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Exchange to Aalto University – by Hannah Materne

When I decided to go on exchange I never would have thought I would end up in Finland. However, one year later I was packing my suitcase with thick knits and a heavy coat as I prepared for the Nordic winter. I exchanged the blistering Australian sun for darks days and a lot of snow. On the day I arrived in Helsinki it was -4 degrees and already pitch black at four in the afternoon. I remember dragging my suitcase to my apartment in the freezing cold, wondering if I had made the right choice but it didn’t take me long to fall in love with this winter wonderland and call it home.

I choose to attend Aalto University in Helsinki because I wanted a completely different experience from my life in Australia. I also wanted to challenge myself and go somewhere that many exchange students had not gone before. This honestly ended up being the best decision I have ever made. Helsinki is a city bustling with culture, music, fashion, nightlife and food. I really encourage potential exchange students to consider this beautiful place and search beyond the popular study abroad programs.

One of the best parts about Helsinki is its vibrant food and coffee culture. It is also said that the Finnish are the biggest coffee drinkers in the world so it is of no surprise that they have mastered the perfect cup and with many cozy spaces to enjoy it. I predicted Finnish plates to be piled high with stewed meat and steaming potatoes but my idea couldn’t have been further from the truth. The variety of amazing food on offer meant that choosing which establishment to eat at was my greatest difficulty whilst living aboard. In Finland, weekend equals brunch time and there is no better way to enjoy a lazy Saturday or Sunday than indulging in a day of non-stop eating. Helsinki also has a great night scene with an endless supply of quirky bars and underground clubs. You have may to travel a bit further to find them but it is definitely worth it and although the alcohol restrictions are a bit on the stricter side, everyone is still up for a good time!

I absolutely loved being surrounded by snow. Everyday I would walk through a forest covered in white, it was almost like being in Narnia. During my exchange I went up to Lapland on a university trip with friends and the scenery was absolutely spectacular. We went dog sledding, snowmobiling and sledded down the ski slops at night. We were also lucky enough to experience the northern lights and spent the night camped out on a frozen lake admiring the colours. When our fingers and toes turned numb we would jump into the sauna (a favourite Finnish pastime) and enjoy a beer or two.

The Finnish people themselves are without a doubt some of the friendliest and kindest people I have ever met. They are said to be very reserved, however the Finns love getting to know foreigners and practicing their language, which was extremely helpful since the Finnish language is very quite difficult to master. Aalto Univeristy is also a great place to study commerce and offers some really interesting electives that combine business with environmental and social issues. The exchange program was fantastic with organizing events and trips to meet other students and become immersed in Finnish culture. Through it I made friends for life from all over the world and am now planning to future travels to visit them.

Tip: Make the effort to travel around Europe, especially to the other Scandic and Nordic countries. But don’t forget to enjoy Helsinki and discover what the city has to offer.

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