Five months in the land of a thousand lakes

 Patric reports on his trip abroad to Finland

“The fifth theory phase of my dual studies in industrial engineering did not lead me as usual to the DHBW (Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University) in Horb, but to the University of Applied Science in Oulu, Finland.

Immediately after my assignment abroad at Schmalz USA in Raleigh, North Carolina, I traveled to the northernmost city in Europe: Oulu. During my three-day stopover in Germany I had to quite literally empty my suitcase and fill it again from scratch: The average temperature in the USA was 30° C while in Finland temperatures starting at 15° C down to -25° C were expected.

As soon as I arrived in Finland, I directly felt the difference in culture. In the USA, people are open and talk a lot – in Finland, they tend to be more closed and are reticent compared to the USA. At the beginning, with autumnal temperatures and a lot of sunshine, being so far north was not really noticeable.

I lived in a student residence near the university with 150 other exchange students. Here, the most widely spoken language besides English was actually German. Every time I met people from other countries, I was amazed at how many of them were able to speak German – even if often only broken German. The day-to-day study consisted of lectures, presentations, handing out of various project tasks and, of course, not to be forgotten: student parties. I attended some business administration lectures such as Entrepreneurship, Negotiation Skills or Corporate Communications. All lectures were given in English, which meant that there was no problem understanding the content.

The Finns I met spoke very good and clear English. On top of these lectures, I also attended a Finnish course to familiarize myself with the basics of the language. It then became much easier for me to understand both the spoken and written form in a very short time. It is easy to show what a very complicated language Finnish can be: For the question “I wonder if I should run around aimlessly?” there is exactly one word in Finnish: “Juoksentelisinkohan?”

Besides my studies, I also took the opportunity to visit Northern Europe. Traveling within Finland, Norway and Sweden was on my list. Among other things, I visited Helsinki and Stockholm with a group of other students. Among my three personal highlights were the trips to Lofoten, to Lapland and our camping trip.

The Lofoten Islands are a chain of islands in Norway, set in beautiful nature – the Nordic flair just won’t let you go. Winter really caught up with me in Lapland, a region in the north of Finland. At temperatures as low as -10° C and half a meter of snow, the authorities do not even try to clear the road.

Generally speaking, no salt is spread in Finland, just a kind of fine gravel to keep a grip on the road. Activities such as snowmobile and dog sledding tours were planned in Lapland. Not forgetting the day trip to Bugøynes in Norway. There we first of all warmed up in the sauna on the beach. Then we cooled down in the 2° C cold North Polar Sea. It was astonishing that the body had already acclimated so much after just three sauna sessions that the water only felt cold after nearly a minute. During the camping trip, which I went on with three other students, we visited three different national parks. We stayed overnight in summer tents and sleeping bags at an outside temperature of -10° C – here’s to aluminum foil!

Especially in the north, where the population density is very low, there may be no city or even a house to be found for miles around. In Lapland there are even some places where the nearest doctor is 50 km away, the nearest hospital or fire brigade 350 km away – hardly imaginable in Germany.

The theory semester in Finland was a unique time where I got to know many great people and the international student life. The experiences and adventures are unforgettable and I can only encourage everyone to visit the north of Europe even when it’s cold."