A Brussels experience from a Finnish student

Whoever walks around on this campus hears more and more English. That’s not weird given these global times. How do exchange students experience Brussels and the VUB?

Martina Haapanen, a Finnish student from Helsinki, decided to come and study at the VUB. She studies Social Sciences, the first English bachelor’s degree at VUB. Martina talks about her first weeks in Belgium and about her adventures as an exchange student.


What do you think about the Social Sciences program?

Haapenen: “ The program is very interesting and the courses are better than I expected. I don’t have a lot off classes so I can spend quite a lot of time preparing my next classes. Studying in a language that is not your mother tongue is not always easy.”

Why did you choose to study abroad?
“I’ve always wanted to have the experience of going abroad. Originally, I wanted to join the Erasmus program but that didn’t work out with my Finnish university. In Finland, studying is free but you have to pass some tests before entering university. I tried these tests three times but I didn’t pass. After failing these tests, one of my friends told me about her great experiences of studying abroad. More and more students go and study abroad. I thought if they can do it, why not me?”

“It feels as if I’m already part of this community.”

Is it difficult to study abroad?

“Yes and no. It can be difficult because my English is not so good, but I manage to work myself through my classes. I actually thought it was going to be harder for me. Even though it is not always easy facing these language problems, I would recommend this kind of experience for all students. You learn so many new things and you will never forget your time abroad.”

Brussels and VUB

Why did you decide to come to Brussels?

“I was looking for a good university in Europe and Brussels seemed a good option because of all the international organizations here. The website of the VUB is very clear and understandable and the fact that this program is completely in English contributed to my choice as well. “

What do you like about Brussels and VUB?

“The atmosphere here on campus is amazing. There is so much going on and you feel very welcome. It feels like I belong here and as if I’m already part of this community. Students here are very open and professors are always available to help you. The relationship between teachers and students is definitely more open here than in Finland. What I like about Brussels is that it is an old city. I’m fascinated by old towns with a lot of history. I’m planning on visiting more Belgian cities soon.


What were you doing in Finland before you came to Belgium?

“Three years ago I graduated from high school and tried to pass these tests to go to university. After I had failed, I decided to start working in a local fast-food restaurant. I worked there for a few years to save money for my studies abroad.”

What do you miss most about Finland?

“At first I thought I would really miss my country but because I’m having so much fun here, I don’t really miss Finland. I do miss my family and friends. Even though I talk to them a lot, it’s still not the same as being together. I don’t feel lonely here because I have met a lot of nice new people. I thought that I was going to be more lonely but luckily that’s not the case.”

“Even though it is not always easy facing these language problems, I would recommend this kind of experience to all students.”

What do you do during your weekends in Brussels?

“Considering that a lot of my classmates are also international students, I’m not alone here. I have a group of friends to keep me company during the weekends. My first weekend here was a bit lonely but now my weekends are full of parties. It is nice to have some rest from time to time as well.”

Are there cultural differences between Belgium and Finland?

“No, not really. The one big difference is that Belgium is much cheaper than Finland. Language can be a problem sometimes, it is not easy to understand everything people are telling me. But I am surprised about how good the people in Brussels speak English. I’m also thinking about studying French because I feel like most people here speak French.”

When are you going back to Finland?

“The flight tickets are rather expensive so I don’t go back home too often. I’m going home for Christmas, Eastern, and probably during the summer holidays as well.”

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