The start of academic journey in Finland
“Welcome to Finland! This is your home university!”
One of the stuff members started the orientation for international students with her strong speech.
In September of 2016, I got into University of Jyväskylä in Finland to pursue my master’s degree in International Business and Entrepreneurship.
Each student got an international tutor, usually a local Finnish student, who helps you get used to new life in several ways.
Thanks to my wonderful tutor, Eleonora, I was able to start my new life smoothly without a big problems nor concerns.
I intuitively knew that this new challenge would bring a lot of brilliant memories, valuable learnings, and fun moments in the international environment.
And my intuition was totally right.
I’d like to introduce some of my experience from my student life as follow.
(You can also check ‘how I ended up in Finland’ and ‘what kind of process of intercultural adaptation I have gone through’ from these posts below.)
In the beginning of each semester, there were many student parties organised by different faculties and student groups.
Especially something very “Finnish” would be a party held at a cottage equipped with sauna near the lake.
Through these kind of parties, I already learned during my first week that alcohol and sauna change Finnish people a lot.
They become very friendly when they are in sauna and when they drink alcohol. If you plan to come to Finland to study, that’s something you have to know.
Also, I have to reveal that one drunken first-year Finnish guy tried to kiss my cheek at my first student party (I managed to avoid), which is now a great (or maybe not) memory.
In addition to student parties, a variety of events were organised at the university or in the city.
One example is a cruise event where you take a boat that goes around the lake and enjoy games or drinking.
There I met another drunken first-year Finnish guy who kept talking to me in Chinese for 2 hours even though I told him that I’m Japanese. Another great memory.
Also, there were various sport-related events where you can join with friends.
Almost all the Finnish students speak English so attending these events were a great way to make local friends as well as international friends.
As most students live in student apartments, it was pretty easy to hang out with friends and meet new people.
For example, I had sauna shift 3 times a week at the communal sauna of my apartment.
Sauna played an important role for daily hangout as well. It enabled me to meet my neighbours and functioned as a place to get to know them.
Another thing I enjoyed a lot was organising a cooking party. Actually, cooking and eating together unites people with different backgrounds easily.
Many of my friends asked me to make sushi. In Japan we don’t often make sushi at home as it’s more like something we eat at restaurants.
However, I didn’t want to disappoint my friends so I learned how to make it from Youtube. (This is a small secret….)
Anyway, I was able to introduce Japanese culture to others and at the same time learn other cultures through food.
My major courses
My major courses included mainly international business, entrepreneurship, marketing, and business strategies.
Most of them were quite lecture-oriented and require either presentations or final papers to complete the courses instead of final exams.
I realised that the Finnish university value group work and try to offer opportunities to interact with other students such as group discussion, group project or group presentation.
That was probably the great way to learn not only the course contents but also how to work with people with diverse background.
I remember that in my first semester, I was a bit struggling with these group tasks as each student has different own value, a way of thinking, and a way to work.
However, when I was talking with some of my like-minded classmates about that, we realised that we were just going through “trainings” to get prepared for professional business life in the global setting.
That realisation helped me a lot to stay positive about daily academic challenges.
In addition to the lectures, some courses provided opportunities to participate several projects with Finnish companies.
For instance, I participated a project of a global Finnish company whose objective was to analyse their social media presence and create strategies and recommendations.
The presentation my classmates and I gave to the management team of the company was even reported in TV news and also in the local newspaper.
I think that Finnish companies are in general quite generous to students when it comes to offering learning opportunities.
Therefore, if you take actions, you are more likely to get more.
The university offered a variety of optional courses in English such as coding, economics, and geography.
I didn’t take many of them due to the limitation of my time but took some courses from the faculty of education.
As Finland is well-known for its unique education system, learning the basics about it taught me another good aspect of this country.
Also, I was surprised at knowing many things that are different from the general Japanese education.
(You can check my blog post here if you want to know about the differences)
After my first academic year, our faculty hold a seminar about master’s thesis.
Based on the topics we have decided, each student got a supervisor.
Overall, it took me nearly a year to finish writing it as I was working at the same time, but I would say that writing master’s thesis was like a marathon.
It can be stressful but it’s important to make a progress little by little.
As tuition fee is free in Finland (except for those outside of EU getting into university after 2016), many professors don’t give you high pressure to finish your thesis.
My supervisor was also very chilling though he was helpful. Therefore, it was not easy to motivate myself and find a reason to finish it.
Luckily I was interested in my topic and thus, I was able to finish it as planned. Writing thesis was great experience but probably I won’t do that again.
Learning Finnish language
All the international students had to take at least the first level course.
As Finnish is very difficult language spoken by only 5.5 million people, so many of them didn’t have high motivation to learn it.
-The grammar is very complicated
-You have to conjugate words all the time in many ways
-Written language and spoken language are very different
However, I personally really like how Finnish sounds.
It sounds beautiful and elegant to me. (Except for when drunken people speak loudly in a bar)
Therefore, Finnish people were happy when I told them that I was still continuing to study Finnish and aimed at being able to speak it fluently someday.
But I have to mention that just learning it at classroom doesn’t help you improve your conversation level much as it focuses more on grammars.
Any tips? No, just speak in Finnish to your Finnish friends!
Learning outside of classroom
My university offers various opportunities for language learning including language cafe and some other language-related events.
One useful system for me was “Each One Teach One”.
By registering Each One Teach One, you’ll find a student who speaks a language what you are studying and at the same time who is studying your mother language.
Luckily I found a Finnish student who was studying Japanese. The idea was that we met up once or twice a week and tried to speak in either Finnish or Japanese.
I think this is a great learning way as you get to learn natural spoken language, not like the one used in textbooks.
Also, I was able to get exposed to local culture by hanging out with this local Finnish student.
Learning languages leads to learning the cultures as well.
This blog post continues to the Part 2, where I write more about what I have experienced and learned from the experience.