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Typically Finnish - What to Expect When Studying in Finland

Last updated on 15 Sep 2019

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Photo by Unsplash

By Jenny Egnér Lin


What is typically Finnish, and what can international students expect when moving to Finland to study? We’ve listed 10 things that are characteristic for the Republic of Finland.

1. Saunas

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Photograph courtesy of Anniepan.

This is a category where Finland truly sets itself apart from the rest of the world. There are over 3 million saunas in Finland - compared to 5.5 million citizens - putting Finland at the top of countries with the most saunas per capita. There are saunas everywhere in Finland. Every newer apartment is equipped with a sauna, all hotels, gyms and office buildings have them.

There’s nothing more Finnish than sauna, a way of life that is passed on from generation to generation. Aside from cleansing both physically and spiritually, the sauna used to be a gateway in and out of this world: in the old days, women would give birth in saunas, and upon a person’s death, the body would be given a final wash there.

2. Introverted people

Finland is often considered to be a nation of introverts, and the Finnish people are usually the first to make fun of themselves about it. "An introverted Finn looks at his shoes when talking to you. An extroverted Finn looks at your shoes", goes a popular Finnish joke.

Finns are not big small talkers, and quiet moments in conversations are not considered awkward. Silence merely means the person doesn’t have anything essential to say. There’s no necessity to fill gaps in conversation with chatter.

3. Honesty

Going hand in hand with the soft-spokenness, Finns are genuine people, meaning what they say. “Let’s have coffee sometime” actually means that the person intends to meet you for coffee in the near future.

Reflected in organisations, Finland is the third least corrupt government in the world according to the latest Corruption Perception Index ranking, conducted for year 2018 by Transparency International.

4. Helsinki is the most honest city in the world

Worth a headline of its own, according to an unusual experiment that was conducted in 16 cities around the world, the capital of Finland was declared the city with the most honest people. The research experiment entailed putting 12 wallets with a phone number, a family photo, and a little cash around the city. 11 out of 12 wallets were returned to their owners in Helsinki, whereas in other countries only half of them were returned.

5. The best education system in the world

Finland’s education system is regarded as one of the best in the world, and the PISA rankings consecutively place Finland in top positions in their different categories.

Finnish students spend just a fraction of time on homework. Instead, the focus is placed on free time and play with students given frequent breaks during classroom instruction. Considering research indicating the detrimental impacts of a “deficit of play,” this is lauded as a benefit for Finnish students’ physical and mental health.

6. The strangest sounding language

Finnish is a unique language with only 5 million people speaking it as a mother tongue. Words such as ‘lämpimämpi’ meaning warmer, and ‘lohikäärme”, meaning dragon (literally salmon-snake), both look and sound strange. Finnish is a Uralic language, which comes from the Ural Mountains in Russia, and belongs to the same family of languages as Estonian and Hungarian.

Although the language may seem difficult, Finnish is actually a logical language to learn, as many students who have methodologically studied it admit. The words are written more or less phonetically, and the grammar is rather simple compared to other European languages.

7. The most heavy metal bands per capita

Yet another win for the Finns to brag about - Finland has the most heavy metal bands per capita. With roughly 54 bands per 100.000 citizens according to Slate, Finland tops the list, outranking neighboring countries Sweden and Norway.

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Photograph by Diego Ornelas-Tapia.

8. The highest per capita coffee consumption in the world

Surprisingly, Finland ranks as number one, also in the list of countries with the highest per capita coffee consumption. An average person from Finland consumes 12 kg of coffee a year. Compare this with the Italians who consume a yearly average of 5 kg of coffee.

9. Houses for student parties

As a student in Finland, you will find that almost every large university in Finland own buildings dedicated to student parties. These venues can be rented by students for free to host any event they want, including events that serve alcohol. They look like regular houses with huge living rooms, several bedrooms, and of course, saunas.

10. Some of the world’s best northern lights

The Aurora Borealis can appear more than 200 nights a year, which is nearly every winter night. If you have the chance to study in Finland, don’t miss this stunning natural phenomenon.

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Photograph by Lucas Marcomini.

  1. ‘The land of a thousand lakes’

Finally, the 188 000 lakes of Finland are so vast that Finland has the most water in relation to land mass of all the countries in the world. No wonder Finland is called ‘The land of a thousand lakes’.

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Photograph by Taneli Lahtinen.


About the author: Jenny Egnér Lin is born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden, and holds a B.Sc. in Business and Economics from Stockholm School of Economics and a M.Sc. in Strategic Market Creation from Copenhagen Business School. With firsthand experience from studying in Europe, she is sharing prime insights about life as a student at a European university.