Culture Shock in an International Programme

Moving to Finland was a big step, and while it was scary at first, it is easily the best decision I have made for myself. I did not expect to experience such a culture shock when moving here, yet every day I am experiencing something new. Before moving, I knew the winters are long and dark, the Finns love the sauna, and education is highly valued. While these things are all true, in just two short months of living here I have already learned so much more about Finnish culture!
Lake view and the sun
Enjoying the sun while it lasts


There are bike paths everywhere in Oulu! It is quite easy to get around by bike, from the University to the city centre and everywhere in between! I had not biked in almost twenty years when I first arrived in Oulu, so it was an adjustment for me because I was so used to commuting by car.

Now that I am back at it, I love biking over bridges to get views of the water or along the pathways where I am surrounded by trees and nature- especially now with all the leaves changing colour! It hardly feels like a city when it is so easy to get around, yet you still get the perks of having everything you need close by. I also hear it is manageable to get around by bike even in winter, so I am looking forward to that upcoming challenge.

Views on my route to class

Finnish personalities

Finns are known to be quiet and reserved. I was under the impression that it would be difficult to get to know local people, but the University has made it quite the opposite! Had I not been enrolled in the program here I may feel differently about that, but I am so thrilled that due to all the activities the University has to offer I have been able to get to know quite a few Finns already. There are so many activities on campus, clubs you can join, and ways to get involved in the community.

Additionally, I have joined a small choir and play flute in a band on campus. I am one of few international students in these groups, however, I was very warmly welcomed to both groups, and get invited to go to the local pub or bar after rehearsal every week. Everyone grabs a drink or snack, enjoys each other’s company, and maybe even takes part in some karaoke. When I do not understand the Finnish language, somebody is always very kind and translates for me so I can still be included in the conversation.

As one new friend puts it, once you are friends with a Finn, you have a loyal friend for life!


Education is highly respected in Finland. I did not realize just how true that was until I arrived in Oulu and started seeing students wearing different coloured overalls covered in different patches, accompanied with caps on their heads!

The different colour overalls represent which faculty you are in, and the patches are sewn on as they are collected. These can come from parties, events, or bought for societies and clubs you are in. Although I do not have my own overalls, I do already have a collection of patches of my own. This shows how proud Finns are of their education, and it is a really fun tradition. Overalls are worn at many student events around campus and even in the city.

My journey so far

Nallikari Lighthouse

Moving to Oulu has opened my eyes to so many new possibilities. I love my classes and professors in the master's programme in Education and Globalisation. I learn so much from my classmates and think critically every day. I get to meet new people and experience so much outside my comfort zone, which is allowing me to grow in ways I never expected, especially in such a short time. I cannot wait to see what Oulu will have to offer over the next two years!

About the author

Elizabeth Harlow is studying in the Education and Globalisation master’s programme. She is from Rhode Island in the USA. Her bachelor's degree is in music education, and she taught as an elementary music teacher for five years before moving to Oulu! She is excited to live in a new country with such a diverse group of classmates.