When you arrive in Helsinki, your first visit to the University will most likely be for orientation. There is a general orientation day followed by a few days faculty orientation at a later date. General orientation is not strictly speaking compulsory but if you are able to go do! As I have mentioned before, the Erasmus experience is quite paperwork-heavy and I have often felt lost in amongst it all. The solution to helping yourself through it is attend orientation! Here you can get everything sorted and signed and ask any questions you have. You can also get a number of things sorted that will help you feel more settled in your new home – you can sign up to the Erasmus Student Network (which organises nights out and trips throughout the year) and get the paperwork necessary to purchase a travel card.
The travel card is a lifesaver budget-wise. If you arrive a couple of days before orientation don’t purchase a travel card for any longer than to last you up to orientation as once you register yourself as a student you can get it much cheaper! I have one to last me until Christmas which works out at €5/week and I use the transport at least twice a day. This covers trains, metro, buses, trams and the ferry to nearby islands! This means you can get your travel all paid for and means you don’t have to budget for it as you go.
Faculty orientation will then follow – this involves some presentations by senior members of staff in the faculty about general life in the faculty and an academic writing course to make sure everyone is on the same page whens starting essay assignments. The writing style is largely identical to Glasgow but it helps to get concrete information on it to save you worrying over technicalities when submitting essays.
For law students, at the faculty orientation there will also be a presentation by the mentors for the moot teams about joining the competitions. The University of Helsinki enters several international moot competitions including Manfred Lachs, Phillip C. Jessup and Telders and, as Helsinki is usually the only university team in Finland to enter the competition, its straight to the international rounds! This is a great opportunity to anybody interested in International Law and/or mooting. Though experience in neither is necessary – I have been selected to be on the Telders team and I am only currently studying international law and have only mooted once in my life, so don’t let that put you off applying. Not only is it fantastic experience to moot on an international stage (networking as you go, of course), you are also graded on it (16 ECTS) so the University of Glasgow are happy to count it towards your degree if you get a good grade – two birds, one stone!
It seemed for most of us that, while we had arrived for and attended orientation, classes didn’t start for another few weeks – this is your perfect chance to get some travelling and sightseeing in before the work starts. It was my flatmates 21st soon after we arrived so a few of us planned a trip to Tallinn in Estonia and Riga in Latvia. You can do this fairly inexpensively by getting the ferry to Tallinn and then a bus from Tallinn to Riga. Of course, once you get there life is quite cheap so you can treat yourself! Tallinn is a lovely old town with lots to see. If you want to see the museums you may need to give yourself more than a day (or be more organised than us) but you can see most of the town in a day. The nightlife was also good, though we were told our choice was limited as we were there on a Wednesday and some places were shut – so maybe go at the weekend if you want a full choice of bars and clubs.
We then got the bus to Riga which takes about 4 and a half hours (great chance to get some sleep). Here we didn’t get to see so much, it is a very nice town to walk round but a bit bigger than Tallinn’s old town so if you want to do it justice maybe consider giving it another day. There are, however, lots of nice markets and interesting shops to wander round. Again the nightlife was good – we stumbled across an Erasmus party so everyone was very friendly!
If you are as lucky as us you might get a few days or weeks of the end of summer before it gets cold and rainy – as well as travelling, take this opportunity to see Helsinki before you have to spend your whole time indoors! I haven’t visited the National Park; zoo; or theme park, Linnanmäki yet but hoping to squeeze them in over the next few weeks! I also know some who have spent the afternoon in the nearby old town of Porvoo which they recommend (though warn that there is not a great deal to see so maybe only give yourself a few hours!). So get as much in as you can before the tutorial work starts – I better be off to get that done now!
Again if you have any questions let me know – email@example.com