Snow, lots of snow. Aurora or northern lights. Santa Claus. Very long nights. Oh, sauna, of course. Before I came to study in Finland as a Master’s degree student, I thought I had a clear idea what to expect. I knew I was coming to one of the best education systems in the world. I had in my head swirling pictures of the wonderful atmosphere of learning and studying, students and teachers’ heated discussions, classmates’ sharing various points of view on one topic. After one and a half year of studying here, I have learned more than I have ever had and have also accumulated three most important tips for new foreign students to make their academic life better and easier. I wish someone could have given me the same advice before I came to study in Finland so I could make the most of my time.
There will be many chances for discussions in the class. In fact, many courses are even designed as discussions. You should be both an active speaker and listener. The classes are made up of students from different places around the world. There will be various perspectives from you and your fellow classmates. Sometimes it may be intimidating to speak in the class. You might be thinking “I don’t really have anything to say” or “I’m not sure what others will think of me when I say this.” You don’t have to force yourself if you really feel uncomfortable. You can write down your thoughts during the discussion for later reflection. Or, if you are ready, join the discussion by spicing up with some personal experience or how things work in your own country (you are the expert!). Think of it as your chance as well to contribute your ideas to the topic and take in what others have said. Discussions are most fruitful when you are part of it. You wouldn’t want to waste your time, would you?
Study for Yourself
Learning and teaching styles vary from country to country. In some countries (and where I am from), teachers provide you with huge amount of extensive study materials and expect you to read them before the next lesson. In Finland, what I noticed is that the assigned reading material is not as much as my previous learning experience. It seems like the teacher is not the knowledge “deliverer,” he/she is more like a facilitator. You should learn to be autonomous, and take up the responsibility in learning the topics you are interested in. You can always consult the teachers when you need assistance, but now you are the center of learning and you are not studying for others but yourself. Make use of this power to design your own studies.
Trial and Error
I’m very used to being given specific guidelines and instructions. In my school experiences, I always follow and do as told. I did not really have to explore on my own and I have always taken this for granted. Until I came to study in Finland, I realized the teachers give you the freedom to lead your own path. It means, first of all, you are quite free to do whatever you feel like, and secondly, you will have higher chances of making mistakes. You might feel uneasy and clueless. You might choose the wrong direction and have to start all over again. All of these experiences will become part of your learning. You will learn to take your mistakes, laugh at them, and restart again. This is a wonderful trait of Finnish education culture, and it started even in kindergarten. While your Finnish classmates are no strangers of this kind of learning style, you might have to readjust your attitude and embrace the benefits that trial and error can bring to you.
I have spent more than one year to finally realize these great learning opportunities. Dear future students in Finland, I hope you grasp your chance and enjoy your amazing student life here!
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