Oasis of Radical Wellbeing

Oasis blog: Navigating Student Life in Finland - A Global South Perspective

How to traverse studies, friendships, and relationships in an unfamiliar university system? It is vital to understand oneself and develop a strong sense of self to be able to form external relationships that complement one’s life. Read on to learn more about the tips by Aalto student Pranava Pakala on how to navigate in Finland as an international student!
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Photo by Unto Rautio / Aalto University

Global North vs. Global South: Fundamental Differences

One of the most glaring realities of living in the Global North is the individualistic culture. This is something those of us who have spent all our lives in collectivistic cultures can have trouble adjusting to. When you come from a minimal understanding of personal and individual spaces to being expected and need to get used to all of the personal space there is in the world, the change can surely be confusing.

One positive byproduct of this situation though, was that it strengthens one mentally and provides the confidence to venture into uncharted territory. You can absorb new experiences. This balance between enjoying with oneself as well as looking forward to interacting with others is key.

It is often a work in progress. As a young adult struggling with one’s own identity, beliefs, values and place in the world, one might benefit from engaging with external support available within the university community Such in this case, are the well-being services offered by Aalto University to its students at the Starting Point of Wellbeing.

Another interesting avenue for seeking out support could be through enrolling in the credited Personal Impact courses. My recommendation would be the Good Life Engine course. It aims to equip the student with the skillsets to make informed decisions and eventually become more self-aware. What I appreciated most was that it taught the importance of an indispensable skill, especially in student life, — time management.

During my studies here I have developed the skills of using a calendar and prioritizing tasks. For this, Aalto University provides self-study materials in time management and self-leadership.

Many good tips to support your wellbeing as a student, e.g. stress management and self-compassion, can be found by following @aaltowellbeing on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook.

Self-discovery is essential for forming fruitful relationships

In my experience, self-discovery has been vital in defining the kind of relationships I wish to cultivate with people. I feel that it is crucial to seek out new people unashamedly. Actively getting to know people, especially people not from one’s own culture, really broadens your horizon and introduces new perspectives.

At the end of the day, experiences enrich life and for this, courses and hobbies are truly the best activities through which one might end up finding friends. You are sure to find something that interests you in many student clubs and associations offered through AYY.

While it is a painstakingly long process to find meaningful relationships, it is worth it because you ultimately gain a fresh lens. Being a foreign student is a unique situation: you to get to know people from all over the world. Studying abroad might also be a great moment to try out an activity that you thought you might never be interested in. You might just surprise yourself!

There is only a thin line between burnout and resilience

For most of us coming to study to Finland, the academic system here might take a while to get adapted to. If you are used to receiving a ready-made study schedule, it can feel overwhelming to have a sudden freedom to select courses of personal interest and be in charge of completing tasks without strict supervision. And, for those of us coming from diverse academic backgrounds and prerequisite knowledge, the first semester of studies can be notoriously hard.

This is often the “bridge course” period. While it could be tempting to take as many courses as you could possibly take, that may lead to exhaustion or burnout. You could really benefit from starting small and only taking courses that are worth the prescribed number of credits in the program.

Something I have personally benefited from is asking professors about their exact expectations from the assignments, and proactively seeking out feedback. You might also benefit from discussing these issues with your peers who are already well versed with this academic system. Ask for their advice!

Communication is key

Finally, one of the most important lessons I learned during my studies here is the importance of effective communication.

At the outset, this might seem like a non-issue but when the intercultural aspects are thrown into the mix, things can get complicated. Often, our overly enthusiastic attitudes might be met with seeming awkwardness. Or, there might be instances when something totally acceptable in your own culture come off as inappropriate to someone else.

Especially when approaching new people, it is important to check if they have time and are willing to chat. Respect their answer to make sure the conversation is consensual. Having a receptive and open mind to learn about other ways of looking at the world can both help us develop meaningful relationships with other people as well as help us with self-development.

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The Starting Point of Wellbeing offers students advice and guidance on services related to wellbeing. We post links, tips and contact information here.

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Student reading at Harald Herlin Center. Photo by Suvi Helko, 2022.

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