I arrived to Finland about 3 weeks ago. My mission was to take a marketing course for three weeks through Mamk University of Applied Science in Mikkeli. I arrived with four other students from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. We flew in through Helsinki on a Sunday night and missed our bus to Mikkeli in the morning. It was quite the adventure trying to figure out our transportation to the university which was about a three hour bus ride north of Helsinki. I learned quickly if someone did not speak English, there was a 50% chance that they spoke Russian. Luckily for me, I speak both English and Russian. Finnish is a difficult language and most of the Finnish people do not even like it. We ended up finding a bus and were only two hours late for class.
View of Mikkeli from their highest point in town.
The Nordic summer is quite the experience. The sun never really sets; it just goes from one side of the horizon to the other instead of vertically falling down. The winters on the other hand sound a bit depressing where there is only sunlight for four hours a day, unless you go to Lapland which is farther north in which there is no sun at all. The students at the university like to have summer barbeques. At 11:00 pm, you look at your watch and are shocked because you thought it was still 8:00 pm. Mamk University hosts many international students, Russian being most predominate then Chinese, Vietnamese, Germans and a mix of African and Middle Eastern. Almost all classes are taught in English. Finland’s education system is paid fully by taxes so full-time students here do not have to pay a dime, not even fees. They only have to worry about housing and food which is not bad at all since tuition is taken care of.
The apartments (Dorms)
Traveling through Finland reminds me of northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. There are over 180,000 lakes and much of them are connected through waterways. It is very green in the summer here and the woods are full of beautiful trees, berries, and mushrooms. This year it was unusually cold and rainy. Bikes are the main way to get around the town and the school provides bikes for rent to all students. It is unusually quiet since everyone bikes. Yes, there are cars here but they are almost unnoticeable. The sidewalks are made for bicycles and pedestrians which is a thrilling experience.
Small lake walking distance from the apartments
The people in Finland take full advantage of the summer here since it does not last long. The population is just over 5 million and the number of cottages are just under half million. Everyone has a cottage that they can go to on the weekends; if not theirs, another family members’ or friends’. Every weekend there was something to do. During my first weekend, a group of us went camping. We took a boat to an island on Lake Saimaa, one of Finland’s biggest lakes. We enjoyed barbecuing, volleyball, tubing and of course, a sauna by the lake. Being in a sauna in Finland while a cold rain fell while the water was perfectly still and cold to jump into was a great experience. It was a little taste of heaven.
Barbecuing by the lake with great friends (Finnish, Russian and Chinese)
The sauna by the lake
The following weekend, I was invited with three others to a cottage of a Finnish family. Again, we boated, fished and experienced the sauna! The family was the nicest ever and we ate fresh fish and had excellent Finnish dishes and drinks. During the last weekend in Finland some of the German students organized a canoe trip for one of the guy’s birthday. It was a 20 kilometer ride with a barbecue ending with a walk to the bus stop; it was an exhausting day. We did not have time for the sauna this time.
The cottage on the lake, boating and fishing Finnish style
Finland was the best ending of a Euro trip that anyone could ask for. The four weeks were bitter sweet knowing that it would all be ending soon. I had to balance the course workload at Mamk while have taking weekend trips and making new lifelong friends. However, it was an unforgettable experience. I am writing this in the cafeteria at the University and thinking how much I will miss this amazing place. This will be my last post being in Europe but more will come as a get back to the States and collect my photos and start recalling more great times.
Thanks for reading my posts and keep following the blog for more to come. I want to encourage everyone, students especially, to travel/study abroad at least once in your life. Many colleges and universities offer great exchange programs and give scholarships and grants for them. By being a student, it is absolutely the best way to meet people and learn from other cultures. Typically tourism will never give this kind of experience. Feel free to message me if you want some tips or advice on how to find opportunities to travel abroad as a students. Moi Moi! (Finnish good bye)