Life in Finland
- History and Geography
- Finnish Higher Education
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The republic of Finland is one of the Nordic countries and - in terms of area - the seventh largest in Europe. It is a modern welfare state with a high standard of living, a small and educated population of five million and pioneering high-tech know-how. Finns are proud of their advanced welfare system, the high level of education, and Finnish design and architecture. The country and its people have been moulded by the location between East and West. From the 13th century Finland was part of the kingdom of Sweden. In 1809 it became an autonomous Grand Duchy within Imperial Russia and finally, in 1917, declared itself independent. During World War II Finland retained its independence and since then has pursued a policy of neutrality and military non-alliance. Finland joined the European Union in January 1995.
Finland is bounded by the Baltic Sea, the Gulf of Bothnia and the Gulf of Finland, and the neighbouring countries are Sweden, Norway, Estonia and Russia. Finland also holds the only common border of the European Union with Russia, and St. Petersburg is only a six-hour train trip away from Helsinki.
Finland has two official languages: Finnish and Swedish, the latter of which is spoken by 6% of the population. The most widely spoken foreign language is English. You will be able to deal with all your official business in English.
Finland is the northernmost country in the world after Iceland, but the climate is not as cold as that might suggest; due to the warming influence of the Gulf Stream, Finland enjoys a temperate climate. The mean temperature in the warmest summer months may exceed 20 degrees centigrade and in winter the temperature may fall to 30 degrees centigrade below zero. However, due to the dry climate, it feels warmer than the thermometer actually indicates at all times of the year. If you are going to stay in Finland during the winter months, you will need a good pair of warm, insulated shoes or boots, a warm winter coat as well as woollen sweaters and long underwear. The year in Finland is divided into four distinct seasons: winter, spring, summer and autumn. Southern and central Finland is covered with snow for an average of five months, from November until April. Nature is in many ways part of everyday life here. With the vast forests, about 188 000 lakes, and the unspoiled countryside Finland has often been described as "one great national park". The archipelago to the south and south-west of the country, containing around 30 000 islands, is one of the most beautiful marine areas in the world.
Before World War II Finland was predominantly an agricultural country with a rather narrow industrial sector; exports only came from the wood-processing industry. The subsequent development into a complex market economy took place very rapidly. Today, the main manufacturing areas, alongside the wood industry, are the metal industry, chemicals and construction. Certain high-tech fields, such as computers and communications equipment have also grown spectacularly: Finland is a world leader in the development of mobile phones and their networks.
The Finnish education system is comprised of a comprehensive school system, post-compulsory general and vocational education, higher education and adult education. Over half of Finland's six-year-olds attend voluntary pre-school education in day-care centres or special classes. Comprehensive school provides a nine-year educational programme for all school-age children beginning at the age of seven. After completing their compulsory education students may go on to the upper secondary school (three years, ending in the matriculation examination), which qualifies students for all higher education studies, or to vocational institutions (three years, leading to basic vocational education).
Finns are said to be relatively quiet and reserved, as well as straightforward and honest. One has to be careful though making such generalisations: Finns are not all alike and times change. Older people, especially in the rural areas, may appear reserved due to the fact that they may not speak any other language than Finnish. However, when the ice is broken, you will experience an unpretentious, sincere hospitality. The younger generation, consisting of multilingual well-travelled people, do not differ so much from their counterparts in other countries. Equality between the sexes has progressed quite a way, both at work and home. For instance, well over 50 per cent of university students are female and about half the number of women with children have a regular job. Nevertheless, women's pay is on average lower than that of men.