I decided to do my Erasmus exchange abroad in Rovaniemi, Finland – right at the Arctic Circle. Before I left for my adventure, people were telling me ‘You are crazy to move over there, it will be far too cold and too dark!’ I responded: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes” and it couldn’t be truer for the conditions over here. It takes a while until I am properly dressed for – 18 degrees (that is only for a few days, no worries!) but layering is the secret! It also looks quite funny if you look into a mirror after your eyelashes are frozen but nature is truly mesmerising when it is so cold. Sometimes it looks like we have vertical rainbows or two suns in the sky as the cold air reflect the light. We have snow since the beginning of November and everything sparkles. I can tell you, it’s a beautiful winter wonderland! ‘Sisu’ is one of the first Finnish words I learned over here. There is no direct translation to English but it means something like a mix between determination, inner strengths and grit. This is what you learn here in Finland, especially after the traditional sauna and the cooling down part in the snow.
My stay over here has been a ‘back to the nature experience’ with a lot of hiking and campfires in the forest. Occasionally, reindeers are relaxing in our backyard and squirrels are visiting us on our balconies. One of the most stunning things I have experienced so far is the Northern Lights which we could even watch from our student accommodation.As soon as our Aurora apps tell us that there is a high chance to spot the colourful natural wonder we pack some warm tea and snacks and head off to the forest, make a fire and wait for the show to start. At the moment it is already dark at 2 pm which provides us with the chance to even see the so called Aurora Borealis on our way back from university! Also, Rovaniemi is the official hometown of Santa Claus! Santa’s office is located only 10 kilometres from our front door. Everybody can visit him, bake some gingerbread or can take a ride on a husky or reindeer sledge through the surrounding forest. Christmas vibes are all over the place!
I am living in an accommodation for international exchange students and share my flat with two Chinese, two Czechs and my room with one Scottish girl. Often, we invite other people to our flat and everybody brings some traditional food from his or her home country; a very delicious form of cultural exchange! Some of my friends and I used our free time for travelling all the way down to Helsinki which took us 11 hours by bus as Finland is a huge country! We also did a road trip to the Lofoten (a gorgeous group of islands in northern Norway) and travelled to Russia. There we had the chance to explore grand St. Petersburg and totally different Moscow which gave us a great insight into the Russian culture.
Talking about studying, I created my own minor for the exchange which I called ‘International Relations & Globalization’. I have courses in the faculties of law, social sciences and education which gave me a useful overview of different subjects. The Finnish way of studying is very flexible and individual. Classes are small at Lapland University and the examination can be very different from what I am used to back home. Next to an exam and essays, I have to write learning journals, I had to draft my own international treaty in a law course and I took part in simulated international conferences where we negotiated topics such as plastic in the ocean and Arctic oil drilling.
I have enjoyed my stay over here a lot and my fellow exchange students and I cannot believe how quickly the time passed! Also, Fins are great people to have around you! Sometimes it might take a bit more effort on your side to establish contact but when you do so you will find very friendly, open-minded and fun friends for a life time! I can definitely recommend you to do your minor in Rovaniemi. However, be aware that Finland is an expensive country to live in but the student accommodation is relatively cheap. Also, the university is 4 km away from where you live. I use the time on the bike to wake up fully in the morning but you can also simply buy a bus ticket if you prefer that.
When you enjoy nature, look forward to meet a lot of fun people from all over the world and you are ready to build up your ‘Sisu’ in the Arctic – then you will love your time over here!
Written by: Lena