“I’ve always had the feeling that I am cared for”
Sebastian Segnitzer, an engineering graduate from Germany, wanted to switch to politics and found the right place to study at the University of Helsinki. He praises Finnish universities for their freedom, low hierarchy and extensive student services. For Segnitzer, who loves nature, his years in northern Europe have been rewarding, but he also knows that Finland is not necessarily for everyone. Riikka Maukonen interviewed Sebastian.
What are you studying?
I study in the Global Political Economy Master’s programme at the University of Helsinki, which is part of the Faculty of Social Sciences. I got my Bachelor’s degree in engineering from the Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg in Heidenheim.
Why did you decide to study in Finland?
There are several reasons. I had my first contact with Finland during a two-week Comenius exchange in Helsinki when I was still in secondary school. I got on well with my host family and have visited them in Finland after the exchange.
I was looking for a suitable Master’s programme in Germany, but as my background is in engineering at a university of applied sciences, it would have been very difficult for me to get into the university of my choice to study social sciences. German research universities are very proud of their status.
In addition to the University of Helsinki, I could have also gotten a place at the University of Stockholm in Sweden and at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. However, the good experience I had as a high school student and my friends living in Finland were in the end the reasons why I decided to move to Finland.
How is student life in Finland? What are your favourite things about studying there?
All in all, very good! I really like Helsinki and I’m happy that I can study full time and exactly what I want. I have never regretted my decision to move here to study.
The student benefits also make life easy. The apartment I got through HOAS (Helsinki Student Housing Foundation) is very affordable. I live in a shared apartment in a good location and my rent of 340 euros includes water and electricity, as well as access to the laundry room, gym and sauna in the same building. It’s great. In Germany, you usually have to look for accommodation on the private market and they are much more expensive.
The Uni Café student restaurants are also a great thing. They serve very healthy and reasonably priced breakfast, lunch and dinner for students. I also have to mention UniSport: A one-year membership costs 130 euros and gives access to well-equipped gyms and a wide range of exercise classes. The student discount on public transport in Helsinki is also very good.
I’m lucky that I also had people I already knew from here and have some kind of “safety net”. Finns tend to socialise a lot only with each other, but it’s not impossible to get to know them. People also speak good English. I have made many new friends. I have always had the feeling that I am cared for.
How would you describe the differences between Finnish and German universities?
I can’t make a full comparison because I haven’t studied at a German university. At a university of applied sciences, my studies were much more structured and my degree included certain courses. It was much more “school-like” and practical. Here, the range of courses is wider and I can choose more freely what interests me. For example, I can take a course in physics, biology or philosophy if I want to.
The student healthcare here is also much better than in Bavaria, where I come from. In Finland, student health care, such as dental care, is available to me with the European Health Insurance Card. In Germany I would need to pay for some of these services. Doctors also wouldn’t take as much time for health check ups as in Finland. However, the new Finnish government is planning cuts in student health care, which I find unfortunate.
How do you finance your studies?
I work part time and remotely for the same company I worked for before I moved to Finland. Combining work and study has gone well, but my studies will take me about half a year longer as it would if I didn’t need to work.
I’m not sure if I would qualify for student financial aid. This is a question I have been trying to find out but have not been able to get an answer. There is good information on many things related to studying, but not on this. I know that there are some scholarships for students.
Was there anything that surprised you, good or bad?
Although I have not really encountered any problems, I know international students who have had unpleasant experiences. Some have experienced mistreatment because of their skin colour or ethnic background, for example.
At the moment there is also a general feeling of concern among international students regarding the plans of the new Finnish government. Students from outside the EU live in uncertainty as to whether they can stay in Finland. It’s a bad cycle: employers don’t dare to hire people from outside the EU due to the uncertainty, and at the same time, the people need a job to get a permanent residence permit. This worries a lot of people right now. Fortunately, the University of Helsinki is actively lobbying to change the situation.
This does not affect German students, but there is still worry in the entire international community.
What tips would you give to people coming to study in Finland?
I would advise you to make an appointment to register with the DDV (Digital and Population Data Service Agency) as soon as possible! Getting an appointment at the beginning of the academic year in August is almost impossible if not done well in advance. Without registration, many things are difficult. For example you can’t take advantage of student discounts on public transport or open a bank account. In Finland you need a bank account for almost all digital transactions. The bureaucracy is just like in Germany, but only in digital form, haha.
I also recommend signing up for a Finnish language course as soon as you arrive. The course is a great way to meet new people and give you a basic knowledge of Finnish. Later on, learning Finnish can become more difficult.
I also encourage you to make some Finnish friends soon who can take you to their mökki! Finnish nature with its lakes is stunning. I enjoy outdoor activities and being in nature a lot. It’s great that you can pick blueberries from the forest for direct use without having to wash them very carefully or even boil them, as in some places in Germany.
Finland and Nordic countries in general are great places to be, if you like to spend time in nature. For city people, I have to admit, Finland doesn’t have that much to offer, although I really like Helsinki. If you are interested in nice cities and astonishing architecture, I find that Finland is not as promising as Central European countries. Apart from Helsinki, Turku, Porvoo and some other little villages, cities are rather boring with a lot of concrete.
What does your future look like at the moment?
In politics, the most interesting jobs for me would be either in Berlin, Brussels or Strasbourg. Last summer, I did a traineeship in the German parliament, the Bundestag. In Finland, it is almost impossible to get a job in politics if you don’t speak Finnish well. At the moment, however, I would like to stay in Finland because of my Finnish girlfriend.
As I enjoy the academic atmosphere a lot, one very serious option for me would be to apply to university for postgraduate studies to do a PhD. So I might stay in Finland for at least a few years longer than I originally planned. I could probably also get a job in the field of engineering, but that’s not really my goal.
Studium und Praktikum in Finnland | brochure published by the Finnland-Institut