So, eventually I finally arrived in Helsinki, and although I didn’t see much of it on the drive from the ferry to collect the key and then onto the accomodation since more attention was being paid to following the directions than the scenery, I have since had the chance to explore it a little bit, and I have to say it’s a really beautiful city. It’s not too big, so it’s quite easy to navigate, and the public transport is fantastic. What makes that even better is that, with a student discount, I basically get unlimited travel on trains, buses, trams, the ferry to Suomenlinna, and the Metro for 20 euros a month. Considering that I’ll be needing the bus to commute from where I live to campus every day, as well as into the city, that’s incredibly good value!
It’s rather depressing to admit, but the first thing I made sure was set up when I moved into my accomodation was my laptop and my internet connection. And then I did a load of washing. But I needed clean clothes from the trip anyway, so it at least made everything smell nice and meant that I learned where the laundry was and how to operate it very early on.
On my first full day in Helsinki I went to go buy a Finnish phone handset, and I ended up making friends with a nice young Finnish woman who was kind enough to help me navigate the three shopping centres which are all interconnected underground to save going outside in the winter. We probably would have parted forever and she would have spent the rest of the day with the warm glow of having done a good deed, except that I met her again in the station the next day when I was getting my travel card. Twice in two days is more fate than accident, so at least I have a contact who can answer my stupid questions about Helsinki like a very patient native.
In the evening some of the international chemistry students met at a bar to get to know each other, and we had a couple of drinks and then went out for some cheap pizza. It was a good night, and a really nice group of people. It was also a much gentler way to meet them than it would have been if we had all had first contact on campus at 9 am the next morning. 9 am is just as early for students here as it is there, especially factoring in travel time.
The Kumpula campus, which is where all the scientists are, is really nice, and the chemistry building is lovely. The labs look great and I’m looking forward to getting to work in them. It’s also about a twenty minute bus ride from the accomodation, and the bus leaves from right outside, so it’s really convenient. After the faculty and departmental orientation talks, and the acquisition of the all important hug cards (it’s exactly what it says on the tin, you present it to someone for a hug), we grabbed lunch and headed into town to the city centre campus for the welcome fair.
I do just want to pause to say something about the food: with the government subsidy, and the subsidy for membership of the student union, I can get lunch for 2,60 euros. By lunch I mean as much salad as you want (or can fit on your plate), as much carbohydrate as you want (or can fit on your plate, and this here means rice or potatoes, sometimes noodles), and a portion of food (like chicken nuggets or something), bread, Finnish pancake is 1 euro extra, or free from the bread table if they have some they need to use up, and water. It’s fantastic.
The welcome fair is a great opportunity to find things out and get paperwork done, if you’ve had a chance to print everything, otherwise it’s an exercise in patience, particularly when they only have two people distributing IT account information for the whole crowd. On the plus side, mutual complaining is a great way to make friends, and being British, I’m naturally good at queuing, so I made friends with a very nice Dutch girl who is doing her master’s in chemistry here too.
Thus far things don’t feel too different. To be honest, the weather is much the same - it’s been raining for a lot of the past week, and it rains more or less like it does at home! The public transport is, if anything, better, and things seem very well organised. There’s a real independent spirit here, but for all I’ve heard about Finnish people being reserved (until you make the first move), everyone I have spoken to, and everyone I have seen other people speak to, is more than happy to help you if you get confused or lost. I’m sure the temperature will drop soon (apparently the Finnish for November translates approximately to “moon of death” but that’s fine because it gives me an excuse to stay in and Nano instead), but for the moment it’s really nice, and the atmosphere is incredibly friendly.
A++ would recommend.
(If you guys want more detail about what it’s like where I’m living, or any of the exploring I’ve done/experiences I’ve had, please just ask :))