Tampere, Finland

Kayla Nemirovsky

ISEP Exchange: International Student Exchange Program, Spring 2024

Major(s): Math and Financial Economics



Hi again everyone!

My name is Kayla Nemirovsky, you might remember my Abroad Blog from last summer when I went on the Faculty-led Program to Cape Town, South Africa! I am a sophomore double majoring in Math and Financial Economics and a member of the Honors College and Sondheim Public Affairs Scholars Program. I’m excited to begin a new study abroad adventure: a full semester abroad in Tampere, Finland! I am enrolled at Tampere University, and I am using an affiliate provider called ISEP Exchange to organize my university enrollment and room and board while abroad. With ISEP Exchange, I pay all tuition, room and board, and fees directly to UMBC, so it costs the same as a regular semester living on campus!

I chose to study abroad in Finland because of my interest in education and education policy. Finland has one of the highest-ranked public education systems in the world, and I am excited to study it while there. I will also have the opportunity to visit some Finnish primary and secondary schools, observe how schools differ from those in the States, and share some of my American culture. In addition to the education-related coursework, I worked together with my academic advisors at UMBC to find courses in math and economics that I will be able to transfer back to UMBC and use to fulfill my major requirements.

My flight to Finland is on January 1st, so I have been spending the time since the end of finals with my family and friends and preparing to leave.

My friends even surprised me with a going away party! While my suitcases are just making it out of the closet and starting to get filled, I have done a lot of shopping for warm clothes. I have a big coat, gloves, warm pants, and nice boots, hopefully, they will all be warm enough for the 50℉ drop in temperature that I am about to experience. I am personally not a big fan of the cold, but I absolutely love snow, and I am also excited to see the Northern Lights!

The next time you will hear from me I will be in Tampere and my classes will have started, so I will be sharing some of my first impressions and experiences in Tampere! Wishing you all a relaxing break and a great start to the new year!


In-Country Post #1: January 10th

Moi (hello) from Finland!

What an incredible week I have had! It has been so fun meeting new people and getting adjusted to life here. To get to Tampere, I flew to Helsinki with a layover in Iceland and then took the two-hour train to Tampere. For the next couple of days, I got all of my things unpacked in my apartment, my pictures on the wall, and some groceries in the fridge (I’ll do another post all about food in Finland later!). My host university, Tampere University, organized some events during the first week for incoming exchange students to get to know each other, learn about student life, and explore the city.

I got to meet a lot of other exchange students at a board game and speed friending event organized by the exchange student network, ESN FINT, which made it a lot less nerve-wracking to be in a new city by myself. Another event organized during the welcome week was a free bus tour of Tampere. We went to a neighborhood called Pispala, which has a gorgeous view of the Villilänsalmi Lake and cute little wooden houses. Everything was covered in snow and it looked like a winter wonderland! We also went inside the Tampere Cathedral, which has beautiful and unique artwork that is atypically for the inside of a church, including the famous painting of The Wounded Angel by Finnish painter Hugo Simberg and a painting of the snake from the Garden of Eden, from the story of Adam and Eve, on the ceiling. Simberg had painted The Wounded Angel previously, but when he painted it in the Cathedral, he added some factory buildings in the distant background to show the connection to Tampere. Tampere is one of the biggest cities in Finland, and our guide on the bus tour told us that it was one of the first cities in Finland to begin industrializing. There are lots of old and currently functioning factory buildings around the city, and there is a power plant near my dorm building.

We ended the week with a very typical Finnish activity, the sauna! ESN FINT organized a welcome sauna for exchange students, which included both the sauna and ice swimming. First, we warmed ourselves up in the sauna, which was at 100℃, and then we dipped into a frozen lake. Even being in the lake for five seconds had all of us running back to the sauna to heat ourselves! It was a new experience, but it was so much fun and a great introduction to the Finnish sauna culture.

Another thing that I got to do that would never happen in Maryland was walk on a completely frozen lake. Near my dormitory, there is a park with a lake. However, during the winter the lake completely freezes over and people can walk, skate, and cross-country ski on it. There is even a little coffee stand out in the middle of the lake! It is especially cold out on the lake because you are out in the open surrounded by nothing but ice, but it was so fun to walk past the skaters and see the city from a new perspective. We could even see the factory buildings that Simberg painted in the background of his painting.

As the weekend came to an end, it was time to prepare for courses, which began on January 8th. At Tampere University they use a quarter system so right now I am only taking three courses. One of them is fully online, so I need to look over lectures by myself and then write a 3000-word paper about a topic of my choice in the Finnish education system. My other two courses meet two times a week for about an hour and a half. However, they have a lot fewer assignments than what I am used to in the States. My economics course is fully graded based on one homework assignment worth 30% of my grade and a final exam. My Finnish language course is graded on a couple of assignments and an exam, but it is a pass/fail. It’s different from how we have things at UMBC, but it will be interesting to see how it changes the way that I, and other students, approach lectures, assignments, and studying for exams.

Another big difference between here and home is that when I get out of my class at 4 pm, the sun is already setting. There are beautifully pink and orange sunsets here, but they are quick, and within half an hour the sun has set and it is dark. Next weekend, I am planning a trip to Stockholm, Sweden with another UMBC exchange student, and I will write all about it. Until next time, Nändään (see you)!


In-Country Post #2: January 25


I’m starting to get all settled in here in Tampere. I have a weekly routine going, with classes, studying, and some exploring! I also experienced my first Finnish snow! Although it wasn’t as big as the snow that you all had back at home, there was some fresh snow on the ground and it was so magical. I absolutely love snow and I’ve been waiting for my chance to spin around on a snowy street, and I finally got it!

Last weekend, I traveled to Stockholm, Sweden with another UMBC student who is studying abroad in Germany. We explored the Old Town in Stockholm and went to three museums, the ABBA Museum, the Vasa Museum, and the Viking Museum. The Vasa Museum is about a warship, the Vasa, that was built in Sweden during the 1620s. Because of its weight and error in its center of gravity, heavy gusts of wind were able to blow it sideways so that water came into the gun ports, and 1000 meters into its first voyage the Vasa sank. However, the ship was preserved in the brackish water, and in 1961 the whole ship was able to be pulled out of the water. After some restorations, the ship is 95% authentic and is for display in the museum.

While in Sweden, I also had to try the notorious Swedish (IKEA) meatballs and some Swedish desserts. My personal favorite was the dammsugare, or punsch-roll. It’s like a chocolate cake pop covered in green marzipan and dipped in chocolate on both ends, very yummy! I think it is so cool that while I am studying abroad I am also able to take a weekend trip to a new country, learn about history, and try new foods! I’m hoping that during my time here in Finland, I can travel around the country as well as some other European countries. The next big trip I have scheduled is to Lapland at the end of February to see the Northern Lights, and I can’t wait to share my journey once I go!


This week, I celebrated my 20th birthday! One of the things I was most nervous about when I was planning my study abroad was that three weeks into January I would still not have made friends and I would spend my birthday all by myself. I am very happy to report that was not the case at all! There ended up being a game and hangout night scheduled by one of the campus organizations, so my friends and I had a great time chatting with new people and playing Uno! I even got a birthday present from some of my friends here and they all sang “Happy Birthday”. While it was a little difficult being away from family and friends at home, I scheduled calls with them and I definitely still felt all the birthday love. I also got 7 extra hours of birthday, with the time difference, so I was celebrated for 31 hours!

As I am writing this blog post, I have officially been in Tampere for three full weeks! The time has flown by so quickly, and it has made me reflect on the 2 and a half weeks that I spent in South Africa this summer in a faculty-led program. While these have both been incredible experiences, they are also quite different. My time in Cape Town felt a lot more like a trip; I stayed in a hotel, had an itinerary planned out for me, traveled in a program van, and had food provided for me everywhere. Here in Tampere, I have my own apartment, I decide what to do every day, I travel using public transportation, grocery shop, and have (kind of) started cooking! In addition, while I was on the faculty-led program I was taking a UMBC course and completing readings and assignments for that course. Now, as I have previously mentioned, I am enrolled in university and I am currently taking 4 courses. In the three weeks of both programs, I have learned a lot about myself. The faculty-led program taught me about how much social interaction I can handle and the environment that I feel most comfortable in. Now I feel that I am gaining more independence and I am having to find the right balance between studying, spending time with friends here, and making time to talk to people back in the States. Part of what makes that easier is the time difference, most people at home don’t really wake up until 3 or 4 pm in Finland, so I can get work done and spend time with people here, and then once it’s later at night I can talk to people at home. However, this has had some consequences on my sleep schedule so I will continue to make adjustments to what works best for me.

I have also noticed how the two and a half weeks that I spent in Cape Town seemed to be a lot longer than the three weeks that have gone by really fast here. I’m not quite sure why that is, but I think it might be because there is always something new going on here and I can make my own decisions on how to spend my time, where to go, and when to get some extra rest as needed. As mentioned, the faculty-led program followed an itinerary and every day was filled with really exciting activities (you can read about them in my Cape Town blog!) but I was more tired and didn’t have as much time to use for myself. I will say that no matter how much structure you like or don’t like, there is a study abroad program at UMBC that will be a good fit for you, so you should definitely look into it!

Next week, I am going to a hockey game! One of the local teams (Tampere has two) is playing a team from Turku, Finland. I’ve never been to a hockey game before, so I am excited to share my experience in the next post! Wishing everyone a good start to their spring semesters!








February 7

I really can’t believe that I have been here in Finland for over a month now, the time has flown by! If there is one word that I would use, to sum up the last 2 weeks it would be: slippery! The last couple of weeks were a little bit warmer (relatively) and there was some rain, so the sidewalks got quite icy. I think the best way to identify an exchange student from a local is by observing how they walk on the sidewalk. The locals trudge ahead as if nothing is wrong, and the exchange students walk incredibly slowly planning out where to put every step.

This week, I finally saw the aurora borealis, the Northern Lights. Someone mentioned in our building group chat that they were visible around 11 pm, and I jumped out of bed and ran to the lake by my building as fast as possible. While you couldn’t tell that anything was there when you were looking with your bare eye, they were faintly visible through my phone camera, and it was really pretty. In a couple of weeks, I will be traveling up north to Lapland, where the northern lights are much brighter and more visible to the naked eye, and I am really excited about that.

Since the third learning period is about to end, I have had to start focusing more on my schoolwork, but I have still been able to get in some sightseeing and local activities. Two weekends ago I visited the Pyynikki Observation Tower, which is located in the Pyynikki Nature Reserve. I went up to the top of the tower, where I had a great view of Lake Näsijärvi, Lake Pyhäjärv, and all of Tampere. I went on kind of a cloudy day so I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to see that much, but the view was still perfect, and the grayness of the sky ended up meaning that it was about to snow! My friend and I walked around the park while it was snowing, and it was so pretty. After our walk, we decided that we should get doughnuts and hot chocolate at the cafe, which are the “best doughnuts in Tampere” as per TripAdvisor. Something I really like about Tampere is that it is easy to get out of the city and see some trees and nature. As I continue to travel, I am learning how important it is for me to get away from the city see some nature, and go for a relaxing walk. I’m excited to go back to the tower and go on a hike there again once the snow melts and things start to bloom because I think it will be a new experience. In fact, I think once all the snow is gone, I think Tampere will be like a whole new city!

Last week I also went to my very first hockey game! One of the local teams, Tappara, played against TPS from Turku and Tappara won 3-0. We sat in the student section and even though I didn’t quite know the rules of the game, like why the other team pulled their goalie for an additional player, and I definitely didn’t know what the announcers were saying in Finnish, it was still a lot of fun! I think that I will go to another game here and maybe even some Capitals games after I come back home. It was also interesting to see how events like these are a way for students to all cheer for a team together because there are no collegiate sports like the NCAA in Finland. The people around us knew the players and the chants and everyone was wearing their overalls, and it was a lot of fun to be in that cheerful sports environment again.

I thought I could use the rest of this post to talk about the Finnish language. I am about to finish the Finnish 1 course and then I will be taking Finnish 2. A lot of the Finnish vocabulary is unique, so it has involved a lot of memorizing. My Finnish teacher likes to say, “Finnish is not difficult, it’s just different”. I have learned some basic conversation words, like hello (there are like 5 different ways to say it!), thank you, how are you, and have a good rest of your day. I have also started learning some foods, colors, months, how to tell time, and numbers. I have really enjoyed how I can apply what I am learning in Finnish outside of the classroom, like when I am on the bus or grocery shopping. I’ve also been practicing my numbers when I am at the gym by counting my reps in Finnish. The thing that I find most difficult with Finnish is that a lot of the letters make similar sounds but the meaning can be quite different if you get it wrong. For example, y and u and ö make similar sounds but they are pronounced from different parts of the mouth. Overall, I think it’s been helpful to study the language because I can understand at least a little bit of what is going on around me. Also, it is mostly all exchange students in my class, so it allows me to meet new people from around the world.

Next week, I will finish my classes for the third period. I will have one paper due as well as my final for Finnish one and I will start preparing another paper and studying for my economics exam. The classes here are way shorter than the ones at UMBC and a lot more independent, so I am hoping that I do well on all my assessments. Next week will also be the post you have all been waiting for, food! Kiitos (thanks) for reading!






In-Country Post #4: February 23

Moi! This week has been the week of losing things. Last week, my phone fell out of my pocket on the street and after retracing my steps and searching for it on Find My iPhone, I found it between a pole and the wall near where it must have fallen. A couple of days later, I lost my hat in one of the campus buildings and the next day it was in the lost-and-found. In conclusion, losing things in Finland is great because in my experience you always find them!

If I’m completely honest, the last couple of weeks have been pretty uneventful. My third-period classes ended so I have been studying for finals, working on final papers, and conducting interviews for fieldwork. I did have a chance last weekend to go to a new part of Tampere, about a 50-minute bus ride from my apartment. It was a more suburb-y area and there were a lot of small houses, boats, and a trail along Lake Näsijärvi. Standing on the lake, it looked as if we could just walk across it all the way back to our apartment. Everything was white and snowy, and I think it warped my judgment of the distance. My apartment is somewhere in the cluster of buildings in the left corner of the picture.

One of the highlights of my study abroad experience so far has been meeting people from around the world and learning about things from their countries. Last week, I celebrated Pancake Day with one of my friends from England. Pancake Day falls on Shrove Tuesday and it is common in England because making pancakes gets rid of a lot of the fatty foods people give up for Lent. We got together in one of the kitchens and cooked pancakes together! Then we topped them with Nutella, whipped cream, and strawberries, they were delicious. Another night last week was Italian carbonara night, cooked by my Italian friend’s visiting boyfriend, who is also a chef. In my Finnish class, we talked about the Finnish Valentine’s Day, Ystävänpäivä, which directly translates to Friend’s Day. In Finland, Ystävänpäivä is more about your friends and making cards for them. I think it’s so cool that with this experience I am able to meet people from around the world, learn about new cultures, and find out how holidays are celebrated around the world. I also think that in the future it will be a lot of fun to travel because I will have people to visit in many different countries.

This week has also been the hardest for me in terms of homesickness. I think it may be because these last two weeks have been kind of slow and I’ve spent more time in my room doing work and not going out for adventures. I’ve been thinking more about my friends and family at home. I have tried to make up for it by scheduling more Facetime calls and also trying to leave my room to go study and do work with friends here. I am also working on planning a March trip to Italy with my mom which will be a lot of fun as well.

Next week, I will be spending the whole week in Lapland, and I have so many fun activities planned! The next blog post will have beautiful pictures and so many stories, I can’t wait to share them with everyone!










In-Country Post #5: March 8

     I really think last week was one of the best weeks of my whole life. I spent the week on an ESN (Erasmus Student Network) trip in Lapland, up past the Arctic Circle to Kilpisjärvi, Finland. I stayed in a 10-person cabin with my friends from Tampere and 5 other exchange students who are studying in Hämeenlinna, a small city about 45 min from Tampere. While most of the other students on the trip stayed in 4-person cabins that were part of a cabin ground, we stayed in a cabin that was owned by a couple from Norway, so it almost like an Airbnb situation. Because of that, the cabin was decorated, and it had a very cozy, homey feel to it.

Our bus left late at night on Sunday and started the 22-hour (with stops) drive. Our first big stop was in Rovaniemi, which is the capital of Lapland. The city was basically destroyed during World War II, but it is now a big center of tourism, being the home to Santa Claus village. While we were there, we crossed the Arctic Circle, met Santa Claus himself, saw some reindeer, and wrote a postcard to my family that will be delivered on Christmas! Since there is a live feed of the Arctic Circle, my friends and I were able to find it online and see ourselves on it, which was so cool! We then continued our drive and arrived at our cabin around 10 pm.

Tuesday was spent relaxing after being crammed in a bus the whole previous day. We explored around our cabin, did a little bit of sledding, and went on a guided night snowshoe hike. While on our walk, my friends and I decided to take the “shortcut” from the path to our cabin. What we didn’t consider was that the snow was at least 2 feet deep and as soon as we started walking we sunk into it. Our solution was to crawl on the snow, as it involved less sinkage, and we left quite a funny trail in the snow. For the night walk, we wore snowshoes that were strapped to our boots and allowed us to walk in the snow without sinking in because, just like with crawling, they allowed us to spread our weight over a larger surface area. We ended our hike with a campfire with marshmallows and sausages, and my coat and hat still smell like the fire over a week later!

While I know I started this blog post by saying that it was one of the best weeks of my life, I think Wednesday was one of the best days of my life. We started out our day with husky rides, which is what I was looking forward to most in the whole trip. We were able to both sit in the sled and drive it. Afterward, we got to meet the dogs, pet them, and take them back to their cages. The place we went to is called Hetta Huskies, and it has been recognized by TripAdvisor for how well the staff and company treat its dogs. After our husky adventure, we had a couple of hours to rest and then we drove to Oteren, Norway to go in a sauna and dip ourselves in the cold waters of the Arctic Ocean. Throughout the trip, everyone had been on the lookout for northern lights but the sky was cloudy every night. As we were getting off the bus, we noticed that there were some streaks of green in the sky and pictures revealed the brightest northern lights we had seen yet. Over the next hour, the lights became more noticeable to the naked eye. It was so cool that while I was running from the sauna to the ocean and trying to stay in the water for longer than 5 seconds, I was able to look into the sky and see a beautiful display of northern lights. When coming to Finland, one of the things that I was looking forward to most was being able to look up into the sky and see northern lights without a phone camera, it was truly an amazing experience.


On Thursday, I was able to learn about Sami culture. The Sami are the indigenous people in Lapland spread between Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. There was a period in Finnish history when they tried to erase Sami culture in order to create a “more united” people. Sami children were forced to go to Finnish boarding schools where they were punished for using the Sami language, and a lot of the culture was lost. However, the Sami people were able to survive and now even have their own Sami government that has representation within the national government. Sami people are also reindeer herders, and we were able to feed some reindeer. Afterward, we traveled to Tromsø, Norway, which is the largest city in Lapland. We stopped at a fjord along the way and outside of the Tromsø Cathedral. Afterward, we had a couple of hours to just walk around the city, and take in the views, and I even went to the Polar Museum, which had exhibits about polar explorations, animals, and hunting.

Friday morning, we cleaned up our cabin, packed up our stuff, and started the drive back home to Tampere. We made a four-hour stop in Levi, Finland, which is a ski resort town. Although we didn’t have enough time to rent equipment and ski, we did climb the 766 stairs to the top of the mountain, which had a pretty nice view. Once we got to the top, we went to the Sami Museum and got to feed and pet more reindeer! On our hike back down, some of the stairs were covered in so much snow and ice that it was easier to just sit on our butts and slide down the section. Afterward, we had a couple of hours to go to the spa and water park, which had jacuzzies and a water slide. It was a very relaxing way to end the trip before sitting on the bus for the 12-hour drive back to Tampere.

This week’s break between classes was such a nice way to explore the country and get to have once in a lifetime experience and see a lot of incredible things. I am so grateful that I was able to take this opportunity, to explore more of Finland, and even get to go to Norway. I hope that throughout the remaining 3 months of my study abroad, I can continue to travel to different countries and see new things. I know that I included a lot of pictures in the blog already, but I am also attaching a couple more images below, I hope you enjoy them!












In-Country Post #6: March 22

The last two weeks have had their ups and downs, with final exams and papers being due and kind of yucky weather. Having to study and work on assignments did allow me to find a new cafe to study in and once everything was done, I had a big weight off my shoulders. We had a couple really nice and sunny days, but the last couple of days have been gray and colder and rainy again. All the Finns here have said that we just have to hold on and spring is coming, so hopefully that will be true!

One night last week it was not cloudy and we were able to see the Northern Lights again in Tampere. They were even visible with the naked eye, and we stood out on the lake and just watched them. I think it will be one of the last times we are able to stand on the lake because the ice is starting to thin and melt. I’ve seen the northern lights four times now, and every time they are just as amazing. I’m hoping that I can see them a couple more times before the season ends. On days when the sun is out and it’s not gray, you can really tell that the days have started growing. When I got here, the sun would come out around 10 am and it would be dark by 4 pm. Now, the sunrise is around 6:30 am and it sets around 7 pm! I know the days are only going to get longer, especially with daylight savings starting in Europe this Sunday, and hopefully, they also get sunnier because right now it is gray and rainy.

This week, I was able to do two really fun things. First, I was on a virtual panel for ISEP students who will be coming to Finland in the fall of 2024 or for the full 2024-2025 year. I got to share my experiences as a student studying in Finland, like the Lapland trip my last blog post was about, and my experiences with taking classes at Tampere University. While I know it was helpful for the students and allowed them to get an understanding of what this experience will be like, it was also a great way for me to personally reflect on what some of the highlights of my experience have been so far and what I want to make sure to do in my remaining time. I’m over halfway through my exchange (which is crazy to think about!) and I’m planning on making the second half just as exciting as the first.

  I also got to visit a Finnish high school, in a small town called Ulvila, which is something that I was really looking forward to before I got here. As I previously mentioned, I am interested in education and education policy and I signed up for a school visit through Erasmus back in December. In February, I heard from a teacher, and we planned my visit, which took place yesterday. The school had four, 75-minute classes yesterday with a 15-minute break between them and 30 minutes for lunch between the second and third. I got to sit in on two math classes, one geometry, and one financial mathematics, and do presentations in a social science and English-speaking class. In social sciences, I was asked to give a presentation about US security policy and the military. Then the students had an opportunity to ask me some questions about things like US gun laws, the costs of college, and how I feel about them having conscription for boys for 6 months to a year after high school. In the English class, I did a presentation about small talk in the US, and then students asked me if certain American stereotypes are true or not, like everyone having huge cars and high schools being like High School Musical and Mean Girls. I was also able to eat lunch with some of the students. In Finnish schools, lunch is included for students, and on the day I came they had salmon soup, which is a common Finnish food. Some other things I noticed that were different from the US was that in the math class, no students took notes and when they were doing practice problems in class they were done online, including the students typing out their work. The teacher said that he gives them the option to use pen and paper, but no one does and the final exams students do at the end of school are online using the same system so it makes more sense for them to get used to it now. The day that I came, the classes were a lot less lecture-based than classes in the US. In math, the teacher did two problems on the board, and the rest of the time was spent with the students doing practice problems and the teacher walking around and helping. In social sciences, after my presentation, the students worked on an assignment, and then at the end of class, the teacher asked each student to share one of their findings. I can’t speak on if it’s like that every day, but it seemed like it was the regular structure for these classes. In all, I had a really great time at the school, and it was really interesting to draw comparisons to what things are like back home.

Next week, the university will be on Easter Break and I will be going to Italy with my mom! It will be nice to see someone from home and I will share a bunch of pictures!


In-Country Post #7: April 5th


Hyvää pääsiäistä! Happy Easter! From last Tuesday to this Tuesday, we had Easter Break at University, and I traveled to Italy with my mom! It was really great to see my mom after three months and also experience some warm weather. We spent a day in Venice, two days in Rome, and a day and a half in Florence.

We had two half days in Venice, one at the beginning of the trip and one at the end. The first day we visited Doge’s Palace. The Doge was historically the head of the Republic of Venice. We also rode on a gondola, although because of bad weather, we were only able to explore the small canals and didn’t get to go to the Grand Canal. In the modern day, only about 400 black gondolas are remaining in Venice and they are only used for tourism. However, in the past, there used to be thousands of gondolas swimming through the waters of Venice, and they used to be painted different colors to represent the different families that owned them. Our first night was spent in bunkbeds on an overnight train going to Rome.

In Rome, over the course of two days, we walked around 55,000 steps! On the first day, we visited the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. It was cool that I got to see incredible paintings and sculptures that I had only seen in photographs, like the Sistine Chapel and the School of Athens. We also ate a lot of Italian food throughout the whole trip, but on this day we had some classics: pizza, carbonara, and Caprese. The restaurant that we went to was recommended by one of my Italian friends whom I met while studying here in Finland, so we knew we weren’t eating at a tourist trap, and it was good authentic Italian food. On the second day in Rome, we walked around the city, had a couple of walking tours, and saw part of the Colosseum. Since it was Good Friday, the viewing and access points of the Colosseum were closed off because the Pope usually does a service, however this year he didn’t end up coming because he was trying to save energy for all the events he needed to attend on Easter Sunday.

The next day and a half we spent in Florence! While it was crowded with a lot of tourists for Easter, it was still a great city to explore. I also learned that every year about 15,000 students study abroad in Florence and the hotel we stayed at also doubled as student housing, so maybe you could be one of them next year! In Florence, we visited a lot of art museums and historical sites, such as the Accademia Gallery, home to one of Michelangelo’s David statues, and the Uffizi Gallery. We also walked across the old bridge, learned about the Medici family, which ruled Florence at the time of the Renaissance, and went on a food tour. Tuscan food was by far my favorite. We tried paninis, Florentine steak, and the best gelato I had during the whole trip. If you ever go to Italy, a good tip for gelato is to not go to the tourist-trap shops with mountains of colorful gelato in their windows. The best gelato comes out of cylindrical metal tubs, it doesn’t have bright colors and is really flavorful! We returned back to Venice for the last night of our trip, where we finished with a Vivaldi orchestra concert in a church and a delicious last meal with tiramisu for dessert! The hotel we stayed at was a 15-minute walk from the apartment, which meant in the morning we walked to the airport, something I’d never done before.

This was the first trip that I planned for the most part by myself, with finding trains, hotels, and tours. The planning was definitely a little bit stressful, but I had a lot of fun on the trip, and I am looking forward to planning other trips that I will take in the future.

I returned from my trip to Italy back to the cold of Finland and the start of spring. All the snow has melted in front of my apartment building, there is no longer a need to climb over a huge pile of snow to get from the bus stop to the front door. Also, the lake has started to melt and parts of it have already thawed. The weather here changes almost every day, from a warmer but cloudy day to a colder but sunny day, to a snowy day back-to-back. Our Finnish teacher keeps telling us that we need to keep patient, spring is coming! Next weekend, I will be traveling on a cruise with a bunch of other exchange students from Helsinki to Stockholm, Sweden so I will tell you all about it in my next blog. Also, I will do a takeover on the umbclife Instagram on April 16th, so tune in for a day in the life!



In-Country Post #8: April 16

Moi! Hello!

It’s crazy to think that I only have a month and a half left of my exchange. I finally bought my return ticket to come back home on June 2nd. This week, my Period 4 classes are meeting for the last time, and then I just have some assignments and assessments to complete. Since today was our last Finnish class, we left a note on the board for our Finnish teacher, which translates to “We love Hanna-Marika!”. Although I did not originally intend to take Finnish when I came here, I’m really glad that I did. In addition to learning the language and building my vocabulary, our teacher incorporated Finnish culture into our lessons. We learned some common phrases, talked about the presidential election and other current events as they were occurring, and learned about how holidays are celebrated in Finland, like Valentine’s Day, Easter, and May Day. I have been able to gain a much better understanding of Finnish culture and customs from taking this course!

By the end of the month, I should be done with all of my coursework, and then I have two trips planned and lots of spring sightseeing. What’s really cool about all the snow melting is that the city looks completely different. This means that I can do some sightseeing, such as visiting the Pyynikki Nature Reserve and Tower because the view of the city will be sunnier and not snowy! Last weekend, my friends and I went to another forest to do a very Finnish activity, eat makkara (sausages) and Karelian pies around a fire. Karelian pies are a pastry with rye bread and rice filling. We had a lot of fun chopping wood, heating our sausages, and just chatting by the lake! It was also a sunny day, so it was nice to be outside and enjoy nature.

Speaking of sunnier, the weather here has definitely improved! We had some days around 50℉ with blue skies and the sun out. It was quite lovely! It seems like this week it will be a little bit colder again, but hopefully, the weather will continue to improve after that. On sunny days, the sun rises at around 6:30 am and sets around 8:30 pm, which is a lot more daylight than when I first came in January when we only had 6 hours of light a day! This picture was taken at 8:15 pm! During the summer, Finland has white nights, where the sun is out for almost 24 hours every day. I think I will leave before there is no darkness at all, but it’s been quite unique seeing how fast the days have been growing and how late it gets dark now.

This week I am going on two trips! Last weekend I was on a cruise from Helsinki to Stockholm and back! We had about 6 hours to spend in Stockholm and we did a walking tour. The tour was around different areas of Stockholm than I had visited back in January, so it was nice to see some more modern parts of the city since last time I had mostly stayed in Gamla Stan, the Old Town. I returned from the cruise on Monday, and on Wednesday I am leaving for a Baltics trip to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. I know I have said this before, but having the opportunity to travel around Europe and visit places I haven’t been to has been a lot of fun and has helped me to learn more about the world. Also, today is my UMBCLife takeover on Instagram! If you missed it, you can find it in the highlights on their profile. I hope you enjoyed watching a day in my life here in Finland!





In-Country Post #9: May 4

What a hectic two-and-a-half weeks I have had! From exploring the Baltic countries, celebrating Wappu (May Day), and watching the sunset from the lake, I have made so many memories. From April 17th to 21st, I was on a group trip to Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius, the capitals of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania respectively. All the cities are beautiful but different, so it is difficult to compare them and choose a favorite. Tallinn has the biggest and most well-preserved Medieval Old Town. If you go up to a viewing point, you can see the Old Town on one side and a modern city on the other. Vilnius is the biggest of the three cities and the most modern. Riga would be somewhere in the middle. All three cities have a lot of history to share and have a lot of greenery, with parks and lakes. This picture is from Riga, and there is a park in the middle of the city in front of the Opera House! I really enjoyed getting to walk around and explore these cities, we had about a day in each one and I would definitely come back to spend more time in each of them!

The week after we returned, I attended another hockey game! This time Tappara didn’t win, however, they still weren’t eliminated from the finals. Over the weekend they won their away game, which made them the Finnish 2024 national champions! On Saturday, we went to Helsinki for the day. We were invited by some of the friends we had met on our Lapland trip. They were from the Netherlands, and a large group of Dutch exchange students all went to have a picnic in Helsinki to celebrate Koningsdag (King’s Day). Koningsdag is a Dutch holiday that celebrates the birthday of the Dutch king, which is on April 27th. It is typical to wear orange, one of the royal colors, and have picnics and drinks with friends and family. Our friends showed us pictures of the celebration in Amsterdam, where the river is completely filled with people celebrating on boats and wearing orange!


This week, spring finally came to Finland, and it was just in time for Wappu! Wappu, May Day, is a huge celebration in Finland, specifically for students. Starting in the middle of April, there are many different activities every day that students can attend to fill up their Wappu passports. The big days of celebration are April 30th and May 1st. The weather was beautiful, with blue skies and temperatures around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. On April 30th, some friends and I went down to the river in the city center to have a picnic! The park was filled with people, as this was one of the first really nice days. Then at midnight, we went to another area of the river where there was a small statue. The event was called “The Capping of the Statue”, so we were expecting there to be a small, lowkey ceremony where they put a hat on this statue. The hat is the typical hat worn by technology students, teekkaris. However, at exactly midnight all the teekkaris there began singing this eerie chant, which I later learned was the teekkari hymn. They sang it three times through, lifting their own hats above their heads and putting them on with the statue. Once they were finished, everyone popped bottles of champagne and sprayed them around! Since none of us knew what to expect, it was a quite shocking experience!

On May 1st, we went back to the park to watch the teekkari dipping. All the first-year teekkari students paraded down the city to the river and waited to be dipped in the freezing water on a crane in groups of about 8. This makes the first-year students become official teekkaris, and they receive a tassel to wear on their hats. It took about five hours for everyone to be dunked! It was really cool to watch because this is something that we had talked about in my Finnish 1 class all the way back in January.

As I mentioned, this week has had really nice weather! The sun has been out, the lake has fully melted, and it has been warm, with temperatures in the 50s. I spent several afternoons this week relaxing at the water, taking in the sun. On Friday night, we had a bonfire cooked sausages, and made smores! The sunsets here are beautiful, and it takes a long time for the sun to go all the way down! The sun will slowly start setting around 8 and it takes about 2 hours for it to go down. Even then, you can still see a small sliver of orange in the night sky. The sun rises around 5 in the morning now, right in my window!

Even though I still have a month until I come home, with the three trips that I have planned I am only spending two more weeks in Tampere. I have made a list of all the things I want to make sure to do here before I leave. This week, I will be taking a 24-hour bus (each way) to Lofoten, Norway, to take in the beautiful scenery and go on hikes! Kiitos (thanks) for reading! Moi!







In-Country Post #10: May 16

Never did I think when I decided to study abroad in Finland that I would be writing blog posts outside, wearing shorts, in 70℉, but that is what I am doing now! This week the weather in Tampere has been wonderful! About ten minutes from my apartment building is a small beach and my friends and I have been spending our afternoons laying outside, tanning, and taking in the long-missed sun. It’s also a bit bittersweet, since we are spending our last several weeks together. While I do know that one of my friends will be coming to Baltimore in September to go to a music festival with me, it’s really sad to think about how I don’t know when (but not if!) I will see these people again. However, I am trying to push that thought out of my mind and to enjoy the last couple of weeks in Europe with my friends!

Last week, I traveled to Lofoten, Norway through ESN FINT. The bus ride from Tampere took about 21 hours, with stops every couple of hours. Lofoten is an archipelago with many small fishing villages and beautiful scenery. Our accommodations were in red fishermen cabins in a village called Kabelvåg. They were surrounded by the Norwegian Sea and had a beautiful view of the mountains. We spent all of Monday driving, and then decided to stretch our legs a little bit by walking around the town, seeing some cats, and taking in the scenery.

On Tuesday, we had a bus tour around the Lofoten Islands. First, we visited Henningsvær, which has a football field right by the water and surrounded by mountains! We also visited Hamnøya, Reine, Å, and Uttakleiv, which were all fishermen villages with gorgeous waterfront and mountain views. We ended the day at Haukland beach. The water there is very clear and blue and looks so inviting and warm, but don’t be fooled it was still very cold! Some people decided to go in the water for a dip, but I was already cold outside of the water so I decided I would pass on this lake swimming opportunity!

On Wednesday, a group of friends and I went hiking in Svolvaer. While I thought we were going to opt for one of the easier hikes, we decided to do the difficult hike called Devil’s Gate. The first part of the hike was just going up stairs, and it wasn’t very difficult. Then the middle part involved climbing on and over big rocks, and this was probably my favorite part of the hike. The last part was the scariest by far. While we could tell that there were stairs, they were completely covered by snow/slush. It was also the steepest part of the hike. However, we were able to crawl and climb through to the top, and the view was so worth it! We could see the Norwegian Sea and all of Svolvær. Coming down the mountain was probably one of the scariest things that I have ever done in my life. As I mentioned, it was steep and covered in snow. While at first my friends and I tried to carefully walk down, we found that the better option was to just sit down and slide down the mountain. In the moment, it was very scary, but I’m glad that I did it! Hiking up this mountain reminded me of hiking up Table Mountain in Cape Town last summer! Hiking in Lofoten was colder than hiking in South Africa, but I think that it is so cool that I can say that I hiked up mountains on opposite sides of the globe! I would like to try to find more hiking areas around Maryland once I return home because it is something that I really enjoy doing!

On Thursday, we got a bit unlucky with Lofoten weather. While the other days were sunny, Thursday was a more typical, rainy day in Lofoten. We had more hiking planned, but I decided to just do a small, short hike and then wait for the other hikers who decided to go further in the warmth and dryness of a cafe. From the window, we were able to see surfers on the beach, which I think is crazy given how cold it was! Thursday night, I ended the trip in the typical Finnish way, a sauna! I definitely wish that I had gone to the sauna more often while I was in Finland, so this was a nice way to finish off the trip. There was also an outdoor hot tub, and I was able to relax in the hot tub as the sun snuck out from behind a cloud!

We spent all of Friday and Friday night driving back to Tampere, and because of this I missed some of the best Northern Lights that we had seen in the last five months! There were many solar storms, and Northern Lights were seen around the world, in Italy, the UK, they were even seen in parts of the US! However, I was sitting in a bus and I missed it. This is probably the biggest disappointment of my whole time studying abroad. However, some of my friends that did not go on the trip were able to get some beautiful pictures and have shared them with me. I think that was most likely my final opportunity to see the Northern Lights because of how bright it is at night. The sun doesn’t set until after 10:30pm, and even then you can see a sliver of the sun on the horizon throughout the whole night until it begins to rise again at 4 in the morning.

This weekend, my friends and I will be traveling to Denmark! One of these friends is Danish, so we will have a personal tour guide to take us through Aarhus and Copenhagen. Once we return, I will only have one more week left in Finland, which means this is the last blog post that I am writing in Finland! I am glad that I have these blog posts to look back on the last four and a half months and to remember this exciting chapter of my life!




In-Country Post #11: May 31
Hej! You might notice that’s not the Finnish “Moi” for hello, it’s Danish! That’s because I have leftFinland now and am spending a week in Copenhagen, Denmark with my dad and sister before I return home. This is actually my second time visiting Denmark in the last two weeks. Two weekends ago, I visited Denmark with three of my friends. We spent two days in Aarhus and then two days in Copenhagen. Because one of my friends is Danish, she planned the whole trip and all we had to do was follow behind her. While on the one hand it was nice to have a lowkey trip, where I didn’t have to worry about what we were going to do and when we had to be certain places, it was definitely a strange experience for me because I tend to be a control freak who wants to know when and what is going on.

While in Aarhus, we got to meet the friends of two of my friends. My Danish friend obviously knew people who lived there, but my British friend also has a friend who moved to Aarhus and was hosting a friend from home. It was really interesting to hear her experiences of living in Aarhus as an international because that experience is different from being an exchange student somewhere. One of the challenges that she shared was that it was difficult for her to find a job in Aarhus because she didn’t know any Danish. However, she was able to work remotely for a company that is based in the United States while living in Denmark. While in Aarhus, we went to watch a football match. One of the local teams, Aarhus Fremad, played another Danish team and won! It was cool to sit on a hill next to the field and relax with friends while watching the game and it was a part of Danish culture that I don’t think I would have experienced if I had just come to Denmark as a tourist on my own. We also visited the Marselisborg Deer Park, which is home to many kinds of deer. Similarly to the ones back in Maryland, they were completely unafraid of people and you could stand quite close to them, some even allowed you to pet them! We also spent two days in Copenhagen, where we saw the statue of the Little Mermaid, went to the Tivoli gardens, did a boat ride along the canal, and visited Christinia. I’ve heard that the Little Mermaid is one of the most underwhelming statues in the world and I would have to say that I agree with that sentiment. It’s about a half hour walk away from the city center and she’s just a small little statue sitting there on a rock.

After I returned to Finland from Denmark, I had one more week of my time in Tampere left. I spent this time hanging out with my friends, packing, and looking for souvenirs. Because Tampere is not really a tourist city, there are not really tourist shops where I could get things like magnets or small trinkets. I ended up being able to find some things at a museum gift shop.

My friends and I had an international dinner, where we brought food and drink from England, Italy, Denmark, Spain, and the United States and shared some of our culture, which was a lot of fun! On my last day before I left, I went back to the Pyynikki Nature Reserve. I enjoyed another donut and went up the tower. There was no longer any snow on top of buildings or two large frozen lakes. It looked like a completely different view from the one that I had seen when I had visited back in January, which is pictured in one of my earlier blog posts! Thinking about how the city had changed in the last five months also allowed me to reflect on my own personal changes and growth throughout the semester. I also continued to develop this reflection when I left Finland on May 27th, retracing my steps back to the airport on the train and thinking about how nervous and excited I was when I was making my way to Tampere for the first time. While these changes are not as obvious as the dramatic difference in the landscape, I definitely think that I have grown, and I am not the same person I was when I began my exchange.

As I mentioned, I left Finland to come back to Denmark, but this time with some of my family. We have done many of the same things as my first trip to Copenhagen, visited the Tivoli Gardens, walked to the Little Mermaid, and have gone on a boat tour. We also went to some museums and in our last two days here before we head home, we will be visiting different castles and palaces. A new challenge that we’ve had to deal with on this travel experience is that my sister is gluten-free. While it has been a little bit difficult to find ways to accommodate her in Copenhagen, which is already an expensive city, it has been possible. One of the ways that we are finding gluten-free restaurants is with the use of the Find Me Gluten Free app, which uses your location to find restaurants that have gluten-free options around you. There are also lots of grocery stores around the city where we can find snacks for in-between meals.

I will be returning to the United States this Sunday, and my study abroad will be over. I am definitely sad about leaving Finland and this experience ending, but at the same time I am excited to come home, see my family and friends again, and get adjusted to a new routine. I will have one more blog post two weeks after my return, so I will share my final reflections and what it is like returning home in my last post! Tak (thanks in Danish!) for reading!





Return Post: June 14, 2024

Hello! I have been back in the United States for almost two weeks now! As soon as I got home, I jumped right into a summer internship and started working again to start refilling my bank account after being abroad and traveling for five months. I have also been able to see my family and friends at home again, which has been a lot of fun!

In my last two days in Denmark, we visited several castles around Denmark. We went to the Rosenborg Castle (pictured), the Amalienborg Palace (which is the current residence of the Danish Royal Family), the Frederiksborg Castle, and the Kronborg Castle. The Kronborg Castle is where Shakespeare’s play Hamlet is set. While in the play Shakespeare is able to go into a lot of details when describing the castle, it is truly remarkable because Shakespeare never himself visited the castle and probably only heard about it from his friends who had been invited. In the basement of the Kronborg Castle, there is Holger Danske, or Holger the Dane. There is a legend that he will sleep until he is needed by the Danish people in their greatest peril, at which point he will wake up and lead them to victory.

We also enjoyed some traditional Danish foods! We tried smørrebrød, which are Danish open-faced sandwiches on rye bread with a variety of toppings, such as eggs, fish, or chicken. For the dinner that I talked about in my last post, one of my Danish friends had made chicken smørrebrød that was also topped with bacon, and they were so good! I also tried ice cream with guf, which is a marshmallow or meringue-like topping that is really good! One of the goals that I set for myself during the exchange was to try new foods, even if it was something that I thought I would not like. For example, I historically have not liked mayonnaise and bacon, but I still tried my friend’s sandwich, and it ended up being one of my favorite foods from the night!

Coming home has been a little strange. I’ve had to readjust to things that I hadn’t even realized that I had become unaccustomed to. My phone switched back to Fahrenheit in the weather app. I’ve had to get used to small talk being the norm. I started driving again. I’ve gotten used to living in a house with other people. I miss my friends from my exchange, but I know that we will see each other again and we will try to stay in touch. Getting to study abroad has been one of the highlights of my life and I have made so many memories that will last a lifetime. I highly recommend that anyone who has even the smallest urge to study abroad looks into the options offered by UMBC because there is something for everyone! Thank you for following along on my study abroad journey!