Kickstart – a heartwarming head start into Finnish language and the local life in Oulu

UniOulu Kickstart course is a chance for newly accepted international degree students to take a head start into studying Finnish and getting to know the study culture in Oulu – a month before the start of other studies. The course was piloted in the autumn of 2023.
Young people gathered around the Toripoliisi statue.
The first-ever Kickstart course group studied the Finnish language and got to know Finnish culture and Oulu 2 weeks before the start of their degree studies in autumn 2023. Picture: Jun Nakamura

A plethora of Finnish words are booming from the lecture hall speakers. “Osoite, kieli, sukunimi”, the slow, clear voice enunciates. The students are silent, listening. Some repeat the words quietly to themselves and some write them down. It is early August 2023. The students have arrived to Finland and to Oulu recently, and to most of them, this is their first Finnish class ever. The exercise is centered around the most crucial Finnish vocabulary the students might need during their life and studies in Finland. The students in the lecture hall are all new students from the University of Oulu’s English-taught degree programmes, and they are here in Oulu a whole month in advance of the official start of their degree studies.

This – August 2023 – was the first year the course was organized. During the course, a group of newly accepted international degree students from around the world come to Oulu to take a head start into their new study lives in Oulu – with diving into intensive Finnish language studies. The course is based on the idea that learning Finnish in the early stages of studies will also aid the students in other parts of student life – all the way from culture shock to integration and making friends.

”Even though international degree programmes are taught in English, learning Finnish carries great significance in employment and in integrating into Finland. An intensive start in the language studies accelerates learning Finnish at most by half a year. This enables the student to progress into using the language independently” says Liisa Väisänen, the Finnish teacher of the course.

In addition to Finnish studies, the Kickstart course also offers a wide variety of free time activities, excursions and other social activities. The first ever group of Kickstarters visited for example the outdoor museum in Turkansaari to learn about the history of the Oulu region, went berry-picking close to the Linnanmaa campus and baked Finnish korvapuusti pastries together. In 2023, there were 25 participants from almost every continent.

Kurssin aikana osallistujat vierailivat muun muassa Turkansaaren ulkomuseossa. Kuva: Jun Nakamura.
During the Kickstart, the course participants visited Turkansaari, an island near Oulu with an outdoor museum presenting traditional Finnish building and professions. Picture: Jun Nakamura

The course’s coordinator, project employee Jun Nakamura is now organizing the course for the second time. After the concept was piloted and found to be successful, the number of student spots for the course will be doubled in 2024.

"To be familiar with a new environment and to learn the Finnish language is difficult. By organising classes where people learn the language and social activities where participants can learn Finnish culture and network with other participants, we are supporting the students to get used to living in Oulu easily", Nakamura summarizes.

“For me one of the biggest perks of doing the Kickstart course is I got to know the campus before the other students came and I found a solid group of friends who I still hang out to this day. When you're in a strange new place, there's nothing more comforting than coming across a familiar face in the hallway. My 2023 Finnish Kickstart course classmates are almost family by now." says Karol Go, one of the participants.

Kickstart course’s concept is based on combining intensive Finnish studies with more informal, concrete activities – the authentic study life in Oulu. Studying Finnish is made fun and more engaging if you’re learning at the same time you are baking, berry-picking and going to the grocery store together and using Finnish while buying your items.

Two young woman in a forest, the woman in the foreground showing a container with blueberries
The participants picked berries in the Finnish forest. Later, these berries were used in a pie, or "mustikkapiirakka", in Finnish! Picture: Jun Nakamura

”Before the first Kickstart course, I was hesitant on how the students can stay engaged in the studies in such a fast pace, but to my surprise the learning outcomes have been even better than in the slower pace,” Väisänen continues.

”I would 100% recommend this course! It's not just about learning the language but also an amazing cultural experience. The course was such a heartwarming welcome when I first moved to Finland. Over three weeks, it has well-equipped me with everything I need for my new life, along with lots of good friends (and food). I would definitely do it again," says My Hoang, another participant from the 2023 Kickstart course.

The first Kickstart course in Oulu did indeed offer opportunities in studying Finnish, but also in getting to know other students. And that is what student life is in the end: balancing between studies and freetime, and finding your own group of friends. At Kickstart, you can accomplish all this.

UniOulu Kickstart to Finnish language and life

Last updated: 3.5.2024