Tiina from Finland: Studying in Australia and in Finland
School is almost over! This semester has gone by really fast. It feels like yesterday when I first arrived at the University of the Sunshine Coast four months ago, very excited about what the semester would bring. As I told you earlier, my home university in Finland has a bilateral agreement for exchange with the USC, which gave me the opportunity to come study in Australia for one semester. I think this agreement is a brilliant idea, without it I could not have even dreamt of coming to Australia. I also got to know a student who was at my university last year through this agreement, and she found it to be a great experience too!
When I first arrived, I did not know what to expect from the studies in Australia. Would it be easier or a lot more difficult than in Finland? Would the lectures be easy to follow and understand or require a lot of concentration (language wise)? And, of course, would I know how to write academic assignments in English? Now that the semester is almost over, I have the answers to all of these questions. My major back home is German, so I have done most of my studies so far in German (and not in my mother tongue Finnish). The emphasis is on learning the language itself, i.e. the grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation etc., so the assignments are graded based on that as well. Of course it has to be academic and requires a lot of research as the level of proficiency is high, but the main emphasis is still often on the “quality” of the foreign language. For this reason, I think studying in Australia requires a bit more from international students as the language of instruction is English, the mother tongue of most students; so “good English” is naturally taken for granted. I find it to be a positive thing though, because you can challenge yourself and learn a lot in the process! You also get used to the academic writing style quickly, and there were useful workshops concentrating A.O. in referencing in the beginning of the semester.
I really enjoyed the high quality of teaching at the USC which was illustrated e.g. in the enthusiasm and professionalism of the lecturers. The structure is a little different from the Finnish university system; here you take 3-4 courses/units per semester, and usually you have one lecture and one tutorial per week for each unit. This seemed very little to me at first, because I’m used to having more courses per semester. Also a course/unit in Finland usually consists of either just lectures and an exam (and possibly 1-2 assignments during the semester) at the end, or of lectures and “exercises” similar to tutorials. Many courses also have combined those two, so that the first half of each session consists of lectures and the latter half of “exercises” based on the lectures. The work load per unit is higher in Australia; there are more assignments and the length of them is also remarkably longer, especially for 3rd year papers. It is all balanced though because the number of units taken per semester is smaller than in Finland. I think both systems have their strengths and weaknesses; on one hand, you can gain understanding in more subjects per semester and spend less time on each assignment in Finland, but on the other hand, the Australian system allows you to gain a deeper understanding in one subject. All in all, I really enjoyed the possibility to experience another university system and get to know the Australian culture at the same time!