The Finland experience – Exchange Maastricht to Kuopio
It was a sunny afternoon somewhere towards the end of august in Amsterdam, being approximately twenty-two degrees and thus quite okay for a Dutch smelling-the-end-of-summer-day. Nonetheless, I found myself wearing my ultra-hot ski-jacket, winter boots and 2 layers of clothes as I entered the airport of Schiphol, holding my backpack firmly to my chest. The content of it: my warmest sweaters and trousers, carefully selected pictures of family and friends, a Lonely Planet that I bought only one day ago and, last but not least, some Vitamin D supplements.
You could have guessed it by now: I was standing at the beginning of my Erasmus semester, land of destination, FINLAND!
A couple months back I decided to do my Minor in Biomedical Sciences in this beautiful, but relatively undiscovered part of Scandinavia, at the University of Eastern Finland, or UEF. I remember navigating through UEF’s website for the first time and stumbling on their headliner: ‘University of Eastern Finland: In the middle of (k)nowhere!’. Serving as background of the website were some pictures of mirror-looking lakes, stunning landscapes with countless-tree-containing forests, more lakes and more trees. It was therefore not wrongly placed that the campus I wound end up, was defined by the UEF as their ‘Lakeside Campus’, located in Finland’s beautiful lake district, Kuopio.
So back towards the end of August, as I arrived at the campus in Kuopio and feeling like a total newbie, knowing or recognizing nobody or nothing around me. I would be living in my new home with approximately 100 fellow Erasmus students in a street with a name that none of us could pronounce accurately during our first weeks as finish residents (Juontotie. Red).We were housed in buildings that looked like the architect had known at forehand who the inhabitants would be, containing only the most basic equipment one needs to feel as close to home for four months. However, perfect for us ‘temporary tenants’ and reliable looking to help achieve our one and only goal:
To survive the finish winter.
Soon after the semester had started, I applied as a member at ESN KISA and at the Student Union (although it was brought as if compulsory). At the end, I think it really helped in meeting so many people in such a short period of time. I believe that during the first days as an Erasmus student, you should just try to get in touch with as many people around you as possible. Go to social events and to the introduction activities, ignoring their sometimes ‘lame-looking’ names. For me, it made me feel at home very soon and showed me that ultimately, everyone left their hometowns with the same purpose: To make new friends, to get to know Finland and other cultures and most of all, to get the most out of their Erasmus period as possible.
During my Minor in Kuopio, I followed courses at the Faculty of Public Health and Nutrition, being a part of the School of Medicine in Kuopio. I participated in courses like ‘Public Health in Humanitarian Crises’, ‘Infectious Disease Epidemiology’ and ‘Culture, Health and Illness’. The content of the courses was sometimes overlapping, but that was of no problem, since Public Health as a science is very interdisciplinary and I could therefore acquire knowledge within these different subfields. As a third year Biomedical Sciences student, I found it very interesting to learn so much about a total different field within life sciences as a whole. Studying Public Health made me realize that there are so many forces influencing ‘health’ and ‘disease’ which should always be taken into account when performing good (biomedical) research. I now realize that my time in Finland gave me more insight in what I want to accomplish with my study and in which direction I would want to go with my Masters.
Off course, the times I will remember the most of my stay in Finland are all the travelling I did with both my new Erasmus-friends as with people visiting from back home. From the St. Petersburg and Lapland trips organized by ESN to the weekends away visiting National Parks and making camp fires in the middle of the forests. From discovering the southern parts of Finland by car heading from cottage to cottage to spending way too much money on delicious finish mega healthy food in Helsinki, Tampere and Turku. As I saw more from Finland, its country side, cities and its neighboring countries, it truly felt like I got transformed into a Scandinavian resident. And, as my time in Finland passed, I felt more and more comfortable with the finish way of living. I recall just arriving in Finland and being blown away by both the magnitude of the country and the calmness of the people. Everything was so silent here! Finish cities have this perfectly organized infrastructure and give you a feeling of inner rest as soon as you arrive. I fully embraced this calm ambiance and realized how tensed I had been during the last months of my study in the Netherlands.
Looking back, I think this first feeling is one of the reasons I felt in love with Scandinavia the moment I got off the plane. I think I am extremely lucky to have had the opportunity of this amazing experience and will always think back with a smile on my Finland experience. Now, fully adjusted to Dutch life again with all its tensed people and hectic cities, I hope I will keep this Scandinavian love with me as long as I walk on this globe, hoping I will soon return to this beautiful part of it..
Winne van Woerden