Exchange at University of Helsinki
Hello! My name is Aslan, I am studying at the 3rd (already 4th) course of Sociology. Just two days ago, I returned from Finland, where my academic mobility took place. I have not yet fully got used to Moscow, to my neighborhood, to my home, because the memories and sensations from Finland in my head remained fresher than the first summer rain. But it means that I can tell you about how my exchange trip went more interesting and complete.
I remember very well the day I arrived in Helsinki: January, cold, lost, an unfamiliar city and the thoughts “why did I sign up for this?” Indeed, the first three days pass, to put it mildly, alarmingly. This was my first experience when I left home and had a completely independent life. Therefore, all the bureaucratic procedures, the pick up of the keys for my apartment, its furnishings were not so simple for me. Of course, I did everything I had to do, but this was accompanied by anxiety, unrest, and even some disappointment.
However, everything changes when you meet people who are destined to become your friends. I remember how our tutor group went for the first time to a bar in the Kalio district, how we got to know each other better and how we found a lot in common between us. And this is especially valuable because we were from completely different countries and cultures — Geramnia, Russia, Scotland, Switzerland, Australia, Ecuador, and many, many others. Nevertheless, we were united by openness to new tests, new experience, and, of course, new acquaintances. Since then, every day in Helsinki was for me if not a holiday, then at least a day that I would love to live again.
So, I want to share with you my experience of studying abroad. And I will do this, dividing everything into three, in my opinion, the most important parts: study, city and travel.
Studying at the University of Helsinki is a very interesting and different experience. Here you feel how the border between teacher and student is almost erased. The nearly complete absence of hierarchy and the presence of “democratic” nature of education allow students to learn without feeling pressured. Of course, this does not mean that learning suddenly becomes easy. Sleepless nights, stressful deadlines, essays, preparation for seminars - all this remains. But if we talk about the studying process as a whole, then it definitely becomes more pleasant. Often there is no right or wrong answer (perhaps this is due to the specifics of Social Sciences), but there is a pluralism of opinions that drives conversation within classes. There are young teachers who teach relevant subjects with an approach that I have not previously encountered (Digital media and Society), there are more traditional ethnomethodological subjects (Anthropology of sport) and, of course, like any university in the top category, there are SPSS :)
As I said above, Helsinki did not immediately win my heart. January, February and March were extremely poor on sunny days and good weather. Helsinki is also quite an expensive city; you need to be ready for this. But frankly, this is where all the city’s minuses end. Helsinki is a cozy and small city (by Moscow standards, of course), where its rhythm allows you to enjoy what surrounds you. During these 6 months I studied it up and down. Living in Kontula, a sleeping area east of Helsinki, I repeatedly reached the city center on foot, I did the same from Espoo, a small city on the west from Helsinki. Speaking about Helsinki, two things are inadvertently remembered: shopping centers and museums, because you meet both every 100 meters. So for all lovers of shopping and art, this city is sure to appeal to you. In addition, the number of bars per squares 100 meters is also significant (especially in Kalio), so that nightlife takes its ground. But if you drink, then do not forget about health - in Helsinki there is a huge number of “green” zones where you can play sports, run or just disappear for several hours, enjoying the amount of greenery and the virgin beauty of nature.
For 6 months and a specific bummer related to the coronavirus, I still managed to visit many new places besides Helsinki. An hour away by bus to the east is the glorious town of Porvoo, famous for its small colored houses. Two hours by ship in a southerly direction you can sail to Tallinn, the center of which fascinated me with its medieval authenticity. In an hour and a half by train, you can get to industrial Tampere, which is located north of Helsinki. And finally, to the west of Helsinki is the very first city in Finland - Turku. All these cities are worth a visit if fate brings you to Finland.
Apart from all the trips there is a trip to Lapland, prepared by the student organization ESN. In fact, I was incredibly lucky to be there. This requires a small digression.
Ernest Hemingway once argued that he could make up a six-word story that would make anyone cry. He won this contest:
Orig. "For sale: baby shoes, never worn"
I think I could compete with him, though using a few words more:
“The lists of 20 scholarship holders
of the Endowment Fund have arrived. I'm the 21st”
When the first list of 20 scholarship holders of the Endowment Fund was published, I was 21st in it, yes. It was painful, but by February I dutifully accepted my fate. However, something happened that I could not foresee: two people refused, which automatically included me in the list of fellows. It was a shock, euphoric, of course, but a shock. Nevertheless, without thinking twice, I immediately booked a trip to Lapland, which now became possible for me. And I did not regret for a minute. For the first time in my life, I managed to visit a deer farm, ride a harness drawn by husky dogs, see the Northern Lights, and also plunge into the Arctic Ocean. And all this thanks to the will of chance and the Endowment Fund, for which many thanks to him!
As a result, I can confidently say that a trip to the University of Helsinki is one of the best decisions I've ever made, and even the coronavirus could not become an obstacle between me and the best six months in my life. For the first time I managed to live on my own (also in another country!), plunge into the life and the culture of another nation, visit places I would never visit to, and most importantly (besides, of course, studying) make friends from around the world. I am infinitely grateful to all those thanks to whom this trip has become an accomplished reality!