Annabel Oosterwijk in Finland

Field of study in Wageningen: Management- and Consumer Studies
Study period exchange: 09/01/2019 until 31/05/2019
Country (exchange): Finland
City (exchange): Helsinki
University (exchange): University of Helsinki
Faculty (exchange): Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry

2. Motivation for exchange

Why did you choose to go on study exchange?

I choose to go on an exchange because I wanted to live in another country, meet new people and above all grow on personal level. It seemed like a nice challenge for myself, an adventure. Next to that, it was appealing to study at a different university for some time, to experiences other ways of teaching and maybe other perspectives on my study field. On top of that you can improve your English skills (or get more comfortable to speak English).

What is the reason you chose for this country/university?

I choose for Finland mainly because of the good quality of the education. I wanted my exchange to be fun and special, but mainly informative. Because I think that you can have fun regardless of the city where you do your exchange. Next to that, the travel opportunities from Helsinki are limitless.

3. Accessibility to reach destination

Do you have any tips to reach your exchange destination?

By plane it is two and a half hours from the Netherlands. When you reach Finland, you need to take a bus or the train to get to the city, this will take between 30 minutes and an hour. Download the HSL app to find the best route and to buy tickets (couple your creditcard). Keep in mind the office hour of the place where you have to get the key for your apartment! If your flight is late, book an hostel and contact someone to pick up your key before the office closes.  

4. University and studying

Could you provide some general information about the followed courses?

How is the study formalized?

First of all, the university has 4 campuses. So where you are going to live, depends on what your campus is. My campus was Viikki.
The courses I followed were bachelors level and masters level. But I did not see a lot of difference in the level between the courses. Most of the courses had the same structure, most of the time we had lectures, without a lot of interaction. During the course we had to make some essays and in the end an exam. In Finland they have 4 semesters, of which you are 2 in Finland. So you probably follow 3 courses per semester (to end up with 30 credits). The contact hours are probably lower than you are used to, but at the same time you have one more course to focus on. But still I think you have more spare time for nice trips or activities!
The exams were totally different than I was used to. You had to understand the general idea of the course and answer the essay based question in the exam. I never really had specific/detailed questions. On top of that I’ve had some exams with 3 questions and you had to choose two of them to make. So you can just choose which ones suits you the best. Overall it is quite easy to pass or get a good grade!

What is the culture of the university?

The culture at the University of Helsinki was really relaxed, lecturers were quite approachable. The Finnish students were not so approachable I think. I expected to sit in the lectures with peers, but also a lot of ‘older’ people attended the lectures. As education is free in Finland, a lot of people decide later to still get a degree or to stop working and go to college again. On top of that, most of the lecture were not interactive, so it was just listening and taking notes, not really getting to know your fellow students.
Some courses had some groupwork, but in my case, we divided the work and we did not really have group meetings. But I heard that other people had nice group mates, so don’t worry!

They also have an introduction period for international students. You gather with your group and you have two tutors. On the first day of the introduction, you go together to arrange everything you need (sign a lot of administrative things for your stay here, get your ESN card, get your travel card, etc.). On top of that you get to know each other, go to the city center together. In the winter introduction period you can visit the Helsinki light festival with your group! So this introduction period is very well organized and afterwards you are totally ready to start at university.

What does the university offer the student additionally?

An amazing thing in Finland is Unicafe! Every student can have an extensive lunch for only €2,60. You can choose between rice, potatoes or spaghetti, a few toppings (vegetarian or meat) with sauce. A salad and bread bar is also present, you can grab as many as you want. The meals always have enough vegetables and provide you with enough energy for the rest of the day. You can also choose to order a coffee for €0,90 extra, the receipt of this payment can be handed in later, when you actually want to drink the coffee. So buy this instead of just a coffee, this will be more expensive!

For around €80 for 4 months you can get sport facilities. Every campus has a sports place. You can register for group classes, which are given in English and Finnish. On top of that around Viikki there are great running facilities, behind the campus there is a beautiful forest to take a walk or a run.

5. Housing-travelling-living

What are the possibilities for housing?

Hoas and Unihome are the two most common ways to find a room. Hoas provided shared appartments, which I have. I live together with 4 other girls on the campus. Hoas has appartments for €420 mostly. There was a laundry facility in every flat, with an online booking system, which worked really fine. I was really happy with my flat in Hoas, because I had some roommates, and also a lot of international neighbours. It was more cheap than the other options and cozy with roommates I think.

Unihome provides single furnished rooms, for about €540 to €600 per month. They have their own kitchen and bathroom. There complex is really big and a lot of students live together at Unihome. It is a bit remote, at they have to take a bus or walk from 20 minutes to the Viikki campus. Luckily they have a common kitchen, which they sometimes use to cook, but mostly to throw some awesome parties!

In the city centre there are a lot of rooms provided by Domus Academica, but I don’t know the details about apartments in the city centre. In the city centre most people pay around €600.

What is the culture of the country like?

People in Finland are considered to be more quiet and introvert. But at the same time I have never felt so calm and safe in a capital city. Everyone is willing to help you and the Finns can speak English very well. Because the language is very hard, this is really nice.

Typical Finnish things to eat are cinnamon buns, salmiakki (black liquorice), they drink a lot of coffee, fish soup, karelian pasty (rye crust with rice), Runeberg torte, Fazer chocolate and donuts. They eat a very typical bread (limppu), rye bread, which is dark and a little bit sour. I thought it was very good and filling.

A typical Finnish thing is to go to their Mökki, this is a Finnish cottage. Finns go their during holidays to chill and enjoy the beautiful Finnish nature. When I met a Finnish girl, I went with some friends to her family’s mökki, which was close to a really big lake. It was a really calm weekend.

Could you give a general price indication of the place of residence compared to living in Wageningen?

If you pay a little attention, Finland does not have to cost much more than your life in Wageningen. The things that are the most expensive are when you go out for a coffee or a beer. A coffee can cost between €4 and €5 and beer is mostly between €6 and €7. But if you buy coffee at Unicafé and drink some beers at home before going out, you save a lot of money. 

Could you give some information about public transport infrastructure?

Public transport is very convenient in Helsinki! You pay 27 euros per month for an HSL card with which you can travel unlimited in the Helsinki area. If you travel outside this area, for example to Espoo or the airport, you pay 2.60 for a single ticket which expires after 80 minutes.

I lived just outside the Viiki campus. I had to walk for 10 minutes to the university buildings. I followed half of the  courses at the faculty of Social sciences in the city centre. I travelled by bus and metro for 30 minutes to the university in the city centre.

6. Free time

What are must-sees in the area? 

The nature in Finland is great, so go to national parks like Nuuksio. Around Helsinki are also some nice forests and even some beaches to walk. A nice daytrip can be to Porvoo, a nice old town with wooden houses. Tallinn is also suitable for a day trip by boat.

The organization Timetravels organizes the ‘bigger trips’. With Timetravels I have been to Lapland, Stockholm and Russia (St. Petersburg and Moscow). Those trips were really the best! They arrange a lot for you, things you cannot arrange by yourself, because Lapland and Russia are not the standard destinations.

What does not appear in the travel guide, but is worth a visit?

I think most of the things are in the travel guide, like Café Regatta or the rock church. Also typical Finnish are the saunas, most of the buildings have one, so you can go there for free, but you can also go to a bigger sauna in the city center. And even challenge yourself and go for ice swimming!

Maybe cottage trips do not appear in travel guides. Find some nice friends, book a cottage and experience some days in Finnish nature. Most of the time the cottages also have a sauna.

Do you have general tips and tricks about leisure time?

Every first Friday of the month most of the museums are for free. So don’t waste money and check those days!

General tip: take a creditcard, you are going to need it (especially for trips)! Online you can not pay with your normal paying card most of the time.

7. Challenges & best moment abroad

What was a challenge you have experienced?

The darkness and the cold in the winter period. In the beginning the days were very short, but because you just arrived you are still eager to explore the city. But don’t be scared the days get longer really fast and from spring onwards, the days are even way longer than in the Netherlands. I haven’t experienced the cold as really bad, it was more an experience to walk to a party in a snowstorm. When the snow melted, I secretly missed the beautiful white surroundings a little bit.  

What was your best memory abroad?

Definitely going to Lapland and Russia! Really the best trips ever!

Also walking to parties in the snow storm is something I will never forget.

8. Contact details

Would you ask more questions?

Send a mail:  annabel.oosterwijk@wur.nl