Finland is one of the best kept secrets in Europe. It’s history as a battleground between the East (Russia) and West (Sweden) is evident today in everything from its unique architecture to rich cultural tradition.
Almost 30 thousand international students study in Finland each year, most from China, Russia, and Germany. Popular destinations in Finland for students are Helsinki, the capital, Tempere, the second largest metropolitan area, Turku, Oulu, Vaasa and Jyväsklä.
Continue reading for more information about studying abroad in Finland.
Helsinki is the obvious choice for students who want to be in the center of it all. The city boasts beautiful modern architecture next to remnants of the Russian era, nightlife, an ever-evolving restaurant scene, design district, and for the sailor’s among us, it’s surrounded by the sea. You will see the locals skiing, kite surfing, or ice fishing on the water after the ice grounds their sailboats for the winter. Helsinki is home to 1.5 million of Finland’s 5.4 million people and is the most popular destination in the country for study abroad students. Helsinki has more universities and polytechnic schools than any other city, making for a vibrant academic and social atmosphere. Helsinki's top universities include the University of Helsinki, for the sciences and social sciences, Hanken, for economics, Aalto University, and the University of the Arts, for music, theater, and fine arts.
If you want a smaller city, Tampere may be the place. It sits between two huge lakes and was the center of industry in Finland for years, earning it the nickname “The Manchester of the North.” Tampere is also home to the championship tournament of kyykkä, a Finnish game involving wooden bats and pegs. This event draws thousands of students to the city in February, dressed in funny costumes and drinking plenty of Minttu and hot chocolate to stay warm. Tampere is home to two excellent universities, the University of Tampere and the University of Technology.
Planning Your Trip
Before you can choose a specific program, you must decide what you would like to get out of your study abroad experience. Consider these important factors when researching various programs.
Because Finland is not a common study abroad destination, there are few direct exchanges between universities. An important aspect of Finnish education is that it’s free, at all levels, for all people. For this reason, American students may find Finland an attractive choice for graduate school.
Many students studying in Finland take a mix of undergraduate and masters courses. There is a high degree of academic freedom in Finland, so there aren’t usually strict prerequisite rules, or even attendance policies. A student is not a customer, and is expected to manage the progress of their studies on their own. Additionally, no grades are recorded until exams are taken, and you have two chances to retake an exam - only the best grade appears on your transcript!
It’s hard to find a Finn these days that doesn’t speak English. If you want to learn either Finnish or English, courses are offered at all universities. But be warned: what you learn in class isn’t what you’ll hear on the streets. Finnish is severely shortened when spoken. Many programs at Finnish universities are taught entirely in English.
Student housing is very affordable in Finland. Most students live in apartments on campus or in the surrounding area. Incoming international students must arrange accommodations for themselves, which often means a waiting list in the capital region. Each university will send accepted students a list of possible housing options, so the process will be easy even if it’s long
American students need a student residence permit if they plan to study in Finland for longer than three months. The paperwork can be submitted online, but a trip to the nearest Finnish Embassy or Consulate is also required for identification purposes. Students are also required to have insurance to cover hospital stays, although this is inexpensive and most universities offer a plan for you.
Social Life and Student Culture
Finland isn’t much on formality. If you need to call a CEO, go ahead, and remember that no one ever uses Mrs. or Mr. However, Finland is also a very fair country, so if there’s a rule, Finns won’t break it. Finland’s relaxed style extends to the social scene. Most Finnish parties include trips to the sauna, so bring a towel to any gathering. A swim in the sea is also a must - sometimes, it’ll even mean diving into a hole in an icy lake. Many families have a summer cottage in the archipelago or on a lake, where they retreat to for the month of July. If you’re luck enough to get an invite, don’t miss it. In late summer and fall you can pick wild blueberries and mushrooms to your heart’s content.
Most universities organize trips to Lapland, where there will be reindeer and huy--drawn sleds, cross-country skiing and many other fun snow adventures. Visit the original Santa Claus and cross the arctic circle in Rovaniemi while you’re that far north. There’s also student ski opportunities in the spring and excursions to Russia and other neighboring countries. Students can take a cruise from Helsinki to St. Petersburg for up to three days without obtaining a visa. Other popular destinations are Stockholm and Tallinn, Estonia.
Because education in Finland is free, there aren’t many scholarships available. However, there may be some resources available to help fund your trip to Finland.
- The Center for International Mobility is a good resource to see what’s out there, although most opportunities are scholarships for doctoral students.
- The American-Scandinavian Foundation also offers some scholarships.
- More Study Abroad Grants and Scholarships »