More Than the Degree

Internationality at Aalto University

Three students taking a selfie donned in winter clothes on campus, Owein in the middle holding the phone.

Hei, I’m Owein, a 3rd year Bachelor of Design student here at Aalto University! Going back three years to when I was sitting in the darkness of Northern Finland, I was researching about Aalto University and the English taught programs. I was very surprised to see how international Aalto University was. With help from the Aalto Squad (which now I am now a member) I learnt quite a lot about the diversity and internationality in the university and the Otaniemi campus. Three years later my experiences at Aalto University have been surreal, surrounded by not only Finns but a welcoming international community. In my class of 26 there are over 15 nationalities, coming from the far corners of the world. I’m from a small city in Northeast England called Sunderland.

Coming into an English taught bachelor’s program I expected a lot of international students, and I did have worries on how to make friends. However, these worries were quelled in the first hour of knowing my new fellow classmates. The class was very welcoming, we had many days together before the program even started, my top tip is to attend the orientation week before the programs begin to get to meet many new people and learn how the university operates and the amazing campus tours.

Students playing ice hockey in an ice rink.

From my time working in Aalto Squad, I get the question “Can you live in Finland without knowing Finnish?” Unlike some places on earth Finland has a very high English proficient population and living in Finland is easy just knowing English. When it comes to working it can be more difficult, but for just studying its absolutely fine! However, learning some Finnish is very nice. I studied Finnish for four years now and I use it daily, and started learning Swedish too since Finland has two official languages. Aalto University recognises the importance of language skills in the globalised world. The university offers language courses in a wide range of languages such as Finnish, Swedish, Chinese, Spanish etc… It’s usually mandatory to learn basic Finnish or Swedish in your program. However, from there you can go beyond the basics if you want too!

One of the best things being in an international class is that near everyone has had a different prior education, therefore you can learn so much from each other, it adds a new dimension to class based education since there are so many international perspectives and ways of doing. It’s improved my capabilities. Learning new forms of design from around the world, methodology and techniques has benefited me. At Aalto we have a large interdisciplinary studies emphasis. Aalto are encouraging students from different fields and departments such as the School of Art, Design and Architecture, School of Science, and the School of Business for example (can be any!) to come together and work on projects. In my third period of my first year I had an elective course with students from a Finnish taught engineering program, I made many friends, and we share many hobbies such as playing ice hockey together. Ultimately this approach not only mirrors the real-world working environment but also exposes us, as students, to a range of new building perspectives.

Internationality at Aalto doesn’t just stop at students however, the faculty here at Aalto University is a mix of teachers/lecturers from around the world. Having teachers with diverse cultural backgrounds (much like having an international class) adds a uniqueness to the learning process. Their global perspectives adds a nice element that goes beyond the study materials, providing us with a more diverse understanding of design principles and their application on a global scale. This is great for further employment as you are aware of global design and strategies. 

- Owein

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