Located at Europe's northern peak, Finland is a country of intriguing quirks - so much so that there is even an official term coined to market the nation's unique sense of the bizarre: Finnwacky. While the Finnwacky stereotype doesn't begin to do justice to the range of cultural and leisure pursuits that are on offer to undergraduate students studying abroad in Finland, it does describe one enticing aspect of Finnish culture - it's a country with a real sense of fun.
Add to this the remote beauty of subarctic Lapland, the sophisticated design and chic scene of Helsinki, and a government policy of free university education for all, and Finland could be a great place to spend your time studying abroad. Top Universities has come up with the top ten things any undergraduate student should do to make the most out of your time studying abroad in Finland.
1. Visit Lapland, home of Father Christmas
Nearest university: University of OULU
No period spent studying abroad in Finland would be complete without a trip to Lapland, the mythical home of Father Christmas. A snow-coated wilderness populated by reindeer and elks, Lapland is the original Winter Wonderland. As well as stunning views of pristine snowy hills and the mysterious Northern Lights, Lapland offers a wide range of outdoor activities to help thaw you out - from the more obvious, such as skiing and tobogganing, to more 'out there' pursuits such as husky sleighing, snowmobiling and taking a dip in a frozen lake. When you're finished, head to Kemi and check out the world's largest snow castle.
Did you know? Although it's primarily famed for its frozen winter months, Lapland's extreme northern longitude means it also experiences endless summer days - literally. For several weeks in June and July the sun never sets below the horizon, meaning there is daylight 24/7. The down side of this is during the winter, when the reverse happens - constant darkness for days on end. However, this does bring with it spectacular views of the famous Northern Lights.
2. Hang out in Helsinki
A maritime metropolis exuding Scandinavian chic, Helsinki is cool in more ways than one. While the darkness of the winter months bring an atmosphere of hibernation to the city, in the summer Helsinki's young crowd explodes into life, packing the streets and squares and partying through the night as the city sees nearly 20 hours of sunlight per day. If you're an undergraduate student studying abroad in Helsinki, you won't find too many language barriers - nearly 90% of Helsinki's population speaks English. And the perfect way to make friends with your new classmates could be Vappu - the annual Spring Festival. Traditionally a student event, Vappu in Helsinki is an all-night party culminating in a champagne brunch at Ullanlinna Park - at least for those who can handle the pace!
3. Turn up the temperature with a traditional Finnish sauna
If the party scene in Helsinki leaves you feeling in need of a detox, what better way than indulging in Finland's traditional national obsession, the sauna. Finland has over 1.5 million saunas - that's about one for every three people - and taking a steam-bath is both a leisure activity and, for some, a fiercely competitive test of endurance. With its endless summer days and endless winter nights, Finland is a nation of opposites, and the sauna is no exception - once you've baked in temperatures of over 80 degrees Centigrade (that's 176 Fahrenheit!), the idea is to jump into a swimming pool - or even better, an ice-cold lake.
4. Go to a hockey or pesapallo match
Finland is known as one of the 'big seven' ice hockey nations (alongside Canada, Russia, the US, Slovakia, Sweden and the Czech Republic) and the game is the country's most popular sport alongside Formula One racing. But for a more quintessential Finnish sporting experience check out the other national sport - pesapallo. A Finnish version of baseball, pesapallo has a few notable differences from its more internationally established cousin. Other popular Finnish sporting activities include football, floorball, Nordic walking, strongman competitions and, if you're into that sort of thing, the annual wife carrying race (seriously, it's 100% for real!).
5. Have a picnic on Suomenlinna Island and Fortress
Suomenlinna Island, which translates as 'Castle of Finland', is a former military sea fortress on a picturesque cluster of islands located at the entrance of Helsinki's harbour. A popular tourist attraction for its spectacular views, Suomenlinna was visited by over 700,000 people in 2009 - it's also a popular hang-out for locals, many of whom on sunny days take a ferry out from nearby Helsinki to have a picnic and catch some sun. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Suomenlinna could be the perfect spot for a relaxing study break - or a seriously scenic backdrop to make your revision seem that little bit more bearable.
6. Embrace 'Finnwacky'-ness - go to one of Finland's legendary weird events
Every country has a few customs, traditions and rituals that look a bit peculiar to the uninitiated outsider - but no one does bizarre quite as well as the Finns. Take your pick from a host of compellingly weird festivals going on all year round - highlights include the World Wife Carrying Championship, the World Cell Phone Throwing Championship and various ant-nest sitting competitions (no, that's not a typo - it's a competition to see who can sit on an ant's nest for longest). But our personal favourite at Top Universities is the fiercely contested annual competition to find the planet's most vicariously virtuosic master of the fictional fretboard - that's right, it's the World Air Guitar Championship.
Did you know? The phone company Nokia originated in Finland, in the city of Nokia.
7. Crank up the volume with Finland's heavy metal scene
Speaking of rocking out, the Finns are pretty good at doing it for real, too. Remember Lordi, who won the Eurovision Song Contest a few years back? Well, there's plenty more where that came from. Finland is a country that isn't afraid to turn it up to 11. Hard rock and heavy metal are massive all over Scandinavia, but nowhere more so than in Finland. You might want to pick a more soothing accompaniment if you're trying to study, but if you're the sort of person who likes to let your hair down once in a while, Finland is definitely the place for you.
8. Check out Helsinki design week
Finland may be a country full of endearing oddities, but in the world of design, architecture and fashion it's as chic as it gets. Since 2005, Helsinki Design Week has been showcasing the city's creative achievements, coinciding with the laid-back party atmosphere that prevails in the capital during the sunny summer months. If you can't make it to Helsinki for design week, fear not - you can get your dose of Finnish fashion and art decor in Helsinki's design district. A neighbourhood consisting of 25 streets peppered with art and antique shops, boutiques, museums and exhibitions, if you're of a creative persuasion the design district is the perfect place to take a walking tour.
9. Hit the slopes - you can't go to Scandinavia without learning how to ski!
Location: Most of Finland's ski slopes are in Lapland, the country's northernmost region.
Nearest university: University of OULU
As you would imagine for a country that is the home of Father Christmas, Finland is a pretty good place to study abroad if you're a skiing or snowboarding fanatic. But if you're an international student in Finland and have never skied before, there's no better place to learn. With many of the country's slopes lying at relatively low altitude, there is an abundance of reasonably unthreatening descents to get you started without putting you off for good. Those who are more experienced will be glad to hear there are also enough advanced runs and off-piste opportunities to keep even the most intrepid adrenaline junkie happy.
10. Take advantage of Finland's location - get to know Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
One of the great things about studying abroad in Europe for any undergraduate student is the proximity of a vast array of different nations, cultures, languages and landscapes packed into a compact space - meaning you may never have a better opportunity to travel and clock up some extra stamps on your passport. Studying abroad in Finland gives you an excellent chance to check out some of the less well-trodden travel trails in Eastern and Northern Europe at weekends or between semesters.
Hop on a ferry over to the Estonian capital Tallinn, just 50 miles south of Helsinki;-head to Latvia and get to know Riga, both a party capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also well within striking distance are Lithuania and Sweden, with trendy Stockholm just a ferry ride away. And if you're feeling adventurous, put on your snow hat and head east by train to Russia, and its historic capital St Petersburg.
Did you know? Finland is the most sparsely populated country in the European Union (EU).
Once you've finished those:
1. Sit down to a meal of reindeer
2. Put your hiking boots on and explore one of the 30+ national parks. The Archipelago National Park is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
3. Heard of any Finnish cities other than Helsinki? Well there are plenty to explore - Tampere, Turku, Oulu, Jyväskylä, Kuopio and Lahti.
4. Photograph a moose
5. Try your hand at fishing - after all, it is a staple part of the Finnish diet
Finland's top universities by region
1. Southern Finland University of HELSINKI; HELSINKI University of Technology (TKK)
2. Western Finland University of TURKU; University of TAMPERE; University of Jyväskylä
3. Eastern Finland KUOPIO University
4. Oulu University of OULU