Carlotta Minardi: Heartfelt student culture in Finland came as a pleasant surprise
Before her student exchange, Carlotta Minardi didn’t know much about Finland. Even so, she had always wanted to go to the Nordic countries, and she was very keen to get out into the world.
– When I saw Finland on the list of possible exchange destinations, there was my chance to go. So I was like okay, let’s go!
Because of the pandemic Minardi hadn’t been able to go on a student exchange during her bachelor studies, but at the beginning of 2022 she finally found herself in Tampere. She was “the weird Erasmus student”, as she puts it, because she didn’t have any courses to complete – the only thing missing from her degree was a master’s thesis. Nonetheless, the situation was quite ideal as Tampere University wouldn’t have even offered a direct match to her master’s degree programme.
– In Milan I study in a programme called Biotechnology for the Bioeconomy, which is basically about circular economy and the utilisation of bio-based processes. Because I was only here for the thesis, what mattered wasn’t the programme, though, but the project I was working on, Minardi explains.
She came to Finland without any specific expectations, simply happy that a student exchange was finally possible. As a Southern European she did expect a freezing cold winter, but the reality didn’t turn out to be half as bad as she had imagined beforehand.
Strolling in the forest and adapting to independent study
Minardi says her student exchange has been an amazing experience since it has been notably different from everyday life back in Italy. One of the biggest differences showed itself right at the beginning of the exchange period.
– The starting experience was very different because student culture here is much more heartfelt compared to Italy. I honestly didn’t understand the structure of the student organization for the first three months or so, as I had never seen anything like it.
Minardi has heard from other exchange students that the way courses are completed also differs between Finland and Italy. Italians are used to massive, heavy exams, but at Tampere University students are more often expected to complete course assignments.
– My own experience is mostly from lab work, but even that has been different: here, you are much more free to work on your own and do what you like, even when you’re just a student. In Italy, tutors and professor follow you closely and give you lots of instructions. At first it was quite difficult to adapt, but in the end it felt nice to have independence.
Outside of studies, Minardi has especially loved how peaceful it is to live in Finland. She has taken walks in the woods and spent time by the lake, and during the past six months she has also travelled a lot. One downside that she mentions is local bureaucracy which, Minardi has found recently, can have its complications in Finland as well.
Going back to Italy is not part of the plan
Originally Minardi planned to stay in Finland for seven months. In the spring, her friends and family in Italy got the news that they already knew to expect: Minardi is not booking a return ticket. She had obtained a position in the biotechnology research group at the university, and when she was asked to join a new, year-long project, she happily accepted.
– After a few months it was clear that I wanted to stay in Finland, because I felt so good here. I don’t know yet what I’m planning to do after the research project, but I’ll be staying abroad – that’s for sure. After graduating in October, I want to take some time to enjoy myself and just be. I’ve decided that I’ll try to figure the rest out when spring comes.
For those considering a student exchange, Minardi wants to say not to think too much about it.
– At first, being alone in a foreign country can of course be scary, and Southern Europeans may be daunted by the Finnish winter. But just make the decision and go, because eventually it’s going to be amazing. And you’re going to like the parties! Erasmus parties are the best, since you meet people from very different countries.
Student exchange in Tampere has given Minardi a bunch of new friends and a chance to stay, but also new sort of confidence about her future abroad.
– Now I can say: okay, I can do this.
Text: Reetta Oittinen
Photo: Jonne Renvall