Tag Archives: Oulu university

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.





58: Oulun Yliopisto

28 Oct

I haven’t posted many pictures of the campus, and none of the interior, so I’m using that as an excuse to put my essays aside for a little while.

Oulu University website tells me that it was founded in 1958 and currently has around 15, 500 students. There are 400 incoming exchange students and 350 outgoing, which is a lot! during orientation they said that this year was the most international students that they’d ever had.



These are dotted all about the campus – you can leave your coat, free of charge, for the day. It’s a great idea, but I admit I haven’t been brave enough to do it yet, in case my coat gets accidentally  picked up by someone else! (this happened to a friend of mine last week, he got it back eventually though!)


This is the are next to the main restaurant, it’s a handy place to meet people. The grey screen is a touch screen device which shows you what’s going on in the city in the week.


Most of the signs have Finnish and English ^^


Chess, anyone?


This place does the best coffee (in my opinion) but don’t go there at lunch, it’s manic!


Coat racks and day lockers.


Pegasus library


Cute, aren’t they? I’d love one for my bedroom.

Pegasus library has three floors, computers rooms, study desks, silent study areas, a reading room and…


… this little gem. All the free newspapers and magazines you could want to read. Brilliant!

As campuses go, this one is pretty nice. And it’s all connected, so once you’re inside you don’t need to go back out to get to another class =)

Hope everyone has had/is having a nice weekend!



56: Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow…

26 Oct

So I haven’t got much to say about this week except that, as week’s go, it was bad. Perhaps my worst since I’ve been here in Oulu.

However, after a couple of days of watching Gilmore Girls, eating chocolate and generally being very soft on myself I was cheered up by the snow! It’s like it came just for me (at least that’s what I’m telling myself!)






52: Phew!

22 Oct

Okay, okay, okay, I am a BAD blogger. It has been nearly two weeks since my last blog, BUT I have an excuse.

Largely my time has been taken up with classes, lunching, essays and studying at home! I have managed to have a little fun too though.

Here’s what I’ve been up to, in pictures =)

A trip to Oulanka National Park, two days of hiking, delicious Finnish food and fun with my classmates. It was a great experience and I got to spend a lot of time with people who I have classes with daily but never get the chance to chat to. It’s a very beautiful place that I would highly recommend to everyone!

Oulanka was followed by a trip to Pannukakkutalo for some yummy yummy pancakes =) I had reindeer and smoke cheese for dinner and banana and caramel for dessert. Delicious!

The weather turned from this….

…. to this, within the space of a weekend.

I also met my kummi mother for a trip to the local art gallery which was great (although I forgot my camera so I didn’t get a chance to take any pictures!) and the cake was amazing!

This weekend I went to a very international pop quiz at my friend’s apartment, where I spent some time with friends and made a couple of new ones. Yesterday I tried macaroni casserole at my Finnish friend’s house, it was great!

Now I have to face a ton of essays (I’m currently working on five, with another three or so to follow) but it’s autumn break this week so hopefully I will have more time to write.

Hei hei!

39: The Irish Festival and Rovaniemi

9 Oct

I have been awfully neglectful of my blog in the last week. I’ve been so busy here – trying to study, socialise, live, sleep, eat… one of them has to go, I’m sure of it. While I’m enjoying every second of my time here it’s hard to get time to stop, or even slow down. 

Last week saw the Irish Festival come to Oulu, the most northern celebration of Irishness that exists, so I’m told. And they seem very proud of this fact here in Oulu. I began by seeing the Swedish band ‘Turas’ play at Bar Hemingway in the city centre. The relatively small (but incredibly cosy) bar was packed come 9pm and the band was bang on time to start. They played lively Irish jigs and one of the group sang a Irish song alone – a brave feat in front of so many. The Guinness tasted great and flowed from the tap and during the second half a number of students demonstrated their skills for Irish dancing. We finished the night with an ever-so-slightly tipsy bike ride home in the drizzle that’s fixed itself over the city.

Friday night we caught the movie ‘One Hundred Mornings‘ at the Valve Cultural Centre, another hidden gem (for me, anyway). A very intimate cinema sits on the second floor, which was packed for the showing. A dark, edgy, though-provoking movie, ‘One Hundred Mornings’ didn’t disappoint. Almost at the other end of the spectrum was ‘Parked’, the movie that was showing Saturday night. It was sold out and I could understand why. It was a hilarious, inspiring and slightly melancholy story about a homeless man who was living in his car. The acting was top-notch, the actors brilliantly cast. 

Not content with my extra-curricular activities of the week I decided to join my groups of friends in a trip to Rovaniemi on Sunday. We left at 7.55am and reached the town around 10.30. The train was comfortable, roomy and on time – the opposite of British trains. I love the landscape of Finland. We stopped for a few minutes next to this place:

One of the girls we were with began squawking: ‘Why are you taking pictures? It’s so ugly!’

I couldn’t believe it! These settlements dotted the railway line, places of life and of work; real people live here and work to survive and that is what makes it beautiful. It’s not dressy or fancy, but it’s a brilliant example of survival, planning, sturdiness and determination. Everywhere at the moment we see these huge piles of logs where people are preparing for the winter and gathering the supplies to help them through it.

We arrived at Rovaniemi and visited the library which housed a small art exhibition of Sami art. it was very beautiful and thought provoking, but everyone was keen to get to ‘Santa’s Village’ – which has reminded me that I must go to the art gallery in town and soak up some culture next week. 

Santa’s Village was a little disappointing, I have to say. Maybe our expectations were too high. It was pretty, yes, and there were lots of shops with quaint little gifts and cheesy Christmas decorations, and beautiful hand-crafted bowls and the suchlike. There were many cafes and places to eat and the buildings were all made of rustic wood, but that was really all there was to it. We met Santa and he was a neat guy, he let my friend hug him and another was allowed to touch his beard, but that was the highlight and it was over in about ten minutes. 

We went back to the city centre and hiked up a nearby hill – the name of which I have forgotten but which I will look up. It was most hilly area I have seen in Oulu thus far, and it was beautiful. There was a brilliant lookout tower near the top (I think, we didn’t actually go any further) which gave us a great view over the city. After this we headed back to town and sat in (another) Bar Hemingway until it was time for our train. I managed to practice my Finnish that day and think I did pretty well, and we had a great laugh. We were all shattered by the time we got home and had to cycle home in the rain, but it was a great experience.

Here are some more pictures from the day:

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Hopefully this post has  not been too lazy! Admittedly it has been written in haste, and whilst I’m supposed to be working on a presentation and an exam for tomorrow. I will do better next time!

In the meantime, have a good week =)

32: Kummi Family

2 Oct

Well my kummi family were lovely, the day went well – despite my nerves! Kummi means ‘godmother’ or ‘godfather’ and we also have a ‘kummi’ student who helps us move in and settle into Oulu. While I have only seen mine twice other people have gone on trips with their kummi and meet up regularly for activities.

My ‘kummi mother’ picked me up from my apartment and took me to her daughter’s place downtown. They were both really friendly and we chatted and got to know each other a little. Her apartment is great, very spacious and modern, I was quite envious!

Then we went to their family home, just me and the mother, and met her husband and two cats. We sat down to an afternoon tea together and it was great, she had made so much food – blueberry pie, reindeer meat rolls, cloudberry compote with leipajuusto, it was delicious. We chatted for a good few hours and talked about the place and my hometown and my interests, and drank lots of cups of coffee.

My ‘kummi father’ dropped me off at my apartment and I said farewell. We haven’t any definite plans but we have discussed the idea of ice-fishing and baking together which will be nice.

With all my extra energy from the copious amounts of coffee I went for a brief bike ride to a nearby lake. My camera doesn’t do the colours justice, but it was beautiful.

Finnish Food Mistakes

28 Sep

Two typical Finnish foods have been recommended to me this week and, sadly, they have not lived up to the yummy yummy pulla that I last sampled. 

Food numero yksi:

Salmiakki, aka salted licorice. Sounds odd, but worth a try. So I thought, anyway. The result: had to pick them out of my teeth in the middle of the street and throw them away. My tongue felt like a slug fizzing and shrivelling from salt. 

(By the way, on your first attempt don’t put two in your mouth in one go). 

Food numero kaksi:

Villi, aka goopy salty sour yoghurt something. I peeled back the lid to find a crust on top, not unlike that found on clotted cream. ‘Okay,’ I thought. ‘It smells bad, but if it resembles clotted cream in one way…’ 

Believe me, nothing else about it resembles clotted cream. It tastes a little like unwashed feet smell and it has a consistency of PVA glue, the kind you get given at school for art class.

I still cannot get the taste out of my mouth. Next time I will stick to foods in the bun-and-cake families. 

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