Life in Finland is really not a lot different than student life in Toronto, or is it better?

By Brian Wick, exchange student Undergraduate degree Bachelor of Administrative Studies (Honours), from York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, at Tampere University, Tampere, Finland

Before deciding if I should attend this University of Tampere, I investigated other universities in Germany, Denmark and Sweden. For me, Tampere had the best selection of courses offered in the english language. Once I had chosen Tampere as a possible destination, I flew to Finland to see it for myself. As a business student, I felt that I could not accurately assess the school unless I saw it for myself. Since the exchange program with York was new and no other students had had the opportunity to go there, I wanted to be sure that I would be comfortable studying in a place I knew very little about, for a whole year of my life.

I arrived in Finland in the first week of January. This is probably the coldest and darkest part of the year. It really wasn’t all that bad. The temperature was at about -5 C to -10 C during the winter and the days had about 5 hours of light. The snow reflects ambient light, so that even when it is dark, it is light enough.

I met with Maija Rokman of the Business School when I arrived. She spent the day with me showing me the layout of the campus, introducing me to other staff members, bought me lunch and finally matched me up with a Finnish student to get an orientation of the town. If I wasn’t so impressed with what I saw, I would have chosen another university. I really think I made the right decision.

During the fall, the weather was really pleasant. The temperature in September was about 12 to 15 C and in October 4 to 12 F. I think there was frost on the ground once. Because of the vast amount of nature on the doorstep of Tampere, I have taken the opportunity to go hiking in the woods several times. You can take a city bus to the edge of town and then just start walking along hundreds of kilometers of trails.

Although my exchange was with the History department, I also took courses in the Business School, Language Centre, Social Sciences Department, Computer Science, and North American Studies. All of these departments offer courses taught in the English language. The format of the university is completely open so that you can choose whatever interests you and what what you need to complete the requirements of your degree. (I noticed that for some international students, the open format can also be a problem because there is no requirement to do a minimum amount of work.)

Most of the course have a set of lectures, maybe an assignment or exercises and then a final examination. Exams are written on scheduled departmental examination days, and if you have difficulty, or are not fully prepared to write on that day, then there is a second chance (usually scheduled a couple of weeks later.) I have found the professor to be very well informed and generally present very interesting lectures. There is also an alternative way to study. They call this method book exams, where a student will be required to read a couple of books, and then write an exam for the credits.

One of the most challenging courses that I took was Elementary Finnish language. There is certainly no requirement to learn Finnish here, but it is nice to be able to read signs, and newspaper headlines. After a few months, I was quite confident to order food and tickets in Finnish, but without learning the language, it is no problem to get along in the community because most Finnish people understand English and most can speak it very well.

Outside of classroom study, there was a lot more to university life. To keep in touch with the rest of the world, there were computer terminal throughout the university available for everyone to use. I think most students also surfed on the internet everyday -- especially the international students -- where they could get access to news, information and research material for assignments. As soon as you are registered as a student, you are issued an e-mail account to keep in touch with your family and friends. It is very easy to read and reply to messages and it saves having to call home to keep in touch. The computers also offer all of the current software programs for typing assignments and creating reports. All of this is provided free.

To learn about the computer use, how to access the library, and how to find classes, the university has a tutor system. On arrival you are assigned someone who can help with these things, and then you can maintain a relationship with them after the orientation week.

Information about the university was sent to me within a few days of my request. Two months before I arrived in Finland, I had received all of the current fall information about course offerings and dates. By the time I arrived in Tampere, I think I knew more about the university than my tutor.

As a Business student, I am also a member of BOOMI, the Business Students Association. They have a clubhouse two block from the university campus where you can go to relax with a free cup of coffee, meet with other business students, and get involved in all kinds of activities. They held a Finnish style initiation on the first day I was in Tampere (very safe.) I have participated in cottage weekends, rock climbing, floor hockey, and educational workshops, and trips abroad to Sweden, Russia and Estonia, organised by them. It is a great resource!

As a visa student, you are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week in Finland. I had a job teaching English conversational skills to Finnish business people. This also gave me an inside look at how Finnish businesses operate. It is just one more added bonus of studying in Finland.

If you are thinking of going to Tampere, feel free to write to me at my address or by e-mail. I would be glad to answer any questions you have.

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