During August 2012 Lionie attended the Helsinki Summer School, here is her story.
I was extremely excited to have been accepted for a summer school course at the University of Helsinki. To apply I had to hand in my CV, a motivational letter, a permission letter from my supervisor and a 5 minute video clip. I will advise students to start with this as soon as possible to ensure that it is completed before the closing date of the application.
The next step is to get everything ready for your specific visa application (Schengen visa for Helsinki). A helpful website I used to get all the right documents and information together is www.visaexpress.co.za (remember to wear a dark shirt for your Schengen visa photos). My travel agent also assisted me with my visa application. After my summer school I was planning on visiting friends in Belgium for a period longer than my summer school, therefore I had to get a Belgium visa. You can apply for your visa about 2 months before you want to depart. I found the Postgraduate & International Office of Stellenbosch University very helpful and quick to reply on my emails filled with questions and uncertainties. It is also important to start looking for flights; since you also need your flight booking papers for your visa and the sooner you start the cheaper the flights will be. I was traveling in Asia before my summer school, so I flew with Turkish airlines from Singapore to Helsinki. Most of my flights were booked by my travel agent because it was not just a return ticket but one way flights in between. I was satisfied with the service and food of Turkish airlines.
To ensure that I have enough back up in terms of access to money, I got a student credit card and an American Express Euro card. I also took my debit card along. The bank cost for the ABSA cards are R45 per ATM withdrawal and for the American Express card R20. Not all ATM’s or Hotels/Shops accept American Express cards, so it’s good to have all of the above. Sometimes your card also does not want to work for an unexplainable reason, so be prepared. Otto ATM’s in Helsinki took American Express cards and Visa/Master cards, so look for one near your accommodation. Your credit card and American Express card is also handy if you have to make a booking or payment on the internet.
Before I left, I put together a travel file with all my flight bookings, addresses, important numbers and email addresses (since I was dependent on internet as my main method of communication-luckily free WiFi is available in most airports and places of accommodation). I also included copies of my passport, ID and visas. It is important to leave a copy of these at home too, for in case you lose your file.
Do not pack to much clothes, especially if you are planning to buy some overseas along with a lot of gifts. Paying over weight fees at the airport can be costly. Also make sure you can carry your own bag. Take some summer and winter clothes and something for rainy weather, Helsinki’s summer can be very unpredictable. Proper sneakers will suffice for the activities you will do during the social program, but some sandals will also come in handy on the warmer days.
Helsinki summer school:
After arriving at the airport, I went to the info desk, showed them my address (Vuolukiventie 1b, Phihlajamaki) and the lady printed a layout of the buses and walkways I have to take to my new apartment. She also told me I could pay for the ticket at the bus driver. You can also do this before you leave by using the Journey Planner website (just Google Helsinki journey planner or find it on the summer school page). I also used this website during my stay to reach all the necessary destinations. After registration at the HHS info desk, you can get your student travel card, which cost about 20-25€ (only possible if you are younger than 30) which you can use for all the buses and even public transport boats to Suomenlinna Island. From Vuolukiventie 1b I had to take bus 71 to Helsinki central station and it was about a 30 minute drive. At night the times of the buses changes from approximately every 10 mintes to every half hour from the bus stops. The last bus goes back half past one. There are later busses running, but the travel card is not valid and you will have to buy a ticket. From Vuolukiventie 1b I took a taxi to the airport, because I was running late. A taxi is fast and easy, but expensive (about 30€). I therefore recommend that if you want to take a taxi, find somebody to share the cost with or use journey planner to figure out the route via public transport.
It will be good to arrive at Vuolukivnetie 1b the Friday or Saturday before 14:00 (the office is closed between 14:00 and 16:00). Make sure you have cash on you for the Key deposit (50€). If you have your key you can put down your bags and still have enough time to find Prisma shopping centre (not far from Vuolukiventie 1b) and buy food and other things before closing time. At Vuolukiventie 1b each student got an apartment with a bed, a table, a chair, a kitchen and bathroom. Luckily, I had some kitchen utensils, toilet paper and some detergents in my apartment, although I had to go and buy a pillow, sheet and blanket (total cost about 15€). I helped out another student by giving them some of my extra kitchen utensils etc. The apartment was really nice and spacious. Also, do not lose your key: that whole exercise will cost you 60€…. and I do speak from personal experience! The weekend before the summer school started, I used to do some sightseeing.
The course: Designing’s tomorrow’s agriculture: Role of ecosystem services, took place on Viiki campus, also not far from Vuolukiventie 1b (8 minutes by bus and 20 minutes by foot). This summer school course was very well organized and the teachers were prepared for every lecture and excursion. My course was from 9:00 until about 17:00. In the mornings we had lectures and after lunch we had an excursion or practical session. It was quite a busy course and we also had to do a pre-course assignment, a learning journal, a group assignment and a group presentation. Finland being a country with high educational standards, I became familiar with a lot of new and successful learning techniques. Helsinki University also welcomes students from all over the world to come and complete a MSc of PhD programe. Therefore, attending a summer school program can open new doors for possible postgraduate studies.
I recommend students to attend the very well organized social program which takes place over the weekends and after class. This is a great way to experience the Finnish culture and lifestyle and to get to know other students taking part in the Helsinki Summer School. Remember that Stellenbosch University does not pay for students to take part in the social program, so include the costs in your spending budget.
The summer school experience was definitely something special. It was such an honour to be part of such a positive academic learning environment for the three weeks. The Finnish lecturers had an inspiring teaching drive and really care about the students understanding of the literature presented. Many of the practical examples and fieldwork, which accompanied the literature, made it easier to relate with the various sections of the course. The learning techniques I experienced at the summer school were effective and it helped to make the work more interesting! I decided to start working next year – so I am not going study further at Stellenbosch or Helsinki University. although as I have mentioned there are various postgraduate study possibilities where students’ options will become clear during the time spent at Helsinki University.
I have made a lot of great friends which can even possibly become business allies in the future. I also still keep contact with the course lecturers, who are willing to help their students with further questions. The cultural diversity one experience while attending a summer school is a great way to begin to understand how people from different countries think and approach certain problems in their different circumstances. One thing I realized and will always remember of the summer school experience in Helsinki, is that although two people can hardly understand each other in terms of a language, if you aim for the same goal you can still work together to achieve it.