn the language. Now Finnish is one of the most difficult languages in the world! So, don’t expect to be fluent anytime soon, or even by the end of your stay (If you do, find me and I will buy you a drink!). But the Finns appreciate you trying, so learn the basics and go from there. Moi (hello), is a great start. On that note, don’t worry too much about the language. As much as they will try to convince you that their English is terrible, what they won’t say is it’s because it’s their fourth language and they find issue with words beginning with sh. Basically they’re terrible liars and you’ll realise they’re probably better at English than you are.
Tip number two; don’t think your learning agreement means anything. HY (Helsinki University) works completely different to back home, there is no pre-registration. You get a username and passcode when you arrive, to a programme called Weboodi. This is where you will apply for each course 30 days before it starts. If you’re like me and need to plan than just remember not to panic. The Finnish system is a little confusing for us mere British mortals, but they are the best in the world for a reason. Some courses will start in September some in November and others December. Which means you’ll constantly be applying for your next course, so make sure you stay on top of it. The way the system is, it’s all on you. You need to check if the courses clash, what level they’re for, when the application time is, how many people can be accepted to the course, et cetera (they sign up early so make sure to set an alarm!). But don’t stress they show you everything you need to do and you don’t need to do anything until you’ve arrived. You get given a student tutor, timings for the registration office and overtime the process becomes natural. So, in brief, some courses you may not be accepted to, others you’ll miss the acceptance number, but there is such a range you will find something to replace it. And what’s great is that if you fail a course you don’t need to worry because you can usually replace it straight after! But remember that doesn’t mean you can just flunk classes J After the initial stress passes, you’ll realise how amazing the system really is.
Tip number three; accommodation. Helsinki University don’t provide student accommodation. So, you need to find your own. Start as soon as you can. Personally, I managed to get private accommodation but that can be difficult so here are a few tips. Try HOAS first. They are a service dedicated to providing students with accommodation, but they don’t have to give it to you, so apply early and make sure all your paperwork is done on time. Otherwise with private here’s some areas where you should look. Kamppi is student central, close to the centre and near the Uni and clubs it’s a good place to look if you want a decent social life. Töölö is a little calmer than Kamppi but is also great as its very central and easy to get around. For you “hipsters” Sörnäinen is perfect with vegan restaurants and student chill spots everywhere. Otherwise look outside the city. Places like Herttoniemi are perfect if you want to live in a quieter more picturesque neighbourhood. The one good think about Helsinki is that the transport is always scarily on time, even when buses are late they are always late at the same time (it’s weird I know). The only time you need to worry is when its snowed, but they are very prepared so transport never fully stops just be make sure you leave earlier so you’re not late to class. Try not to live more than 30 minutes away from the Uni or you’ll find it hard travelling back and forth. Also don’t worry too much Helsinki is very safe so most areas are great to live in.
Tip number four; Finnish identity code. The Finns work of an identity code system. So, go and get one as soon as possible. It’s how your health, Uni and post will work and legally you must get one if you’re staying in Finland for more than 3 months. It’s an amazing system, but you’ll find out the pro’s when you get here.
Tip number five; don’t feel intimidated. The way classes work you will not only be in class with your peers. I once had a class in my second semester where one of my classmates was my lecturer from one of my first semester classes. They don’t divide undergrad, masters or PhD students in class but they will with grading. So, don’t feel like you’re not good enough to be in the class. It’s done so that you’ll work harder and learn from those with more knowledge than you. But that said it means that class will only teach the basics. You are expected to research enough to equal the level that you should know based on your degree scheme, so don’t slack.
Tip number six; travel. Helsinki is one of the best places to be if you want to travel the North. It is beyond cheap to fly, and if you’re not afraid of a boat the ferries are even cheaper. Its upwards of 10 euros to get to Estonia. Sweden, Russia, Denmark and Norway are also easily accessible. But if you don’t fancy going to another country Finland has enough to see. I would recommend Rovaniemi! Meeting Santa was amazing! You even may catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. Also Turku and Tampere for more Finnish vibes. Or go more Eastern for Russian history or West for Swedish speaking areas.
Tip number seven; the weather. Be prepared for cold and hot. Winter is freezing, no that’s not a phrase it literally drops below freezing. My advice is to not buy anything until you arrive. Coats/hats/gloves/scarves/boots are much better quality here as they are designed to withstand the weather, and you have a good few months before any snow kicks into action so you have plenty of time to shop. Buy a SAD lamp. Finland is amazing but the darkness can creep up on you. In the middle of winter, it can get as low as 5 hours of sunlight a day, less if it’s cloudy, so vitamin C tablets and a SAD lamp are your new BFF. But don’t worry Finns have figured out that Sauna and many other methods can help you through the darkness. And between us, the snow is so beautiful it’s worth it. Finally, from the land of no sun you then move to summer when it’s the land of no darkness. Summer here is hot! So, don’t get carried away buying jumpers and hats, shorts and sandals are the way to go! Which is great as a tan always feels so much more deserved after a Finnish winter!
Tip number eight; smile. Not literally, smiling is great, but I’m talking about photos. Bring passport photos with you everywhere during your induction week. They’ll be needed for your Uni cards.
So, there it is, my short eight tips to make a better Finnish trip. They might sound silly to you on paper but trust me when I say that I wish someone explained it all to me at the beginning. Even though no one did my trip was still beyond amazing. I’ve met so many friends from around the globe, learnt languages I never thought I’d understand, see festivals, people and lands that I couldn’t have thought up in my wildest dreams. I’ve met Santa, ridden rollercoasters, met reindeer, learnt to ice-skate, cheered for obscure sports teams with fervent passion, I’ve been to sauna, Ice dipped, Skinny dipped (haha you’ll learn), climbed mountains, sailed seas. But best of all I’ve found a new place to call home. I truly hope you take advantage and do as much as possible on your exchange, and learn to love this beloved country as much as I have.