5 surprises as an American coming to study in Finland

The story of my move to study in Finland starts from moving from ocean beaches and summer all year, to forests that look like they go on forever and four seasons throughout the year.  It was like a breath of fresh air stepping on Finnish soil for the first time, and not only because I just spent the last 24 hours crossing continents. 

But, even as a native-born Finn coming back to Finland to study, I was surprised by some things that I never expected!

Airplane view above Finland

1. Nature everywhere!

Before I moved to Finland, I enjoyed spending my free time inside, watching movies, and reading. I hadn’t experienced nature to the extent that I did when I moved to Finland to study. Even in the big urban areas within Finland, forests, lakes, and nature are never far away. 

Soon, I spent all of my free time outside enjoying nature! I would take study breaks walking through the forest with my friends. During summer, you would most likely find me having a picnic at the park or swimming at a lake. Even in winter, my friends and I would explore new walking trails. When you are studying in Finland, you’ll never be far from a forest, especially with 75% of Finland covered by trees!

view of frozen lake at sunset

 2. Calling professors by their first name

I always expected to have a very formal relationship with teachers and professors. In Finland, this relationship is far more informal. The first time I heard a student call our dean by her first name I was in shock. But, as it was, this is the norm at Finnish schools and universities.

After adjusting to this, I felt that I had much better relationships with my professors. This informal relationship allows you to better connect with your professors. It also makes it super easy to talk to them and ask questions!

3. Very active Student communities

Student communities are very active in Finland. In the U.S., events were never organised for the entire student body. In Finland, students organised events weekly for all the students to take a break from courses and have fun! These events were a great way to get to know the other students. You don’t always get a chance to connect with your peers during lectures. So, the best advice I could give is to take part in as many events as you can!

The mix of international and Finnish students made the transition to student life in Finland very easy! Everyone was so welcoming and student events were organised to help new students make connections, which really helped! Even at the very start, you will feel like you belong.

4. moving around finland is so easy

Coming from southern California, public transportation was not an ideal form of going places. Walking or using a bicycle was even less of an option. But, when I came to Finland these options quickly became the best options. I could now walk to the store, take the train to visit another city, and bike longer distances or just to explore.

I quickly couldn’t imagine using a car anymore. Over time, it was so convenient to just use trains and buses around Finland, and I was walking anywhere I could. Taking day trips to new cities can be a great, affordable way to experience the country!

Sea view from park hill in Helsinki

5. drinking milk at lunch

This one might sound a little silly at first, but this was the most surprising experience I had studying in Finland. In truth, this surprise could actually be school lunches in general. 

Food, like pizza and burgers, were common school lunches at my high school. So, during my first day at university, the quality and amount of food that students get for a little over two euros absolutely shocked me. Thinking on it now, this has truly been a highlight of my time studying in Finland!

red apples at the market

There will always naturally be a period of adjusting to a new culture. But, when you are studying in Finland the international environment and the helpful nature of Finns makes adjusting truly effortless!

To learn more about Finnish culture and what to expect when moving to Finland, check out these blogs:

Tips on how to live like a local in Finland

What to expect when moving to Finland to study

5 things you should know about Finland

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