Name: Matthew Diamond
Program: Semester Exchange at the University of Oulu in Oulu, Finland
Term Abroad: Fall semester during senior
Why Finland? That’s a question a lot of people asked me before I left, when I came back, and even while I was there, and one I always enjoy answering.
I’ve always been intrigued by European cultures and in particular Scandinavia, this interest leading to my studies in Anthropology, so when I learned about the Scandinavian Studies program at the University of Oulu in Finland I leapt at the opportunity. I was aware of Finland in a general sense, even having met some Finns on their own study abroad experiences in the United States, but I was by no means an expert. Few people know about Finland, a country of about 5 million people in the far north of Europe with a language so far out that even Finns don’t understand each other. Luckily for me, English language is taught in all Finnish primary schools and the Scandinavian Studies program offered courses in English and that was a huge factor in deciding to go. No language experience necessary!
The city of Oulu, often called the “Capital of Northern Scandinavia”, is comparable in size to St. Louis and is the largest city in the area. It has the youngest population in Finland, partially due to the University of Oulu and the high number of young professionals employed in the local tech companies and as such has a very active night life in the city center, where coffee shops, malls, and dance clubs can be found. The nature around the city is just as exciting. Oulu, located on the Gulf of Finland, has many beaches for swimming and boating in the warm weather, but during my stay (Fall/Winter) the main attractions were the numerous wooded paths that honeycomb the area. Oulu has miles of biking and walking trails throughout the city, many of which go through copses of trees or recreation parks. It is not uncommon for friends to go berry picking or mushroom hunting right next to their apartments.
It’s difficult to compare the US and Finnish university systems because they’re quite different and it took some getting used to. Some of my courses only lasted two weeks with a class every day and others took place over half the semester with a meeting every week. The only determining factor is the instructor and activities. Two of the courses included study trips and I highly recommend taking part in as many as possible. In “Humans and Environment” the class, all international students, went to the Oulanaka National Park in the east of Finland along the Russian border where we learned about nature use and conservancy, went on hikes, and learned about Finnish ecosystems. My Sami Culture course involved a trip through Norway and Northern Finland to learn about and meet Samis, the only indigenous people of Europe, and their lifestyles. Both of these school trips took place over several days and were great experiences for bonding with classmates and learning about Finland. The student culture is also very different in Finland. As an exchange student you will be invited to join the Erasmus Student Network which plans all kinds of activities and parties, but there are also many “student guilds” (university major programs) which hold their own parties, rallies, and even cottage weekends. They’re easily recognized by the colorful suits they wear and the bright patches on them.
The biggest reason I can give for going to Finland is because it’s a lot different than anywhere else and very few people go there. Finns are rather quiet, but they’re lifelong friends when you get to know them. Also, Finland is one of the best places in the world if you have an interest in nature and outdoor activity like hiking, camping, and the like. If you’re looking for a quality education, companions, and a bit of adventure, I can recommend no place more than Finland.