What are you studying at the University of Helsinki?
Alex: We both are second-year master students.
Vlad: Speaking more specific, we are currently doing International Business Law being part of Master of Comparative International law programme.
Why have you chosen the University of Helsinki among other universities?
Alex: It was a kind of natural choice for me. I have grown up in Petroskoi in Karelia, which is close to the Finnish border. I travelled to Finland first time when I was a child and liked it immediately. Couple of years later I started to study Finnish language and decided that studying in Finland is the best option for me. And the University of Helsinki is the best university in Finland which offers not-too-wide-not-too-narrow master degree programme.
Vlad: Unlike Alexandra, my decision to apply to the University of Helsinki was more spontaneous, but also logical in a way. From one side, while studying on the last course in my previous university in Russia I was doubtful about my future and possible professional prospects. From other side, I was willing to work for an international entity but I was not confident enough that knowledge that I had already received by that moment would comply with my goals.
The University of Helsinki was a brilliant compromise for the situation, giving me more time to ascertain my plans and to deepen my degree at the same time.
For me the most crucial factors regarding the choice of university were the country and particular city where I will study. By the time of application, I had been learning Finnish language for two years and also regularly attended different events held by Consulate of Finland in Saint Petersburg. Following this, I decided to look for a Master's programme in law in Finland and University of Helsinki offered the most relevant and flexible one.
Have you been satisfied with the University of Helsinki and what it has to offer?
Alex: I never regretted choosing the University of Helsinki. Of course, there were stressful moments. Written exams were a challenge (I had mostly oral examinations during my bachelor degree in Russia), and working in a team is not something Russian students are taught every day.
However, I still think that international law students do not have that active cooperation with potential employees as other students. The University is advancing in this and we just need to be more patient.
For example, last year Helsinki Law Clinic project was launched which gave many students amazing Senior Trainee level experience of consulting real clients, drafting memorandums under the supervision of lawyers (and just feeling like a real lawyer, yes!).
Vlad: At first, same as for Alexandra, studying at the University of Helsinki was a shock for me. As I had no previous experience of studying abroad, it took me a while to get used to the system itself with all the WebOodi, Moodle, Flamma, Helka issues as well as the credit system, course evaluation and the study process itself.
However, once I got used to University, I started to notice amazing things it has to offer. For example, I was pleased with the quality of Finnish language teaching.
Another pleasant discovery were advanced language learning programs like ALICE tandem language course. ALICE offers students with two different native languages an opportunity to develop knowledge of partner’s mother tongue through live communication with him. I have tried to accomplish the programme for two times and even though I have not succeeded both attempts, I have got good language practice and new friends from it.
Do you live in Helsinki while studying here?
Vlad: Frankly speaking, it might be very problematic to study at the University of Helsinki while living far away. The programme is very extensive and most of the courses require students’ attendance. Even though some of our course mates live in different towns than Helsinki (e.g. in other regions of Finland or Tallinn), if you want to enjoy the variety of educational options which our university can offer, I would highly recommend you to stick to Metropolitan area while doing your degree.
Alex: At this moment, I live in Saint Petersburg as I am doing a three-month-internship at a Finnish law firm. But then I will be back and settle in Helsinki.
Are you taking part in other activities designed for students, for example, UniSport, Think Company, student organisations etc.?
Alex: When I started studying at the university, my Facebook feed became filled with all kinds of student events. Now I dream of having a Time-Turner. UniSport has many classes to offer and I enjoy spending breaks between lectures by attending dance lessons (African dance was the best discovery last semester) and yoga classes.
I am also active with debating (I manage Helsinki Debating Society) and European Law Students Association (ELSA). Thanks to these organisations, I meet amazing people from all over the world both in Helsinki and when travelling.
Vlad: Studying in University of Helsinki I am really enjoying my student time. You never feel alone: every week there are lots events for students. I like to join events of different student organizations, even of those ones to which I do not belong to. Different faculties and organisations have their own specials to offer: this fall I have so far attended Freshman’s quest by student organisations of Kumpula (one of the University’s campuses), Picnic by Tsemppi (organisation struggling for international students’ rights) and a 'sitsit' by CISSI (international social sciences students’ organisation).
Have your studies at the University of Helsinki opened new (work-related) opportunities to you? If yes, please shortly explain what sort of opportunities.
Alex: Before starting my studies in Finland, I completed bachelor degree in law and I also have a certificate of English-Russian legal translator and interpreter. Before starting my studies, I actually saw legal profession a bit different. Now I understand how international it can be, how team spirit and marketing efforts are important. Many of my friends think that we study only Finnish law. That is not true: we focus on European law, and are even lucky to look at some cases of US law. But in practice, I explored many challenges (and victories as well!) of learning Finnish law. Actually, when you are a foreigner yourself, you become more understandable by your clients. You don`t start explaining from the middle of the problem because all the problems are as unknown to you as are to your clients. I would say hiring an international lawyer is a pure advantage in this perspective!
Vlad: To be honest, it took me almost a year to get used to life in Finland, educational system and to start making a living for myself (I am not working in the sphere of my professional interest so far). You know what they say; redundant haste does not end up with a positive result. Following this, I am trying to do my progress step by step, so this year I will most probably apply for an internship in a legal firm.
Has it been difficult or easy to find Finnish friends while studying at the Uni Helsinki?
Alex: Finding real friends is not easy everywhere. Just to note, that is sociophobic side of me speaking! But when you actually find something in common, speaking different languages does not make the difference. People in Helsinki are open-minded. You should just forget about stereotypes. However, surfing through Finnish nightmare publications in Facebook may still make sense. According to them, I am also a Finn!
Vlad: They say that university is one of the best places to make friends and I totally agree with it. However, Finnish people are rare findings among students, who I meet regularly at the uni. I cannot say though that it is the fault of the Finns: how could you imagine, for example, a Finn to attend a middle level Finnish language course (which is a good place to find friends for a foreigner)? Thus, most of my Finnish pals I met while doing my hobbies or through my international friends.
What do you think of Helsinki as a city? Does it have enough activities to offer? How’s the culture scene in your opinion? Are there enough happenings in Helsinki?
Alex: I enjoy the view of the sea from the window metro every morning I go to the university – this is the best way to start the day! All this closeness to nature creates such a cosy feeling. Chasing rabbits on the way home is the best pastime for my friends who visit me in Helsinki (another way to distinguish a local from a tourist!).
Vlad: For me Helsinki is a great cultural finding! Even though the city is rather small in comparison to my hometown, Saint Petersburg, I do not feel like I am losing something living in here. For example, this summer I enjoyed ESPA jazz festival and volunteered for the Flow music festival which was really amazing!
In addition to attending various museums and art exhibitions in Helsinki, one should not forget about small and informal sightseeing spots like Sompasauna or the bars of Kallio – you never know where the fun could be found in the town!
What are your favourite Finnish foods?
Alex: Lohikeitto (salmon soup) is definitely number one on my list. Karelian pastry is something that unites my home Karelia and Finland, so it comes second. Don`t take my ranking seriously: everything is so tasty there.
Vlad: Could UniCafe’s foods be the answer (kidding)? Seriously speaking, I cannot distinguish local cuisine from Russian one easily; both have a lot of similar dishes. I enjoy that local foods remind me of my mom’s cooking – that makes me feel less nostalgic about all the good that I have left after having moved to Finland.
When one comes to study in Helsinki, what should they definitely experience whilst living here?
Alex: Don’t plan any exams just right after Vappu (that was my mistake)! You should fully enjoy amazing celebrations and all the rituals, both common traditions and traditions of students of your student organisation.
Vlad: Get an overall of your faculty and come to a Freshmen adventure! Try a bar crawl or a pub quiz. Go to international students’ party. The first fall you will have will be the best memory of your student life, so do not let it pass away.
What are your best Helsinki tips for people coming to study here (these tips don’t have to be studying related)?
Alex: Stay tuned: there are so many events going on! If you have not found something that interests you really much it only means you have not been searching well enough. You can always pretend to be a tourist and browse for new sightseeings – for example, this summer I discovered Kruununvuori ghost town with an amazing view at the sea, got a bit scared, picked blueberries and just spent a great Friday evening with my friend there.
Could you imagine living in Helsinki after graduating?
Alex: I perfectly imagine that – I am just so used to living there but still discovering something new every day.
Vlad: For me, Helsinki is a smaller, cuter and cosier version of my hometown, so I do not see any obstacles for staying longer in here after graduating. Also, I gradually get used to 'Stadin slangi', so who knows where this is going to end?