Finland is quite unknown to many. Most people may know that the company Nokia is from Finland, some might know some bands like Nightwish or Lordi, and some might see Finland as the country where Santa Claus originated from. What many people do not know is that Finland is among the top three countries in the world regarding education and that the renowned American magazine Newsweek rated Finland as the best country to live in. Those who have spoken with Finish students are also aware that the education in Finland is free of charge. Finland is also a bilingual country, in that Finnish as well as Swedish are both spoken. The population of Finland is about 5.4 million with a Swedish speaking minority of about 5.5 percent.
The city of Turku was populated in the 13th century and used to be the capital of Finland until Russia took over the rule of Finland from Sweden in 1809. The Royal Academy of Åbo, which was founded in 1640, moved to Helsinki after the Turku fire of 1827 and is today known as the University of Helsinki. Åbo Akademi was founded by private donations in 1918 and focused on making Turku one of the most influential university-cities and to protect the Swedish language. The Finnish University of Turku was founded in 1920, also by private donations and for similar reasons. Åbo Akademi University was a private institution until 1981, when it was turned into a public institution. Today Åbo Akademi University has about 7,000 students enrolled and about 1,300 employees.
Besides the universities in Sweden, Abo Akademi University is the only university in the world that provides higher education in Swedish. This role is very important for pursuing education and research in Swedish as well as on the social environment. As there are few students in most subjects, cooperation between the subjects and with other universities is very frequent and important.
Although the education focuses on Swedish and English, there is still a minority of Finnish-speaking students. Turku itself has a Finnish speaking majority, but Åbo Akademi University provides a strong Swedish environment. This mean that most of the students enrolled will be functionally bilingual at the end of their studies.
The university has a policy that non-Swedish speaking applicants from the Nordic countries are required to participate in a Swedish language test, in order to prove their ability to successfully study in Swedish. Applicants from non-Nordic countries can, however, choose between Swedish or English language tests.
The campus is intertwined with the old architecture of the city mixed with innovative Finnish architecture. Being a small city, Turku offers a peaceful environment coupled with a pursuit for higher education and cultural diversity.
* Henrik Holmsten is currently studying at Ewha as an exchange student.