So after a stressful interrogation at Glasgow Airport as to why I didn’t have a visa (because I don’t need one?!) and getting completely lost for half an hour trying to find my apartment (which was round the corner) – all the time wearing a ski jacket in a scarf at 16 degree heat (because I had no room left in my case!), I MADE IT!
So fast forward 2 weeks and I’ve done a lot! Starting to feel a bit more like home now. I now only get lost occasionally rather than every time I try to go anywhere! I’ve done all the sightseeing and today was my first class! Its all starting now! So here is some useful tips I’ve heard so far.
Before I arrived people told me Finnish people were very shy and loved a drink. However, while they definitely love a drink – almost as much as the Scots, I can’t say I have found them to be shy at all. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE speaks English and is more than happy to go out their way to help. While I usually feel bad trying to communicate with locals in English, here everyone I have spoken to has made me feel very comfortable! However this could be a draw back – I met a man who has lived here for 4 years and still isn’t fluent in Finnish because everyone speaks such good English he never gets a chance to practice! But for now I will take it as a blessing!
As I mentioned in my last blog, if you come to Finland on Erasmus you will most likely apply to HOAS for accommodation (and most likely get it!). I am staying in Junailijankuja (which I’m still not great at pronouncing!) which is all exchange students and has a great atmosphere. The rooms are fairly simple but everything is nice enough! It is also right next to the train station where you can take any train one stop (5 minutes) into the centre (and another 10 minute walk to the university!). However other apartments have to pros and cons – I know people living in Kannelmaki which has recently been refurbished to look like an IKEA showroom but is 20 minutes from the centre by train. My only advice for this would be apply fast – I think Junailijankuja is where they will put you first and its best to live with all the other exchange students – friends on your doorstep! HOAS can sometimes be difficult to get a hold of and you often here of complains regarding their administration. I agree it’s not great but remember you are getting your flat for half the rent it would be from the private market! It all balances out.
Cost of Living
So the other thing everyone told me before I left was how expensive life would be. And it is if you’re not careful but I have gathered up some top money-saving tips!
Alcohol – if you like a drink my best suggestion would be bring a bottle or two of vodka with you. Not only does it mean you save some money at the first few parties, you also make easy friends as everyone is drawn to your alcohol! If you don’t bring any over stick to beer, cider or wine until you can get to Estonia. You will quickly realise that trips to Estonia become a way of life, all the Finnish students do it too! You can take a day trip by ferry for around €20-30, that gives you enough time to take some pretty pictures to show your mum and pretend it was a cultural trip as well as load up on the cheap booze (take a suitcase!).
The reason alcohol is so expensive in Finland is ‘Alko’ has a monopoly on all alcohol over a certain percentage (around 12-15%) so the rest isn’t too bad but bars are also expensive. Generally a pint might be around €7 which I generally refuse to pay, however the patriotic part of me paid it for a Brewdog the other night just because I was so excited to see it!. In clubs student deals are around €4 for beer, cider, wine or (if you want to get to know the culture) a ‘Long Drink’, a Finnish drink which is basically gin and grapefruit juice (I’m not entirely sure but its very nice!). So the biggest tip I can give is buy cheap spirits at home or in estonia and do your drinking for the night before you get to the club – I have been reliably told by a Finn that a doorman will never turn you away for being too drunk!
Food – so maybe this should have come before alcohol… Anyway the main tip is go to Lidl and stay away from name brands that will keep costs low enough, nothing has shocked me too much. Also if you are really living the student life on cheese and toast you can still get a few of your 5 a day at lunch. All ‘UniCafes’, canteens located in several buildings on campus offer a lunch for €2.60. This consists of a main meal; side of potatoes, veg or rice; a side salad; bread; and a glass of juice or milk (and unlimited tap water of course). So far I have had fish curry, tacos and lasagne. It is a great way to keep yourself fed well on a low budget!
Top tips for when you arrive
When you arrive you will most likely have a few weeks with not much on before classes start and (if you are lucky like us) good weather! So use your time to explore and get involved in excursions etc. I am off to Estonia and Latvia tomorrow and I also know people who have travelled to Porvoo in their free time. Closer to home there are several museums (which I am waiting to visit when it is too cold to go outside), the cathedral, and the beautiful fortress island of Suomenlinna which is nice to visit in the sun and only a 15 minute ferry ride away!
For now I better be off to start packing for Estonia and Latvia!
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