My exchange experience at Aalto University, Finland - and some heartfelt tips as well.
Updated: May 13, 2019
This is a relatively short recap of my study experience at Aalto University in Helsinki. I've written this particularly so foreigners wishing to explore Finland through study can have the best possible experience.
Coming from Melbourne, the experience of Finland and moreover the Finnish culture is a lot different to what I am used to. It was August 2017 and upon arriving in Helsinki, the grey weather and shy nature of the Finnish people struck me. Although, the more I explored the pristine nature, national parks and put myself out there to meet new people, the more I felt that Finland was like a second home. By the end, I was very sad to leave.
While there was no shortage of opportunity to make friends with super-friendly exchangers, meeting the locals is harder. Once I got to know them though, I knew it would be a long-term friendship. The level of student involvement and activities is quite high, which means that life at Aalto University can be very fun indeed. Get involved, and ready for the land of impromptu saunas, diving into Arctic lakes, snow blizzards, student basement dinner parties, colourful student 'overalls' and of course the northern lights.
Helsinki is a really lovely city. The best part of it is the relaxed atmosphere and natural settings. I was always within a stone's throw from a park or nature reserve. Helsinki has everything that one would need, while still giving everyone plenty of space.
In summer it is very green and I saw the seasons change dramatically as the leaves turned golden, then the snow came. Unlike other cities, the snow in Helsinki often can persist for more than a month. People can be seen skiing to work. Go to the historic fortress island of Suomenlinna, or the idyllic café Regatta. Take a day return ferry to the charming city of Tallinn. Or even just a stroll in the local park. You never know what you will see - one night I even saw the northern lights in Helsinki!
Benefits of going on exchange
The most enriching part was simply being in an environment different to the everyday life in Melbourne. The ability to culturally exchange with new people, and with the environment as well, allowed me to see different perspectives to life and become a more well-rounded person. This outweighs other factors when it comes to personal development. Students can often become preoccupied with building their career, but it is important to grow as a person and discover new things and I think Finland is ideal for this.
Aalto University is very good when it comes to work integrated learning. Many - if not most of the units there engage a company for which to complete an actual project for. Group work is taken to the next level.
I have great memories of one of my units which included an all-expenses paid business trip to Russia, complete with a banquet dinner. Another unit was so interesting that I managed to do an internship at the company, after the unit was finished. These things are excellent for career (and personal) development.
Money and Budgeting advice
- Definitely apply for housing early through HOAS or AYY housing. They offer furnished student housing that is subsidised by the government so can turn out to be very affordable.
- Have lunch at the Student Cafes which are spread around the city but usually clustered around universities. They offer significantly discounted meals for 2.60 euros which include a salad buffet and healthy, good-sized portions.
- Take Onnibus to travel around Finland - it's a pretty cheap bus company that does trips around the country.
- Sign up to Finnair and Norwegian airlines newsletters, they usually run cheap flights out of Helsinki.
- Use the ResQ Club app; it offers discounted meals from restaurants around time while at the same time working to reduce food waste.
-Budget around 7000 - 10000 euros for a semester depending on spending habits and duration of stay.
1. Definitely visit Lapland. It's one of the most beautiful and natural places in the world. And go in winter for a chance to experience husky sledding and the northern lights. Koli National Park is another great place with amazing views.
2. Try to make friends with locals as well. Get involved in some of the diverse clubs and the student association of your faculty. Or even try an authentic Finnish experience by joining a Student Nation (e.g. Pohjois-Pohjalainen Osakunta) like I did.
3. Be open to new and unexpected experiences.
This article was originally featured on the Monash Abroad website dedicated to outbound exchange students from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. North Wind Adventurer is a travel blogger and photography enthusiast from Melbourne.