International students might have noticed how the atmosphere at University starts to feel more relaxed at the end of April. Finnish academics wear their student overalls in the open and they might even crack a smile or engage in small talk. This unusual behaviour is nothing to be worried about though.
It’s just Wappu.
For Finns, Wappu is an integral part of student life. Traditionally Vappu is celebrated on May Day with a hint of politics, as people march on the streets and hold public speeches. Student Wappu is a whole different kind of creature with over two weeks of varying events and mischievous behaviour.
In Oulu the students can have a party in a bus, attend to a event where students of Humanities use a huge crane to put a hat on the statue of Frans Mikael Franzén or just be outside and enjoy the occasionally smiling Finnish spring sun and the company of their fellow Wappu-goers.
For any weird social conduct you might see during these weeks it’s good to remember that ten or so years back your professor might have been the one who tried to open a wine bottle with a toothbrush before bursting into an emotional song about bourgeoise.
Although it might seem like it’s from a different planet, not all international students find Finnish Wappu alien.
Mihaela Ivanova is a international Master’s student in Education and Globalization. Currently, she works at Erasmus Student Network that provides opportunities for cultural exchange for international students.
”This is going to be my second Wappu”, she says. ”I was queuing for Wesibussi overnight. Other than that, I want to attend day events like Teekkaritalo barbeque.”
Originally from Bulgaria, Ivanova has lived two years in Finland, and before that, she did an exchange two years ago.
The best part of Finland? How inclusive the country feels for international students.
”I haven’t had a situation that I didn’t feel welcome at Wappu celebration”, she says.
Is Wappu a closed event?
Although Ivanova finds Finnish Wappu inclusive, happy and special, it can be confusing to international students. The lack of information doesn’t exactly help the situation.
As the recent ISB survey reveals, students are dependent on the information their kummi tutors share. The problem is, the quality of kummi students vary a lot, and not all of them are active in the student life.
”When international students see the Wesibussi line at the campus, they are asking, why is it so serious?”
Ivanova thinks it’s a big problem that the largest and the most important events of Wappu are not advertised.
Organizers think that because their events will be sold out anyway, the extra effort isn’t worth it. Word of mouth will do.
”Wappu is such a Finnish thing so very often all the information is in Finnish”, Ivanova says.
Finnish students might think everybody knows when tech student freshmen jump in the icy river and when it’s appropriate to make a toast in public while wearing overalls, but it’s not as easy to understand for international students who are not used to two weeks of Wappu.
When the knowledge of biggest events is taken for granted, the events become invisible.
”I haven’t seen any advertisements for Wesibussi. Maybe that’s why I and my flatmate were the only international students queuing overnight”, Ivanova says.
What’s this tippaleipä?
The lack of knowledge and the feeling of being left outside gives birth to a shadow Wappu. International students prefer their own unofficial parties where there’s no entrance fee, no cloakroom, and the students can bring their own alcohol. Cheap and cosy.
Some of those secret events have been hosted at legendary Club 16, the nickname for the student parties held in Yliopistokatu 16.
”Years ago Club 16 was really crazy but now I think the parties have shifted towards Tirolintie”, Ivanova says.
Although Ivanova has an active and positive attitude towards Finnish Wappu, she tells her fellow international students are not so impressed. They are left alone to solve this complicated puzzle of marching Wappu people and the sugary pastry that looks like dried up tentacles, tippaleipä.
The lack of interest shows it clearly: Finns are really good at Wappu but they don’t speak about it enough.