Student life in Helsinki

Student life is not just about studying. It's also about spending time and having fun with fellow students. At the University of Helsinki, you join an active student community, and the Student Union (HYY) is there to help you to focus on the most important part: studying and student life.
Student Union (HYY) for better student life

The Student Union of the University of Helsinki (HYY) advocates students’ interests both at the university and in society. They organise services, benefits and events so that you as a student can focus on the most important part: studying and student life.

All our students completing a Bachelor's or Master's degree are members of the Student Union (HYY). For exchange and PhD students, the membership is voluntary.

As a member, you are entitled to various services and benefits offered directly or indirectly by the Student Union. You have access to advisory services and more than 250 student organisations.

Every member of the Student Union (HYY) can influence its actions: Join the committee activities, get involved in the decision-making or just simply give feedback.

Get involved in student organisations

The Student Union (HYY) enables extracurricular activities by supporting active volunteer work and organisational activities. There are over 250 student organisations operating within the Student Union (HYY) opening up a field of opportunities for you.

You can choose between:

  • faculty and subject organisations
  • political and societal organisations
  • choirs & orchestras
  • theatres and other cultural organisations
  • international organisations
  • sports and game clubs

Joining an organisation gives you the opportunity to learn things that are not included in the university curriculum, but are still an integral part of university studies and growth into an educated individual. Along the way, you will make friends and have fun.

Whatever your interests are, you are likely to find like-minded people and the right activities for you. If not, you can always find a new student organisation.

“There are plenty of activities organised by students. It’s not hard to make friends or find a new hobby.”
Enjoy academic traditions and student events

Student life and the academic year are peppered with a variety of academic traditions and events.

Throughout the year, the University of Helsinki and the Student Union (HYY) organise a wide variety of events and parties open to all students, for example:

  • an opening carnival to celebrate the start of the academic year
  • Fresher adventure where teams complete tasks at checkpoints
  • a traditional procession on Finland’s Independence Day

The activities of the different student organisations include:

  • anniversary celebrations and academic dinner parties
  • cultural events and get-togethers
  • work-life excursions and trips into nature
  • participating in the academic sledging race on Shrove Tuesday

Written by Weronika Krupa

For many – especially international students – words like ‘vappu’ or ‘sitsit’ hold little to no meaning. But for students in Finland, they are an important part of the university experience. There is a myriad of traditions that uphold the sense of community among the students.

In this story, the University of Helsinki students and staff talk about three of them: the overalls, May Day (vappu) and academic dinner parties (sitsit).

Tradition #1: What’s with all these overalls?

“Student overalls are basically your costume, or uniform as a student. At any event you go to, you showcase with the colour of your overalls and the patches you have on them in which university you study, what you are studying and for how long (based on the number of patches)”, says Sami Salovaara from the Organisation of International Social Scientists (CISSI).

“With each overall colour corresponding to a specific faculty, students in Finland can spot their pals all over the city during university celebrations!”

The overalls naturally also come with a set of rules.

”You should only wash your overalls if you are wearing them! For example, if you go swimming or take a shower", says Emilia Junnila, Board Member of the Student Union of the University of Helsinki (HYY).

"It may seem like a bit of a struggle but sewing on the patches on the overalls together with friends can be a bonding experience! In the end, each pair of overalls is unique and becomes a very personal piece of history."

Tradition #2: Vappu who?

Vappu is probably the biggest student event of the year – it’s pretty much a Labour Day student carnival, where thousands of students gather to celebrate.

“Vappu, known as the 1st of May, is the most important tradition for Finnish students. It’s also often called the day of the students. During Vappu, students organise celebrations all around Finland. In Helsinki, students give the statue of Havis Amanda a white student hat for the celebrations and have a picnic in Kaivopuisto park”, explains Junnila.

“The spirit and atmosphere during Vappu are unlike anything else!”, she continues.

Certainly, the huge crowd of students wearing colourful overalls can create a sense of community and integration. Pondering the nature of the celebration, Salovaara adds:

“My favourite thing about Vappu is the communal feeling. When you have your overalls on (mine are red) and you meet other people from your faculty somewhere randomly, you instantly make new friends.

With its exceptional atmosphere and monumental scale, Vappu is a celebration that each student can look forward to throughout the academic year. It is an unforgettable experience both for the newcomers and for the experienced Vappu veterans.

Tradition #3: Sitsit? Sign me up!

Though its origins remain unknown, `sitsit´ can be considered a truly Nordic tradition which came to Finland from Sweden. This academic dinner party is something every student should attend at least once during their studies. But what exactly is a sitsit?  

"Sitsit is an academic tradition where students gather to enjoy a dinner, during which traditional student songs are sung with other activities, such as making speeches”, Junnila explains.

Attending a sitsit is a whole experience – with songs, speeches and traditional gestures. Sitsit can be arranged by student organisations or privately. In terms of organising a sitsit for international students, Salovaara is an expert:

”The most important part is to have a balance of older students who have taken part in `sitsit´ before, and completely new students. The older students usually request songs more often and know the basic structure of the event. They can guide the new students on what is appropriate and what are the traditions.”

During an international sitsit, a funny twist to the most recognizable songs or a multilingual group activity can be expected.

”Sitsit is a great celebration of your traditions, passing them along to other students, meeting new people and of course having a lot of fun. It's also a great way for different student organisations to collaborate with each other, for example by co-organising a sitsit together", says Salovaara.

Keeping up with the traditions

Student overalls, vappu and sitsit are just a few of the numerous student traditions in Finland. Moreover, each city and university cultivates its own special customs. Student traditions in Finland come in a huge variety but all are equally important. As the protocol specialist Juha Hurme concludes:

”University of Helsinki is the oldest university in Finland. Therefore, we have a duty to keep our traditions alive. We should be proud of our long history“.

Practicalities of student life in Helsinki