As a university student in the United States, you often hear about Finland and how incredible the school system is here. Headlines from across the globe compare the quality of education between these two countries, almost always ranking Finland higher than the United States.
Just typing the words “education in Finland” to Google results in a long list of articles explaining why Finland is so great.
And so on.
With so much emphasis placed on the Finnish education system, I was full of excitement upon my arrival here in August. Immediately, I began to notice a stark contrast between my home university and the University of Oulu. Life in the USA and life in Finland may be very different, but there are also many similarities. Here are five things I’ve noticed so far during my time here.
Student Housing: Where do students live?
At my home university, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, first-year students are required to live on campus in a dorm. Typically, two students share one room, which usually includes a bed, desk, wardrobe, and chair. The convenient part of the dorm-style rooms is that students don’t have to worry much about cleaning or cooking for themselves during their first year at Uni. Instead, most students have a meal plan through the school, where they can walk to the dining hall and eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You typically pay a set price for the entire year, which could be anywhere from 4000 to 7000 euro. Space is very limited and it takes a lot of time to adjust to sharing such a small space, which prompts many students to move out of the dorms after their first year, and into an apartment nearby. Our campus isn’t very big, so you can easily walk to and from your housing to any event or class that is taking place on campus.
Here in Oulu, I live in a PSOAS apartment. I was pleasantly surprised by the size and space of my apartment, which I share with two other exchange students. We have a kitchen, bathroom, shower, and dining room. My dorm room last year was the size of my kitchen now, so it has definitely been an improvement. My apartment here isn’t too expensive, somewhere around 270 euros per month. I expected the cost of living to be a lot more in Finland, but I’ve found that cooking at home and keeping a budget has helped me a lot.
I really enjoy the convenience of being able to walk to the store, or go places by bus. I never rode the bus at my home university, so it took a lot of getting lost to figure out the buses here in Oulu. However, I have gained a lot of confidence in myself through this process, and am happy to say that I haven’t gotten lost in a whole 3 weeks!
Student Life: What do students do?
I was very surprised by the student life here in Oulu. Back home, the school does not advertise or openly support on-campus parties. Most parties or events are thrown by the athletes or fraternities on campus, and our school discourages underage drinking at any school-related events. Keep in mind, the drinking age in the U.S. is 21, so that means a majority of our students are not legally allowed to consume alcohol.
However, in Oulu, there seem to be a lot of events for students, and something is always going on. Especially in the exchange student housing, there are events or parties almost every night. These student events are a really nice way for students to meet each other and connect with local students as well, which can sometimes be quite difficult otherwise.
Classes: Workload, meeting times, & tests
Classes in the USA are very different than here in Oulu. All of my classes back home begin in August, and last until early to mid-December. You meet at the same time each week, sometimes twice a week. After every class, you are likely to have some kind of homework assignment that needs to be done in time for the next class. There are frequent quizzes, which are usually taken once a week or so. There are also many tests and essays, depending on the course that you are taking. Many of my classes had three tests during the semester, and a final exam at the conclusion of the course. So, it was a very nice surprise to hear my professors in Oulu apologizing for such a heavy workload, when I was assigned to read a few articles and write a concluding essay.
I’m studying Primary Education, so I am taking a lot of ITE courses and some courses from the Scandinavian Studies program while I’m here. So far, they have been very interesting, and I actually enjoy attending class. I am getting credit back home for some of my classes here, but others I am taking simply because I am interested in the topic. Those classes have been my favorite, it’s a lot more calm and enjoyable to just take in information and learn new things that I can take back home with me.
Relationships to teachers: Informality & mutual respect
So far during my classes in Oulu, I have noticed that the relationship between students and teachers is much more informal than in the U.S. In the States, we would typically call our professors by their last name, or by their title, which could be something like Professor or Doctor. Depending on the style of class, there may or may not be opportunities to interact one-on-one with your teacher. It is a new concept for me to call my teachers here by their first name, and has definitely taken some getting used to. I really admire this system as I think it’s a great way for students to learn from their professors in a way that promotes mutual respect and appreciation.
Cost: Free education vs $20,000 a year
One of the biggest differences between the U.S. and Finland is the cost of attendance. Whereas Finnish education is free, American students have the opportunity to apply for scholarships, which provide financial assistance to pay for school. They can also receive “Financial Aid,” based on the income of their parents.
However, many students do not receive much money, and pay around $20,000 (17000 euros) per year. Most students have to work while they are attending University, and graduate with a large amount of student debt. Seeing the impact of free education in Finland has really caused me to analyze the system in the U.S. Not having to pay for school relieves a big stress for many students, and encourages people to attain higher education.