What do incoming international students need to be prepared for, and what may surprise them upon their arrival in Finland? As one of the University of Helsinki’s international student ambassadors, Rupsha Bagchi is used to answering such questions. Applications for new ambassadors will be accepted until next Monday.

Rupsha Bagchi arrived at the University of Helsinki a little more than a year ago to study in a computer science Master’s degree programme. The change in environment was dramatic: Bagchi’s hometown, Delhi, has more inhabitants than all of Finland.

“I soon felt at home, and I now enjoy the connection to nature, the cleanliness and even solitude, which seemed difficult at first. When I visited India some time ago, I got reverse culture shock.”

Helping others settle in

Bagchi decided on Finland when she was looking for somewhere in Europe to continue her studies after her Bachelor's degree. “My friend was studying at Aalto University and sang the country’s praises. I looked into universities, and when I discovered how high the ranking of the University of Helsinki was, I decided to apply. It was of course a plus that the high-quality studies were also free of charge.”

Bagchi was so happy with her choice that last year, she decided to become an international student ambassador. The ambassadors market the University to international students and help them with applications as well as settling in.

When I discovered how high the ranking of the University of Helsinki was, I decided to apply.

“The student ambassador system has been around for several years, but I'm the first Indian to participate. I’m proud to represent the University of Helsinki and enjoy being able to help others and meet new people. I believe that both the international students and the University benefit from this.”

Greetings from the land of Linux

Bagchi has shared information about Finland and the University through her own networks, on Facebook, for example, and has received contacts from India as well as Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal. “At least one Pakistani and two Indian students have already arrived here.”

Just putting Finland on the map is a job in itself. “My friends in India have wondered why on earth would I choose a place like Finland to study. Many think that Europe ends at the northern border of Germany or thereabouts. I’ve told them about the high level of the universities and research. One concrete example is Linus Torvalds. We all use Linux, but not many know who created it.”

Bagchi has also been impressed by how flexible Finnish studies are. “It’s great to be able to study at different faculties and institutions of higher education. I’ve been asked how I, a computer science student, am able to study psychology."

"It’s ok for a student to work as a cleaner"

According to Bagchi, one common misconception among prospective international students to Finland has to do with the job market.

“Unlike in the US, the UK or Australia, it's difficult to find part-time work in your field, even if you have experience. Competition is intense. Finding a job can take a year. On the other hand, different types of jobs are thought of as equal here, and it’s ok for a student to work as a cleaner. In India, for example, the situation is completely different."

Bagchi first found a job at a children’s day-care centre, but now she works at an IT startup. In addition to her major subject studies at the University of Helsinki, she is also studying at Aalto University.

“I want to stay here and work after I graduate.”

Bagchi credits her integration to her tutor. “Our tutor answered all the questions we had and showed us around Helsinki. The University could use more support like this. Other than that, there are sufficient services for international students – as long as you know where to ask."

Applications for new international student ambassadors will be accepted until next Monday, 30 November