It's a quarter to ten in the morning but the student affairs office hasn't opened for the day. The lobby of the University of Helsinki is quiet. So taking a seat in a very haughty looking chair, I sit down to wait. Soon the lights go on, the doors are unlocked and the red electronic numbering system flashes on. Out of nowhere swarms of people show up, and soon the machine is bipping as it spits out queue numbers one after another. Welcome to a day in the life of a potential student – me.
Finland is the land of equal education for all – from daycare to university, from childhood to the autumn years of life. All have the right to access education, be it vocational, doctorate, community college or night school. This right is guaranteed and paid for by the State, something virtually unheard of outside of the Nordic countries – which means a place to study in Finland really is a golden ticket, not just because of the fact that it's gratis but also because Finland has a world renowned education system. Lifelong learning that is well supported here means that kids fresh out of high school might find themselves at entrance exams with grandmothers interested in taking another stab at working life. All are welcomed, as the right to an education is seen as a right that all living in Finland should have equal access to. This is why I love this country.
As I study my options on the queuing system I wonder if this is the first test of many to come. "Press 'A' if you need student services, 'B' for certificate XYZ. " Option 'C' and 'D' are blanked out with tape, and unhappily, those are the ones I would need. Fortunately, the lady at the counter kindly directs me to the first floor to talk with someone from the Arts department about potentially commencing their Master's Program. But, although education is free, the number of places is not. Luckily there are many educational organisations to choose from, if University proves to be too sticky to get into. Universities of Applied Sciences, vocational school, oppisopimus or internships where you learn on the job, are all other possibilities. Finland also trumps many other countries in that work practitioners are generally paid, while in other countries interns and work practice types receive no salary.
Getting back to school isn't too tough. Having worked in education for the past eight years means that learning isn't the tough bit. Trying to juggle work and studies – while working out regularly and maintaining a healthy diet- and some semblance of a social life? Plus managing to get some sleep and brush my teeth occasionally NOW that's the difficult part. Studying is actually really empowering, even at this later stage in life, and that's something the Finns must really appreciate considering the emphasis placed on lifelong learning. Now if only I could master the art of not procrastinating and combine that with the ability to organise.
So the only problem with going back to school seems to be getting them to let you in. With students enjoying additional benefits like student discounts, stipends on housing, fantastic student housing with some locations right by the sea or smack in the middle of the city centre coupled with zero tuition fees – well, you can imagine the competition. Then again, nothing ventured nothing gained right? So I think as I sit down to write an email to the head of the department, detailing my plight of having the wrong credits for the Master's Program. Here goes nothing!