Academic Considerations

The Finnish academic structure differs from that in the United States. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the Finnish educational system before you arrive so that you can be prepared for some of the differences.

In my experience Finland allows for a lot of freedom in academics and study.
Fulbright U.S. student grantee 2016-2017

Lecturers and Researchers

Including the Fulbright-Nokia Distinguished Chair in Information and Communications Technologies, Fulbright Bicentennial Chair in American Studies, the Fulbright-Aalto University Distinguished Chair, Fulbright-Saastamoinen Foundation Grant in Health and Environmental Sciences, Fulbright-VTT Grant in Science, Technology and Innovation, Fulbright-Tampere University of Technology Scholar Award, Fulbright-University of Turku Scholar Award, Fulbright-HAAGA-HELIA Scholar Award, Fulbright-University of Tampere Scholar Award.

Contact your host

Early contact with your host institution in Finland is essential in order to properly prepare for your Fulbright experience. Keep in mind that the Finnish academic faculty and staff are often away from the campus during the summer period (June–August). Therefore, for those arriving in August it would be advisable to start communicating with your Finnish hosts as soon as your grant has been confirmed at the latest. Also, the number of teaching assignments, contacts hours and similar matters have to be decided commonly between the host and the grantee well before the beginning of the grant period.

Take the initiative to make sure that others at your host university know you are in town and possibly available for meetings or lectures. Your host department may not advertise your activities very widely, so you need to do this yourself. In some cases, students may be interested in taking your courses even though they are technically enrolled in another department of your host university. If you make a point to advertise your courses more widely, then you can be sure of a more diverse class.

I would suggest to future Fulbrighters to really spend time up front preparing for their teaching and research so that the limited time in Finland can be focused more on active engagement and collaboration with others. The time goes so quickly that the semester ends just as it seems to all start making sense! I would also recommend finding out the exact expectations of key individuals at the host institution and try forging potential collaborative endeavors prior to arriving.

Initial concerns in preparing for your stay in Finland include the number and type of courses you will be teaching, or the type of research you will be conducting, and what is expected from both parties in preparation for these. If you will be conducting research during your visit, you should find out whether any intellectual property rights issues (IPR) need to be discussed and agreed upon with your host.

Other important considerations include housing arrangements, particular types of equipment or scholarly resources required for your project, or perhaps special concerns related to family members who may accompany you.

Different academic culture

When you start preparing for your assignment at the host institution, remember that you are coming to a different academic culture. The arrangements at your host university will be different from what you are used to at home. For example, if you have agreed to give a lecture course that meets two hours a week, it may mean 2 x 45 minutes and not two full hours, and a three credit course will most likely not mean the same thing as a 3 credit course at your own university, etc. The key to successful planning is not taking things for granted or assuming that familiar sounding terms are used in the same sense they are used in the U.S. You need to ask your hosts to explain what the local arrangements are like in detail.

Advise Fulbrighters to ask all sorts of questions – even seemingly stupid ones – about the everyday administrative and practical aspects of everyday life in the higher education system here. It is so utterly different (better in some, not better in others) than that of the U.S. One thinks one “gets it”, but one doesn’t. Basic assumptions differ – about attendance in class, scheduling, the length of the term, independent reading, etc. And, remember to point out that Finnish university students are excellent students – the top of their cohort. One can expect good work from them.
- Former Fulbright lecturer grantee

Courses taught by former Fulbrighters

To give you an idea of what types of courses former Fulbrighters have taught, we have listed below some sample course syllabi. Please note that these are just examples and may not be applicable to your host institution. However, we hope that they can help you identify some key questions to ask your hosts.

Specialists

As the grant period is short, from 2-6 weeks, many issues discussed in this Orientation Guide do not necessarily apply to the specialist. It is important to discuss with the Finnish host institution and mutually agree on the content and schedule of the visit to Finland. It is largely up to the grantee and the host to decide what type of activities the grantee is involved in and what materials the grantee should bring along to Finland.

Mid-Career Professional Grantees

Due to the nature of your grant program, you have already established contacts with the host institution and you should be well aware of the individuals you will be associating with while you are here. These individuals are your best source of information on specialized preparation for your grant period - anything from materials you should bring along to asking for help in locating housing.

Prior to arriving in Finland, you should have a very clear idea of what is expected of you. It is also important for you to communicate to the host what your expectations are.

Students

Begin communicating with your host well before summer

Students pursuing a particular course of study have established contact with the appropriate institutions and individuals prior to applying for a Fulbright grant. By now, if you are a research student you should have identified scholars willing to assist you in your field of interest. These scholars are your best source of information on specialized preparation for your grant period - anything from materials you should bring along to reading or research that should be accomplished before departure from the United States.It is important that you have a clear plan of your activities well before you arrive in Finland and that your host university and contact persons are aware of your plans.

Please note that it will be very difficult to reach your Finnish host and other personnel at the Finnish universities during summer time particularly on June and July. This is why it is important to be in contact with your host and arrange your Fulbright term related matters before the summer begins.

University enrollment and class registration

How to enroll as a new student in a Finnish university usually depends on your status (exchange student, visiting student, degree student, Doctoral student). Find out from your host university what are the specific enrollment instructions (including deadlines) in your case well before arriving in Finland.

If you are planning to take courses in a Finnish university, find out the class registration methods and deadlines already before arriving in Finland. The class registration is often done through an online system during specific time periods in Finnish universities. In some cases, you register for a course just by attending the first lecture or by writing an e-mail to the teacher. The registration for the courses may vary between faculties, departments and courses within a university.

Student discounts and benefits

Student Unions provide various services for university students. Under the student union act, all Bachelor's and Master's degree students are required to join the Student Union. Usually exchange students and sometimes visiting students can also join the Student Union, but are not obliged to do so. To become a member, one must pay the membership fee (see for example: Aalto University). Student union membership entitles students to several considerable discounts

  • Student Health Service,
  • discounts on meal prices in the cafeterias on campus (examples on student cafeteria meal prices at the University of Oulu campus: basic student lunch EUR 2.60,  soup lunch EUR 1.95, deli lunch EUR 4.95 and the special lunch EUR 4.40)
  • at a number of shops, stores and restaurants,
  • 30-55% discount on long distance train and bus fares.

An organization called Frank issues the national student cards for higher degree students in Finland.

Doctoral Students
jatko-opiskelijat (in Finnish)

The services and benefits for the Bachelor’s and Master’s degree students and Doctoral students vary significantly in Finland. Student Union membership is voluntary for Doctoral students, however, the membership benefits are much fewer for Doctoral students which results in clearly higher living costs for Doctoral students compared to for example Master’s or exchange students’ living costs in Finland. Doctoral students are not entitled to subsidized meals, travel discounts or Student Health Services. There can be some student restaurants which offer a slightly more inexpensive lunch by presenting the Doctoral student card, but the meal price is still higher compared to the undergraduate or Master’s students prices. Doctoral students usually have access to affordable university sports services at a subsidized price. A Doctoral student who has joined the student union is also entitled to services and benefits offered by the Student Union. Depending on the city, Doctoral students can have very limited access to student housing.

To find out what benefits you will be entitled to as a student in Finland, please contact your host university International Office well before arriving in Finland. This is a very important topic for you when making your annual budget for your Fulbright term. The access to student discounted meals and student housing can significantly lower your living costs in Finland and vice versa. Your host university International Office can also advice you on how to access the student card and where to find more information on your host university Student Union. It is also important that you make sure you know when the deadline is for applying for the student card and registering for the student union. In some universities the deadline can be very early in the fall semester, when you might still be in the U.S.

Student life

Students should get involved with Finnish student life as early in the grant period as possible. It’s true that Finns can be difficult to approach, but once they’re opened up, they are incredible people.

The student nations (osakunta) are great. Their events are almost always open to non-members, so it can be a good idea to go around in the beginning of the year and meet people from different nations. It is also easy to meet people at the "ainejärjestö", the department social club. Foreign students rarely join these organizations, and tend to be warmly welcomed. Nylands Nation, Åbo Nation, Saga (Nordic languages club), and Aspekti (linguistics club) have been my main sources for making friends, and in all of these I am the only foreign student. In general, I have found that Finnish people take a great interest in foreigners who show a desire to learn about Finland.

The best way I have found to do this is by getting involved with the departmental student organization. For example, I am involved with VOO (Valtio-Opin Opiskelijat). Student nations are also good places to get connected with Finnish student life. Getting involved with these groups is best in the fall because of the fuksiaiset—the first-year student activities—at which there are very few previously established social groups that are difficult to break into. These groups offer a great way to meet people, attend various student events, travel, participate in athletics, etc.

Teachers

Each teacher grantee and project is different and therefore the academic considerations may vary significantly from teacher to teacher. It is however always important to discuss with the Finnish host institution and mutually agree on the content of the visit to Finland.

It is largely up to the grantee and the host to decide what type of activities the grantee is involved in. It is always good for the grantees to be active in creating contacts and taking the initiative.

More information

Also read what academic materials you should bring along