By Amber Musgrove-Benford (Finland, University of Helsinki)
When I arrived in Finland, I had little expectation for Freshers. Made pessimistic due to the pandemic and the restrictions still in force in Helsinki, I expected nothing more than a few quiet drinks with other exchange students I met in my accommodation. Luckily, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Freshers at the University of Helsinki is a big deal. Fuksit (first year students) – or Phuksit for law students – take over what seems to be the whole city in a week or so of activities and orientation organised, at least for the School of Law, at both Faculty level and through the law society, Pykälä.
Barely two hours after landing at Vantaa airport, I was already meeting my tutor group for the first time in a café in the city centre. Over the next week, we would watch introductory lectures together, both in person (what a novelty!) and online, as well as attending other events, all whilst managing to walk a massive 20,000 steps each day.
In the afternoons, our tutors, both second year bachelor students, often took us sightseeing, around both the campus and city, or we would spend the lunch hour like typical Finns – in a restaurant or at a bar where we enjoyed the final hints of summer, all of us knowing it was likely the last time we would see the temperature reach 15 degrees until next spring.
Evening events were often the highlights of the day and ranged from a very competitive tournament of the traditional Finnish game, Möllky, to an even bigger Flunkyball tournament (a game involving beer, a bottle, running, and a shoe – much better than it sounds, I promise!). We were even, on one evening, treated to a night-time concert attended by both Finnish and Exchange Law students in Kaivapuisto, a beautiful park right on the coast.
The best event I had the chance to take part in was Phuksiaiset. Labelled on Pykälä’s website as “the event your mother warned you about,” this mammoth scavenger hunt was set in a handful of Helsinki’s southern parks and included teams of eight taking part in ridiculous and frankly insane games and challenges to earn points. Turning up at the starting point on the steps of Helsinki Cathedral, my friends and I quickly realised, somewhat bemusedly, that Finns take this event very seriously, and we made the decision to do the same. This turned out to be the right decision, and the day ended up being one of the most fun – and memorable – experiences from my first few weeks in Helsinki.
Now things have finally calmed down at little here, the temperature has dropped and my courses have begun, it feels like a good time to reflect on my first foray into Finnish student culture.
As always, though Freshers can be overwhelming, and perhaps even worse when in a new, unfamiliar country, fthanks to the great tutor group system here at UH, I really could not have hoped for a better start to my year studying abroad.
On that note, I’ll sign off. As the Finns would say, hölökyn kölökyn! Or for us English speakers – cheers!
Here’s to a great first semester x