I thought for this post I would introduce some of my favourite Erasmus experiences over the last month. I still find it crazy how the time has flown by and that I’ve now been living in Finland for over a month and the two-month mark is fast approaching. I’m really starting to feel like I’m getting to know where I’m based and easing into my new way of life, so I thought I would give you an insight into the typical first month of Erasmus.
I’m living in Oulu which is the fifth biggest city in Finland, just over 600km north of Helsinki, the capital. It’s regarded as Finland’s technology capital and is the home town of the famous Nokia phones.
As we are so far north and only a few hundred kilometres from the Arctic Circle, we currently experience very short days where the sun will not fully rise before 10am and then will set about 4pm. This is a huge contrast to Scotland where it is sometimes grey but still light outside for longer, even in winter. This combined with the temperature are two factors I’m slowly getting acclimatised to. The cold is very hard to explain to people, but in the last few weeks the temperature has been as low as -25 during the day and then we’ve also experienced -30 with the addition of the coastal wind chill. It’s a huge shock to the system and something you’ve really got to watch in case you get caught out.
Top tip: don’t walk outside with wet hair…
However, Finnish life goes on regardless of this weather. They’re a lot harder than us Scottish for sure!
These shorter days mean that when I get time off from university classes I’ve been keen to do as much exploring and sampling of the culture as possible. These are few of my favourites so far!
Yes, Finland does have beaches and Oulu isn’t an exception. 1.5km from the city centre is Nallikari beach. This is a natural beach that I’ve been told in the summer is a haven for locals and tourists with swimmers commonly taking the plunge into the water.
However, we can only dream of summer and with it being so cold outside we can walk over the sea water. This is a crazy experience and really disconcerting as you feel like the ice should crack underneath you!
Really good place to see the sunrise and set, if you feel like braving the extreme cold!
Ice hockey is one of Finland’s national sports and Oulu is passionate about it. As a resident of Finland I decided to bite the bullet and experience what a real game of ice hockey looks like in person.
For those who don’t know, ice hockey is pretty much a full contact game where two teams try to score points against one another. In the UK there isn’t so much contact, but over here both teams will go flat-out against each other to try score maximum points.
The other difference with the Finnish and the Scottish is that the sport is played wherever there is ice. There are also outdoor stadiums and pitches where older men often play during the week.
It’s been awesome to start following and try to make sense of the fast-paced games. Looking forward to the upcoming knockout rounds. But at this point I’m happy to stick with being a spectator!
This is something I was told about before I came to Finland and rightly so. The Finnish sauna culture is world-renowned and is thought of as one of the keys to the Finnish longer and healthier life. In Finland saunas out number cars and it’s thought that each Finnish house will have one fitted. Having lived in Scotland my whole life I have to admit the only time I’ve experienced a sauna was in the local 5-star hotel!
Since coming to Oulu I’ve become an almost weekly sauna visitor and it’s now one of my favourite ways to chill out and relax. Saunas are a way of life here and people use them to discuss the day’s happenings, business and even politics, with most government buildings even having one fitted.
So, what is involved in a traditional Finnish sauna you ask? Having first showered to rinse off before entering, you then sit in the sauna where temperatures are typically between 80 and 90 odd degrees! You do this till you feel on fire, then – and this is where it gets interesting – usually jump straight into snow, or if you feel particularly Finnish, plunge yourself into the freezing cold water of an ice hole and have a swim. You then run straight back into the sauna and warm up. This process is usually repeated three times. Showering off afterwards and then warming up with hot coffee is the best way to revive I’ve found so far!
It’s been awesome to experience this truly unique culture, however I wouldn’t say the ice hole swimming will be happening again any time soon!
The letters ESN will maybe sound familiar to some of you and stands for Erasmus Student Network. This is a non-profit organisation that basically organises every kind of student event possible. Since being here I’ve had trips to Estonia and Lapland, been to countless parties and experienced the delights of ice hole swimming! In the coming month I’m going to be taking part in many more events including a Baltic pirate cruise and trips to Stockholm and St Petersburg. The varied events are a great way to meet more exchange students who are all in the same situation. There’s probably an ESN office at most if not all Erasmus destinations and it’s definitely a great way to meet people from around the world while getting involved in the some really fun activities.
The final area where some consideration should be taken in researching is the language and the country you wish to study in. For Erasmus+ this is typically an EU university in a country that your home university has a partnership with. Out with this, Exchange studies can be almost any country you wish or that are available to you. For the study language if you chose Erasmus+ then the university has an obligation to provide you with classes taught in English, although this may not be the same if you chose to study out with the EU and Erasmus+. For me language and country didn’t really matter as I was ready pretty fixed on Finland and I knew the classes would be in English. Erasmus isn’t designed to be a language barrier for students and a lot of foreign teachers enjoy having an English speaker in the class as it breaks up the everyday norm.
So far, I’ve been really enjoying Finland and yes its been a real shock to acclimatize myself to new cultures, weather and language. I really think the positives out way the cons though and I’m still very happy with my choice to take part in Exchange.