First semester of second year (BSc Tourism Management) I took the brave decision to study abroad on ERASMUS in Finland at Mikkeli University of Applied Sciences (MAMK) and it was the best decision I have ever made. Finland is like no other country I have ever visited, it has an abundance of forests and lakes and a lack of people (only five million inhabitants). In Finland they have a concept called ‘Everyman’s Right’ which means you can freely collect mushrooms and berries from the forest, an activity all Finn’s do and they collect enough to store over winter.
Finland’s language is completely unique and the seasons are extreme – experiencing midnight sun in the summer and highs of 30°C in contrast to the winter with as little as four hours daylight and lows of -30°C.
In terms of university teaching, we had a lot more timetabled class time and the lectures were very interactive, we often had group tasks or presentations to complete and present at the end of class. At MAMK there were also ‘intensive weeks’ whereby guest lecturers would come from overseas universities and teach a module, at the end of the week we would sit exams or complete an essay.
MAMK had a gym which students could use free of charge and they also had bowling alleys which were great for a night out! There were three restaurants that students could use for lunch, one was international food with pasta, burgers, curry etc., one was Italian and the other was traditional Finnish food (my favourite) that was all-you-can-eat for around €3. My favourite Finnish meals were kaalikääryleet (cabbage rolls) with lingonberry jam and lihapullat (meat balls) with kermaviili (a meat stock and cream sauce).
I got to experience the Finnish culture when I began teaching a lady (Marja) English who I met at the local college; I visited her summer cottage and sauna on the lake, going to sauna is a big part of Finnish identity. My mum and brother also visited me close to Christmas and we went to Marja’s home for a Finnish Christmas dinner with her family, we had meat, salmon, potatoes, porkkanalaatikko (carrot casserole) and lots of vegetables and for dessert joulutorttu (Christmas tarts).
During my time in Finland I also travelled to Estonia, Sweden, Russia, Finnish Lapland and countless cities in Finland. I made friends from all over the world, I have since visited them in their home countries and we keep in contact via Skype and Whatsapp. One German friend has taken an internship in China, who I visited in January and another from Hungary is studying her masters in Poland and I hope to visit them this year.
I would recommend anyone who gets the chance, to go on ERASMUS, it changed my life!