The Cons and Pros of Study Abroad
A growing number of Finns spend at least some time abroad during their university years. Most leave because they want to experience a different culture and practice a foreign language. Upon reaching the new university, however, many students realize that their expectations were too high. For Finnish students accustomed to a high accommodation standard and older colleagues, some foreign universities may seem more like boarding houses. Olli Virtaperko, a 23 year old student of music theory, studied in Edinborough, Scotland three years ago. He found that, ”Almost all the other students were 17 or 18 year olds from London, away from home for the first time. Parties were going on continuously and the stench of marihuana was everywhere.” Student housing was a major disappointment: one bathroom and kitchen per twenty students.
Another problem many returning students complain of is the difference in instruction standards. The academic system in Anglo-Saxon schools, for example, is nowhere near as flexible as Finnish universities: one final exam finishes the academic season, there is regular homework and instruction is strict. Upon returning, most Finns receive a mere 5-15 credits for their time abroad. Others are disappointed to find the instruction level much lower than expected, not at all corresponding to their current academic situation. Pearl Lönnfors of the Language Center has researched studies abroad and advises students to travel only in the later stages of their studies, preferrably after they have already earned the kandidaatti status, the Finnish equivalent of a Bachelor’s degree. ”Students that have gone abroad early in their studies often feel as if they have wasted an academic year,” comments Lönnfors.
Studying abroad is also tough on the pocketbook. 290 of the 485 students that went abroad last year were partially financed by Erasmus – an EU program to encourage intra-European university student exchange. In the early days of Erasmus, students going abroad were offered 10,000 FIM. Today, after cutbacks, students receive a mere 4,000 FIM, barely enough to cover the cost of a round-trip train ticket. Selma Green, 23, studied Swedish last spring in Lund. ”It swallowed a lot of my own and my Mom’s money,” she says. But almost evey student that has studied abroad argrees that the trip was worth it. Olli adds, ”Sure, it was worth it. Not academically, but because it improved my language skills and widened my world understanding.” He was particularly pleased to have experienced teacher-student interaction and active participation in the classroom. ”If you ask me, the instructors of the University of Helsinki should be sent abroad to learn something, not the students.”
Sailas and Lehto Predict Jobs for Everyone
Top economic and social policy advisors Raimo Sailas and Markku Lehto predict a sunny future for current university students, based on their latest suggestions concerning the elimination of the student study grant. Secretary Raimo Sailas from the Ministry of Finance believes that, ”Employment for educated persons in the early 21st century will be very good.” He therefore encourages students to make decisions regarding studies based on this outlook and not look back to the recession period of the 1990’s. Sailas and the Chief Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs Markku Lehto recently participated in a study aid panel discussion arranged by the Helsinki Student Union (HYY). The pair lamented that studies aren’t seen as an investment that should be supported with loans. Because students are definitely going to find work, they feel that there is no need for students to worry about paying the loans back. Lehto suggests a state-backed social loan for funding studies that can be tied to the approximate amount that the student will eventually be earning. Sailas encourages students to ”cut back on the study aid discussions” and focus on more important issues like improving the level of studies and maintaining Finland’s competitive edge. He adds, ”Future challenges lie elsewhere, nothing can be gained by expanding the old welfare state.”
The Unicard is Here
A new multi-functional student identification card has been introduced to University of Helsinki students this fall. The Unicard is a student ID, Helka library card and bank card all in one. Money can be deposited in the card’s account at HYY, after which the card can be used to pay for purchases at the Unicafe student cafeterias, the University Book Store, KILROY travel agency Helsinki, the Vanha bar and concert hall, the Undergraduate Library, the University Student Health Care Foundation (YTHS), and the downtown locations of the University Pharmacy. The card cannot be used as a bank card in other contexts, however. The card sports a bonus system, with which students can gather bonus points and earn themselves discounts. Five lunches a week at the university cafeteria earns one free meal a month, for example.
During the last three and a half months, Erkka Lehto has been one of several trial Unicard users. In that time, Lehto has deposited over 2000 FIM in the account. ”I’ve used the card so industriously that several salespeople that I have done business with say `hi’ on the street,” he grins. ”I think it’s great that different cards are incorporated into one. Besides, it looks a lot nicer than the old student card did.” Other users feel the card makes it easier to keep track of where the money goes and will cut back on long lines and small change use. First year university students have received their cards already, but older students will have to wait until the card is better established.
The University’s Own Visual Arts Center
On the seventh floor of Porthania, art is made. The hustle and bustle of the main floor below is forgotten up here, where all that is heard is the scratching of a drawing chalk and peaceful footsteps. Beginning drawing students sit behind their easels and trace the outline of a plaster sculpture. They’ll have to wait a year to draw a live model. The visual arts department of the university dates back to 1640 and many famous artists, like Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Eliel Saarinen and Tove Jansson have sat in on instruction. Drawing and water and oil painting courses are open to all univerity students and for many, it is a channel to the world of art. Some have lost their hearts, ending up at the Visual Arts Academy or the University for Art and Design. This year, the Director of the Drawing Department, Pertti Summa, took on twenty new students. ”Those that are gifted are willing to do work to reach their goals. One young woman was often here all weekend and she is now at the Academy,” says Summa. The majority of students pursue university art classes as a hobby alone. New students will be admitted again in the spring on a first come, first serve basis.
The New, Noble Youth
The commercial advertising company McCannin did a survey of 515 young Finns between the ages of 15 and 25 last spring. The survey focused on young people’s values and self-image. Similar surveys were completed in 1976 and 1987. In 1997, 94% of respondents think more effective measures should be taken to protect the environment and growing numbers believe the world’s natural resources will be exhausted in their lifetime. 56% accept homosexual marriages and 27% feel that same sex couples should be allowed to adopt children. A quarter of respondents condemn divorce and 92% oppose adultery. The majority support gender equality at home and in the workplace, although less than half of young men think a woman can drive a car as well as a man or want more women in parliament. Young people pine the days of chivalry and wish they were more romantic.
Results show that young people’s opinions of themselves has improved. The majority find themselves trustworthy and honest, with a sense of humor. Helena Helve has studied young people for over twenty years and looks with suspicion on large scale survey results. She feels they often relate young people’s visions and hopes about themselves, not the real picture. ”These days, it is so important to show that you have self-confidence.” Helve does admit that individuality has been on the rise, but how that effects self-image is hard to say. ”Can anyone even show us how this better-than-average self-image can be seen in young people’s activities?” she asks.