Tips from Previous Grantees

After a Fulbright year in Finland, many grantees have been eager to share their experiences with future grantees and to give them advice on how to cope with living in a foreign country. Here is a collection of tips and advice from previous Fulbright grantees to Finland. Enjoy!

Maximizing Your Host Relationship

Once you have secured a host and been selected for a Fulbright Scholarship, the really important work begins! Here are a few tips—some apply to the time before you arrive in Finland while others are relevant to your grant period.

  1. Once you have received the grant, reread your research statement. By the time you arrive in Finland in the fall, a year will have passed since you submitted your research statement. It is possible that your research plans have changed over that period. Even if you think you have not amended your plans, reread your research statement to familiarize yourself with the specifics you proposed. Then, if there have been any changes (subtle or significant) make sure you communicate these with your host.
  2. Begin communicating with your host early and often. The key at this stage is to not make any assumptions. Make sure you know what expectations you have for each other for the Fulbright year.
  3. Continue the conversation upon arrival. The key to making the most of your grant period and to maintaining a productive relationship with your host will be to communicate clearly about expectations.

My interactions with the university community have been wonderful. I very much enjoyed the daily coffee breaks with various discussions, the department’s Christmas party that featured a laser tag game, and many other group and department events.
- U.S. Scholar Grantee 2016-2017

Make the Most of It and Participate

  1. Take part in different events, courses, and projects. It’s a great way to meet new people and keep active.
  2. Go to sauna! And if you can, ice-hole swimming in the winter!
  3. Take part in the International Summer School courses provided by the University of Turku. You will learn a lot about Finnish culture and the basics of the language and you get to meet other international students and scholars!
  4. Take part in your host institution’s buddy/tutor/host family program. It’s fun and will surely be one of the highlights of your stay in Finland! Getting to know one Finn or Finnish family through the program helped grantees feel more integrated into the community and advanced their possibilities of networking. Buddies can also help with staying connected to the host institution and adapting to Finnish life, but mostly buddies and host families were appreciated for the time spent together and for their friendship.
  5. Join a choir, student organization, student union or any sort of club that would enable you to meet Finns and keep active. Some organizations arrange student friendly trips around Finland or to nearby countries, which enable members to meet new people and travel on a low budget. Immersing oneself in a local organization is also a great way to interact with Finns and witness Finnish culture.

“What really helped me to meet so many Finnish students and create my social networks was to join student organizations at the university.  I think that this is the best piece of advice I have for other grantees. Organizations that are mostly for Finnish students are the best way to meet the Finns.” 

 

Reach Out                                                                   

  1. Put yourself out there and don’t be afraid to meet new people. Taking the first step and getting to know the locals is important!
  2. Don’t be afraid to use what little Finnish you know! Previous grantees found that they could get far by using the few words of Finnish they knew and by not being afraid to “put themselves out there”.

Be open to all invitations.  Go deep and wide with your research if possible.  See as much of Finland as time and resources allow.  Conduct interviews with contacts outside of schools.  Attend events and performances in the calendar for national holidays, and plan ahead—especially if you have just returned from a road trip and your refrigerator is empty!  Try to learn some Finnish before you arrive in Finland.  Ask questions, be willing to look foolish, and don`t allow your pride to get in the way of experiencing new activities. - U.S. Scholar Grantee 2014-2015

It's commonly said that Finns are shy and that personal relationships are difficult to form, but I'd recommend ignoring that and proceeding to interact socially as if you were in the United States or any other country. Otherwise, one might give up easily or make assumptions about Finns because of a couple of cold responses or unsuccessful interaction

Look up the organization called InterNations. It is an international expat organization with groups around the world. It is a great way to meet both Finns and ExPats with numerous activities each week.
- U.S. Student Grantee 2014-2015

As a PhD student it's been really difficult to meet people. Again, another difference in Finland than the U.S. is that PhD students aren't considered students. There aren't the same structures in place that help you to meet people as there are as an undergraduate or master's student (or as PhD students in the U.S.). It's especially difficult if you're doing independent research (outside of the lab setting, etc.). There are very few student groups for PhD students so that makes it difficult as well. There is one group for international students, Tsemppi (the University of Helsinki), that has a sub-group for PhD students. It's been really great for meeting other international people, at least. I would recommend this for everyone, but especially for PhD Fulbrighters who may be looking for ways to meet other people here!- U.S. Student Grantee 2014-2015

Travel

  1. Traveling is fun, safe and easy in Finland, so make the most of your stay here and explore what all the different sides of Finland have to offer. Trains and busses will take you pretty much anywhere you want to go!
  2. If you have time for only one destination, Lapland is it. It’s a magical place above the Arctic Circle which previous grantees named as the number one region of Finland to visit!
  3. Enjoy Finland’s unique nature!
  4. Visit nearby countries and capitals as well. Stockholm, Tallinn and St. Petersburg are close by and all easily reachable by ferry.

Practical Tips

  1. Take advantage of the local tourist offices. Almost every city has one, and they will be able to provide you with free maps and information.
  2. Come prepared with a solid research plan. Keep up frequent contact with your host institution already before arrival in Finland; this will help you develop strong connections and ensure a beneficial research environment later on.
  3. Find out before summer if you are eligible for student status at your host institution and remember to apply for your student card early on, even prior to arrival! It will enable you to receive various discounts on traveling and student lunches.
  4. Have some sort of financial nest egg upon arrival in Finland. There might be unforeseen expenses that need to be made before you receive your grant money.
  5. Keep up with current Finnish affairs by following the Finnish English language newspapers and news broadcasts, such as YLE News and The Helsinki Times.
  6. Make use of the public libraries as well as the American Resource Center. They are helpful places to study and research and find good materials.
  7. Remember to take into account various Finnish holidays since they can affect store hours and public transportation schedules. Christmas, New Year, Easter, Midsummer and Finland’s Independence Day are all important holidays in Finland.

“Immerse yourself as much as possible in the culture of your host country! Take advantage of free language courses and don't be daunted by the task of learning a language very different from your own!”

Be Active

  1. Keep physically and mentally healthy by exercising and staying socially active.
  2. Apply for a gym membership. It’s especially affordable for students if you join your local university sports.
  3. Organize or take part in dinner parties and other get togethers. Previous grantees found it essential to keep active – it’ll boost your mood and help you keep your projects going.
  4. Remember to relax! Try to overcome the feeling of having to be productive all the time and give yourself time to enjoy Finland. Spend a weekend with friends at a traditional summer cottage, go to sauna, travel!
  5. Stay in touch with family back home. Book a trip home for the holidays – it will enable you to recharge your batteries and return to Finland with new enthusiasm!

Be open-minded. Go sauna when invited! Try something new even if it's outside of your comfort zone. I wasn't a huge fan of winter, but I am warming up to it by engaging in winter activities like ice-skating at the local park and going hiking to explore nature when everything is covered in snow.
Student Grantee 2014-2015