Hi everyone! Yes – you’re not mistaken – this blog post is in English. My name is Sasha and I am a second-year PhD student at the University of Helsinki. I am doing research on speech recognition, and I am jumping between linguistics and brain science, trying to find a balance.
In my first blog post, I decided to reflect on Finnish doctoral education and integration in Finnish culture as a foreigner.
I originally came to Finland as a visiting researcher at the University of Helsinki (CLUMP Project), and I spent a year planning experiments, collecting behavioural and brain imaging data and analysing it. I wanted to use that year to decide whether I want to pursue a PhD, what kind of research I’d like to do and whether the University of Helsinki fits me as a research home. At the end of my visiting year, I’ve made up my mind, the stars aligned and I got accepted to a PhD programme.
So, how does it feel to be an international PhD student in Finland?
A short answer would be ”FANTASTIC”. A long answer, however, will need a couple of paragraphs to describe how integration in university and Finnish society makes you forget of November darkness.
First of all, I was amazed by how the university community welcomes foreign researchers. Almost everything that comes to your email is in English. Almost all courses, lectures and events at the University are in English. All the guidelines, directives, info sessions and materials are in English. Moreover, if anything isn’t translated to English – write to the responsible person, and you’ll be explained what to do or you’ll be suggested to take up the running. For instance, if an event is Finnish-only, they can always make an exception for you and listen to an English talk. If a page is Finnish-only, they can always be welcoming English texts, just let them know (a good example is this wonderful blog). In fact, English language in UH is so widely used, that it’s even harder to find the motivation to learn Finnish :)
Secondly, the university suggests help in integrating into Finnish society, if you need any. PhD students have access to webinars on taxation, healthcare, student benefits, KELA and MELA services. They can also attend offsite full-day seminars on the life in Finland and Finnish working culture. Besides, there are PhD organisations that can help a newbie student with advice and a company to spend a Saturday night (UniBuddy, HYVAT, Nyyti Ry).
Finnish language courses at the University of Helsinki deserve a separate paragraph. When I just came here, I had a chance to start learning Finnish right away, for free, 500 meters from my office. It was a perfect match – me, being an early-riser and the classes, starting at 8 in the morning. The university teachers were very helpful and the classes focused on group work, so almost in a heartbeat, I was able to order my morning coffee from Tiedekulma in Finnish!
But – ok – what if you don’t want to go by the University 24/7? What happens out there and how to navigate in non-academic Finland?
No reason to be scared! Finland has developed extensive help for foreigners where you can find any answer to your question (the largest service is infoFinland). Wherever you go, it’s very easy to understand what’s going on. Whoever you call – post office, police or a bank – they will help you out, explain what to do, and most probably do this in English. I’ve been living in Finland for 2 years by now, and the only time I had troubles communicating in English was when a plumber came over to fix my dishwasher. Needless to say, lack of my Finnish expertise did not prevent him from successfully doing his job. This is what I haven’t experienced in other non-English speaking countries before, and what other foreign students say is exceptionable.
So if you’re still thinking if Finland should be on your PhD-countries list – yes, it should. Of course, selecting a programme and a supervisor is much more important than selecting a country, but as for the latter – Finland and notably the University of Helsinki will live up to your expectations.