Greetings, dear reader! Chances are, if you’re reading this post, you are very likely planning to move to Turku. You might also be wondering, how to prepare for such a big shift. Whether you are moving to Turku to pursue academic goals, or start a new job, I would like to shed some light on how to prepare and expect the unexpected.
Is it as dark and cold in Finland, as they say?
It certainly can be. It is, however, important to realize that Finland is also very big in size. This means the weather in the south and north might be different. Generally speaking, the further up north, the longer the darkness and the harsher the cold.
Turku might be a bit of an “anomaly” thanks to its location in the south-west corner. Winters in Turku are typically much milder when we compare it to other parts of the country. Temperatures are often around 0°C (32°F) during the day. This means (sadly) that Turku generally gets less snow and more rain, especially in the first half of winter. However, we were lucky to enjoy a lovely wintertime this year between January and March, when temperatures dipped as low as -25°C (-13°F). My fellow ambassador Irene wrote an excellent guide on how to survive the Finnish winter. I strongly recommend you go and check it out.
Summer is a completely different story. The days are long. And I mean LONG. Around Midsummer the days last for 19 hours and the nights never get entirely dark. I absolutely love the atmosphere of late summer evenings/early nights. The temperature becomes very pleasant and there is still enough light outside to take a walk, do some sports or just sit outside and enjoy the moment. Turku has also been getting a fair share of hot summer days, where thermometers reached as high as 35°C (95°F).
A small detail I never thought of before coming to Finland is, that it can be difficult for some to fall asleep during the bright summer nights. I am one of them and fortunately, black out curtains are a thing and they have been saving me from sleepless nights. They can be bought in almost any store that sells home décor.
What should I pack with me?
Any major move is preceded by (my least favourite) part of any travel or moving – packing. Of course, due to the luggage restrictions of respective carriers, there is usually not that much extra stuff you can zip into your suitcase. However, depending on when you plan to arrive in Finland, there are a few things that might come in handy. If you’re planning to arrive in one of the summer months (June to late August), you don’t need to worry about the cold that much, but it’s good to be prepared.
While Finland, and particularly Turku, has been enjoying some rather warm (or even hot) summer days, you might be surprised here and there that temperatures can drop by even as much as 10 degrees Celsius. I highly recommend having a sweater or an autumn jacket with you. And a pair of waterproof shoes. Just in case. There are naturally many stores, where you can buy these, but it’s better not to be (unpleasantly) surprised right after a long journey.
Now, if you’re planning to arrive in other months, it’s best to check the weather patterns. Particularly in the winter months, it’s good to keep in mind that winter can be very harsh, depending on where and when in Finland you arrive. Plus Turku is very windy, thanks to its close location to the sea. Your best bet is to equip yourself with a wind- & water-proof jacket with a hoodie. Pair that with 100% woollen socks, scarf, beanie, cardigan and mittens and you’re good to go. Oh, and don’t forget to have a nice creamy lip balm with you.
Besides clothes, make sure you have all your papers in order (this one is probably obvious). In case you are taking any special medication, please make sure you know how to receive it after moving. Finland has a high quality free/affordable healthcare system, but I have met a few people, who had some difficulties receiving certain special medications, that were not available in Finland.
If you’re prone to feeling homesick, make sure you bring some nice memorabilia with you. Maybe throw in your favourite treat from your homecountry. Speaking of treats…
Will I have to eat …salmiakki, like… all the time?
Fear not. While this might be the most well-known of Finnish delicacies, there is much (much) more to traditional Finnish cuisine. Wonderful seasonal pastries like ‘shrove bun’ (laskiaispulla), the distinct taste of rye bread, simple yet delicious meals such as pea soup (hernekeitto) and more intricate dishes including reindeer meat. Don’t even get me started on the salmon soup (lohikeitto) – yum!
But what if your diet doesn’t allow you to eat these? Maybe you are vegan, allergic to certain condiments or gluten/lactose intolerant. Well, do I have good news then! Finland has an amazing variety of foods suited for these diets. And for the most part they are also affordable! Even in student cafeterias, you will always know, what exactly your meal contains.
If you have a sweet tooth, consider Finland a candy-lover’s paradise. When you visit most supermarkets, you will quickly notice the candy shelves with a huge variety of products. Sometimes there is an entire isle dedicated to only candy. If you don’t like the pre-packed mixed candy bags, you can even find a pick-and-mix section.
There are quite a number of stores in Turku, which offer foreign foodstuff. These are especially from the Middle East and Asian countries (India, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, China, Thailand…). Sometimes you can find food from other countries as well.
Here are some stores that might come in handy:
- Deli Market, Eerikinkatu 5 (Turku Centre) or Itäkaari 28 (Lauste) – wide selection of Arabic, Indian, Balkan, Turkish groceries, halal meat, kitchenware and more
- Jiahe Asia Market, Eerikinkatu 7 (Turku Centre) – wide selection of Chinese, Korean, Japanese and other Asian groceries
- Turku Oriental Food Store, Brahenkatu 4 – wide selection of East Asia groceries, pottery and more
- Nurmi Dao Oriental Food, Hämeenkatu 7 – wide selection of Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Thai and other Asian groceries, kitchenware and more
- Beno Ethnic Food Shop, Littoistentie 81 (Varissuo) – wide selection of Arabic, Indian, Balkan, Turkish groceries, halal meat, kitchenware and more
- Katri Kauppa, Brahenkatu 14B (Turku Centre) – selection of Baltic and Russian groceries
- Italian Herkut, Linnankatu 21 – Italian groceries, delicacies and more
However, if you’re able and willing to try Finnish food, I’m sure you’ll find many things you’ll enjoy. And maybe, just maybe, one day you’ll give a chance to salmiakki too 😊 (by the way I really like it myself and everything salmiakki-flavoured).
If you are a coffee lover, you will be delighted to find coffee everywhere. Seriously. You can buy a cup of coffee at any supermarket. Granted, Finns love their filtered coffee, which might not be exactly your cup of coffee (pun intended), but you’ll never risk running low on caffeine, if needed.
I read the place I will be renting is unfurnished. What does it mean?
One thing, that really surprised me, when I was moving here, were the unfurnished apartments. There are exceptions to this, but more often than not, you will get an empty room, which you’ll have to furnish by yourself. Fortunately, you can find many second-hand shops for furniture. A more detailed post on where to find cheap new and used furniture will soon follow, so I’ll keep this section short.
In practice, expect to have the basic appliances such as a stove and a fridge included in a rental apartment (applies also to student housing). You won’t need to buy those (but always good to double check). Any other popular appliances, such as a microwave oven, dishwasher, kettle and even a ceiling lamp will usually be absent. You will also need a bed, table(s) and chair(s). However, wardrobes and cupboards will be usually provided.
Fortunately, there are many companies that offer online shopping and home delivery, so getting at least the basics should be relatively easy. If you will be renting a student accommodation from TYS, you will also be able to find the blueprint of your apartment. This will make it easier for you to plan ahead.
What you can also absolutely expect are amazing (I believe Finnish) inventions, like a drying rack for dishes right above the sink, and a shower bidet attached to the bathroom sink. I think if I ever have to leave Finland, my life will never be complete again without these.
Ok all this is clear, but are Finns very cold and shy? Will I be lonely?
You have probably seen the popular online memes about Finns never smiling. Not even when they are the “Happiest country in the world” for 4 consecutive years! Well, there is some truth to the Finnish stoicism and reserved quiet nature. I can assure you, however, that once you become friends with Finns, they will greet you with a beautiful wide smile and a respect that’s hard to match.
As in any country in the world, you might meet less agreeable people in Finland as well. In my experience, though, most of the Finns will be happy to interact with you (just be careful not to trespass their personal zone too soon).
Once you arrive and settle, you might realize that Finland is in general very quiet. You will notice this especially when you will travel by the city buses. If you’re from a livelier culture, and you’re used to a lot of chatter and noise, this can hit you harder, or you might enjoy it. I personally realized just how much I need silence for my wellbeing after moving to Finland. However, as soon as the first hints of spring arrive, and the days start to get longer, you will notice more and more people in the streets.
In fact, the summer months are anything but quiet, especially if you decide to take a stroll along Aura river. Students (and others) love the riverbanks! And it’s for good reasons – they offer a lot of space for even big groups of people, who love to sit and drink, play their favourite music aloud or even have a full picnic. The streets near Aura are full of cafes and restaurants and many of them are actual ships. Some of them might even take you on a small cruise to the nearby islands! The summer atmosphere around Aura is simply unforgettable. It’s (literally) like night and day, when you compare it to winter.
What about the university and student life?
It might surprise (or even shock) you to find out the Finnish culture has very low hierarchy. This shows in university life as well. No need to remember all the titles your professors have, because you can (and should) address them by their first name. Yes! Finns use first names when addressing other people. You will likely find that the relationship between professors and students are much closer than what you are used to.
Finland is a fertile soil for innovation and digitalization, and this reflects to universities as well. Most services are highly digitalized and very functional. You can take care of most of your errands with your smartphone or laptop and access the university premises using a single electronic key tag. You can use the same tag to access gyms and sport classes, and use the printers and copy machines. It’s very convenient, simple and straightforward.
Last but not least, let me mention, that life in Turku and Finland is very safe. It’s also easy to move around, especially in Turku. There is a very convenient public transportation system. For the most part, however, you can get anywhere with only a bike. Turku has a lot of cycling paths all across the city. If you decide for a bus card instead, you can use it for the city’s shared bicycle and scooter system. And even then, you can reach many parts of Turku by foot. I would also like to recommend another fellow ambassador–Anna’s post about why she enjoys living and studying in Turku.
Are you excited to experience life in Finland as a student?
Check out the international bachelor’s and master’s degree programmes and the doctoral programmes offered at the University of Turku. If you’d prefer a shorter visit, have a look at the information for incoming exchange students.