Seeing as I have always had the travel bug, making the decision to go on exchange to Finland was probably the easiest decision that I have ever made in my life.
After making the 2-hour trek from my home in London, I arrived at the airport in Toronto 3 hours early because my family was SURE that there would be a big line for security (side note, I was through security in about 10 minutes). My personal favourite part of the airport is seeing how overweight my suitcase is, and to my surprise it was only ten lbs over, which is much less than I thought. So, with my sister in tow, I proceeded to put on 3 pairs of pants, 3 shirts, a sweater and my winter jacket and stuff as much as I could into my carry on, all in the attempt to get my suitcase within the allowable weight. Now, a normal person would have simply paid for a second suitcase, which is completely reasonable seeing as I am going to Finland for 4 four months. However, my rationalization was, why would I pay $136 each way for a suit case when I can just wear 5 layers of clothes and spend the money on something better? I support my decision because there is nothing that I wish I had packed since I’ve been here… well nothing except Kraft Dinner.
People always ask why I made the decision to go to Finland. The truth is, I have no idea. When I was browsing through the available exchange schools on Carleton’s website, something about Finland just called out to me. After doing some research, I learned that Finnish people have a love for the outdoors, they are located very close to other European countries, and there is snow in the winter so that I can still have a white Christmas season. Plus, it didn’t hurt that Aalto University is one of the top business schools in the world.
When I arrived, I was picked up at the airport by a Finnish student named Nicky, who was my group leader for orientation – in Finland they’re called Tutors. Nicky helped me get the keys to my apartment and sent me in the right direction towards my new home.
Speaking of housing- if you choose Finland for exchange, make sure you apply for housing ASAP. In Finland, there is no housing on campus so instead you must apply to privately owned housing associations. I applied 3 days after registration opened and I was still informed that it would be unlikely that I would receive an apartment. Luckily, 3 weeks before I was supposed to board the plane, I got a housing offer. Which was good for me because my dad had already threatened me by saying that I was not leaving the country without a place to live. Aalto offers emergency housing but even though it’s inexpensive, it’s one big room with about 20 bunk beds in it, so it’s not really a long-term solution.
Although the housing association has some furnished apartments, most of them are not. Since I received my offer so late, there were no furnished apartments left, but I was so grateful to even have an apartment that I was more than willing to sleep on the floor. Much to my surprise, I have an amazing roommate (shout out to Negar), who has been in Finland for 4 years. She had one word of advice: IKEA. So after a short bus ride, lots of shopping and ten minutes of me trying to figure out my address so I could get my furniture delivered, I was able to get the basics for my house. I am now the proud new owner of exactly 1 fork, 1 knife and 1 spoon.
I guess the important takeaway from this long speech is that you need to focus on the bigger picture and not get stuck on the small details. Going on exchange is an experience and as you would expect with any adventure, it’s not all going to go smoothly. In the wise words of Hilary Duff and her fictional dad, “Never let the fear of striking out, keep you from playing the game.” If you’re reading this, it probably means that you are considering an exchange. Like all of those that have come before me, I must say it’s worth the time, hassle, and money.
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