by Amber Musgrove-Benford (University of Helsinki, Finland)
With only just over a fortnight left before I move back to the UK after nine or so months in Finland, I thought I would look back at the top things I have done whilst living in Helsinki – and hopefully give you some ideas of what can be done while studying at UoH.
By Amber Musgrove-Benford (University of Helsinki, Finland)
Explore the Architecture
From Nordic minimalism to neoclassicism and even Byzantine-Russian, Helsinki is formed by an amalgamation of architectural styles, which can be seen on a (free!) walk around the city.
Try Senate Square and its star, Helsingin tuomiokirkko, designed by Carl Ludvig Engel for neoclassicism, and Lasipalatsi (“Glass Palace”), along with other buildings designed for the 1952 Olympic Games, for modernism. The capital also houses the largest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in Northern Europe!
As a Geography student at the University of Bergen, I have noticed several differences in the academic culture, compared to in Manchester. The main takeaway I think is to be organised at the beginning of the semester, and thoroughly research the timetabling of each modules and the assessments required.
Amber Musgrove-Benford (University of Helsinki, Finland)
Unsurprisingly, university systems – the lectures, examination formats et cetera – differ throughout the world, and Finland is no exception. It was one thing I immediately noticed and found myself having to adapt to at the beginning of my first Semester in Helsinki.
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!
Moving to a different country to study and live abroad is an incredible experience. From meeting new people, trying new foods, visiting new places, new experiences and discovering the local culture but sometimes it’s not always sunshine and rainbows and THAT’S OK!
A few weeks into my exchange I began to miss home as well as all my family/friends but do not worry it is completely natural and all part of the process of studying abroad. So here are some tips if you are ever feeling homesick on any point of your exchange.
Stay in regular contact with friends/family Staying in regular contact with your friends/family is the best way to diminish that feeling of being homesick whether it be a quick call or a long FaceTime. So far on exchange, I speak to my mum every day on the phone for a quick natter and it makes me feel better if I haven’t had a good day.
Talk to your exchange friends Talk to your exchange friends when you feel like this as they most likely feel or have felt the same way as you at some point on their exchange – it’s only natural!
Have things to look forward to! No doubt you’ll always have something to look forward with being on exchange! Having things to look forward to is key to tackling the feeling of being homesick. Plan trips away, I’ve already visited Russia, Estonia and Lapland. Organise social activities with your friends during your free time whether it be eating out together or even just a walk in the park.
Keep yourself busy Keeping yourself as busy as possible distracts your mind from being home sick. I keep myself busy here in Helsinki by keeping up to date with my university work here and work that needs to be completed back at Manchester University.
Unisport Unisport provides over 200 fitness classes and gives you access to gyms all across Helsinki – at an affordable price. Unisport has personally really helped me during my time here so far, I now enjoy going to the gym and regularly attend the classes they provide. Exercise both positively impacts both mind and health – so I believe it helps combat any feeling of homesickness.
As a Nordic Country Finland is no doubt very expensive to live and so it can be costly to even socialise with your friends in your free time but there are things to do in Helsinki (believe it or not) that are free – disregarding the small transport fee needed to reach particular destinations.
Visit the Cathedrals
Helsinki Cathedral The Helsinki Cathedral is the most impressive landmark in the city, located along the northern side, the grand building dominates the Senate Square. With its white pillars, blue domes dotted with golden stars and statues of the twelve apostles along the roof, it is definitely the perfect selfie spot. Free of charge!
Uspenski Cathedral The Uspenski Cathedral is a short walk away from the Helsinki Cathedral. With its golden tones and redbrick face, the cathedral symbolises the Russian impact on Finland in the past. Free of charge!
Sompasauna is the perfect spot for the quintessential Finnish sauna experience. The sauna is open 24 hours a day and it’s a fun way to spend an evening with your friends and if you’re daring enough jump in the Baltic sea after sweating it out in the sauna. Free of charge!
3. Nuuksio national park
Nuuksio is one of many Finland’s national parks, you can either reach the national park via bus or a short train journey (at a short cost). There are many different trails that take you through the scenic woodlands and lakes. There is also the chance to hire bikes, go horse-riding, visit a reindeer park and even walk an alpaca – of course this cost comes at a cost. Free of charge (excluding the transport fee and the optional activities).
4. Helsinki City Museum There are plenty of museums in the city centre with free admission but my favourite is the Helsinki city museum. The museum documents and displays the history of Helsinki as well as featuring personal memories and everyday life of the city’s residents. Free of charge!
Suomenlinna is a must visit and has free entry (despite the small ferry fare). Sumonelinna is the Finnish Sea Fortress perched on an island. The sea fortress is a world heritage site, unique for its military architecture. The island also has historical buildings, a church, museums and numerous cafes/restaurants. Free of charge!
Knowing I was a late arrival tripled the expected feelings of nervousness and anxiousness. As well as the daunting experience of having to pack up and then set up a temporary new home all by myself. Not to mention, having to sort all the administration papers, course enrolment, applying for residence Finnish residence all by myself as I missed the introduction week. As well as circling the city centre multiple times a day to find my next lecture but it was helpful since I got to see more of the city and different landmarks despite getting lost! Having tackled this single handily along with the help of the friendly staff at the University, a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders knowing I had finally caught up with my fellow Erasmus students!
With being a third year, I was nervous about leaving my already established friendships and connections that I have accumulated over the years at the University of Manchester. I attended a couple of the fresher’s events in the first week held by a society named ‘ESN Helsinki’ which I would highly recommend to anyone – it’s a society full of Erasmus students and you are welcomed with big open arms by every individual. Having attended my fair share of ice breakers and meeting new people in Manchester, I knew that I would not force any friendships despite my first few days in Helsinki being rather lonely, hearing crowds of people down the corridor partying (while I was tucked in bed), I let my friendships naturally take place with time. Now, nearly 6 weeks into my Erasmus exchange to Helsinki, I have made the best of friends. They spread from as close as Scotland to Germany; Austria; France and even as far as Russia! So, my advice is let everything fall into place and watch it flourish naturally. It took me a week or so to meet ‘my people’ who I see and hang out with every day – and I couldn’t be happier!
Cliché but deciding to undertake a year abroad at the University of Helsinki has been the best decision I have ever made. I’m excited to see what the next few months brings!