Moi BCIT. Today marks our 16th day in Helsinki. This past week we officially started classes at the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences. We are taking five full-time courses: Investment and Portfolio Management, European Business Area, Branding, Small and Medium Enterprise Management, and Finnish. We will also be taking an intensive week-long ethics course, but that doesn’t start until the end of May.
Our impressions after the first week are great. We have an array of different instructors from around the world such as Sweden, Ireland, Finland, and more. Our classes are also quite the melting pot of nationalities and cultures, with French, German, Irish, Russian, Italian, Mexican, South Korean, Dutch, Taiwanese and even more students from around the world that I’m sure I can’t remember at this moment. Metropolia follows a similar applied learning and intensive group-work philosophy as BCIT, and I’m looking forward to the differing perspectives on business practices, decisions, and cultural implications that each team member brings to the table from their experience in their home country.
There are plenty of other things that have stood out to me during the first week of school here that I’ve found notable. From things that differ greatly from how we do things back at BCIT, to things that differ greatly from things we do in Canada, to things I just found plain interesting about student life in Finland and abroad.
Classes at Metropolia are split into four-hour blocks, once a week. This seems really long compared to our chopped up schedules back home. So far I find it to be a bit much, as there is only so much you can take in at once, and four hours straight on one topic can be a bit daunting sometimes. It also gives you a lot of time to forget last week’s material. I think the practice of a few one-hour lectures spread out through the week is more to my liking, but it is only the first week, maybe my mind will change.
You don’t have to buy textbooks at Metropolia! In fact, you’re openly encouraged by teachers not to. Instead, textbooks are available in the library. Before classes start, teachers inform the library of what reading material they’ll use in their class, the library orders a bunch of copies in, and you simply check them out when you need them for varying lengths of time. I’m not sure if this is a Finland-wide phenomenon or just a Metropolia thing, but as someone with a passionate dislike of the textbook system back home, I’m delighted not to have to shell out thousands of dollars for books I’ll use for a few months and then suffer from a depreciation rate higher than a new car’s when I try to resell them.
At Metropolia, all the classrooms lock automatically, all the time. To get in them, you need to apply for a student access-key; a little keychain FOB that allows you access to any of the classrooms whenever you need them. This is great, because I can’t count how many times I needed a place at BCIT to practice a presentation, work on a project, or just study in peace with a team and couldn’t find any unlocked classrooms. It does have it’s downsides though, if you get up to use the washroom in the middle of the class you had better not forget your access key, because the door is going to lock behind you and it’s just a tab embarrassing to have to knock and get the teacher to pause and let you back in. I swear I’m not speaking from experience.
Helsinki is expensive. Food in Helsinki is really expensive. So I’m grateful that the school has an awesome subsidized meal program. For €2.60 (roughly $4.10 CAD) every day you have an option of 2 or 3 full course meals in the student cafeteria which include a main course, salad bar, bread, and a drink. Past options have included pasta, chicken risotto, burgers, burritos, stews, and more. It’s a great affordable way to eat well while we are here and the food is surprisingly good. It beats a Triple-O burger any day, and I appreciate the variety from my 80% Tim-Horton’s diet while overworking myself at BCIT day in and day out back home.
While the semester officially ends at Metropolia on May 20, all of our classes so far have declared their end date on completely separate weeks from anywhere as early as the first week of April to the last week of May. It’s quite a bit different from the “exam week” system back home where every class ends at the same time and has it’s exams in the same week.
In Finland, there is a week known as Ski Week at the end of February where everyone takes off to Lapland and goes skiing. All classes are cancelled, a lot of school unions and clubs plan trips, and everyone just takes a moment to enjoy the winter.
They also take a week in March around our Spring Break, which is either an optional break from classes, or an opportunity to take a variety of week-long intensive courses that range from studying basic business topics to taking study-trips to St. Petersburg for course credit.
If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. In Europe they offer resit exams, two additional attempts to pass an exam that you failed the first time. Instead of retaking the entire course, you simply go back and try your hand at the exam again. If you don’t pass on the third attempt you will need to retake the course.
The Erasmus Program
This is probably the coolest thing I’ve learned about studying in the European Union. The Erasmus program is an exchange agreement between a bunch of different universities and institutes across the union in which students can study freely between institutions and earn credit and funding for it. Many students are “double degree students” which means that in their third year of study they are required to travel to a school in another country and study for a year. In doing so, upon graduation they earn a degree from both their home institution and the partner institution. It’s a very cool system that I’m sure has resounding effects on the cultural education and diversity of experiences among students around the European Union. I can’t help but imagine the benefits a similar program could have between schools in North America.
In other news, we are still accepting naming suggestions for this weekly column. So far the brainstorm sessions have produced such frontrunners as “The Frosty Nostril & Other Unexpectedly Cold Things: Tales from an Underdressed Student in Helsinki” and “The Loonie Diet: How a Sliding Exchange Rate Dictated my Calorie Intake in an Already Expensive City”
If you have any questions or comments about my experience, especially if you are considering an exchange opportunity for yourself, don’t hesitate to comment on this post, or reach out to me via Twitter, Facebook, or email. I’m happy to answer any questions. Talk to you next week BCIT.
James is a recent graduate of the Marketing Communications program at BCIT, and is extending his time at the institute to earn his BBA. He currently lives in Helsinki, Finland where he is studying for a semester at the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences.