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‘Everything works’ – int’l students laud studying in world’s happiest countries

Approachable teachers, efficient daily life and helpful admissions teams; these are just some of things that international students studying in the happiest countries in the world say about their lives.

Shuangyi Chen is studying for a masters in Management and International Business at Aalto University School of Business. Photo: Dominik Fleischmann

The “no-hierachy education system” means students can “easily approach teachers”

Released in March, the World Happiness Report 2022 looks at quality of life, countries’ public policies and now, trust in nations amid the Covid pandemic.

In 2021, Finland is officially known as the “happiest country in the world”, evaluated by the country’s GDP per capita, generosity, perceptions of corruption, social support and more.

“One of the things that makes Finns happy is the fact that everything in Finland usually works,” Riikka Pellinen, director of international affairs at the University of Eastern Finland, told The PIE News.

“You can trust you will get a doctors’ appointment in a relatively short time, you can trust the officials, online services work really well – life in general runs smoothly,” she continued.

It’s not just the view of those at the universities – the students seem to agree too, due to the “amazing experiences” that they have had in Finland.

“The neighbourhood where I live is a fabulous blend of dynamic city life and peaceful nature. The freedom, safety, and kindness we experience here also constitute a fairytale life,” Shuangyi Chen, a student from China studying at Finland’s Aalto University School of Business, told The PIE.

“Students are encouraged to solve problems together and work on a variety of practical projects in real-world business setting. We not only learn the knowledge from textbooks but also engage in the process of applying theories into practices. There are so many different projects or programs for business students of our own interests,” she explained.

Both Pellinen and Chen also agree on the systems at the universities – and the equality within them. The “no-hierachy education system”, as Chen calls it, means students can “easily approach teachers”, and the fact everyone speaks English is a great bonus for both international students and lecturers.

“I have had the opportunity to interact with multinationals in the class room and the workplace”

With Finland topping the happiness leaderboard, countries such as Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands and Sweden, all in Northern Europe, come in second, third, fifth and seventh respectively.

Despite slipping to sixth in terms of balance of life, Denmark’s overall second place continues to give people trust when moving there – especially to international students like Fernando Fiatt, who left Costa Rica to study an MBA in business at Copenhagen Business School.

“Every day you find something different to do – of course, when you are a student, you must watch your budget, and Copenhagen is not a cheap city but clearly that comes with all the benefits it has to offer,” Fiatt said.

Fernando Fiatt

Costa Rica itself came in 22nd place on the report, showing that while his quality of life in Costa Rica was never bad, Denmark has certainly made an impression on his student life.

“I believe this is partly due to the qualitative aspect of the ranking and our culture of ‘pura vida’ – the simple life,” he explained.

“Thanks to no-fee public healthcare, the high feeling of safety and of course, the ‘hygge’, Denmark’s happiness position must be down to the high quality of life,” he added.

The differences are noticeable for students from closer to home too – Sibel Ismail, a Rotterdam School of Management student from Bulgaria told The PIE about her time in the Netherlands.

“One of the key differences between my home country and the Netherlands is the international environment – I have had the opportunity to interact with multinationals in the class room and the workplace – and it’s made me witness the added value of studying and working in an international field, where many innovative ideas and perspectives are being shared,” she explained.

Language barriers, of course, are always part of studying abroad – but that hasn’t stopped Molly Turpie.

Living in a country where you don’t speak the language of course brings challenges, but also so many opportunities to grow. In Lausanne city, everyone is willing to help you learn French and let you practice,” said Turpie, a student from the UK studying at Switzerland’s EHL Hospitality Business School.

“Being here has grown my ambitions and curiosity, and I’ve had the chance to take two internships, one in Australia and another one in Dubai,” she added.

Sibel Ismail

Ismail also lauded the teaching strategy in the Netherlands, saying that there is much more “interactivity”, and that she has had the “opportunity to engage in solving real-life business cases, which added an excellent value to my learning experience”.

It is a common denominator, it seems, among these “happiest countries” – Chen also concurs that the encouragement to “solve problems together and work on a variety of practical projects in a real-world setting” is much more viable for students’ studies.

“We not only learn the knowledge from textbooks but also engage in the process of applying theories into practices – there are so many different projects or programs for business students of our own interests,” Chen elaborated.

“Teaching technology and new pedagogical tools are also used”

“Teaching technology and new pedagogical tools are also used,” added Pellinen.

Finland’s monopoly at the top of the leaderboard is also marked by the people’s general demeanour – they are at the top for balance of life, fourth in peace with life and in experiencing calmness.

Molly Turpie

Even things like eating, Pellinen, explained, are “easy” in Finland. Diets are accommodated, there are plenty of options for gluten-free and vegan students, and special diets are always clearly marked on menus – something she always tells her students when they arrive, as it puts them at ease.

The only down side of Finland can be the demeanour of the people – Finnish people notoriously “survive without small talk”, and generally avoid public displays of emotion.

Pellinen insists that it shouldn’t put off students when there are so many benefits to living there.

“I usually tell our new students, Finns may be slow to make friends, but once they do, you will have a life-long friend in them,” she said.

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