The Amazing Jyväskylä!

The Amazing Jyväskylä!
Me at the harbor of Jyväskylä

24 May, 2015

Preparing for Finland!

Alright, by now, I hope those who have been accepted have
-         received the package by post sent by the university,
-         paid the student union fee
-         accepted the offer

Now, paperwork has been taken care of, you are ready to say goodbye to family and friends to start your journey to Finland, you ask yourselves: What should I pack? How do I start?

So, this blog entry is to answer those questions.

I, once, was also confused and frustrated, then came a miracle: Internet!

Yes, I mean start by doing your research and asking lots of questions to those who have been living here for a while. Luckily for me, there was an online forum of Vietnamese students who had been studying in Finland and they shared their experiences there. It was easy for me to figure out everything else. You can do the same thing: looking for the community of students coming from your own country in Finland and asking them questions. I can answer your questions too but you have to take into consideration that you and I might come from completely different climates and environments, which results in different level of tolerance threshold and cultures. The answers coming from your country fellows might be more applicable to you.

Another great source for asking question is Facebook group of Foreigners in Jyväskylä. Just remember to edit your public profile somehow so that the admin of the page can see that you will move to Jyväskylä and accept you to the group.

So, you might already know that I am from the southern part of Vietnam, a much tropical climate, South East Asian culture. And here is what I think you should prepare before going to Finland.

Disclaimer: For many of you (especially those from Europe or America), many things I am going to say here sound like common sense to you but do bear with me because they might not be common sense to lots of students coming from other cultures.

First, mentality! Those of you who have been traveling and living abroad, it might be easy for you to overcome culture shocks. But those who have never been abroad or even living independently, arriving in Finland might come as a big shock for you both mentally and physically. Anyway, this can’t be helped. You will have to get over it over time. Just remind yourself that you are going to a completely unique and different country from your own and other popular western countries that you often see on TV as well. So, keep an absolutely open mind to whatever comes your way. It can be either good or bad from your point of view but it's all experiences. You learn as you go and hopefully you grow. 

It is in the very nature of Finnish to be independent and you are expected to be too, which means even though you can certainly ask for help, you first need to rely on yourself. Do not expect others to do everything for you. That won’t do you any good in the long run. If you are lucky to have a caring tutor, she/he will help you out regardless. But if you are unfortunately assigned one like mine who didn’t really care and you still insist on relying on your tutor, you’ll have a hard time getting things done. So, do prepare to be independent and a reliable source of yourself. You will get guidance, of course, but you will have to organize your study and register for courses yourself. If you are sick, you have to call the clinic, book an appointment and go there yourself. Except for emergency when you have to call an ambulance, you are expected to do such things on your own. So, do not skip orientation week! You will get a lot of useful information there on how to go about problems you might encounter during your stay in Jyväskylä .

Winter could be harsh, but do not worry too much about this. I’ve been around some parts of Europe and I can say that Finland has the best facilities regarding heating system. It is all logical when they have had to deal with winter for years on end, they have developed the best technology possible for keeping warm, right? So, either you are at home, at school or even inside the bus, it’s always toasty and warm during winter. 

It is dark in winter. There is no denying it. I am more or less fine with lack of sunlight; I just tend to sleep a lot more; but I've seen people struggle with short hours of sunlight and the darkness in winter. There are tons of things you can do about this. Finland is a country of winter sport, get yourself a pair of skates and learn how to skate, for example. Or if you sign up for friendship family program (highly recommended), there's a chance that they'll take you skiing with them somewhere. Darkness might affect you in some ways but do not pay too much attention to it and you'll be fine. Take vitamins if you must. Try to keep a normal routine: going to lectures, eating properly ... 

So, this leads to the second thing to prepare: Clothes!

As I have said above, with very good central heating system here, you don’t need to bring gigantic coats and jackets which take up all the space in your luggage. Bring one or two good coats with two or three layers and you can put on more layers inside if you still feel cold. Bulky sweaters are not advisable either. Well, bring one or two if you absolutely cannot live without them. Just keep in mind that there are quite a few second-hand shops in Jyväskylä where you can buy all the winter clothes you want with very low price. 5 euros/kg or so. Even winter boots (which I find unnecessary but others might need them) can be bought in second-hand shop as well. Or on the Facebook group of Second-handitems in Jyväskylä . But I do advise bringing a good pair of snickers, running or trekking shoes or whatever kind of shoes that you can walk in comfortably. Also take into consideration what kind of transportation you would like to use primarily here: bus, bikes or walking; and prepare clothes accordingly.

I know that many people are not comfortable with the idea of wearing other people's old clothes. If that's the case, just bring enough, don't bring a whole lot, there are several outlets here with frequent sales as well. You can buy a good coat for 40 euros or so. 

Lots of students cook while they’re here so they do bring kitchen items with them, so here are some advice, especially for those from Asia:

Save space in your luggage for FOOOOOOD!!!!!!!!!!!! Of course, there are several shops here in Jyväskylä where you can buy Asian spices and food, they are really expensive though. So, instead of bulky clothes, save some space for spices and food from your own country. One very important thing for those from countries with rice-based cuisine, please DO NOT BRING RICE COOKER with you!!!!!!!! I cannot stress this enough, guys! You can definitely cook rice with a normal sauce pan and have it ready in 15 minutes. Believe me, I’ve been living in Finland for almost two years absolutely fine without a rice cooker and I eat rice very often. The story I’ve been telling like a broken record is that before coming to Finland, my parents insisted that I brought the rice cooker with me and I am glad that I said no. Regarding kitchen stuff, I brought one bowl and one pair of chopsticks. That’s it! I got everything else here second-handedly from other students. Do bring chopsticks though, they do not take up any space at all and they are expensive here.

My biggest mistake, I should admit, was that I thought I would just cook and eat whatever the cheapest available in the store while I was here. So I didn’t bring any Vietnamese spices and food with me. I love pasta, it is cheap so I kept eating it for every meal. So, for the first few months, it was quite okay until the craving for Vietnamese food really drove me crazy and I had to go shop and cook real Asian food with rice. So, do bring food and spices from home.

Lastly, one student asked me how to have a head start for her studies. So, here is my answer.

First, regarding books, do not worry about bringing any textbooks to Jyvaskyla. All the books used for the courses or books used for further reading and references are available for free use to all students in the libraries. If you would like to bring your favorite books to read for pleasure though, it’s a different story.

Secondly, if there’s one thing about preparing for your study here I would advise you, especially those accepted into D&IC, it would be START THINKING ABOUT YOUR MASTER’S THESIS TOPIC. Believe it or not, many students, including me, have struggled with getting started on their thesis. Of course, you will get guidance and supervision along the way, but as I said from the very beginning, you have no one else aside from yourself to completely rely on. No one can think or write the thesis for you. Eventually, you will have to write the thesis on your own. And the first question you’ll get asked will be: “What do you want to write about in your thesis?”. So, look around, see what interests you in your field (major) and dig a bit deeper to see how you can develop it into a thesis. Read about thesis structures online or here in the university's website. There are many videos on Youtube you can watch too. When you have a certain topic always in the back of your head, ideas come to you when you listen to lectures in class or read materials or even talk with your classmates or professors, then you can connect those ideas with your topic and gradually develop it. 

Anyway, more about the academic life will be covered later in coming entries.

It might sound a little bit harsh, I know. People would say I am scaring you guys. But I've seen people struggle and break down because they came here poorly prepared, mainly mentally. But it is an opportunity for you to learn and grow, both personally and academically. I have had my own struggles and obstacles when I first started. But I've had an absolute blast and I would choose Finland and Jyväskylä all over again if I had to for I'm grateful for what the country has helped myself gain during my two years living and studying here. I've made incredible friends here whom I see myself staying friends with for the rest of my life. I've gained knowledge and abilities that I never thought I would. So, do be prepared and make the best out of your time here in Jyväskylä! 

It's Spring here and the weather is absolutely gorgeous! 


  1. Hello Phuong!
    Is it possible to finish all paper works in one day's time upon arrival?


    1. And it also depends on the day you arrive. If it's on weekend, you'll get nothing done here. But if it's a week day, it might be possible though I cannot guarantee this.

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