‘Do it or you will regret it.’ The words of my exchange tutor when trying get us to pack our bags and take up the Erasmus adventure, but would I? Would waking suddenly in the middle of the night and deciding to go to Finland be one of my better life decisions?
Freedom! That is the word that describes the Finnish university curriculum, and providing that your home University is happy with your choices you are onto a winner as there were plenty of subjects taught in English. There were not enough History credits on offer in Tampere from my perspective, so I had to supplement this with courses in politics and social welfare. These latter subjects allowed me to branch out from what I’m used to studying. Both subjects had a Nordic theme, so any pub quiz with a Nordic politics section would suit me down to the ground! This combated some of the concern I had before travelling, asking the question – is it academically worth it? Definitely, it allowed me to expand my knowledge to cover other subjects which I would not have studied otherwise; giving me different views on things, a greater knowledge of politics and, as a result, how Nordic countries conduct themselves. All of this while I enjoyed studying Finnish history- my primary subject.
The teaching was also different. It was fantastic for me to experience something more diverse than the British system, going from lecture and seminar based modules to very different setup. This kept me on my toes and developed my skills in different areas, from independently reading around a subject for book exams, or sifting through information to pass an intensive course; the experience stood me in good stead. The sheer choice on offer meant that you could do any type of module that suited you and in most cases a subject could be studied in more than one way, and was exceedingly flexible. The experience was challenging but enlightening!
I am no linguist, so picking up a language was always going to be difficult. I was fortunate enough that English does happen to be spoken widely. As a result, I was able to get away with basic Finnish centred around ‘Moi’ and ‘Kitos’, with the odd dirty word fellow Erasmus students gave me from their respective languages!!
Of course the academic side is only half the story. When you encounter a new culture and new people you usually end up doing something different. The Erasmus trips that were organised provided many new experiences. The trip to Lapland was perhaps one of the best because we were taught various new activities; from how to make a fire with just a knife and wood, to cross country skiing and ice fishing. Tampere was blessed with an outdoor ski slope which allowed me to ski. Although I have been skiing before the slope allowed me, every so often, to practice and I am a significantly better skier as a result.
The opportunities to travel were enormous. The Erasmus students union offered trips to, Lapland, St Petersburg, Tallinn and Stockholm, as well as weekends away at other locations. There was so much to do I did not have time, nor could I afford, to do them all. The ones I did take part in were amazing; the trips made travel easier, especially to Russia. That trip in particular stood out because in some places it seemed like we had gone back twenty years! I also enjoyed Russian vodka, taxi rides in Ladas (feeling as though I was going to fall through the bottom!), as well as the Hermitage collection.
Making new friends has to be one of the greatest things about Erasmus, I seem to have made friends from everywhere. I have had invites from people to come to visit and I have said the same to others, and since I have been to stay with friends in the Czech Republic and Hungry. A group of us got to know one of the Finnish tutors really well and he invited us to his family’s cottage near Pori. A relaxing weekend ensued with our own sauna by the lake and boats to mess about in. It was my first experience of life outside a Finnish city, save Lapland, and it was great to ‘do what the Finns do’ at weekends.
‘Do it or you will regret it!’ I would not have missed this for anything. I was searching for new experiences and I got them in abundance. One of the best things about Erasmus is that it broadens your mind, your tunnel vision is switched off. It taught me that the UK is not the centre of the universe. There is so much that goes on in the world that I didn’t know went on before and still don’t know, consequently, despite being fairly well travelled, my thirst for knowledge and travel has never been greater.
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