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What's it like being an Erasmus exchange student in Finland?

Coming to chilly Finland to study may seem daunting but great things can happen when you get out of your comfort zone.

JJ Clarke and Tirna Slevin, Yle News' work trainees who came to Finland via the Erasmus-plus programme in February 2020.
Image: Yle News / Mark B. Odom

Erasmus-plus is an EU programme supporting education, training, youth and sport across Europe. Its 14.7 billion euro budget helps around four million students gain invaluable and unforgettable experiences around the world.

A handful of those Erasmus students, like Yle News' trainees, JJ Clarke and Tirna Slevin, come to Finland. JJ and Tirna spent most of their three-week stint talking to other young people - from near and far - who've also done Erasmus.

Story continues after audio.

This week APN takes a look at what life is like being an exchange student in Finland. You can listen to the podcast via this embedded player, Yle Areena, Spotify, iTunes or your normal pod player using the RSS feed.

Audio: Yle News

The roving reporters took their microphones on a couple hours' train journey north, to the city of Tampere. There, they met with Mara and Kim, two Erasmus exchange students from Germany who study media at Tampere University of Applied Sciences' Mediapolis campus.

They told what life as a student in the country's third largest city is like, offering tips on everything from leisure activities to how to find the cheapest food. They also talked about their experiences in making new friends and how "getting out of their comfort zones" has actually helped them to enjoy the experience.

The pair said they shop for groceries at their local Lidl supermarket, saying it is the cheapest option, and much like the Lidl stores they have at home in Germany.

Being Irish, JJ and Tirna had never been to an ice hockey match before, much less met a professional hockey player - until they came to Finland, that is. American Brian O'Niell plays forward for team Jokerit of the Kontinental Hockey League and has been living in Helsinki for the past four years.

Coming from North America where people are used to small talk, O'Neill said he found it interesting how direct Finns tend to be.

Small talk that rings true

"If you ask Finnish people how they are doing, they will give you a legitimate answer - they’ll say 'not great actually' as opposed to saying 'I'm fine, everything is good.'"

Brian said the hockey fans and reporters are quite direct and up-front about their feelings, too.

"The reporters won't say stuff like 'Oh, you are having a down month,' they will straight up ask you why aren’t you scoring."

APN also talked to a few students who study at Business College Helsinki. One of them, Johanna Kivimäki from Finnish Lapland said her Erasmus experience in the United States made her more confident.

"I was pretty shy before I did [Erasmus]. But I became more outgoing because I had to talk to people and make friends,"

Another Business College student from the UK said he's figured out how to eat well - and affordably, which is a key factor for students on tight budgets.

"One of the things I love in Finland is [salmon] soup. It's called lohikeittö here. Supermarkets can be expensive here, so I mostly look out for discounts and special events," he said.

JJ and Tirna also learned there also are some downsides to studying abroad for extended periods - the main two being homesickness and not having access to familiar favourite foods. But, according to everyone they met, living and studying abroad has more benefits than drawbacks.

Join the conversation

If you have any questions, or would like to share something on your mind, just contact us via WhatsApp on +358 44 421 0909, on our Facebook or Twitter accounts, or at yle.news@yle.fi.

The All Points North podcast is a weekly look at what's going on in Finland. Subscribe via iTunes (and leave a review!), listen on Spotify and Yle Areena or find it on your favourite podcatching app or via our RSS feed.

This week's podcast was presented by Mark B. Odom, with guest producers and co-hosts JJ Clarke and Tirna Slevin. Additional production was by Priya Ramachandran D'Souza and our audio engineer was Jami Auvinen.

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