So, my semester of study here is halfway through now. How am I finding it? Not the thrilling excitement I was expecting. It’s more your quiet satisfaction and moments of triumph. Also, I miss my peeps in my hometown.
But, let me give you a bit of a rundown on how it works in Helsinki-town.
Helsinki is about a quarter the size of Melbourne, in terms of population. In terms of area, I’d say it was even less. It has trams, trains, buses, and a metro (subway / undergound). It also has a system almost exactly the same as myki, but it seems to work much better. The metro is kind of hilarious. It only has one and a half lines. Also, it has excellent sound effects. When a metro arrives at a station, it makes a noise that sounds like it is pretending to be a metro. It makes me laugh every time.
To get to uni, I generally catch a bus, but sometimes I would catch a tram or the metro. I have uni at two different campuses – Viikki and in the city. Viikki is newer and has a shiny, circular library with gardens inside, where you can sit and read, although it can get a bit cold at the moment. the city campus is less a campus and more a collection of uni buildings, with a few other buildings there too, camouflaged amongst the rest of the city.
Over the whole semester I am taking 8 subjects. The University of Helsinki works on a modular system, subjects are offered, with or without prerequisites, at the times the teacher decides, I guess. There isn’t necessarily any pattern. This means that subjects start and finish at different times. Two of my subjects have finished already, and one has only one more class to go. So far I enjoy the modular system.
In terms of subject content … I think I am a bit sick of studying. I have found the subjects disappointing in their level of academic rigour. Most of my classes are seminar-based, and I find myself wishing the conversation would have a little more depth. Having said that, I did feel like most of the subjects improved, and the last week had some really good classes. Also, I am often the only person for whom English is a mother-tongue. Also, one of my environmental science classes was actually quite difficult in the end.
I find that environmental science is taught differently, but I can’t quite put my finger on how. Perhaps it is that the emphasis is on slightly different habitats (peatlands and boreal forests, rather than wetlands and shrubby grasslands). But also environmental science has a fair bit of uncertainty, which comes out in how people teach emphasising different things. In Australia, I learnt about the concept of ‘connectivity’, and how expert judgment really wasn’t very good. In Finland, I have learnt that globally forests are improving, in terms of their carbon storage levels, and also about the idea that if you stop something happening in a particular location (say you stop logging in a particular part of the Amazon rainforest), does it have a global net effect if the logging (or whatever destruction) is just moved to a different part of the Amazon rainforest?
In education, I find myself feeling like I know a lot more than the average student in my class, about how education systems work. I dislike this feeling, as I’m sure it will come back to bite me in the end.
And how is my Finnish going? Finnish is a difficult language to learn from being a native English speaker. The grammar is logical, but in a very different way from English. Also, the vocabulary is very different, which means I can’t pick up a newspaper and guess what is happening. So, I’ve been reading picture books. It is progressing slower than I would like, but I think it is not too bad.