Sep 9, 2016 at 12:00am ET By Elizabeth Koprowski

Finland is one of the northernmost countries in the world, and while it may be off the beaten track this Nordic country is anything but insular. Finland leads the world in education, government transparency, stability, and saunas. But what makes Finland the perfect destination for an international student? We asked Mats Engblom from the University of Helsinki to tell us what makes Finland special.

 

1. Natural Beauty

The entire country of Finland, barring a few islands of its southernmost coast, is located above the 60th parallel. Finland's geographic location, as well as its stunning landscape, makes it an ideal location for students wanting to study and explore.  Head north in the summer when the sun doesn't set and hike around any of Finland's 168,000 lakes. In the winter, Finland turns into a winter wonderland with cross country ski trails through Helsinki's central park and northern lights that dance across the sky.

 

2. Vibrant International Community

Finland has a small population (just under 5.5 million people), but the country has a diverse international community, and international students will find a warm welcome. The University of Helsinki, along with the rest of the country, has worked to establish an “attractive and internationally competitive” profile and international students have a strong network of support.

 

3. Strong Local Culture

Finnish people may seem very reserved, but once you get to know them, you'll find a warm, friendly population and cities full of life. Finns drink more coffee than any other people on earth (around 12kg per person per year!) and the capital city of Helsinki is “full of cafes, culture and clubs.” Spend your weekends browsing flea markets and art galleries, and check out the city's dynamic music scene featuring everything from classic operas to a rock culture that makes Finland a leader in yet another area – heavy metal bands!

 

4. World-Class Education

You can hardly open the news without hearing about Finland's marvelous education system, but the country deserves its reputation. Finland repeatedly ranks in the top five for PISA scores, Finns borrow more library books than any other country in the world, and in the “latest Shanghai ranking, [the University of Helsinki was] #56.” The university is working its way to the top of the ranking and employs instructors who are also esteemed researchers, making it a smart choice for ambitious international students. 

 

5. Safety

Apart from the occasional bear, the streets of Helsinki are relatively safe. The capital of Finland is the second safest city in the world and has been named the most livable city in the world. Outside the city crime rates are remarkably low, and the greatest risk to public safety comes from the wildlife – watch out for moose on the highways!

 

6. Everyone Speaks English

Finland's well-educated population is also extremely fluent in English. Last year, the country ranked #4 in the Education First English Proficiency Index, and Finland's universities offer around 450 programs in English. While international students are encouraged to learn Finnish during their studies, students at the University of Helsinki have access to courses at different levels in English.

 

7. Modern Research Universities

Finland's high educational standards are just one of the ways that this forward-thinking country works to make the world and the future a better place. Finland leads the world in futurology, and its universities are central to the country's efforts. Students can join the Helsinki Challenge, “a science based competition and idea accelerator,” that aims to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and build a better future. 

 

8. Ideal Location

Finland holds a unique place between east and west and the capital, Helsinki, is only a few hours from Russia and Estonia by train and ferry. The country also has strong ties with Scandinavia and many Finns speak Swedish as fluently as they do Finnish. And with ferries connecting Helsinki and Stockholm, Finland serves as a perfect jumping-off point for the rest of Europe as well.

 

9. Well-Connected

It's easy to travel from Finland to nearby Scandinavian or northern and eastern Europe, but the country's main carrier – Finnair – is setting its sights a bit further afield. The country's location makes it well-placed for flights to and from Asia, and the Finnish airline has already launched plans to increase Asian traffic by 2020. Finnair was the first European airline to offer non-stop flights to Tokyo, and the airline currently offers 77 non-stop flights to Asia from Helsinki every week. This is great news for international students from Asia, or for students who want to use their holidays to explore the world.

 

10. The Saunas!

And, if world-class education, low crime rates, stunning natural beauty, and easy travel access isn't enough, then Finland has one more ace up its sleeve. Finland may not have exclusive claim to the sauna, but no other country in the world knows how to steam the way that Finland does. With more than three million saunas, Finland tops the charts for saunas per capita, and even tiny student flats are likely to feature at least one.

Want to see what else Finland has to offer? Check out the University of Helsinki’s new roster of International Master’s Degree Programs that will launch next year. Courses will be available in English, Swedish, or Finnish and students can choose from thirty-four degrees ranging from European and Nordic Studies to Forest Sciences and Bioeconomy. Read more about the University of Helsinki here.

Elizabeth Koprowski is an American writer and travel historian. She has worked in the higher education system with international students both in Europe and in the USA.

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