Juho Kähkönen, Exchange student in Australia


Juho Kähkönen, an exchange student of political science from the University of Lapland, went to Canberra as an exchange student. On the edge of the world Juho has described the structure of the Finnish maternal leave to the local people and convinced them that the Finnish language is actually quite easy to learn.


”—the fact that all of a sudden, you're not part of the majority, it is a very healthy experience to each one of us.”


Who are you, what are you studying – and what was your exchange destination?
I’m Juho Kähkönen, a student of political science at the University of Lapland. Right now, I’m an exchange student at the University of Canberra – the capital of Australia. I’m a second year student and have studied in Canberra for one semester – it ended just recently and the exam results will be given tomorrow. I’m just about to start my vacation!

Why did you choose to go on exchange?
I’ve lived abroad a lot and wanted to hit the road again. Surely, student exchange is the simplest way to do it. In addition, if you study politics – where nothing can be claimed with scientific accuracy – studying on another continent gives you a totally new perspective on the topic. If not upside down, things look totally different here.

For example, in the context of social structures Finland is considered to be a very socialist country – its system is almost a dream come true, not possible to accomplish in Australia. As a student from Finland, I’m constantly asked by the professors about the length of maternal leave in Finland. When I tell them about the leave – and that fathers also often take parental leave – they [the Australians] always find it hard to believe. Anyway, Australians seem to feel that they cannot accomplish such a system, even though it is one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

Have you encountered challenges during your exchange – good or bad? How did you deal with them?
Studying here differs from studies in Finland. In Finland, studying is in many ways flexible; you can meet with a professor, you can always negotiate on issues, and you can do things as you see fit.

Here, it just isn’t possible! Everything is done according to the course description. There is no flexibility, one way or the other. As a special challenge, it is not enough to learn only one way to do things! Each professor has a personal and very precise style. It has been a bit frustrating, but I’ve gotten on top of it. I’ve learned to write very to-the-point academic English, as I’ve been told to follow extremely strict instructions.

Have you noticed other clear differences between the Finnish and Australian university systems?
The academic spirit, so to say, is missing here! Being 26, I’m one of the oldest students here. There really aren’t many Master-level students – rather this is a Bachelor factory. You don’t get the feeling in the dorm café that the oldest students are sitting there for their tenth year. It’s three years, and out you go! Into the labor market.

It changes the spirit of the place radically. You get a feeling that there are no traditions, there’s simply no time for them to get established.

Have you acquired any personal skills, ones that you can only get through exchange?
Now, this is a very good question! Half the studies here are tutorials, that is, discussions on course topics. Attendance is mandatory, you must speak up, and you have to be able to defend your opinions. I’ve had to learn how to argue, all students of political science here are forced to learn that skill.

How about work – do you think you’ve acquired professional skills that will be useful to you later?

I’m sure that in the future I will benefit a lot from the contacts I have made during my exchange. Hm, I’m also sure that knowing how to write concise academic English will prove useful, also in Finnish working life. You can’t blabber away: you must stick to the point and – period.

How does it feel getting adjusted to a strange culture? Have you made friends?
Now, it really is easy to get to know Australians, or rather, to get along with them. Making friends, now that’s more challenging. But I can say that I’ve made two really good friends here.

Have you received enough support from your home university and the host university?
Well, people have always wanted to be helpful! [laughs] They may not always have succeeded, but they have not failed to try either.

Here in Canberra, there is an interesting thing related to assistance and tuition fees. As regards academic instruction, the Universities of Lapland and Canberra are on the same level, but here you have to pay ten grand per semester for tuition. However, this money materializes in support services – there are helping hands all over the place. You get the impression that no matter what the problem is – in any sphere of life – the university will handle it.

Now that tuition fees are introduced in Finland as well, foreign students may well ask for such services. I think that studying is more independent even in Finnish high schools than at Australian universities.

If someone from your exchange destination would choose the University of Lapland, what would you tell them?
At least they should never take the typical stereotypes for granted. The Finns are definitely not shy! They’re just like everyone else, you should just start talking to them. The cliché that you first have to break the ice and get to know a person may hold true, but when a Finn gets on friendly terms with you, it's true love [laughs].

I would also tell them that Finnish is not really a difficult language. I teach Finnish in Australia, and I always tell my students that the language is easy. After all, we pronounce it exactly as we write it! Granted, the grammar is hopeless, but it is not the most important thing. Finnish basics are easy – studying Finnish is demonized way too much.

Do you recommend studying abroad?
Well, yes, I recommend it to everyone! Today, one should learn to look at things from different perspectives. The fact that all of a sudden, you're not part of the majority, it is a very healthy experience to each one of us.