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Being Abroad at Home – experiencing University of Turku as a Finnish exchange student

By Anniina Kananen

Your exchange experience can largely be determined by your own choices – a common feature for all exchange students is that the experience is influenced by the destination, academics and (social) life. All of the above applies even if you’re like me a decide to go back to your home country. I’ll try to explain my experiences under these topics – feel free to read all or just the interesting ones.

The destination: Historic, modern and cozy Turku

My exchange destination was to be found in my own home country, Finland. However, the destination is very different from the Finland, I am used to. Turku is located a few hours’ train ride away from Helsinki, in southern/south-west Finland. The city resembles Groningen in many ways, but at the same time is very different. Turku has a lot of history, as the old capital of Finland, and this can be seen in the city view – a few kilometers from the city center lies Turku Castle and the center has some amazing old buildings. Unfortunately, in the 70s and 80s these weren’t really appreciated so many of the older buildings were taken down and replaced by buildings of the time.

The great benefit of Turku is that it’s similar to Groningen in the sense that it has (almost) everything that one would need, but everything is within biking distance. The University is located a few kilometers from the city center – this year Calonia, the Faculty of Law –building, was under renovation, so we were located in several places, still all within a 5 min bike ride away. However, the Faculty will be moving back to Calonia in January 2018, so if you’re interested in studying in Turku, you’ll be closer to all the other buildings (and faculties).

Another similarity to Groningen is the weather – it doesn’t stop raining here (though it might be anything from rain, to slush to snow). But the days it doesn’t rain are extremely nice chances to take a stroll along Aura-river that divides the city or go an explore the nature in the nearby Ruissalo. Nature is very present in the city and its surroundings. For me one of the highlights was a cycling trip in the Turku Archipelago. There’s an Archipelago road (~ 200 km) that I cycled and saw a completely different Finland than the one I had experienced before. I did this cycling trip in early August, but it’s completely doable in September as well. You could also rent a car and drive it at any point in the year.

Finland is one of the most expensive countries in Europe, meaning that price levels are higher than in the Netherlands – this applies to pretty much everything. However, you can become a member of the Student Union, which gives a lot of nice benefits and life isn’t that expensive anymore. One of the best benefits is that at University cafeterias you can get a proper warm meal for 2,60€, and there are several places to choose from and each has plenty of different options. For transportation within Finland you’re also able to get student discounts etc.

Academics: Freedom, independence and frustration at UTU

University of Turku offers an English taught LLM/MICL degree in Law and Information Society, so I assumed that the majority of the courses I would be taking here would be centered around intellectual property law and/or data protection – however, I was only able to take one course on the topic here. The course sizes are small and the degree students have priority, so very few exchange students are able to take them. In addition, UTU decided to rearrange some of the courses, so some which I was really keen on taking, such as Introduction to Legal Technology, were moved to the Spring semester.

Åbo Akademi

Turku has several institutions of higher education, including two universities – University of Turku and Åbo Akademi, both of which have a Faculty of Law. Students at either university can take courses from the other as well. Åbo Akademi has a LLM/MICL degree in International Human Rights law, so the courses they offer are mostly focused on human rights. In addition to this, there is the Open University of UTU, which offers courses (but in Finnish). I ended up taking courses from all three institutions.

My courses were the following:

  1. Foundations of International and European Intellectual Property Law (8 ECTS) (UTU) – Probably, my favorite course during my LLB. The course lasted for 3 weeks and we had lectures almost everyday. We also had visiting professors from Hungary and the UK. The course was evaluated based on an exam.

  2. Proactive Law and the Prevention and Resolution of Disputes (5 ECTS) (UTU) – The content of the course was quite interesting – it’s a much better version of CPL. We had classes for 2 weeks everyday for 2 hours. Evaluation was based on a course journal, a group presentation and report based on the presentation. Probably my least favorite course here, but still not the worst I’ve had overall.

  3. Course on the Rights of the Child (5 ECTS) (Åbo Akademi) – The course consisted of 3 three hour lectures, which focused on different elements of the Rights of the Child, mostly on the CRC. The evaluation was based on an essay, and we also had a group presentation for this course on the 4th lecture meeting. I found this course to be both interesting and easy to complete.

I wasn’t able to take the Foundations courses offered by the Faculty in Finnish (which are compulsory for Finnish degree students), but the Open University offers some of the same courses, so I ended up taking them from there. As they were offered by the Open University, I had to pay for taking them, but I considered them to be of value to me in the future and decided to take some of them. I ended up taking

  1. Labor Law (7 ECTS)

  2. Family- and Inheritance Law (7 ECTS)

  3. Financial Law (7 ECTS)

What I would recommend to anyone, who is considering taking national courses at their host university, is to pay attention during your CPL-lectures in block 4. A lot of the information has been useful during my studies here, especially in Family- and Inheritance Law. So altogether I ended up taking 39 ECTS worth courses, and still have had free time.

The motto of the university is roughly translated to “An independent nations gift to independent science” – the motto stems from the history of the university, but reflects studying here. If you have good self-control when it comes to studying and are able to study alone, then UTU is a good fit for you. If you require more teaching and working groups, then UTU (and Finland in general) might not be your best option. A lot of material is required to be self-studied, and we have often weeks off from studying, due to how the courses are arranged. Also exam weeks aren’t really a thing here, so while studying for an exam, you might need to attend lectures for other courses.

For the majority of the courses, you won’t be allowed to take legislation to the exams, which freaked me out when I heard it. The exams are very different here, and I haven’t felt the need for legislation in them. The exams are essay questions and in some the length is limited to a few pages. The focus is on central questions / concepts, not a solving a particular case/situation. Also another nice thing here is that you can take exams up to three times (though most likely there will only be 1 re-sit during your stay) and the best grade stays. Grades are given on a scale from 1-5. To gain a 1 you need to gain 50% of the points.

(Social) life: Vibrant, traditional and Finnish

Finnish student life is full of traditions – from overalls to sitz parties. For law students the two most important student/study associations are (surprise, surprise) ELSA and ESN. The local law student association, LEX, which is similar to JFV and Nexus, organizes most of their events in Finnish, and they are limited to members of the association. I was actively involved with writing for the magazine of ELSA and got to know some Finnish students that way. Otherwise, it can be rather difficult to get to know Finnish students.

Finding housing is difficult – luckily I was able to find housing before coming to Turku. The University offers housing for international students, however, the housing is quite limited. I was offered a shared room, with a shared kitchen, located roughly 5 km from the city center and University. I luckily found an apartment in the city center, while waiting for a response and to be honest, it’s going to be one of the things I’ll miss most from my exchange. What I would say is that if offered university housing (wherever you go) take it. At least in my case, I didn’t meet that many students in classes as it’s very much self-study focused, and living outside of student accommodation meant that I didn’t get so close with the rest of the Erasmus students. I was fortunate to get to know some local students and locals through volunteering for an NGO.

Similarly, to discounts in public transportation and food, student union membership gives discounts in some awesome things like theater tickets for cheap prices etc. A lot of these perks are pretty much useless if you don’t speak any Finnish. Speaking Finnish, I took advantage of the cheap theater ticket prices and saw 3 of the 5 plays showed performed during my exchange.

In general, Turku wasn’t quite what I expected it to be, but I’m still happy about my decision to apply here. A semester ‘abroad’ at your home country can be very eye-opening. I can now understand my friends’ conversations much better, but I also understand the Finnish legal system better. My exchange experience fulfilled the purpose I set for it – to figure out whether I want to continue my studies in Finland after completing my LLB. If you’re considering going to Finland on your semester abroad, feel free to approach me and ask any questions you have.

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