Archive | January, 2013

Understanding the Finnish Academic System

17 Jan

The academic system differs quite broadly from the one I’m used to in the UK. Main differences include:

  • Relaxed attitude to studying and course choices
  • Different styles of teaching
  • Different methods of studying and assessment

Relaxed attitude to studying and course choices

The Finns relaxed attitude permeates their academic system; not to say that the Finns don’t study hard or expect high achievement, just that they are relaxed about it. I recently met a friend who openly told me she only had one hour of free time per day for the next eight weeks, the rest being spent in classes or sleeping. She said it with the biggest smile and most jovial manner and even tried to arrange for us to have dinner at the weekend. I thought she was mad and tried to offer support, but she was completely unconcerned.

The academic support staff are also very laid back about things. In my first week in Oulu I went to my academic co-ordinator all panicked and worried because I didn’t know what I was studying or what I should study or how to sign up for anything. She told me: ‘As long as your home university approves it you can study anything you like’. And just like that, the doors opened and she personally took me to the room where I could register for courses. She did all the talking and boom, it was done. Last term I studied such a mix of courses, from Finnish Literature to Sami Culture to Nordic Mythology to Social Interactive Perspectives to Language Learning (that last one is a bugger to say quickly!). This term I am taking British and Irish Art, North American History, Beat Literature and English History, to name but a few. In England I get four choices, two of which are taken from a list of compulsory modules – boring huh? The great thing is there are barely any deadlines for registering for courses (although the popular courses fill up quickly) and you can change your mind easily if you want to. Simples.

Different styles of teaching

The Finns are known for their quiet nature and ‘less is more’ attitude to speaking, however this is not so in the classroom. Lecturers have confessed to us foreigners that the Finnish way of teaching is to talk and talk and talk and talk and zzzzz…. You get my point. But it’s not useless information – no, they are knowledge banks of expertise in their fields and very often have a lot of interesting things to say, they just don’t know how to say it in an interesting way. That said, they all welcome questions and comments in their lectures, which gives them the air of an academic discussion rather than a boring lecture, and has resulted in many fascinating debates. It’s best to get the questions in before the class has drifted off though, and if you’re quick to lose attention take a dictaphone, trust me. It’s also common to see Finnish students knitting in class – to keep themselves awake perhaps?

Different methods of studying and assessment

Don’t panic but – there are no reading lists! For regular classes if you need or want a reading list you’ll need to approach the teacher directly. Often the teacher expects you to learn everything you need to from their lecture, which is why you don’t provide book lists  – but if you’re like me and you want to read around the subject they’ll be happy to provide you with some sources. Another big difference is the use of a type of assessment known as ‘book exam’ – this means independently reading one, two, three or more books and going into an exam to answer questions about them. Daunting, right? However, it’s pretty standard practice here, especially for foreign students. Upside is that you don’t have to drag yourself through the cold to class. Downside is it can be hard to find focus for your reading and you may feel a little lonely.

Another differing method of assessment is known as the ‘learning diary’ – a long essay which is really just a reflection of your thoughts on the topic and can be shaped and focused however and on whatever you like. As long as you show that you know what you’re doing and fill it with your own questions, argument and answers you’ll be fine. I really enjoy this emphasis on your own views and opinions, as it’s something that was stamped out of us Brits early on in our education and it never really found its way back into my writing.

To Conclude

The Finns do it differently, but different isn’t bad. In fact, I think it’s working rather well. My experience so far has been fantastic and I feel very well supported at university. It can be daunting at first but the Finnish teachers know this and are incredibly kind and helpful.


Now, if all of that was super dull, here are some pictures from today. Minus twenty and deathly cold but beautiful blue skies reigned supreme. Lovely.





What’s Wrong With Finland?

15 Jan

Nothing. Nothing at all –  so why is so little known about it?

Before I came here, and when I returned to the UK for the winter break, I spoke to many people who said that they didn’t know much about Finland. Even I didn’t know that much before I arrived, and my research revealed little extra.

I consider Finland to be something of a hidden gem, a place of mystery and beauty – exotic, but not in a Thailand-is-exotic kind of way. Exotic in that the sky and water blend together on a sunny day, when they both turn to an incredible blue. Like in this picture taken at Hailuoto. If it hadn’t been for the direction of the tree growth I could have been upside-down and not known the difference.

In the winter the landscape reminds me of a gem – always beautiful, always glistening, no matter what you wear it with. Sun, blue skies, grey fog and cloud, or snow fall. It goes with everything and never fails to impress. Compare this photo with this and you’ll see what I mean. Imagine waking up to that every day.

Many think that outside of Helsinki there’s little to do, but I think these people are just looking in the wrong places. There’s plenty to do in Oulu – visiting the market hall, going to the Finnkino to watch a movie, catching up on your culture at the theatre or just taking a walk through the park and along the river’s dams. Even when it’s dark there are so many clubs to take part in, you’re spoilt for choice!

That said, the capital is still worth a visit and it’s nice to feel part of a busy city once in a while. Busy, did I say? Think London but taken down about a hundred notches. There are people going to work, sightseeing, shopping and just enjoying the air (which is still fresh and clean, even in the city), but an air of calm exudes the place. A twenty minute ferry from the market square will take you to the Suomenlinna Fortress, filled with grass and trees and sea views, the perfect way to relax on the weekend. There are art galleries and museums galore, the Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum and the Finnish National Museum being my favourite to date.

Further north than Oulu there are national parks with opportunities for hiking or skiing, depending on the season, and plenty of chances to see the local wildlife. There’s Rovaniemi and the Santa Claus village (best visited in December) where there’s plenty of opportunities for husky sledding in winter – one of my favourite memories!

So, what’s wrong with Finland? Nothing. Perhaps it’s better to ask: what’s wrong with the people who aren’t visiting?


One of the worst things about snow…

14 Jan

… is the lemon yellow colour that it goes when dogs have been nearby. Even worse if you’re following a common dog-walking route, where it’s splattered left, right and centre. It totally spoils the look of winter and  has made my morning walk very disappointing indeed.

Today was my first class, ‘Ireland: Poetry of a Nation’ with Mr John Braidwood – an excellent lecturer! He had us all laughing so much, as well as learning a great deal. Excellent start to my classes =)

Here are the promised pictures of the (nice white) snow:



Beautiful, but a little haunting don’t you think?

Even in Finland….

13 Jan

… kids still graffiti giant male members onto bus stops. In ice.

Seen on my way home from Finnkino with a Finnish friend, it was lovely to see her and catch up. We saw the move ‘Anna Karenina’ which was interesting – not what I expected and not sure how much I like it, but worth seeing nonetheless. The style was very different and quirky.

Other than that not much else has happened today, although I did go for a short walk (and forgot to take my nice new camera) and all the trees are white, and piles of snow lay everywhere. I must take a picture on the way to class tomorrow. My first class of the semester!

Better get off wordpress and get some beauty sleep =)


A Finnish Winter

12 Jan

It’s a beautiful day today – blue skies!



Hello Oulu!

12 Jan

I’m back in Oulu after a long break in the UK, and from blogging. Woops, lazy me! I got caught in a little bubble there and spent the last ten days soaking up as much time with my boyfriend as possible. Leaving him for five months was so hard!

Here’s a quick recap of my experience in Oulu and Finland so far:

  • Moving to Finland – something that I never thought I would do, and right up until my departure I wasn’t sure that I could do!
  • Cycling to Hailuoto Island – One of the longest and craziest bike journeys that I’ve participated in! It led to me making a lifelong friend and seeing one of the most beautiful places in Northern Finland.
  • Getting to Know The University – and the different customs, habits and procedures. I really like it here and feel very comfortable at the university. As an exchange student I’m also really grateful for the level of support that I’ve received here.
  • Study Trips – I’ve seen Oulanka and Norwegian and Finnish Lapland, and for free! Thanks to my department for arranging these!
  • Exploring the Capital – on two trips with two groups of friends, I fell in love with the city and had a blast walking its streets and visiting the museums.

Hope you all had a great New Year! Let’s see what 2013 brings =)

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