Surviving the First Week of an Exchange Semester in Turku, Finland

Welcome-to-Finland1

My first week of my exchange semester in Turku, Finland was pretty hectic to say the least.  On Friday August 29th I spent my last day at IBM for my summer internship and the following day on Saturday I flew from Toronto to Finland with a stopover in Iceland (a stopover which got delayed 5 times by the way due to a storm in Iceland) and finally by Sunday evening I made it to Helsinki, Finland at around 5PM.

Getting from the Helsinki Airport to Turku

As soon as I exited the plane and airport in Helsinki, the first bit of confusion began.  Being thrown in to another country is ok but the part that makes it harder is the language barrier.  Suddenly there wasn’t English everywhere (there was some) but for the most part it was Finnish (for which I knew none).

To get from the Helsinki airport to Turku there are two ways; train or bus.  Before we left Canada we were told by our student tutors (yes you will get one or two tutors assigned to you as well who are there to help you out and get settled upon your arrival in Turku) to take the bus and not the train.  Reason being is that the train is apparently not always on time and it does not go directly to the airport so in order to catch it you need to take a bus from the airport to the train station and then the train to Turku.  The other option of the bus is much simpler.  There is an express bus that runs from the Helsinki airport to the central bus terminal in Turku.  If you arrive in Helsinki at Terminal 1 then you will pick up the bus at the bus stop number 5.  If you arrive at Terminal 2 then you will catch the bus at stop number 12/13 23 right outside the airport terminal.  There are signs at these bus stops telling you which busses go where.

***UPDATE:  There is now a direct rail line that goes from the Helsinki airport to the Helsinki railway station so another option of getting to Turku is by taking the train from the airport to the Helsinki station and from there taking a train to Turku.  I have never taken this route but it does seem to still take longer than the bus.

Helsinki airport T1

 

Figure 1 – Helsinki Airport – Terminal 1 – Bus Stop #5 is towards the right where the busses are

Helsinki airport T2 Red circle

Figure 2 – Helsinki Airport – Terminal 2 – Bus stop number 12/13 is on the ground floor circled in red

There may be a transfer at some point along the way so if you see everyone else get off and move to another bus, just follow them and do the same.  You can always ask the bus driver for clarification.  Also if your luggage is loaded underneath the bus, don’t worry, during the transfer they will move your luggage to the second bus; no worries.

After a 2.5 hour bus ride you will finally arrive in Turku.  There are several stops in Turku where you can get off so don’t get confused.  Just stay on the bus until the very end where everyone else gets off too.  This is the central bus terminal in Turku.  You will get very familiar with it if you travel to Helsinki or anywhere long distance by bus.

Turku Central Bus Station

Figure 3 – Turku Central Bus Station

Getting from the Turku Bus Stop to the Student Village

Once you arrive, hopefully your student tutors will meet you at the bus stop to pick you up and help take you to the Student Village where you will be staying.  Even if they do meet you there I recommend downloading the offline Google maps for Helsinki and Turku to your phone before your depart for Finland.  You can do this by opening the Google maps app on your phone, searching for an area (ie. Helsinki or Turku), zoom out and then type in “okay maps” in the search bar on the app where you would normally type in an address.  The app will save the map of the area you have on screen for offline use (you may have to zoom in to make the selected area smaller but the app will tell you if this is needed).  You may not be able to search “student village” in Google maps to find it so I’d recommend searching for “Hotel Caribia”.  The hotel is right next to the student village where most people stay so if you find your way to the hotel then you can make your way to the student village (if your tutors aren’t there to help you out).

turku bus station to student village edited

Figure 4 – Map of Turku Bus Station, Hotel Caribia and Student Village Office

Getting and Paying for your Starting Package and Rent

Before you depart from Canada, you will be contacted by the student village to purchase a starting package.  This package is completely optional but provides some basic necessities to help make your move-in a lot easier such as a pot, plate, bowl, utensils, a blanket and a pillow.  This package costs 70 euros (50 euros is a deposit which you will get back after your exchange ends and you return the contents of the package).  You can ask your tutors to pick up this package before your arrival so it is ready for you the day you move in.  Once you arrive in Finland you will have two weeks to go to the starting package office to sign for the package.

starting package office red circle

Figure 5 – Starting Package Office – Circled in red, in the Corner of this Building

starting package office map

Figure 6 – Starting Package Office Map

In Turku, you will most likely be staying at the student village foundation.  This is a great place as it is filled with many students from Turku and from other places around the world who are also there for an exchange.  The rent is also very cheap here at about $350 CAD per month.  The downside is that your lease will be for 5 months (August to December) rather than just the four months of your exchange period.  This is because most students move to Turku in August for orientation.

One caveat to paying rent and paying for the starting package is that they don’t have an online payment system set up like what we are used to for most things and you can’t just go to the office when you arrive and pay in cash/credit card.  What they will do is give you bank account details and you will have to go to your bank and wire transfer the money to their account.  Wire transfers typically cost around $20-$30 per transaction so to save a bit of money I would recommend paying all 5 months of rent in one go.  When you go to the bank to make the wire transfer, ask the bank teller to put the reference number and invoice number you have on the wire as well so that the Student Village Foundation knows that the wire is coming from you and can differentiate from all the other wire transfers they are receiving.  Also, take the receipt from the wire transfer with you to Finland just in case.

To pay for the starting package you can also do the wire transfer or an alternative is that you can go to a bank when you get to Turku and open a Finnish bank account.  This way if exchange rates are good at the time you can take advantage of this by transferring over a larger sum of money to your Finnish account and avoid the fluctuating exchange rates.  Then you can wire transfer from this account to the starting package account and avoid the $20-$30 fee.  Once you make the wire transfer to the starting package account you will need to take the receipt of the payment to the starting package office so you can sign for the package.

Getting a Finnish Bank Account

When you apply for a Finnish bank account you will need to take your passport, address in Finland and your Canadian bank account number in order to open the account.  Also for future visits to the bank to deposit money, withdraw money or perform any other transactions you will need to take your passport with you as well.  Remember this!  The bank will not perform any transactions for you without your passport!!

Buying a Bike

The next thing you will want to do upon your arrival in Turku is to buy a bike.  You can use the bus and get a monthly bus pass for around 30 euro but you will quickly realize that most people ride bikes in Turku (along with many other places in Europe).  There are some used bike stores around the city where you can get bikes for fairly cheap.  One such place near the Student Village is called EkoTori (http://turunekotori.fi/) which sells used bikes.  Here you can get a bike for around 80 – 120+ euros.  One thing to note is that this place does offer 20% off for students if you show your student card.  Also you can try and sell this bike before you leave at the end of the exchange term to recoup some of the cost.

ekotori

Figure 7 – EkoTori

ekotori map

Figure 8 – EkoTori Map and Student Village

There is another place behind EkoTori that sells used bikes for good prices too.  These guys are really nice as well if you need anything done with your bike.  After 10 minutes with my new bike bought from EcoTori I was playing with a lock that the bike had and accidentally locked my bike.  I did not have the key since it was a second hand bike so I dragged my bike to this shop (while everyone on the way looked at me as if I stole this locked bike) and the shop owner was nice enough to cut off the lock for free.  His shop also has do-it-yourself Thursday’s where you can visit the shop on Thursday night and repair any issues with your bike yourself (with their help if needed) for free.

ekotori - other shop

Figure 9 – Shop behind EkoTori – Walk around the corner from EkoTori to find it

Getting the Discount Bus & Train Pass

If you are using the long distance train/bus often such as to go to the Helsinki or Tampere airports then you will want to get a long distance bus/train pass.  The bus from Helsinki to Turku costs around 32 euros (or $45 CAD) each way but with this pass it is 50% off for students so it is only 16 euros (or $24 CAD).  You will need to visit the second floor office in the ICT building of TUAS and ask for the bus discount form.  They will give you the form which you then take to the main bus station in Turku to get the pass.  In order to get the pass you will need to bring a passport photo with you.  I recommend bringing one from Canada if you can.  Otherwise there is a good shop not too far from the bus station near the market square where you can get several passport photos for 9 euros (there are other shops around that cost 20+ euros for passport photos).  Rajala Studio (Rajala Potretti) is one place you can get passport photos if needed however they are one of the ones who charge 20+ Euros for a couple photos.

Rajala Studio - Passport Photos

Figure 10 – Rajala Studio

Passport photos- cheap

Figure 11 – Cheaper Passport Photo Shop (9 Euro)

Passport photos- cheap map

Figure 12 – Map to Cheaper Passport Photo Shop

Also just a side note, when you first land in Helsinki and take the bus to Turku you obviously won’t have the pass but you can try telling the bus driver that you just got here and will get it tomorrow.  If he is nice he will give you the student discount as well.

The next thing you will need to do upon arrival is visit the main housing office for the student village and sign your lease for the apartment for the semester.  This was a fairly easy process and all they required you to bring was an ID such as the Finland visa you had previously obtained before leaving Canada.

student village housing office

Figure 13 – Student Village Housing Office

Getting a Power Adapter

Another item to mention about moving to Finland is they use a different power standard than in Canada so you will need to buy or bring adapters in order to plug in your electronic devices.  I would recommend buying a couple universal adapters online before leaving Canada but if you arrive in Turku and need one then you can go to the market square in Turku to a store called Clas Ohlson where you can get adapters for around 7 euros a piece.

clas ohlson

Figure 14 – Clas Ohlson

clas ohlson map

Figure 15 – Clas Ohlson Map

Some Other Essentials

On the first week of your arrival you will visit the international coordinator at TUAS to discuss your classes and a few other things.  She will give you the food card which entitles you to the student price for meals which is 2.6 euros at most cafeterias around the various Universities in Turku (as opposed to the standard 6.5 euro price).

When you arrive in Turku and meet your student tutors they will give you a pre-paid sim card for your phone that has a small balance on it.  This is a gift from the University.  You can activate it, add money and make calls as usual.  You can also get a pre-paid data package add-on which is only 10 euros per month for 1GB of data (much cheaper than Canada!).  I would highly recommend the data package as having internet as you are going around the city can be very beneficial and make your life easier.  Also it helps pass the time on the long bus rides to the airport!

At this point you should be pretty well settled in and now it is time to enjoy yourself, your studies and your new life on an exchange semester abroad!  Have fun!

Chris Weber

Hey there! I’m Chris. Travelling is one of my biggest passions in life and I started this blog to provide tips and my own personal experiences from the various places i’ve been in hopes of helping others who want to travel too! I’m 25 years old and have already been to over 70 countries and every continent (except the Antarctic….for now) with a life goal of visiting every country in the world before I die! If you have any questions at all about travelling email me anytime. I love to help out any way I can!

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3 thoughts on “Surviving the First Week of an Exchange Semester in Turku, Finland

  1. exchange tutor

    Nice! Its much easier for us to share this with the exchange students than try to explain everything from the top of our heads, as we might not realize everything that you guys need/want to know.

  2. Eric

    Photos are taken so make sure you look decent and don t forgot to bring another form of identification, a driver s license is ideal. It doesn t take long to actually get your card but during O-week and the first week of class the lines can be monumental.

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