Alvaro decided to do Erasmus in Finland because he wanted to work in education and admired the Finnish education system. Studying in Finland also appealed to him as a unique choice, and he had heard from past Erasmus scholars that Jyväskylä was a great destination. He enjoyed his time there, and would recommend it for anyone considering going to Finland for Erasmus.
Alvaro really liked the environment at the university, which was different from that of Spain. In Finland, he says, people are there to help you if you ask. He liked the selection of affordable and tasty student restaurants, and felt that the university was a safe place.
“You could leave anything in the hall, and nobody would take it,” he said. “I remember I left my keys in the padlock for my bike. I found them in the padlock after three hours!”
He even felt safe leaving his computer in the library to step outside, something he wouldn’t have been comfortable with doing in Spain.
Regarding his studies, Alvaro felt he had more flexibility than in Spain, because studies in Finland are project-based rather than exam-based. He found teachers to be flexible and open to suggestions or questions, and to value student learning over strict grading systems.
“The first day, the teachers didn’t tell us how they were going to grade,” he said. “We asked them, and they said ‘don’t worry, it isn’t really that important.’”
Alvaro had the opportunity to befriend a Finnish family through the University of Jyväskylä’s Finnish Family Program. They went to eat ice cream during the summer and ice skating during the winter. He saw it as a good opportunity to become familiar with Finnish culture.
“They became my family in Finland,” he said. “I knew if something happened, I knew I had them.”
When Alvaro’s family visited from Spain, they spent time in Helsinki and Jyväskylä ice skating. During his Erasmus period, Alvaro spent his free time participating in the Erasmus Student Network activities such as Cafe Lingua, international dinners, barbecues on the lake, sauna, hiking, and skiing. He also enjoyed traveling around Finland, and would recommend hiking the lakes in Jyväskyl and visiting Tampere, Turku, Helsinki, Oulu, and Porvoo. If you have the opportunity to travel to St. Petersburg and Moscow as well, he recommends taking advantage.
During his Erasmus studies, Alvaro got teaching practice through the ‘Erasmus in a School’ program. He helped teach in one primary and one secondary school, helping a teacher who was looking for a Spanish-language assistant.
Alvaro also came to appreciate cultural differences by forming friendships and relationships during his Erasmus time. Compared to Spain, Alvaro noticed that the Finnish dating culture is a slower process, and that he often had to initiate conversation. He found the university community to be generally accepting of the LGBT community, especially compared to other countries.
“For those from the LGBT community coming to Finland, don’t worry,” he said. “Everyone in erasmus is open-minded.”
The relationships he made last to this day! He still has friends from his time in Finland, both from Spain and Finland- and from Czech, of course!
If you are an exchange student preparing to visit Finland, Alvaro would recommend travelling as much as possible and trying to enjoy every moment. He pointed out that Finland can be surprisingly affordable for students, and promises that Finns are not as cold as you think!