Where a fir reigns and a pine scepters by Alexandra Ivanova
There’s only one worst thing you can do when when going on an exchange to Finland – coming in the middle of winter, when it is dark almost all day long. Culture shock and melancholic thoughts about the meaning of life are guaranteed. If you passed through this, you can be rewarded with snowboarding, ice skating and glühwein drinking.
Jyväskylä is a big, student friendly town in central Finland. Two universities, several colleges, schools, sports clubs, cafe, migrants, International professors, bike lanes, hills and lakes constitute its basics. Several dormitory campuses are located approximately 2,5 km from the University’s campus. If you are from the Netherlands, Denmark or other bicycle Empire, or you were born on a bike, the difficulty of this distance is not a problem. Most of Finns are cycling while holding a cup of coffee in one hand and taking selfie with the other. Dormitories themselves are apartment type dorms: two large rooms, one huge kitchen and one small shower. You won’t find a long corridor with one kitchen at the end, where students interact with their neighbors, borrow salt, sugar, a colander, a frying pan or a grater. There’s no common area for TV watching or playing board game. It is the student canteen, the library or the local clubs and pubs that take over the role of a meeting place.
Student campus of University of Jyvaskyla – Jyväskylän Yliopisto – have several canteens. Finns are used to having their lunch about 11-12 am, so waiting in a queue can be used as a chance to meet new people as well. For fixed price 2.6 euro you can get sumptuous lunch with free snacks from all-you-can-eat smorgasbord in any of the student dining room. The most famous one is in the library building – there’s also a cafeteria when you can grab a 2 euro coffee and go back to the library.
Actually, before leaving for an exchange, I promised myself that I will be seen at the library more often than in the clubs. Taking into account that the library at the Jyväskylän yliopisto is the greatest one, keeping the promise wasn’t that hard. You can find there classical, science literature, magazines about design, nature, ecology. There are a lot of silence areas both for self-studying and for a group work. Here master students are poring over their theses and groups are working on their common assignments. I even managed to smuggle bottles of a beer in a bag. Not for drinking, of course – just a cheap bear from a supermarket nearby, the kind of beer you bring to sauna. Because living in Finland without visiting a sauna is a waste of time. All alcohol here is pretty expensive. If your Erasmus scholarship is about 300 euro and you are not expecting cash injections from your parents, then you might experience longer no-parties periods, and this time can be dedicated to your studies.
The range of the courses offered is huge. Some of the courses include only a session of lectures, some of them are for self-studying. Most of those allotted to exchange students are in English. I took the course of history and culture of German-speaking areas in German and I can honestly say that it motivated me a lot. Each of the course is on average about 2 months long and it is worth 3 to 5 credits. You will also have to do research either on your own or in group. You will have professors from Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Iran, France, Malasia… Internationality – the second name of the University, which surprises in a good way. What set me back on my heels is that most of exchange students don’t take the initiative to participate during the classes and professors have to try hard to make them share their ideas or opinions about simple subjects.
The classes usually take place in different campus buildings. Most of those buildings are constructed by Alvar Aalto. In half of the CouchSurfing requests, received by Jyväskylän citizens it is written “…because I want to visit Alvar Aalto museum”. Aalto is the father of the Finish modernism and functional design. Looking at his creations from outside, you never expect them to be so spacious inside. Some of the buildings in the residential area near the harbor, in close proximity to the long piers with small yachts moored, are also created by Aalto. When sitting there, you can let your thoughts settle down, and ponder about the things you always had no time to think about. In order to come back to this measured regular life, life where “a fir reigns and a pine scepters”.
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