1 EXPERIENCE REPORT Study Program: Bachelor Business Law Exchange Semester: Spring 2016 Academic year: Host University: University of Helsinki Country: Finland I GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE SCHOOL During the spring of 2016 I have been studying at the University of Helsinki. The University of Helsinki has several buildings in and around the city, but the Faculty of Law was located in the city centre. This made it possible for me to walk to the University, because I was also accommodated in the city centre. The lectures were given in one building called Porthania and sometimes also in the main building. The main library was located next to Porthania. I spend quite a few days studying in the library, because in my opinion the library was a very good place for studying. The main library has 7 floors and a basement. On each floor there were lots of places to study: by the window, at a big table or at the more relaxing sofas. I found the atmosphere in the library very nice, everyone was really quiet and it was very normal to take of your shoes and walk around in your socks (which I found a bit strange and funny at first). Next to the library, a student restaurant and a study cafe are located, with nice but cheap food and coffee. Main library of the University of Helsinki
2 The University of Helsinki welcomes about 1000 exchange students each year. I estimate the number of exchange students at the Faculty of Law around 100 students. In total, more than students are currently studying at the University of Helsinki. When it comes to the study structure, all lectures of one course are held within a few weeks, after which the exam follows immediately. Most of the time it is only after this exam that the next course starts. This makes it a very clear structure. Courses are often not only completed by taking a written exam, but also by active participation in debates, giving presentations or handing in essays. In this way, the courses are very interactive and more practical. I was accommodated in the city centre of Helsinki, the main capital of Finland. I have to say Helsinki is a very nice and peaceful city to live in with very wide streets, which gave me the feeling the city was not very crowded. Furthermore, the public transportation was very well arranged: trams, busses, metros, trains: all of them driving exactly on schedule, even in winter when there was a lot of snow. Helsinki has lots of nice little bars and places to drink or eat. Something I did not know, was that Finland is one of the countries where coffee is most popular. This results in many nice coffee bars with very good and different kinds of coffee. One of the best coffee bars in my opinion was Johan & Nyström, a small cafe near the harbor where they have amazing cappuccino. There are also lots of nice places to eat, one of them called Juuri where they serve sapas : Finnish tapas. It has to be said, however, that eating and drinking in the city centre is not very cheap. If you want to go drink something for a student price (especially alcohol is expensive), you should go to the district near the city centre called Kallio. Here, prices of beers and wines are almost half of the prices in the city centre. When it comes to interesting things to do and see in Helsinki, I would strongly recommend to take advantage of the very cold weather (when I arrived in January, it was -25 ºC) by doing something very Finnish: walking across the sea. Because parts of the sea near Helsinki completely froze during the winter, it was possible to walk to islands near Helsinki that you normally can only reach by boat. Also, when the weather became a bit better, it was very nice to go for a picnic in the city park called Kaivopuisto. Furthermore, Helsinki has very nice and big shopping malls (like Stockmann) and ofcourse, one must definitely see the famous big white church (Cathedral of Helsinki) and the Uspenskin Cathedral: a beautiful Russian Orthodox church. Also, if you are into art, Helsinki has a lot of special museums, like the Design Museum or Ateneum, where they often have expositions of famous artists. One last tip I would like to give is that, if you have the opportunity, you should definitely go see an ice hockey match, since Finland is one of the best countries in the world when it comes to playing ice hockey.
3 The biggest difference I experienced in Helsinki compared to my home University in Tilburg has definitely been the weather. When I arrived in Helsinki in January, I was quite shocked: as far as I could look I only saw snow and a completely white landscape. I do not think I ever experienced in my life my phone, camera, drinks and food to freeze when being outside. Also, the very nice atmosphere in Helsinki was something I found a bit different compared to Tilburg: people are very polite (also maybe a bit distant), the city is very clean and living (for example: food) standards are very high. I PRACTICAL INFORMATION Information before leaving I received all of the pre-arrival information from the University of Helsinki on time: I think it was very clear for me which courses I was going to follow and what was expected of me when arriving in Helsinki a few months before arriving. The only thing that was not very clear to me, was that I had to send several documents to the University of Helsinki. This was not corresponded very well, I had to found out myself on the internet. Visa procedure and arrival Going to Finland as a country of the European Union made it much easier for me to arrange arrival documents. Only having my passport was enough for studying in Helsinki. A few weeks before my arrival I was already corresponding with my mentor that was assigned to me. She helped me very much with arranging my arrival: she sent me information on how to get to Helsinki from the airport in Vantaa. The same night I arrived, I met with her and some other new students, which was very nice, because I did not know anyone in Helsinki yet. Orientation/Introduction activities A few days after I arrived in Helsinki, there was this big Orientation Day event. This was very well structured: everything that you had to take care of (mostly administrative things) was handled there: from registering for courses or language seminars to all the required signings that we needed. The Orientation Day was well structured because there were several steps that you had to follow: when you did all of them, everything was arranged. The mentor that was assigned to me stayed with our introduction group before, during and also after this Orientation Day.
4 Housing My accommodation was organized by the University of Helsinki, a few months before arrival. The University does provide different kinds of housing: it depends on the availability of the different accommodations and your own preferences as to which accommodation gets assigned to you. I got my own studio with my a bedroom, kitchen and bathroom, which was very nice but not very cheap. Most students I got the meet were living in the same studio, but it was also possible to share a bigger studio with a roommate or to live with more students in a student house. Living costs I financed my exchange period by the savings I had from working before my exchange, support from my parents and the Erasmus+ grant. My living expenses were higher compared to Tilburg. This was mostly because of my accommodation, but also because I went on several trips. Approximate monthly budget: Housing 600 euros per month Food 350 euros per month Transport 20 euros per month Books None (all literature was provided by the University) I would advise future students to bring enough warm clothes, so that you do not have to spend that much money on buying gloves etc. I would definitely recommend, if possible, to save some money for the trips you would like to go on. Academic calendar My arrival date was the 12th of January, the Orientation Days were January 14 and 15. My first course started the 19th of January, my last course ended April 29. I did not have a midterm break, but this also depends on which and how many courses you decide to follow. As I said before, the courses exist of lectures, after which the exam immediately follows. This meant that I had 2 weeks of following courses every day for one course and the exam immediately after those 2 weeks. The International Office The International Office for international students in Helsinki is called UH Student Services and is located in the main building. It is possible to drop by the office during consultation hours, but they
5 also answer very fast when sending them an . The International Office takes care of pretty much any problems you might have as an international student in Helsinki. Exchange promotion In Helsinki, I was the only student from Tilburg University. To my surprise, lots of people knew Tilburg University and some of them even considered to go on exchange to Tilburg. When I asked for their main reasons, they told me about how they felt Tilburg University provides students with very good education (especially in the field of economics). I promoted Tilburg University by stating that I felt indeed that Tilburg University has one of the highest quality of education in Europe. Social Activities By becoming part of an introduction group, it was possible to meet lots of new people very soon at the Orientation Day and during meetings in the evening. Also, ESN Helsinki is very active in organizing all kinds of activities: in the beginning tours around the city, but also dinners and parties and even trips, for example to Stockholm, Lapland and around the Baltic Sea. Most people I got to meet where exchange students, but I also met some local students (especially on parties that were not necessarily organized by ESN). Since I am very into travelling, I planned some trips myself: I went to Tallinn (only 2 hours by boat), Lapland and other places around Finland, St. Petersburg and Moscow. Other people I met also travelled for example to Riga, Vilnius, Stockholm, Oslo and even Copenhagen. Culture and language I cannot say I experienced a real culture shock while being on exchange. Compared to the Netherlands, the Finnish culture might be slightly different when it comes to Finnish people being more to themselves. Furthermore, everything that has to do with drinking alcohol is very different compared to the Netherlands: it is only possible to buy alcohol in special stores and only until 9 pm. The thing I learned about the Dutch culture is that Dutch people are very straight forward, and maybe to some very direct. But since Finnish people are also a bit direct, I did not consider this as a problem. The language was also not a big issue: almost everybody (there were some, but not many exceptions) speaks very good English in Finland. I really have the feeling that my English improved a lot while studying in Finland, because of the high level of English in which my courses were taught. In the beginning, I found this quite difficult, since I was not so much used to this in the Netherlands. But I have to say that after one or two weeks, my English improved daily I felt like. I did not follow any
6 language courses during my stay, mainly because I already followed quite difficult courses. Also, the Finnish language is considered very difficult and I did not feel that I was able to learn or speak Finnish only within 4 months. Because of the capacity of many people in Finland to speak English, this was also not a necessity. Personal development When it comes to my personal development, I have the feeling that the exchange experience changed my perception of different cultures and social habits of others. Before leaving, I would have never thought I would have much in common with someone from Croatia or Russia for example. Now I know that we as European students do have much in common when it comes to our interests and future career desires. I am not quite sure if this exchange will influence my future career possibilities, but I do think this experience contributed to my ability to adapt in different situations, to improve my English and to make sure that I know more about different cultures. This might be an advantage when looking for a job with international perspectives. The best experience I had was the possibility to meet lots of new people that I otherwise would have never met. I really liked talking about different cultures and languages and all students were very interested in each other. This has also improved my personal development in a way that I think I will not judge people easily only on their cultural or social habits, no matter which country they are from. My worst experience was when I felt because of all the ice and snow on the streets: this was also in the very beginning of the experience where I did not know so many people that I could ask for help. Things I will never forget are the people that I have met, the nice activities we did together, the travelling I did and in the academic area: learning to do presentations, working together with other students and improving my writing skills. The most important lesson I learned during this experience is that I have skills which I was unaware of before: I am able to speak confidently in English in front of a big group, I know how to arrange lots of things on my own in a foreign country and also that I did feel at home quite fast, although I did not know anybody before I left. III ACADEMIC INFORMATION Academic level at a host university All courses I followed were taught in English, but since Finland has two official languages: Swedish and Finnish, it was also possible to follow courses in those languages. This was not an option for me,
7 because not being fluent in both Swedish and Finnish would make following these courses very difficult. The courses I followed were: - International Environmental Law - Insurance Contract Law in International Context - Law of the Sea - Carriage of goods - Economic and Monetary Union: historical, legal and economic approaches to the European common currency - Mediation European Alternative Dispute Resolution in civil and commercial matters I decided to follow these courses because of the international aspect in all of them, but also because I am very interested in governmental law and business law. The courses I would strongly recommend are Law of the Sea, because this course was taught by very enthusiastic PhD students who had a lot of knowledge about the topic; Carriage of goods, also because of the excellent teacher and the ability to work in small student groups on topics in which we discussed the law in our own different countries; and Economic and Monetary Union, this was probably the most interesting course I was able to follow during my exchange. The teachers were very approachable and during the course, we were able to actively discuss different topics, because the course was only followed by a small amount of students. Compared to the Netherlands, I think the academic level of the courses was quite similar: I think both Tilburg University and the University of Helsinki have very high standards when it comes to their academic level. Something I really liked was that the teachers in Helsinki were very approachable and willing to help students pass their exams. Also, the fact that I did not have to buy any books / literature made following the courses more approachable for exchange students. Everything we had to read was available in the library or provided by the teacher. I do have to say that because I was having exams during the whole time of my exchange, I felt that I had to study more than I was used to in Tilburg. But on the other hand, the fact that I did not have to make all my exams all at once at the end of the semester, gave me less stress. The teaching method in most of the courses was a mix of lectures, group work, writing essays and doing presentations. This gave the courses a more interactive feel, which I thought was very nice. Teachers were very approachable which made it possible to ask questions and start debates. Something else I really liked was the attention many teachers gave to the legal differences that exist between different countries (the countries the students in the lecture were from were often used as examples). I can say that the possibility to explore my academic writing and presentation skills make that I am very satisfied with my academic achievements during my exchange.
8 Exams The exams were mostly the same compared to my exams Tilburg: writing exams with questions or essay questions. Difference was that most courses had to be completed partly by a written exam (for example: 70% of the grade) and partly by an essay, presentation, or class participation (mostly 30% of the grade). Other As I said before, the library was a very good place to study. The library provides students with many books on special topics, but it also had a very large online database. There were some public computers available in the library, but most people did bring their own laptops since most places in the library were studying places at big tables without a computer. Description of courses Course Prerequisites Exam ECTS Comments International Environmental Law None 80%: written exam 20%: summaries of 4 Not a very interactive course (22259) cases/articles Insurance Contract None Written exam 3 Law in International Context (22183) Law of the Sea (22122) None Written exam 4 Carriage of goods (22179) None Written group assignment, group presentation and 4 Interactive course with many assignments written exam Economic and Monetary Union historical, legal and economic approaches to the European common currency (22251) Knowledge in the field of economics preferred 70%: written exam 30%: essay and presentation 4
9 Mediation European None Written essay and 8 Seminars, essay of Alternative Dispute presentation, lecture pages had Resolution in civil and summaries to be written and commercial matters presented (208004) Total amount of 27 credits: Tips for future students Some tips that I have for future students: - If you have the possibility, go on exchange! I would certainly recommend an exchange period: it helps you not only to develop your academic skills, but also your social skills and it will definitely develop you personally. - I would also strongly recommend the University of Helsinki. If you are really interested in northern countries, are not afraid of a bit of cold weather and really want to have interesting courses of a high academic level, you should definitely consider Helsinki. Not only the high academic quality of the courses, but also the whole atmosphere makes Helsinki a great place to live and study. - If you are planning to go on exchange to Helsinki, you should definitely not forget to bring warm clothes and shoes!!! Bring warm socks, shoes, thermo leggings and shirts, a warm coat, hat and gloves: all of them! Bringing warm clothes really is a necessity when living in Helsinki during the winter months. - Also, your exchange will be much easier and less stressful if you take the time to read all the information on what you have to do before, during and after your exchange. Because everything is very well arranged in Helsinki when it comes to all administrative matters, your exchange experience will be even better when you do not have to worry about it. - Furthermore, if you have trouble with the English language, it would advisable to take an English language course before departure. Another thing is that it would be smart to save enough money before going on exchange, especially when you are planning to go on trips.
10 A picture is worth a thousand words
11 Contact details If you would like to have more information about going on exchange to Helsinki, please feel free to contact me via Good luck with your preparation!