The Amazing Jyväskylä!

The Amazing Jyväskylä!
Me at the harbor of Jyväskylä

19 October, 2015

Studying Master's Degree in Jyväskylä - some potentially useful experiences

I recently had quite a long talk with a student who has been staying in contact with me since she was invited to an interview with a Master’s program from the University of Jyväskylä. She was accepted into the program and now studying in Jyväskylä. Even though she is now very happy with the move to Finland to pursue higher education, she is quite overwhelmed and struggling with her studies. So, I shared with her my similar experiences and how I handled the situations when I first started my studies at the university.

Even though I had 3 years of working experiences in English-speaking environments (even in the field of my Master’s study) prior to my studies in Jyväskylä, I had a really tough time familiarizing myself with the study in Finland at first. There were quite a few reasons for it. First, because I completed my Bachelor’s Degree totally in Vietnamese, I had no experiences whatsoever in dealing with reading materials written in advanced academic English. And to think that I managed to get an overall 7.5 IELTS with the reading score of 8.0, I was shocked myself about my weak capacity in comprehending the materials.

Secondly, in Vietnam, being a student is quite a passive role, which also gave me a hard time in managing my own study when I first started in Finland. So, in the beginning of a semester in most of Vietnamese universities, we would just go to a certain place at school to copy the timetable including information about courses, time and classroom. At the end of a course or a semester, there would also be a timetable for final exams and so on. Everything is laid out for us, aside from learning our tails off, we do not have to worry about anything else. However, it is a completely different story in Finland where students’ independence is expected. You would have to manage your own study. You would need to find out which courses are compulsory and when they are offered so you won’t miss the registration; otherwise, you’d have to wait a year for those courses to be offered again. You would need to figure out how to use several virtual portals to register courses and gain access to the materials, etc. You would have to learn to manage your time so that you can gain a certain number of credits each semester so that you could graduate on time. Millions of little things like that. Even though you can find help pretty much any time you need, you are still expected to do everything on your own. Help here means support and guidance; no one is going to hold your hands through your troubles.

Thirdly, living in Finland is definitely different, even from its neighboring European countries, let alone any other Asian countries. It is worlds apart. That’s for sure. I consider myself as someone that is quite adaptable. I still experienced culture shocks and physical exhaustion due to the daily transportation (which was my fault for being out of shape!). Plus, Fall was short and Winter came early that year. I also took on a part-time job just one month after my arrival. With all the changes and pressure, I found myself exhausted at the end of every single day.

So, I understand very well what the said student has been going through.

Anyhow, if you find yourself in a similar situation, I genuinely hope you won’t, but if any of you do, you might find my following experiences useful somehow.

Problems identification
In any situations at all, it is obviously important to identify and understand the problems and obstacles that you have. If you can’t seem to focus at school, find out why. If you can’t manage to finish any assignments on time, look for a reason. If you find yourself exhausted at the end of the day with nothing accomplished, do go find an answer for that. For example, when I could not comprehend the reading materials, I first thought it was because of the academic English that I was unfamiliar with. But the strange thing was that even though I understood every single word in a sentence, I still did not seem to understand what it meant. I spent sometime reflecting on it and I found out that it might not have been the language but my background knowledge on the subject. You know that in an article, the authors often cite or quote from some other scholars to prove their points without explaining much. So, it becomes a vicious circle: in order to understand the points they’re trying to make, I need to understand the citations. But I can’t because I have not read the citations. And sometimes, when the citation is not really the original idea but borrowed from another source that is unknown to me because I do not have the basic knowledge of the field’s literature.
But the good thing is: I have identified the roots of my problems. That’s very important.

Coming up with solutions
After figuring out the real reasons for your problems, don’t just sit there and whine about it, you need to find a way to fix it. You just have to find a way to fix it. For example, after finding out that I had a serious hole in my background knowledge, I had to find a way to fill it up. I paid extra attention in lessons that provided essential basic theories of my field. I started to notice which scholars or concepts that were often cited in the materials so that I could find the literature to read and understand them. This way, the next time that I saw the references again, I would immediately know what they referred to.

Starting a new semester might be quite overwhelming with lots of things to take care of: registering for courses (especially stressful if their schedules overlapped each other!), assignments to finish, deadlines to meet; if you have to do your assignments in groups, it’ll take a lot more time. What an irony, right? So, when I found myself in a mess and I had no idea what to do next, I made a to-do list with deadlines on it to keep track of what to do and when I should finish it so I could arrange my priorities. Keeping it in my head and seeing it on a paper did give me different perspectives. So, you might want to try it out to see how it fits your personality. At some point, there was a whole wall in my room filled with lists like this so I would be always reminded of what to do. When there’s too much to handle, it’s very easy for me to lose track.

I always recorded my class schedules and classrooms in the academic calendar notebooks that are handed out every year in the student union’s office so that I had all the information in one place in case I wanted to look it up or arrange a meeting. If you don’t have this notebook, just get yourself one from the book store or something.

Group works
Some enjoy group assignments. Some find it dreadful. I’m not a big fan of group works but I don’t protest it either. I see merits in working in groups but I also enjoy doing things myself.
If you do think that your group is somehow falling behind and might not make the deadline, send everyone emails asking for regular meetings. In the emails, explain to everyone in your group what you think (or they think, always present opportunities for all members to express their opinions) should be achieved in this group meeting so they can prepare themselves. Have it agreed upon one more time before starting the meeting so at least everyone knows what’s happening. Have someone record the meetings’ results and forward them to all the members afterward. If no one is willing to do it, please just do it yourself. Believe me; it’ll help things run along if you really care about the quality of your final products and your grades. The teachers should not be bothered if someone in your group or your whole group is lazy and does not do their parts. It happens from time to time. What the teachers see is the results you hand in. If you can do something to improve the situation, do it. Don’t entertain yourself with the thought that someone else might do it. If you can take charge, do it. It’ll also train you to be a leader later on in your job.

Energy
At the end of the day, we’re all human; we’ll be drained, much faster in winter too. That’s why it is also very important that you take care of yourself and eat right. Sugar helps boost energy, which is a common knowledge. I know that many students always have something sweet with them just in case they feel hungry or tired: bananas, chocolate, sweets … you name it. I rarely did that (except for when I had to stay in the library for an extended time to work on assignments) because when I’m tired or hungry, I cannot really eat sweets, I always crave for savory food. So, I just had to make sure that I had a really big lunch and dinner. I often got up late in the morning so I rarely had breakfast, which was a pretty bad thing. But I preferred sleeping to eating, can’t help it!

I tried to make sure that I always had juice, milk or fruits at home, especially during winter because they’d give me essential vitamins. I had meat almost every day with a reasonable amount of vegetables (mostly lettuce and cucumber). If I could, I would choose to have lunch at the school’s cafeteria, it’s cheap and very healthy. Click here to find out more about dining options for students in Jyväskylä.

Some of my friends worked out every day to maintain a healthy and strong body too. If you enjoy a good work-out after class, that’s a good idea considering the gym is totally free for students to use.
Try to have a good sleep when you can. Sometimes, 8 hours a day is not an available option, I know that well. But do remember that your body needs the rest.

Winter
It can be tiring during winter because of the cold and all the layers of clothes you have to put on and off all the time. This is one part that I didn't enjoy during winter. But it is important to keep yourself warm no matter what. Try to keep your feet dry and warm at all time. This will give you comfort during lessons or while you have to work on any paper. 

Layering clothes might seem exhausting but it's a great trick to keep your body at an appropriate temperature both indoor and outdoor. The central heating system in Finland is really good so even if it's -20 degree outside, you can just wear a T-shirt inside and it'll still be okay. So, you don't want to be stuck in a giant and thick coat, sweating during the lessons. If you're dressed in layers, you can just take them out until you feel comfy. 

It's dark during winter. There's no denying it. Try to keep a positive attitude. Don't let it get into your head. I found myself sleep more during winter but not depressed. I always sleep a lot anyway. It was not unusual for me. Many might find the darkness depressing but it didn't really affect my emotion that much. I guessed I was just too busy keeping up with school works that I didn't really have the energy to notice the depression. 

This really depends on the individual. But in case you eel depressed, my advice would be not to stay home and talk to your family. That will kill you! If you're interested in learning winter sport, this is a great opportunity to start. If you don't, find activities that you can join. There are always activities happening around the campus. Subscribe to all the mailing lists here and you'll get updates regularly.


Well, that’s all I have for this entry. I hope it’s useful for you somehow. If you have other questions or you just want someone to talk to through tough times, you can send me a message on my Facebook page..

Anyway, be hopeful because winter in Finland could just take your breath away with its beauty. 

Best of luck for all the newcomers in their first winter in Finland!


Photo courtesy: Sandi Hipke

21 September, 2015

Living cheap in Jyväskylä

Finance was a burden for me and my family when I decided to go study abroad, so before going to Finland, I spent a lot of time searching for information on how to save during my time in Jyväskylä. I mostly watched YouTube videos and read many BuzzFeed articles about student life and all as I assumed that it would be quite similar in Finland as it was in the U.S. and to be frank, there was not much of information on the same issue in Finland either so it was hard. Therefore, in this entry, I will be sharing everything I know about living a cheap and healthy student life in Jyväskylä.

As per usual, several things might sound a bit extreme and odd to some people. But as I always say, take what you can and make it suit yourself. That’s the most important thing.

Food

I am going to tackle food first because this can take up a lot of your expenses. While living Finland, I spent more or less 100 euros per month for food. I know many others spend even less than that but I couldn’t because I had to cook quite a lot Asian food. If you’ve been following me on this blog, you know that I did not bring any spices or food with me from Vietnam because I thought I would be able to live on pasta.  I managed to learn how to cook a variety of pasta dishes too so that I wouldn’t get bored of it. But it could only last for 3 months; then I had to give up and go shopping for Asian spices and cook proper Asian food. It did cost a lot more than it would have if I had just stayed on pasta.

First, if you do not cook and you don’t want to spend too much on food; you either eat ramen or store-bought food every single day. There is no guarantee that it is healthy for you either. Another way is going to cafeterias at school. The cafeterias in the campus do serve food every day including weekend. You just have to check their website here to see which one is open and what kind of food is served. It is cheap (2.60 euros, student card required) compared to anywhere else and they provide a very healthy diet with lots of vegetable and fruits. With the same price, you can also go to Katriina at 13 Kauppakatu (next door to KOAS office) for lunch if you are fond of soup and vegetarian food.

The downside of eating in the cafeteria is that there are only one or two of them opened for dinner and they are definitely closed at 5 p.m. or just a bit later than that. Finnish have a habit of eating lunch and dinner earlier than anywhere else I have been to so the cafeterias also cater to this routine. Katriina restaurant also only serves lunch.

Secondly, for those who plan to cook, the following is what I did. Maybe there’s something you can take out from it and make it fit your own preferences.

Before going to shop for groceries, I often came up with a meal plan! If you do not have a tight schedule at school, it might not be a problem as you can just go home, shop and cook after class. But if you have to spend the whole day at school or at the library trying to get some work done, it is really tiring to go shopping for groceries afterwards, especially for those who live in hilly areas and shop at the valley like I did. So it’s best if you always have food at home to fix a quick dinner after school or lunch before school. It sounds like a lot to think of but trust me, it is really nothing when you are already doing it. I often shopped for groceries on the weekend. Before going to the shops, I did a quick check around the pantries to see what had run out, what still remained and if it could last me the whole week. Then I sort of made up a list in my head. I actually wrote down a list at first but as I got used to it, I just knew what I needed and remembered them.

It often went like this:

Carb: pasta, rice or bread (if you like potato for your carb intake, good for you because potato is the cheapest form of carb you can find in Finland!)

Protein: pork or chicken (I’m not a big fan of fish so I never really bought fish for myself, but if you do like to eat salmon, for example, try to buy it on sale and keep it in the freezer.)

Vegetable: cucumber, lettuce (they call all lettuce salatti – salad) - the kind that sells by weight, not by per plant in a small plastic pot with the root still intact, carrot. 

Milk, juice or fruit: I often only chose two out of three because they can be very heavy for me to carry up the hill and also two of them could already provide me with essential vitamins without spending extra on the third one.

General spices: garlic powder, pepper, salt, fish sauce, fresh garlic, curry paste (Asian Food store inside K-market in Seppälä carries Thai curry paste that comes in a small box for about 3 euros and it can last you half a year!), etc. ...

So, this following photo shows you my very typical shopping items. These cost me 22 euros and last me for about 10 days. The pasta, rice and meat last a lot longer than 10 days (3 weeks or a month, maybe) but I had to buy more milk, juice and lettuce after a few days because they were perishable, I couldn’t buy a lot of them and I went through them pretty fast. From left to right: spaghetti, egg noodles, orange juice, milk, rice, a can of coconut milk, 2 cans of tomato sauce, a bunch of ramen, 3 cans of tuna, potato, limes, cucumber, pork, ribs and chicken.




And yes, I got all of this for 22 euros. How, you ask?

Alright, since I lived in Roninmäki, I went to shop in Kelio, the supermarket valley as I liked to call it. Here, there are Prisma, K-Market and also LIDL. I mostly shopped at K-Market and LIDL; I barely went to Prisma because their prices are higher than other supermarkets but I went once in a while to see if they had any good deals. Even though I bought most of my groceries in LIDL, I would go to K-Market first to see if there was any sale on the meat and other items. Even though they regularly have sale on the beef too, it was still above my budget so I never really had beef. They often have very good deal on the pork there. This is why there were two packs of pork in the photo. If you see it goes down to about 4 euros or 5 euros/kg, it’s already a very good price. Buy 2kg or 3kg and keep them in the freezer. You can do the same with salmon if it goes down to about 11 euros/kg. The salmon often comes in 1kg or 500g so you don’t really have a choice there.  Also, K-Market often has sale on ramen. I got these six packs of ramen for 2 euros and they were pretty good too. I also got those 3 cans of tuna in K-Market for less than 3 euros. That’s a very good price considering most canned tuna brands sell them at about 1.60 euros/can.

Then, I would go to LIDL for the rest of the groceries. Chicken is the cheapest at LIDL. It’s less than 2 euros/kg with the pre-marinated type. I always bought this, washed off the marinate and used my own spices instead. Juice, milk, rice and pasta are all cheapest in LIDL. Trust me, I did some market "investigation" when I first came to Jyväskylä so I know it well. Now and then the prices might change a bit but in general, the price range would go like I said. 

Means of transportation

So, that’s for the food. Now move on to means of transportation. You can check out other options here (scroll way down for transportation). In my opinions, biking is the cheapest and most convenient way to get around. Walking sometimes can take a long time and very tiring. Try to get a bike when you first arrive for about 50 euros or 60 euros. That’s a reasonable price, you don’t have to buy anything fancier than that because it will be difficult to sell it when you leave. I bought my bike for 50 euros; I had to change one of the tires so the total cost was about 65 euros. I used the bike for exactly one year and sold it before I left for my internship.

If you cannot ride a bike and have absolutely no other choice, then get a bus card and combine with walking to save money. I am not so sure about the prices now but you can find out all the information when you visit the bus office (Asemakatu 7). There should be a card that is valid for 6 months or longer for 40 rides or less. If sometimes you do not feel like walking, you can take the bus instead. Remember to bring your student card; you need it to get your 50% discount when you purchase the bus card.

Socializing

Even though I was on a budget the whole time I was studying, I did not say no to all social gatherings. On the other hand, as I became closer to the group of friends I often hung out with, I enjoyed very much spending time with them, being that having dinner together, grilling (it’s the best!) or just simply sipping tea, enjoying some sweets and talking. It depends on your group of friends but normally each of us contributed something to the gathering even though one person might be hosting it. It’s kinda commonly understood in most occasions. A bag of chips or a big bottle of soda will do just fine. Bring something that everyone can enjoy together.

Shopping

Twice a year there is a huge sale every where in Jyväskylä: Before Christmas and at the end of summer! Clothes and lots of other supplies are discounted up to 50% or even 70% from H&M to supermarkets. So, this is the time to go shopping if you wish to do so on a budget. 

Second-hand stuff is a good choice as well. Some of the shops I often had a look now and then were:
SPR-Kirrppis (Ahjokatu 10, across the street from Likunta building and Ilokivi)
Eko Center (Gummeruksenkatu 13)
Second-hand items Facebook page

That's all for now. If you have any other question, leave a comment! or send me a message on Facebook.

07 July, 2015

Settling down in Jyväskylä

So … I’ve received lots of questions concerning moving to Jyväskylä. And I guess it’s time to write a blog post on this matter since it’s already July and many will probably come here for the Finnish course in the beginning of August.

First, about transportation from Helsinki to Jyväskylä, the school website has a very detailed instruction on it, and you can check it out here, so I will not repeat the same information.

Secondly, regarding your arrival in Jyväskylä, you should have a tutor who picks you up and brings you to your accommodation, often from the travel center. Your tutor will get in touch with you through emails prior to your arrival to agree upon the pick-up time and other arrangements. It is now early July, vacation time in Finland, the work flow is slow here, so do not freak out if you have not been contacted by your tutor yet.

The minimum guidance you should expect from your tutor:
  • Your tutor should pick you up at from the travel center (or wherever it is that you have agreed upon) and bring you home to your apartment.
  • Your tutor should show you where to shop for food in your neighborhood on the first day you arrive here except if it’s late at night or early in the morning when no shop is open yet, of course.
  • Your tutor should help you out with the paperwork you have to take care of in order to start your study here. I will provide a list of the paperwork later in this post. However, if your tutor doesn't have enough time for you, following the instructions in this post, you should be able to do it by yourself.
  • Your tutor should give you a tour around the campus to show you which building is which. This should include the main library and he/she should also instruct you on how to borrow books from the library.
  • Your tutor should instruct you on how to use all the register systems relating to your studies such as Korppi, Optima or Koppa.

The list of all paperwork you should take care of after your arrival (also check out all the location on the map below):

Accommodation: either you stay with Kortepohja or KOAS, you need to sign a lease when you arrive here. So, go to Kortepohja office (Vehkakuja 2 B) or KOAS office (Kauppakatu 11) to sign the lease and get it over with. Also, you need to give them your MAC address as well to connect Internet at your apartment. There should be a package given to you when your tutor brings you back to your apartment and the instruction on how to check MAC address in your computer should be found inside that package. Otherwise, when you go to the office to sign the lease, just bring your laptop with you and figure it out there.

Certificate of registration and student number: you can obtain these at the International Office located on the second floor of T building, Seminaarinkatu 15, next to the main library and university shop). The certificate of registration acts as your student card while you are waiting for the card to be delivered. So, do take care of this step as soon as possible. 

*Important: This year, accepted degree students have the option of paying the student union fee when they arrive in Jyväskylä, so if you have not paid this fee yet, please go to the student union office to pay so that you can be registered into the system. You  need to complete this step first before you can get your certificate of registration and student number. Student Union office address: Gummeruksenkatu 6.

Student Card: The student card will get you subsidized meals in the campus cafeterias, Katriina vegetarian restaurant (Kauppakatu 11) and discounts on transportation. Once you got the student number, go to https://frank.fi/en/student-card/university/ to order your student card. There are several options for the card and choose what is suitable for your needs. My advice though, if you plan to travel around Europe during your stay in Finland, get the ISIC combination card because you can get lots of discounts for students when you travel (for this type of card, you need a Social Security Number). More on this later but I’ll give you an example: when I visited Athens, I did not have to pay for any admission fee for attractions because they were free for students studying in Europe. But you have to show your international student card to prove your student status. It depends but most of the time, the card will be shipped to the Student union office and you can pick it up from there.

Social Security Number: You need to pay a visit to the Migration office to get your Social Security Number. The address of the Migration office is Yliopistonkatu 28, website http://www.maistraatti.fi/. This Social Security Number is important if you want to order ISIC combination card or some other things when you have to deal with your telephone network and banking. It’s a free service and very easy. It’ll take at most 15 minutes to get the number and you won’t have to worry about it anymore. Remember to take your passport and certificate of registration with you. No appointment needed.

*Important: I got a response from this blog post about the social security number and was informed that from this year, when filling in the form for residence permit application, you will get to choose if you want to have your information registered in the population system in Finland right after they grant you the residence permit. This section in the application form is called: Population registration and the personal identity code - if you have selected YES for this section, the social security number will be printed on your residence permit and you will not have to go to the Migration Office anymore to request it. The number is a 11-character code based on your date of birth and sex, for example 010188-456P. 

Bank accounts: those of you from outside Europe, it’s better to get a Finnish bank account so that things are easier for you. Especially when you need to renew your residence permit, it’s faster and easier to just have the bank print out your bank statement and transactions (most of the time for free). So, on your first day here, go to Nordea bank (Kauppakatu 18) or the bank of your choice to book an appointment to open an account. They’ll book for you an appointment with a teller who can speak English well so you don’t have to worry about it. Then, you’ll have to come back on the day of the appointment. Don’t be late, Finnish appreciate punctuality! The teller who has the appointment with you will be waiting for you at the exact time they tell you when you make the appointment.

Library card: This is super easy. Just go to the main library, show them your certificate of registration and passport, you’ll get the card right away


Click this symbol   on the up right corner of the map to view on full page.

Click this symbol  on the up left corner of the map to view names of all the places on the map




Regarding your accommodation, those of you who have received an offer for an unfurnished room, this is what you do:

If you stay with Kortepohja, you go to the storage room and take whatever you want with you for free. You just need to ask someone to help you bring them to your room. I talked about this already here in the Accommodation part. 

If you stay with KOAS, before arriving, it's a good idea to check this Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2ndhandJKL/ to see if there are good offers on second-hand furniture. 

If nothing fancies you, check out this place: http://www.kirpputorihaku.com/kirpputori/jyvaskyla/ekocenter-harjunporras. This is a center selling second-hand furniture and they deliver for free when you purchase a certain number of products. The address is Gummeruksenkatu 13. 

Or, if you want to purchase brand new furniture, there are two places for you: Ikea and JYSK. Both of them are located in Seppälä area of Jyväskylä, about 15 minutes by bus from the city center. They will deliver for you, of course. I just don't know if they charge the delivery fee. However, Ikea here in Jyväskylä is more like a showroom and you'll most likely have to order the furniture through this showroom, pay the delivery fee and wait for your furniture to arrive from other cities. 

In September, keep a look out for KOAS trip to Tampere Ikea. I don't know if this is an annual thing but they have been organizing very cheap trips in the beginning of September for KOAS tenants to Tampere Ikea for 5 euros/person. They'll take you there and bring you back to all KOAS housing locations so you don't have to worry about transporting all the things you buy to your apartment. But the seats are limited to 100 people, so you have to be fast. 

Well, it's all I can think of so far, leave a comment or ask me on Facebook if you have any other concerns. 

24 May, 2015

Preparing for Finland!

Alright, by now, I hope those who have been accepted have
-         received the package by post sent by the university,
-         paid the student union fee
-         accepted the offer

Now, paperwork has been taken care of, you are ready to say goodbye to family and friends to start your journey to Finland, you ask yourselves: What should I pack? How do I start?

So, this blog entry is to answer those questions.

I, once, was also confused and frustrated, then came a miracle: Internet!

Yes, I mean start by doing your research and asking lots of questions to those who have been living here for a while. Luckily for me, there was an online forum of Vietnamese students who had been studying in Finland and they shared their experiences there. It was easy for me to figure out everything else. You can do the same thing: looking for the community of students coming from your own country in Finland and asking them questions. I can answer your questions too but you have to take into consideration that you and I might come from completely different climates and environments, which results in different level of tolerance threshold and cultures. The answers coming from your country fellows might be more applicable to you.

Another great source for asking question is Facebook group of Foreigners in Jyväskylä. Just remember to edit your public profile somehow so that the admin of the page can see that you will move to Jyväskylä and accept you to the group.

So, you might already know that I am from the southern part of Vietnam, a much tropical climate, South East Asian culture. And here is what I think you should prepare before going to Finland.

Disclaimer: For many of you (especially those from Europe or America), many things I am going to say here sound like common sense to you but do bear with me because they might not be common sense to lots of students coming from other cultures.

First, mentality! Those of you who have been traveling and living abroad, it might be easy for you to overcome culture shocks. But those who have never been abroad or even living independently, arriving in Finland might come as a big shock for you both mentally and physically. Anyway, this can’t be helped. You will have to get over it over time. Just remind yourself that you are going to a completely unique and different country from your own and other popular western countries that you often see on TV as well. So, keep an absolutely open mind to whatever comes your way. It can be either good or bad from your point of view but it's all experiences. You learn as you go and hopefully you grow. 

It is in the very nature of Finnish to be independent and you are expected to be too, which means even though you can certainly ask for help, you first need to rely on yourself. Do not expect others to do everything for you. That won’t do you any good in the long run. If you are lucky to have a caring tutor, she/he will help you out regardless. But if you are unfortunately assigned one like mine who didn’t really care and you still insist on relying on your tutor, you’ll have a hard time getting things done. So, do prepare to be independent and a reliable source of yourself. You will get guidance, of course, but you will have to organize your study and register for courses yourself. If you are sick, you have to call the clinic, book an appointment and go there yourself. Except for emergency when you have to call an ambulance, you are expected to do such things on your own. So, do not skip orientation week! You will get a lot of useful information there on how to go about problems you might encounter during your stay in Jyväskylä .

Winter could be harsh, but do not worry too much about this. I’ve been around some parts of Europe and I can say that Finland has the best facilities regarding heating system. It is all logical when they have had to deal with winter for years on end, they have developed the best technology possible for keeping warm, right? So, either you are at home, at school or even inside the bus, it’s always toasty and warm during winter. 

It is dark in winter. There is no denying it. I am more or less fine with lack of sunlight; I just tend to sleep a lot more; but I've seen people struggle with short hours of sunlight and the darkness in winter. There are tons of things you can do about this. Finland is a country of winter sport, get yourself a pair of skates and learn how to skate, for example. Or if you sign up for friendship family program (highly recommended), there's a chance that they'll take you skiing with them somewhere. Darkness might affect you in some ways but do not pay too much attention to it and you'll be fine. Take vitamins if you must. Try to keep a normal routine: going to lectures, eating properly ... 

So, this leads to the second thing to prepare: Clothes!

As I have said above, with very good central heating system here, you don’t need to bring gigantic coats and jackets which take up all the space in your luggage. Bring one or two good coats with two or three layers and you can put on more layers inside if you still feel cold. Bulky sweaters are not advisable either. Well, bring one or two if you absolutely cannot live without them. Just keep in mind that there are quite a few second-hand shops in Jyväskylä where you can buy all the winter clothes you want with very low price. 5 euros/kg or so. Even winter boots (which I find unnecessary but others might need them) can be bought in second-hand shop as well. Or on the Facebook group of Second-handitems in Jyväskylä . But I do advise bringing a good pair of snickers, running or trekking shoes or whatever kind of shoes that you can walk in comfortably. Also take into consideration what kind of transportation you would like to use primarily here: bus, bikes or walking; and prepare clothes accordingly.

I know that many people are not comfortable with the idea of wearing other people's old clothes. If that's the case, just bring enough, don't bring a whole lot, there are several outlets here with frequent sales as well. You can buy a good coat for 40 euros or so. 

Lots of students cook while they’re here so they do bring kitchen items with them, so here are some advice, especially for those from Asia:

Save space in your luggage for FOOOOOOD!!!!!!!!!!!! Of course, there are several shops here in Jyväskylä where you can buy Asian spices and food, they are really expensive though. So, instead of bulky clothes, save some space for spices and food from your own country. One very important thing for those from countries with rice-based cuisine, please DO NOT BRING RICE COOKER with you!!!!!!!! I cannot stress this enough, guys! You can definitely cook rice with a normal sauce pan and have it ready in 15 minutes. Believe me, I’ve been living in Finland for almost two years absolutely fine without a rice cooker and I eat rice very often. The story I’ve been telling like a broken record is that before coming to Finland, my parents insisted that I brought the rice cooker with me and I am glad that I said no. Regarding kitchen stuff, I brought one bowl and one pair of chopsticks. That’s it! I got everything else here second-handedly from other students. Do bring chopsticks though, they do not take up any space at all and they are expensive here.

My biggest mistake, I should admit, was that I thought I would just cook and eat whatever the cheapest available in the store while I was here. So I didn’t bring any Vietnamese spices and food with me. I love pasta, it is cheap so I kept eating it for every meal. So, for the first few months, it was quite okay until the craving for Vietnamese food really drove me crazy and I had to go shop and cook real Asian food with rice. So, do bring food and spices from home.

Lastly, one student asked me how to have a head start for her studies. So, here is my answer.

First, regarding books, do not worry about bringing any textbooks to Jyvaskyla. All the books used for the courses or books used for further reading and references are available for free use to all students in the libraries. If you would like to bring your favorite books to read for pleasure though, it’s a different story.

Secondly, if there’s one thing about preparing for your study here I would advise you, especially those accepted into D&IC, it would be START THINKING ABOUT YOUR MASTER’S THESIS TOPIC. Believe it or not, many students, including me, have struggled with getting started on their thesis. Of course, you will get guidance and supervision along the way, but as I said from the very beginning, you have no one else aside from yourself to completely rely on. No one can think or write the thesis for you. Eventually, you will have to write the thesis on your own. And the first question you’ll get asked will be: “What do you want to write about in your thesis?”. So, look around, see what interests you in your field (major) and dig a bit deeper to see how you can develop it into a thesis. Read about thesis structures online or here in the university's website. There are many videos on Youtube you can watch too. When you have a certain topic always in the back of your head, ideas come to you when you listen to lectures in class or read materials or even talk with your classmates or professors, then you can connect those ideas with your topic and gradually develop it. 

Anyway, more about the academic life will be covered later in coming entries.

It might sound a little bit harsh, I know. People would say I am scaring you guys. But I've seen people struggle and break down because they came here poorly prepared, mainly mentally. But it is an opportunity for you to learn and grow, both personally and academically. I have had my own struggles and obstacles when I first started. But I've had an absolute blast and I would choose Finland and Jyväskylä all over again if I had to for I'm grateful for what the country has helped myself gain during my two years living and studying here. I've made incredible friends here whom I see myself staying friends with for the rest of my life. I've gained knowledge and abilities that I never thought I would. So, do be prepared and make the best out of your time here in Jyväskylä! 

It's Spring here and the weather is absolutely gorgeous! 



23 April, 2015

Accommodation guidelines

To those who have been accepted, PLEASE GO TO https://koas.agileus.fi/en/campus_apply_form/ or http://www.kortepohja.fi/en/applicant/application/ IMMEDIATELY TO APPLY FOR ACCOMMODATION. Fall semester is hectic and full of exchange students, you need to apply as early as possible so that they can arrange accommodation for you. Last semester, there were cases where people had no place to stay even after they arrived in Jyväskylä. They will only send you offers 1 month before your anticipated arrival time in Jyväskylä, if you want to accept the place, you send them the deposit. If you do not want to accept the place, you can decline it.

So, I have talked about accommodation for international students coming to study in Jyväskylä before, please see this entry: Student housing options

When I first received offers about accommodation, I preferred to live near the campus as well. But after coming here, I realized that the campuses spread through a big part of the city so ... there is no housing option which is technically "close" to the campus. If you want to live close to the city center, hence close to the main campus (about 10 minute walk), and money is not a problem for you, yes, you still have the option of living in the middle of the city center. So, I am glad that I went for "cheap" rather than "close" because there are many choices for commuting to school and back home like I mentioned in this entry.

So, in this entry, I would like to simply provide you guys a map of the locations of all student housing provided by the University and KOAS (local housing company) and the university's campuses and departments. You can use this map to choose the most suitable place for yourself when you apply for housing.

For example, those who are about to start their Master's Degree in Nanoscience will have to do a lot of lab work, so it would be nice to live near the science campus, which means somewhere along Survontie street. That would be KOAS housing areas: Ainolankaari, Ainola, Humppa or Tango, etc. When applying for accommodation on KOAS's website, you can choose where you would like to stay. I know that they'll try their best to locate you there. But of course, since there are normally lots of students coming in Fall, it's hard for every wish to be granted, so there's no guarantee but there's no harm in trying. I actually got a place with the price I was very happy with so ... there's that!

Alright, there you go. 

Student housing in Jyväskylä map: 

Orange areas: Campus (click the name of the campus to see which buildings and departments are there!)
Dark pink area: Student Village Kortepohja
Blue areas and red bubbles: KOAS housing (Click the name of the areas to see the address!)



Click this symbol   on the up right corner of the map to view on full page.
Click this symbol  on the up left corner of the map to view names of all the places on the map





Aside from this, you can view this map bellow to see the detailed map of the campuses including libraries, cafeterias, pool, gyms, bus stations and hospital ...




ONCE AGAIN: APPLY RIGHT NOW, NO KIDDING, GUYS!

15 April, 2015

Residence Permit Application to Finland!

Okay, this blog should be catered to real needs for currently urgent matters concerning studying in University of Jyväskylä. So, I guess it’s time for some information about boring paperwork. 

First, my hearty congratulations to all candidates who have received offers to study Master’s Degree at University of Jyväskylä! Your hard work has finally paid off. Allow yourself to celebrate a little bit. Some alcohol might be involved but don’t go overboard though because … brace yourself … tons of paperwork awaiting! 

Now, for those who are EU citizens, you have nothing to worry about, celebrate, have some fun and pack your bags to come here in August or September. 

For those who are not EU citizens and need to obtain a residence permit to come and stay here in Finland. You have a long and whining road waiting for you ahead. 

Well, but what’d life be without some struggles, right? It’d be too boring to bear. I know the pain all too well, so I’ll try to walk you through it. 

This is 100% from my own experiences, like any other information I've shared with you on this blog. I know that I sound like a broken record repeating this in many of my entries. I just need to make sure that you all understand that the information I share applies differently to each individual. Even if you ask another Vietnamese student, she/he might give you a different take on it. This should only act as your guide so you'll be alerted about what might be expected or unexpected. 

Alright … applications for a residence permit might be different from country to country, from individual to individual; it is the best to consult with the Finnish embassy nearest to your place. However, there is some key information that you need to focus on. 

Go to the website of Finnish Immigration Service to read the general introductions.




You’ll find the general process illustrated like this:




Then, go to the website of the Finnish embassy nearest to your place, read carefully the specific instructions for students applying for residence permits in that particular country/region. These should not be too different from the general requirements. 

Generally, the required documents are: 
- OLE_OPI application form (you can download it from here)
- An acceptance letter sent from University of Jyväskylä (1)
- A certificate of health insurance (2)
- A clarification of income (3)

(1) This will be sent to you by post together with the official package from the university. However, if you anticipate that you should apply for your residence permit quite early in order to obtain it before having to arrive in Finland for your study on time, you might ask for a scanned copy of your acceptance letter. I cannot assure you 100% that the embassy you go to will accept the scanned copy but in my case (in Vietnam), they accepted it. You can ask for this scanned copy from the person who sent you the email informing you about your being accepted into the program. 

(2) Several students have asked me to recommend a health insurance company for them; I do think this very much depends on your personal preferences. However, I’ll list here for you some companies that I have used and I know that other international students here have used as well, only for your reference, I take no accountability for this, alright?! You can purchase all of these online. 
Atlas Health Insurance 
SwissCare
SIP

(3) With the clarification of income, remember that the most important thing is that you have to prove you will have access to this amount of money when you are in Finland. This means that it is the best if the account is under your name and not your parents' or guardian's. The number is 6720 euros/one year. You need to understand that the reason you are asked to provide this proof is to make sure that you can make it through the year without financial struggles. Please do not take this for granted and think of tricks to get past the process. I myself know people who thought they could easily find a job within the first few months they are here so they had managed to provide the income proof but did not come here with enough money. As I said in this entry about employment in Jyväskylä, it is very hard to find a job that can pay for all of your expenses here. So please, do come prepared. 

Also, it is absolutely fine to use your local bank account for this, don’t even be bothered with opening a Finnish bank account from abroad, it ain’t gonna happen, my friends! 

There are two options for you when it comes to submitting the application: in person or online. However, it doesn't matter which method you choose, you still have to go to the embassy in person for your fingerprints to be scanned there. Rumor is that if you apply online though, the process might be faster, which I can’t guarantee you because I have no data and information on this.  

If you apply in person, you might have to make an appointment by calling the embassy or sending them emails. I did both; when I called them, they told me to better send them an email instead. Be patient! You might be ticked off quite a lot while communicating with the local staff at the embassy. I know I was. And I have been told that this is not just in the embassy in Vietnam. I understand that they have to answer a lot of phone calls and deal with a lot of people every day so they could be cranky sometimes. But isn’t it their jobs? If they don’t like their job and can’t possibly handle it without getting all nasty with those who ask questions, they might just as well quit it. Anyway, this varies though. I’ve also heard stories about very nice embassy staff though I’ve never encountered them myself. 

DO NOT CALL AND SEND THE EMBASSY OR IMMIGRATION SERVICE EMAIL EVERY FEW DAYS TO ASK IF YOUR RESIDENCE PERMIT IS READY. YOU WILL NOT GET ANY ANSWERS. 

Ladies and gentlemen, if you've done everything right, the residence permit will come to you (in post to your house or at the embassy for you to pick up) in 2-3 weeks from the day of submission (if you apply in person) or the day you provide finger prints at the embassy. I applied in person and got mine exactly after 3 weeks. Finland is very efficient in this business. So, don’t worry too much about it. Just make sure everything is done properly in your application. Double check it, triple check it or check it as many times as necessary to make sure there are no mistakes on the application. Many student have done it, you can do it too! 

Alright, good luck to you all and I wish you a smooth residence permit application process! 

The most beautiful Autumn in the world is waiting for you in Jyväskylä in August, see you all very soon!!!


Yes, this photo was taken in Jyväskylä, during autumn 2014! 



05 March, 2015

Rocking your interviews!

First and foremost, I would like to send my congratulations to all prospective students who have received an invitation for interviews with the programs you applied for.

I received a message from one prospective student saying that she had been invited for an interview with Development and International Cooperation Program (D&IC); so I thought it might be a good time for some insights about these interviews. Hopefully, after reading this entry, you will have some ideas on how to prepare for an interview with our program. I apologize that I can only give my insights for those having interview with D&IC program. For those who have been invited to interviews with other programs, send me message to my Facebook inbox, I will forward it to ambassadors from the particular program and you can talk to them directly. 

Disclaimer: This is by no mean exactly what is going to happen to your interviews or neither does it ensure success. I have no attention in teaching you how to be your best during the interview because I know nothing of you. This is purely based on my personal experience with my one and only interview with D&IC program. There are things mentioned here that I wished someone had told me before my interview 3 years ago. This blog post should only be regarded as a guide so that you will have an idea of what might occur during the interview. Based on this, you can adjust other elements to suit yourself best as an individual. 

In 2012, when I was invited to the interview with D&IC program, I was also given an article for a written test. However, this year, it seems like they are not doing that anymore though I am not 100% sure. But the student who told me the news about her interview said that there was no article attached in the email; so I guess there’s no more written test. However, anything can happen. Just be prepared to do whatever assigned to you. 

Update 10th March 2015, I received an updated email from a prospective student who had been informed that she would also go through a written test like I did in 2012. So, be prepared to answer 1-2 questions based on an article which will be sent to you before the interview. 

The possibility is that you will be interviewed by a lecturer from the program and a lecturer or professor from the major that you chose in your application. So, if you have a background on the major, go back to read some materials of that major to revive your memories on some certain important subjects. 

For example, if you chose political science major, you might want to look at some classic debates or authors in political science such as Michel Foucault, Karl Marx, then Marxism of course, capitalism, nationalism, neo-liberalism, colonialism, power theories, international relations theory, dependency theory (is this a political science theory or development theory? I’m not so sure), etc. Sorry, I come from a communist country so my choices are quite obvious. Haha : )). Anyway, the point is: get a hold of some basic knowledge that you can improvise during the interviews because God knows what they are going to ask you. Other than that, you can connect these debates to the context of your own countries so you can provide a lively example for the theory you are talking about. Believe me, if you can talk about any theory with memorable demonstrations for 5 minutes, you’ll be accepted right then and there. Ha, kidding! But seriously, knowing some sort of academic theories will do you some favor. Place your trust in me! Haha : )) joking, again, PLACE YOUR TRUST IN YOURSELF! while listening responsibly to me, of course ;)

Also, it helps to pick out favorite debate or topic and make a stand for it. I’m sorry I can’t give you an example in political science because my brain now is full of development theories as I am writing my thesis. So, I’ll give you an example on making a stand for your favorite debate in development theories. 

My favorite debate in development theories is about post-development; some people also call it anti-development and criticize it as inhumane, backward and impractical. However, that is absolutely incorrect. Anti-development basically means going back to the primitive age, while the core argument of post-development is so much more sophisticated than that. Post-development school of thoughts is basically against the concept of Post-World War II development, which is taken advantages of by the West to impose another type of colonization on countries they categorized as “Third World” in the post-colonial period. They claimed themselves that Third World countries were underdeveloped and needed to be developed to catch up with other developed countries in the world. Consequently, they have done more damages than helping poor countries. Richard Peet (2009), Joseph Stiglitz (2005) and David Harvey (2005) point out what seems to be a conspiracy backed up by the most powerful global institutions to jeopardize the development of poor countries; so that they become more and more dependent on the rich countries. This is why post-development thinkers call for abandonment of development and a search for alternatives to development (Escobar 1985, 87, 88, 91, 92, 95, 2000, 06).

See, basic stuff, you make your argument and back it up with literature from recognized authors. It is a bit shallow, isn’t it? I know, but it’s just for the academic sake. Remember to keep the language as academic and formal as you can manage. Finnish people in general do not do shallow and pointless small talks. Therefore, if you have been reading somewhere about doing some small talks during interviews so that you can appear to be a friendly person or something like that, drop it! Don’t beat around the push but go straight to the point! This is one of my most favorite things about Fins, to be honest; I hope they will never change!

Next, shortly before the interview, read again what you have written in your motivation letter. The most asked question during this kind of interview is: “Why do you want to study in this program?” or “Why did you apply for this program?” And the answer is what you wrote in your motivation letter when you filled in the application online. Be consistent with the ideas in your answer, elaborate from that motivation letter if you think it’s necessary. 

Be absolutely on time. Check the time conversion as many times as you need to make sure the time you have agreed with the interviewer is correct in your country. Remember that March is a tricky month because in Finland they change from winter time to day light saving time or something like that. Finnish are very punctual and you will not make a good impression if you do not show up on time. Do not use technical difficulties as an excuse! Prepare your computer, Skype and whatever needed well before the time for the interview. 

Alright, it is all I can think of now. I hope it helps you somehow. Buckle up and best of lucks to all of you!

References:
Escobar, Arturo, 1985, ‘Discourse and Power in Development: Michel Foucault and the Relevance of his Work to the Third World’, Alternatives, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 377-400.
Escobar, Arturo, 1987, Power and Visibility: The Invention and Management of Development in the Third World, Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Dissertation Services.
Escobar, Arturo, 1988, ‘Power and Visibility: The Invention and Management of Development in the Third World’, Cultural Anthropology, vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 428-443. 
Escobar, Arturo, 1991, ‘Anthropology and the development encounter: the making and marketing of development anthropology’, American Ethnologist, 18 (4), pp 659–682.
Escobar, Arturo, 1992, ‘Imagining a Post-development era? Critical thought, development, and social movements’, Social Test, 31/32, pp. 20-56.
Escobar, Arturo, 1995, Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Escobar, Arturo, 2000, ‘Beyond the Search for a Paradigm? Post-Development and Beyond’, Development, vol. 43, no. 4, pp. 11-14.
Escobar, Arturo, 2006, ‘Post-development’, in The Elgar Companion to Development Studies, 2006, pp. 447-451, edited by David Clark, Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, USA: Edward Elgar.
Harvey, David, 2005, A brief history of Neoliberalism, New York: Oxford University Press.
Peet, Richard, 2009, Unholy Trinity: the IMF, World Bank and WTO, London: Zed Book.
Stiglitz, Joseph, 2005, Making Globalization Work, New York and London: W. W. Norton and Company.