How Finland creates the best student/life balance in the world

Student life is not all about studying and Finland has figured out how to tackle this challenge
Students riding a carousel during the opening day of the semester
Photo: Jakko Kahilaniemi

Wife-carrying competitions, reindeer racing and a modest aversion to small talk are only a few weird and wonderful things that set Finland apart. It’s now an indisputable and far-reaching fact that Finland is the Happiest Country in the World. There are a few factors that brought Finland to this global position. One thing that stands out is Finland’s ability to create an awesome balance between student life and personal life, creating an environment for harmonious co-existence. This balance is one of Finland’s best kept secrets that carries over into adult working life — a thing Finnish people take very seriously. Here are 3 things that Finland does differently to help its students study hard, and balance themselves harder:

Finland won’t (totally) break your student bank

Options to save money while busting your butt are always helpful! The goal here is simple: help students balance their basic needs so money can be spent elsewhere:

Food. That thing you need to fuel your mind. There’s an array of cheap student meals at Aalto University cafes and beyond — and the food isn’t bad! Get local Finnish classics like meatballs and mashed potatoes or more infamous imports like poke bowls and pizza. Keep an eye out for other student-friendly eateries scattered across the city. 

Transportation. Finland’s southern cities are all easily connected. From Aalto’s Otaniemi campus to downtown Helsinki, there’s a mass transit system that does it all, including student discounts. There’s also an overnight train to Lapland, ferries to Sweden and Estonia, and a bus that goes directly from Espoo Center to Nuuksio National Park

Housing. The ROOF must be RELIABLE! Helsinki’s metropolitan area provides student apartments through AYY (Aalto’s Student Union) and HOAS (Helsinki Student Housing Foundation[NE3] [ML4] ). AYY’s housing sector owns over 2,600 apartments in the metropolitan area and HOAS has over 10, 000. Combined, there are tons of options that fit student needs nicely while providing a great backdrop for an off-campus life. 

People enjoying their day in park
Photo: Juha Valkeajoki / Sherpa

There’s a demand to de-stress

Drop in, check out! Doing stuff outside of the classroom helps relieve study pressure and having that free time is practically enforced. This time allows students to do their favourite things, build lasting friendships and destress in the process. A win-win scenario that promotes wellbeing. 

A few examples:

SPORTS, and stuff! Finns LOVE sports and while ice hockey and flying on skis reign supreme, you’ll find lots of other sports to watch or take part in. Moving your body is known to lower stress levels, so a smooth training session no matter the sport will help you wind down:

From running to aikido, check out Aalto’s sports associations. 

From weight training to yoga, check out UniSport Otaniemi

Jump, sprint and throw things! Aalto’s Otaniemi campus has a track & field area

Music, art — combining culture. These pieces of the human experience are abundant in Finland, so when you get stuck in the hamster wheel of student life, step out for a breath of fresh art. 

Music. The glue that holds our cultural fabric together. Pick any artist — from world-renowned Rappers to Bluegrass mandolin-picking pros — there’s always something live and usually something cheap around town. Aalto’s music associations are worth checking out! Helsinki’s Oodi library has now made international headlines, housing an impressive collection of books, workspaces and rentable music studios just steps from the main railway station. In addition to the vast number of museums and galleries in the Helsinki Metropolis, Aalto’s Otaniemi campus has VÄRE, an extension of the School of Art, Design and Architecture that houses 9 exhibition spaces and plenty of stunning symmetry. Sidenote: keep an eye out for student discounts at theaters, clubs and other cultural centers citywide.

Tram passing by a street filled with trees and autumn leaves
Photo: Visit Finland / Jussi Hellsten

In country we trust

In a country that values trust and honesty, no wonder people are satisfied in Finland! Happiness doesn’t come from surviving long winters. It comes from a much easier thing — being able to trust your neighbor. Finland does well with returning lost items, allowing kids to travel alone (starting at 7) and following the rules (throwing trash away, not killing anyone, NOT JAYWALKING). There’s also a sense of trust in institution that flows both ways. For university students this can mean: a mutual respect between professors and students, a mutual understanding that students will make the right decisions (no plagiarism, no cheating) and trusting university staff to help students find the balance between their study time and their free time.

Text: Michele Lawrence  

A guy peeks from behind fresh green birch branches. Photo: Aalto University / Unto Rautio

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Finland’s excellent reputation in education, combined with a wide range of courses offered in English, makes Finland and Aalto University an attractive study destination for international students.

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