How the University of Helsinki cares for international students
Source: University of Helsinki

Studying abroad is exhilarating. But with so much on your shoulders and such little knowledge of your new home, it can come with a tinge of trepidation.

If you’re heading to the University of Helsinki, there’s no need to fret. Its successful track record cultivates confidence, even in the most sceptical international students. It boasts a distinguished faculty, comprised of respected experts and scholars; collaboration with industry, governments and foundations; linking degree programmes to multidisciplinary research; and of course, offering students inspiring learning environments.

At the University of Helsinki, there’s one more factor that attracts talent from all over the world: an active and caring students’ union.

The university’s campus holds a student and staff community that’s 40,000 strong. With this many people, it could be easy to feel lost. Linda-Liisa Kelokari, the student union’s board member responsible for international affairs, assures that this is nothing to worry about. In fact, this large campus community and the exciting opportunities it offers is what makes the study abroad experience truly memorable.

“We try our best to make international students feel welcome and get them involved in our committees and student organisations,” said Kelokari.

It’s an understatement to say that the students’ union helps make international students feel welcome. It’s fairer to say that Kelokari and her organisation are gunning for more, ensuring that international students are genuinely involved and included in every aspect of campus life.

The student union’s support for international students starts even before they arrive. The initial days of being in a foreign land can be uncertain and the students’ union understands that some international students’ top priorities is to secure a comfortable home and ensure peace of mind in the event of emergencies.

To this end, it leverages on links with a range of organisations to support international students with a wide range of housing styles, locations and living arrangements as soon as they accept their place at the university. A portion of the students’ union fee is also paid to the Finnish Student Healthcare Service, which ensures all students receive the general healthcare they need.

Once international students have settled in, they can take advantage of the generous discount on season tickets for Helsinki’s public transport to explore the city, thanks to the student union’s lobbying. Or, head to the student lunch cafe operated by the student union to get a healthy, organic, sustainable warm meal with hearty side salad and bread – all for only €2.60 (or 90 cents more with a cup of coffee!)

The students’ union also ensures all communication is made in three languages – Finnish, Swedish and English – so no one is left out.

University of Helsinki

A lively, cosmopolitan and inclusive campus community

It’s the people and experiences that make the University of Helsinki a cosmopolitan hub. Faculty consist of world-class scientists and scholars who come from all over the world. Almost a quarter of the research and teaching staff and a fifth of the doctoral trainees and postdoctoral researchers are from abroad. Six percent of the 31,200 students here come from some other country than Finland, and that doesn’t include the more than 1,000 incoming exchange students it receives each year.

Whether it’s in or outside of the classroom, students are always connected to this vibrant community. There’s no distinction between Finns and foreigners or staff and students, making it fun to mix and mingle everywhere on campus, from the classes taught in English, to the campus’ start-up centre ‘Helsinki Think Company’; to traditional sauna evenings or the sunny courtyard of the on-campus bar.

Within the students’ union, international students can be active, even if they can’t speak Finnish. Past international students have stood side-by-side with locals to advocate for student issues on campus, the city and beyond.

All this makes for a truly inclusive campus. Several international student-focused organisations have a strong presence here, ensuring international voices are heard on programme boards, on top of organising visits to potential future employers and hosting career-related seminars.

They also host a range of social events, such as ‘Master’s Mixers’, visits to art museums and academic dinner parties, which have been described as “filled with good food, questionable singing and great comradery”.

Kelokari said: “We have over 250 organisations operating within our student union. There is something for everyone: subject organisations, student nations and different hobby organisations. If you don’t find the organisation for your hobby or interest, you can always found a new organisation – the student union will help you with that!”

The students’ union also organises other events, including a ‘Fresher Adventure’ where new Helsinki students race across all four campuses, aiming to meet as many of the 100 participating student organisations as they can. If you’re lucky, you can also join the ‘Grand Sitsit’, which happens every few years, where 2000 students enjoy a dinner party with song in Helsinki’s historic senate square.

But rest assured, even if you miss the Grand Sitsit, you will still be able to join Vappu, the Worker and Student Day which takes place on May 1 every year. Celebrations begin from April 30, where 80,000 past and present students meet for the ‘Crowing of Manta’, where some lucky students are even hoisted into the air to put a student cap on Helsinki’s most beloved statue.

With its year-round festivities, proactive student union and inclusive campus, studying abroad at the University of Helsinki is truly a thrill.

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