Study Abroad in One of the Best Universities in Finland

Jumping on a 3.5 hour train ride to study in a new place for a semester might not sound a lot like ‘study abroad’, especially when you live in a country as large as Russia, but for ITMO student Mariya Shaposhnikova, crossing the border over to Finland and spending a semester at Aalto University turned out to be a really rewarding and eye-opening experience.

“I had doubts about going at first,” she explained. But her advice for others is “if you want to go, just go, try! If you have problems, try to solve them and just go, don’t be closed, be open; some people who go there spend time in their rooms, but you need to keep in touch and communicate with others, always say yes for everything.”

Mariya is in her first year of her Master’s course in Refrigeration Technology and Heat Pumps which is offered by the Faculty of Cryogenic Engineering. Nordic countries are really advanced in this area and so Finland was an excellent choice for a semester exchange to give her a head start amongst her peers in Russia in this field. “It was a really good experience, both in terms of practicing English and progress in my research field,” she shared. It also gave her a chance to meet other students from all around the world who will be her future international professional contacts. “I met lots of students who are studying the same field, now I have contacts throughout the world.”

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Aalto University

“The University campus is incredible, every day was impressive, the learning center and library were amazing and each had really cool study areas. There was a computer lab available 24 hours a day, and when you live on campus you can go there any time.”

According to Mariya, Aalto is the only university in Finland with campus life and a great location. This year it took 7th place in QS's top 50 under 50 fastest-rising stars rankings. It has everything available in the one area, that is, classrooms, housing, restaurants, pharmacy, cafes, libraries, athletics field, metro station, kindergarten, buildings, a chapel, parks and more. What’s more, it’s nested within the Laajalahti bay, it has beautiful nature and animals, it’s only 20 minutes by bus to Helsinki’s beautiful city center, and soon the metro’s construction will be finished and it’ll be possible to get there even faster.


Source: materialbank.aalto.fi/Aino Huovio

“The university is really comfortable for living and studying, and you feel at home. In the main building there is a room with computers called a “hub”, and you can take your shoes off there, the floor is carpeted, and there’s a small kitchen where you can eat and drink so you feel right at home.”

There are a lot of activities arranged for international students. For example sports, quests, getting around the city and campus activities, etc.


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Academic differences

Studying in a different country means adapting to a different academic system. In Russia, you are usually assessed mostly at the end of the semester, but in Aalto, you have to hand in smaller parts each week. In fact, the spring semester is divided into three modules, so there are 6 weeks of studying and then 1 exam week. Some courses go over more than one module. At ITMO, students go through their study together with a group, but in Finland, you can choose your subjects and in every class you might have different people.


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One of the highlights of the student exchange was the opportunity to choose a communication skills course designed specifically for exchange students. As part of this course they developed presentation skills, recorded video applications for jobs, and everyone gave each other feedback. During the last lecture, they had an international dinner where each student cooked a special dish from their countries. It was held an a special building called “Aalto Design Factory”, an old wood research laboratory with different multi-purpose spaces for innovation and events. They were able to cook together in one of the spaces, and Mariya prepared a traditional Kazakh dish, “baursaki”, like fried bread rolls. Others shared German sausages and bretzel, Mexican quesadilla, Turkish airan, Finnish homemade drink sima and so on. Everyone also shared about their cultures, traditions and cuisine.


Mariya Shaposhnikova's archives

One of the advantages, or maybe disadvantages of studying at Aalto, is that there is a lot of flexibility in how you study. That is, you can watch lectures online rather than coming to class, and you can submit your assignments online, so you could potentially not set foot in the university for weeks if you want. For Mariya though, going to class was a better option, as it was more motivating and she could make the most of her Aalto experience by learning from her lecturers and peers.

In Aalto, Mariya noticed that students were more focused on just getting a pass rather than getting a good grade, while students in Russia are usually concerned with the grade they receive at the end of semester because this influences the stipend they will receive from the government in the following semester.

Living in Finland


Source: materialbank.aalto.fi/Aino Huovio

“At ITMO I got a diploma as a translator in my professional field, so it wasn’t so difficult to understand the academic language in English. If you speak English, you have no problems in Finland, as everyone speaks English there”, explains Mariya.“There were other Russian speaking students who had moved there and were studying Bachelors in Finnish, and there were lots of international students on exchange, many from Germany and other European countries, also Mexico, India, Sri Lanka… ”.

One of the perks of living in Finland is having a student residence permit, which grants you access into other European countries . “From Helsinki, it’s really easy to go to Tallinn and Stockholm by ferry, and you can get really cheap deals for like 5 euros.” Also, friends can visit and stay with you too.

Housing

Another benefit of local campus life is being able to live right there on campus. In Finland, students are accustomed to living in their own rooms because they need the quiet and focus to study which they take very seriously there. Mariya had her own bedroom and bathroom and only shared a kitchen. Usually Finnish students rent rooms in the dorm without furniture, but exchange students, since they are there  short term, get furniture in their rooms. It’s basically like living in your own apartment. There’s no security check when you come in and out or curfew so you can come and go as you please at any time.

Expenses


Source: materialbank.aalto.fi/Aino Huovio

“Before going, I was worried about the costs, but I was lucky to get scholarship. At first, Aalto said they don’t have scholarships, but close to the beginning of studies, they awarded me a scholarship, also ITMO University helped with expenses too. I thought about working while I was there as well, but there was no time.”

Living in Finland can get really expensive, but on campus there are a lot of restaurants with reasonable prices, they have a website where you can choose places to eat, and often you can get a main dish and salads for just 2.60 euros. They also get fresh bread regularly delivered to the university.  Eating on campus turned out to be much cheaper than cooking for myself . “I was thinking it would be cheaper to buy groceries and cook, but it’s actually better to go to the canteen, and they really care about health so the food is good.”

 “If I have another opportunity, I’ll definitely go again” she expressed.

Arranging the exchange experience

Information about the exchange experience is available on the information system of the university (ISU) in the section "Events". In additional, the International Educational Programs department regularly holds lectures which talk about the existing exchange programs. You just need to choose a University and program, and arrange your trip through the aforementioned department. Mariya explained that you need to prepare the appropriate documents, wait for a visa and resident permit card. You also have to check that the courses that you will be studying abroad match those that you would miss at home, and agree on that with your professor. At the end of the exchange semester, you can see all your grades and transcript online, and you also receive a signed version, and so does the university. Your grades will then be transferred.

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