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Excellent education in the middle of cold darkness – the Kenyan student experience in Finland

Published on 8.3.2021
updated on 19.9.2023
Tampere University of Applied Sciences
The three interviewed Kenyan nursing students enjoying the snowy weather outside.
After their first semester in TAMK, the Kenyan nursing students are extremely pleased with their study programme and their new hometown, Tampere. However, there have also been some shocks and surprises on this journey.

Starting a new life as a student in a faraway cold and dark country; this is what a group of 25 new nursing students from Kenya experienced last November when they stepped out from the airplane to Finland. Even with the shockingly cold weather conditions, the students have enjoyed their time and worked hard to get everything out from their studies.

The group will study their whole Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing in the Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK). Their studies are funded by the Elgeyo-Marakwet county. As far as we know, the Kenyan nursing students are the first group in the history of Finnish education export to study their whole degree in Finland – though they surely won’t be the last.

For Sharon Cheruiyot, Hosea Barkonga and Brenda Jemutai, studying in the field of healthcare has been a dream even before they heard about TAMK’s programme.

– Nursing was something I really wanted to do. When the opportunity came to study nursing in Finland, I jumped toward it, Jemutai describes.

Before hearing about the programme, the students didn’t know much about Finland, mostly just that it was a northern and cold country. After getting the first news about the upcoming opportunity, they started researching online. The students tell they were very impressed with the information they read about the country.

– It was the place that I had dreamed about: a place with good education and good healthcare system, Cheruiyot states.

Starting the studies mid-pandemic

Because the programme was started as a collaboration between TAMK and the Elgeyo-Marakwet county, the application and travelling process was much easier than usually when applying to foreign universities. TAMK teachers travelled to Kenya to hold the entrance exam for the applicants. After the group of 25 was accepted into the degree programme, they were able to start messaging each other and TAMK staff, getting ready to travel together.

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the student group started their studies online from Kenya in August 2020. In November, they were able to move to Finland, with a huge operation from TAMK staff to make everything happen according to the strictest safety precautions. From then onwards, they have continued their studies as all the other nursing students in Finland do during the epidemic: partly online and partly in the TAMK campus in small groups.

The students departed from their families with mixed feelings. On one hand, they would not be able to take part in the day-to-day family responsibilities during their time in Finland and would of course miss each other very much. On the other hand, this was a unique opportunity to get a good education and achieve their goals.

– For my family, there was nothing to worry. From the start, everyone knew that the purpose of traveling was my education, Hosea Barkonga describes.

– I was leaving for a country which has the best education system, so it was sure that I would come back more successful and with more knowledge than I left with, states Sharon Cheruiyot, who hopes she can act as a role model for her younger siblings.

Sharon Cheruiyot, Hosea Barkonga and Brenda Jemutai.

Practical courses with helpful teachers

The students have been very pleased with their studies. The courses have required a lot of work, but the learning environment has supported the learning process well. The students are especially thankful of the Finnish teachers and their methods of supporting and guiding each student.

– It’s brilliant, wonderful, more than expected. After every class, I feel like I have learned a lot, Hosea Barkonga sums up.

Another thing the three students have liked about their courses is the hands-on teaching method, which is characteristic of Finnish universities of applied sciences.

– I like the courses because they are practical. It makes it easier to understand what they are teaching when you concretely do it. It also makes you understand what you are going to do in the future as a nurse in a hospital, Brenda Jemutai states.

Barkonga wishes that some of the methods used in Finland could be taken into the Kenyan education system to improve it. He emphasizes that the Kenyan education is already really good and admirable, but there are always lessons to be learned from other countries – especially as the Finnish system has been developed with more resources and with an access to the newest technology. Barkonga has a message for the Ministry of Education of his motherland:

– I wish they would collect opinions from Kenyan students studying in various countries on how we can incorporate some of the ideas to the Kenyan system and take it to another level, he states.

Unfortunately, the Kenyan student group hasn’t yet had many opportunities to meet Finnish students, as the COVID-19 epidemic has put the typically active student culture of Tampere on pause. They also describe Finnish students to be somewhat quiet and thus not so easy to get to know.

However, the students feel that Finns generally have been very kind and helpful towards them: if they have needed any help in town or at campus, they have always gotten it.

Getting used to the cold winters and big supermarkets

The Kenyan student group got to experience some weather conditions that were completely new to them during their first winter in Finland: temperatures even as cold as -25 degrees Celsius, snowstorms and icy roads. This accompanied with the darkness were the biggest shocks to the students. In the shortest days of December, Tampere only gets under 6 hours of daylight each day.

However, the students also got some positive surprises when moving to Tampere. One of them was that the city as well as Finland as a whole is so organized; from public transportation to the university’s information systems, everything has a manner of doing and happens on time.

– From the moment you wake up, to the moment you go to sleep, everything is organized, Barkonga sums up.

Hosea Barkonga, Brenda Jemutai and Sharon Cheruiyot say that they especially miss two things from Kenya: sunlight and food. Luckily more sunlight is already on the way, as the days get longer and longer towards the Finnish spring and summer. In mid-summer in Tampere, the sun goes down only for a few hours each night.

Buying and cooking food in the Finnish way is nonetheless something the student group is getting accustomed to. Back home, many of the students of this group are used to getting their food straight from farms; however, in Tampere they have had to start shopping in supermarkets and settling on ingredients that are readily cut down, packed and refrigerated.

– For example, if you want chicken here, you go to a refrigerator in a supermarket. At home, you go to the farm and get a living chicken, Cheruiyot describes.

“I can have everything here”

At the moment, the students are focused on carrying out their current studies well and getting their bachelor’s degree. After that, all of them plan on working and continuing their studies in the field of healthcare. Hosea Barkonga, Brenda Jemutai and Sharon Cheruiyot all wish to continue to live in Finland at least for some time after their current studies.

– I can have everything here – good education, good work, nice people. I see myself living here, Barkonga describes.

All of them also wish to be able to somehow invest in their home region and contribute to its development. For example, Jemutai tells that she feels privileged to have gotten such an opportunity to study in a good programme. In the future, she wants to work to get more young Kenyans to get a quality education in healthcare.

– When I go back to my home country, I want to have something to teach to them, she says.

All three also plan on learning more Finnish culture and language. They have been happy to notice that learning the Finnish language is actually not as hard as it is often said to be; it has surprisingly many similarities with Swahili, as in both languages words are written and pronounced in the same way.

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