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Page updated 1.11.2023

What it's like to study as an international student in Finland and at Turku UAS

Embarking on an educational journey in a foreign land can be both exhilarating and challenging. In the following, you can read about the unique experience of Diana, an international student who found her path at Turku University of Applied Sciences, discovering the essence of studying in Finland.

Text and photo: Léa Jacquemoire

In a world where borders are blurring and opportunities transcend geographical boundaries, Diana's story reflects the transformative power of education and the pursuit of one's dreams. At the age of 25, Diana, originally from Ukraine, started a journey that took her to Finland. 

– While the war in my country played a part in my decision, my aspirations to study abroad had been with me for a long time, Diana Skorniakova says.

Towards new horizons

When asked about her decision to choose Finland as a study destination, Diana explains that it was a happy coincidence rather than a deliberate choice.

– I had originally planned to seek seasonal employment in the country, attracted by its reputation for tranquillity and security. Compared to other alternatives, such as England, which seemed more uncertain and had received a mixed reception, Finland emerged as the obvious choice, she explains. 

As fate would have it, Diana's desire to change her career path and become a physiotherapist coincided with Turku University of Applied Sciences. Although the application deadlines for other universities had already passed, she stumbled upon this opportunity just in time, applying on the very last day. She had just one hour to complete the necessary formalities and, against all odds, she was accepted. It's a stroke of luck that Diana remembers with gratitude, as her unexpected trip turned out remarkably well.

A new way of learning 

Diana was accepted into the Open Higher Education Studies for Immigrants, which were offered to people who had fled from Ukraine to Finland.

– Most of the participants in the study programme had already completed a higher education degree or studies in Ukraine, and thanks to the Open studies, they were able to continue their study and career path in Finland, says Tiina Hirard, senior lecturer in charge of the study programme. 

An individual study plan was built for all students, and each student had the opportunity to choose some degree studies suitable for their field and goals, and e.g. project studies.

As an online student, Diana had little interaction with her peers and the physical campus. However, it was her first time studying in Finland, and she discovered a new learning environment and a new style of teaching. At first, this lack of familiarity caused her problems, but as she became familiar with the system and the courses, she found her rhythm. 

– I appreciate the flexibility. By balancing my work and studies, I was able to devote time to both, while ensuring that my work was manageable and not overwhelming, Diana says. 

Although Diana encountered minor difficulties, mainly related to the initial adaptation to the system and the occasional change in the start date of the courses, these were compensated by the positive experiences she had. 

A journey of personal and professional growth

For Diana, studying at Turku UAS was a transforming experience. She chose, or rather, chance put Finland in her path as her study destination, attracted by its serene atmosphere and reputation as a safe country. Despite the initial difficulties of adapting to a new educational system and curriculum, Diana quickly found her feet, enjoying the serenity of Finnish education. By balancing work and study, she found a sense of purpose and fulfillment, both personally and professionally.

Diana's journey at Turku UAS has been a two-way street, as she has not only benefited from the institution, but also made valuable contributions to the academic community. Her understanding of language dynamics and active participation in project work have shaped the development of the curriculum, leaving a lasting impact on the university and fellow students.

Promoting multiculturalism and diversity

A defining experience in Diana's educational journey was her participation in the PrepProg project, an initiative aimed at preparing individuals for higher education in English. Not only did this project enable Diana to improve her language skills, it also instilled in her a desire to share her knowledge and cultural heritage with others. Through this project, Diana has flourished in promoting intercultural understanding and paving the way for a more inclusive and diverse educational landscape.  

Her project work and presentation on the differences and similarities between Finnish, English and Ukrainian languages were instrumental in developing the curriculum for teaching Finnish and English to Ukrainians. Her insights helped the project group to better understand language dynamics and facilitate effective language teaching.

Turku University of Applied Sciences is founded on the principles of inclusion and multiculturalism, striving to create a harmonious environment where all students feel welcomed and valued. Tiina Hirard points out that students are also involved in the work to promote equality and multiculturalism. In her project studies, Diana took part in the development of the course “Multiculturalism in the work community and in teaching” by commenting on the course from the student's point of view.

Diana took part in the "Multiculturalism in the Work Community and Teaching" course, reflecting on the importance of promoting multiculturalism and diversity within educational establishments, recognizing the efforts made by Turku UAS to integrate foreigners into Finnish society. The course gave her valuable insights into the importance of promoting multiculturalism and diversity within educational establishments. When she reflects on her experiences in Ukraine and Finland, she recognizes the marked differences in the way these countries deal with diversity.

– In Ukraine, the presence of foreigners is mainly limited to medical students, who often do not stay in the country after completing their studies. By contrast, Finland welcomes people from a wide range of backgrounds, including refugees who come to live and work in the country, Diana says. 

She found it interesting to explore the challenges and opportunities associated with multiculturalism as part of the course. She points to the economic growth of countries like Finland, which attracts people from all over the world to live and work here. It's becoming crucial to create inclusive environments where people from different cultural backgrounds can flourish. Diana recognizes the importance of providing opportunities and teaching others how to properly engage and interact with people from diverse backgrounds. 

In terms of her personal experience of studying alongside students from different cultural backgrounds, Diana's interactions have mainly been with Finnish students. Although she had little exposure to other cultures, she found Finnish students to be respectful and considerate in their communication. She recounts how her classmates adapted their lessons to suit her need for English, which reflects their openness and respect.

Her project work and presentation on the differences and similarities between Finnish, English and Ukrainian languages were instrumental in developing the curriculum for teaching Finnish and English to Ukrainians. Her insights helped the project group to better understand language dynamics and facilitate effective language teaching.

Reflecting on her journey, Diana recalls a few memorable moments. Some of these moments were face-to-face interactions, such as cultural discussions with other foreigners and interesting conversations about life in Finland. These experiences allowed her to come into contact with people from diverse backgrounds and discover their unique points of view. The university campus itself left a lasting impression on Diana, with its extensive and well-designed facilities. 

In addition, the bond formed with her group of Ukrainians, who began their studies together before going their separate ways, holds a special place in her heart. Together, they have navigated the twists and turns of Finnish higher education, united by their shared journey to a foreign land.

Next steps

As Diana prepares to embark on a new adventure, studying physiotherapy in Pori, she represents the embodiment of Turku UAS' commitment to empowering students to pursue their dreams. 

While the prospect of studying in a new city is exciting, Diana is aware of the challenges that lie ahead. The language barrier is an obstacle in her job search, which underlines the importance of improving her Finnish language skills. Despite these obstacles, she remains undeterred, relying on her determination and the support she finds within the educational community to pave the way for a prosperous future.

If It Is you

Diana stresses the importance of taking the initiative in communication, especially with Finns and other students. She encourages future students to be proactive, to look for opportunities and not just rely on others to welcome them with open arms. 

Diana also reassures students that Finnish education is calmer and less intense than that of some other countries. While it's essential to manage your time effectively and plan ahead, there's no need to worry too much. 

In the academic year 2023–2024, Turku UAS offers again a study programme similar to the one for people who fled from Ukraine. However, the target group has been extended to all those who have moved to Finland, who have already completed a higher education degree or studies, and who want to complement their expertise and build networks for working life in Finland. 

Networks for a career in Finland – studies for highly educated immigrants

The study programme enables highly educated immigrants to develop their skills without having to obtain a new degree.