I wondered if I’d flown to the right place as we landed in a tree lined clearing with a dull sky and the imminent threat of rain. There was no-one to meet me and no pay-phone in sight. Luckily, the introduction to my semester abroad in Tampere, Finland was surpassed in the coming weeks with naked sauna, local cuisine and a group of close international buddies.
I heard about ERASMUS when I signed up for my first degree, but shied away from another set of paper-work. It wasn’t until after a stint of volunteering that I felt ready for further education and a second adventure.
Tampere itself was small with beautiful parks and a true Finnish industrial feel. The beer was expensive, but we found a cheap(ish) local bar and indulged in karaoke culture. It’s a big thing in Finland and some take it very seriously, and sing well.
The University offered a course in Finnish Cultural Studies which I took with a friend from the course, giving us time to spend together. That was something I didn’t expect. To have a group of friends from all over Europe and hear their stories. Working alongside people of other cultures was very enlightening, and I’ve been offered to visit their countries too.
Studying with natives allowed us to try Finnish activities for next to no cost. One student drove us in batches to her lake-side cabin. We drank by the lake and took turns nude in the sauna (though I was too nervous to jump in the freezing lake afterwards). I also got to stay with a friend in Helsinki where she cooked Finnish meat pies and took us for the local tradition of brunch in a graffiti lined, nightclub/café. We visited Corona, a bar owned by director/producer Aki Kaurismäki, and Helsinki Island Fortress by boat.
There were assignments in-between all the fun and moments of crisis when isolated away from everyone outside the main part of town. Cost was another issue, though we received an ERASMUS grant to help cover costs of living. We also got a certificate to commemorate our experience.
I found studying abroad great for learning about local culture; well worth doing if you’re considering further studies and have a hankering for adventure.