UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)


IMESS Year Abroad Blog 2020

Alisa Musanovic arrives in Helsinki for the start of her year abroad at Helsinki University. Read about her experiences in the monthly blog below!

September 2020 - Arrival in Helsinki

Greetings from Finland (or, as people say here, ‘moi’)!

The start to my year abroad at the University of Helsinki has certainly been different to those from the year groups before me! After arriving here a little late, I undertook a recommended 14-day quarantine which, although isolating at times, really helped me to settle into my flat and my local area – plus I had plenty of time to decorate my room. Most of my classes so far have been online, which has certainly had its benefits – waking up for a morning class and doing it in pyjamas with my tea really beats rushing to get into the centre of town in time…But smaller meetings such as my Master’s thesis seminar will be in person, and Helsinki’s amazing libraries and student spaces are all open for us to use, too, so there is thankfully some sense of a gradual return to normality here.

My local area, Kannelmäki:

kannelmaki view

I have been very grateful for the sheer amount of nature that this city boasts – everywhere you look there are trees, parks and forests – truly a welcome change for me from the concrete jungle of my hometown London! I’ve used this opportunity to go on many runs and walks, and to just enjoy being in the outdoors, breathing in all the fresh air. We have also been truly blessed with the weather so far – despite the stereotypical image of Finland as being cold and grey, September has on the whole been warm, sunny and bright (my experience of Finland later in the winter months though may indeed live up to the stereotype…). My flatmates and I have made great use of the sun so far by going on lots of trips within the city, as well as a few further afield. We particularly liked our trip to Suomenlinna – a military fortress on an island off the coast of the mainland, which is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. And, from the trips further away, we fell in love with the Old Town of Tallinn (the capital of Estonia) – only two hours away from Helsinki!


suomenlinna view

I’ll end with a note on some cultural things that I’ve noticed while I’ve been here. People often say that Finns are stereotypically shy, and this may often be the case at first, however almost everyone I talk to, whether at the post office or the supermarket, is really friendly, open and willing to help once you talk to them. Also, most people’s knowledge of English here is outstanding. In terms of the academic culture, I have loved discovering different forms of assessment; at Helsinki you get marks for participation during discussion and assignments such as “learning diaries”, which is very new to me and quite different from the UK – I love the emphasis on gradual improvement and learning being a process throughout the term.

I’ll be back next month with some more scenic autumnal photos, updates about my life as a student, and some insights into the topic of Finnish cuisine!



view of Tallinn