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What Do You Know about Finland?

   
 

Helena Inkinen

 
 
When you think about Finland, maybe you only think about Xylitol and Nokia. Finland is an unfamiliar country to many Koreans. According to Wikipedia, Finland is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of northern Europe. Also, there are thousands of lakes and islands. An estimated 5.4 million people live in Finland. In terms of area, it is the eighth largest country in Europe and the most sparsely populated country in the European Union. This year, Helena Inkinen, the first exchange student from Finland, came to Dongguk University. To know more about Finland, The Post met Helena.

The Post: Would you tell me about yourself?

Helena: My name is Helena Inkinen. I am from Finland. My Finnish age is 21, but Korean age is 23. I originally studied Hotel Management in Laurea University of Applied Science in Finland. But, at Dongguk University, I am now studying International Business.
 
The Post: Where are good places to visit for students planning a trip to Finland?

Helena: Helsinki is a good place to visit. Helsinki is the capital and largest city of Finland. There are lots of restaurants and shops. However, if you want to have Finnish experiences truly, I suggest you go to more central areas of Finland, such as Turku, Tampere and Rovaniemi or someplaces where there are has lots of lakes. You can go to a cottage with a sauna by the lake. Saunas are originally from Finland, and it is really Finish thing. We have saunas inside each apartment and every building where people live in has them. People go to a sauna usually once a week and even more. It is very refreshing and clean, so we consider it as a very purifying and mentally comfortable experience. I think if Koreans experience a sauna in Finland, many Koreans would probably be shocked because it is so different from those in Korea. It is very hot. It goes up to from 70 degree to 100 degree. When my Asian friends went to a Finnish sauna with me, they actually felt dizzy.

The Post: What kinds of festivals are there and what are they famous for?

Helena: There are two famous festival periods in Finland. One is Christmas. Christmas is specially celebrated everywhere in Finland. It has a long tradition. During Christmas, a lot of things are going on. Wherever you go, there are always something related to Christmas. The best place to visit is maybe Lapland, which is a Santa Claus village. However, you can basically go to any city to celebrate Christmas. The other big festival period is during mid-summer. The name of festivals depends on their locations. During these times, many people try to take the day off, to go camping by a lake, hang out with friends and enjoy summer parties.

The Post: In Korea, the first semester is from March to June. The second semester is from September to December. Summer vacation is from July to August and winter vacation is from January to February. Exams are conducted twice every semester: a midterm and a final examination. Usually, the exam period lasts for a week. Courses begin at 8:00A.M. and finish at 11:10P.M. Students can determine their own class schedules. How about Finnish universities?

Helena: The first semester is from January to May. Courses begin at 8:00A.M. and finish at 4:00P.M. It is very rare for us to have evening classes. We do have some, but usually nobody takes them. In Korea, a lot of students actually study hard until evening. But in Finland, no one does that. For me, studying here is kind of easy. In Finland, I get more assignments and we need to write more papers. Especially, my university in Finland has pretty strict rules. So, we have strict format about how to write paper and so on. When I came here, I was a little bit surprised because classes here are very different with that of Finland.

The Post: How are classes at universities in Finland different from those at Korean universities in terms of the relationship between professor and students and the professor’s teaching method?

Helena: First of all, we call our professor by their names. Some professors actually have their own nicknames. In addition, we communicate a lot with our professors. Professors often say that they are not here to only give students lectures, but to help them to achieve their goals. They are giving us good examples and always ready to give advice for students. Furthermore, in Finland, in study courses, students usually read a lot of books during semester and they discuss it together. Students continue discussions until they make sure that everybody understands what is in the book. We also think about how to apply what we study in the real world. Of course, we have sometimes lectures. However, sometimes there is a topic and students make their own lecture and present it for the class. We deal with different issues like bullying, how to be a good leader and how to communicate at work. If you study in Finland, you have to actively participate in the class. Also, usually, in Finnish universities, there are 20 students on average in one class. It is not over 25. Therefore, professors really know well us. We have a lot of conversations with them. We are encouraged to think by ourselves. Also, we ask a lot of questions. Every time there is something that cannot be understood, we ask questions immediately. We consider it as an important learning process to get information and knowledge. Grading system goes to one to five. Five is excellent and one is retest. We do not compete against each other. Students usually do not know what others get from the test. So I compete against by myself. Your grades are decided based on your personal achievements and how you do during classes. Of course we sometimes compete against each other, but it is more friendly competition. It is not competing for getting grade an A. Everybody works together in a friendly environment.

The Post: Finland and South Korea grabbed first and second places, respectively, in an assessment of the education systems of 50 countries in 2012. Although there are the differences on the educational system between two countries, it is obvious that Finland and Korea are strong on education. Could you briefly explain Finnish education system? And through your experiences, what do you think about that strengths and weaknesses of Finnish education? 

Helena: As I said, Finnish education system heavily relies on “doing it yourself.” I think Koreans have good memorization skills. But in Finland, we do not really do much memorization. It is more important for students to understand the concepts and then to be able to use it in real life, rather than focus on memorization. I mean it is more focused on understanding. In my opinion, understanding is first and it will help you to remember it later. Of course, there is no perfect education system. Every student learns in a different way. Some people learn when they see and others learn when they are hearing or do something. Finland still has a problem about implementing better ways students can effectively learn. There are probably some aspects that we need to change, but I think it is pretty good system.

The Post: The first female president was elected in Korea. I heard that the first female president in Finland, Tarja Halonen, was been extremely popular among Finns during her 12 years presidency. Why do you think that many Finnish people respect and support her?

Helena: I think her personality is really calm and cool. She also has good relationships with other nations. Many Finnish people respect her. She has very human aspects and she appreciates humanity. She is not very economical but more like down to earth personality. We also like our most recent president a lot.

The Post: Finland is one of the world’s best functioning welfare states. What kind of welfare systems are there? What do welfare systems mean to you (also Finnish people)?

Helena: There are so many welfare systems. Education system is the best and we also have insurance. We pay pretty high tax. But for me, paying tax does not really matter because I have to pay that money anyway. If I do not pay that tax, when I get sick, I have to pay it to hospital anyway. Also, if I want to go to school, I have to pay it to school anyway. In addition, it makes our society more equal. Even if there are some people who do not have much money, they also have equal rights to be healthy and get education and something like that. However, there is one problem. Finland and Korea are rapidly becoming an ageing society. Later, there will be no enough young people to work. The idea of welfare system is really good, but society is changing rapidly. No one knows how it is going to be in the future, so some measures need to be taken at the government level to solve social issues such as graying.

The Post: Finally, how satisfied are you with your school life in Korea?

Helena: I am really satisfied. Everybody is really nice. I really like Korea and my courses. I think Dongguk University offers a good level of education to me. Also, I love Korean food! I am sure that studying in Korea will be the best experience in my life.

Kim Yu-young  tbfor700@dongguk.edu

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