My experience in Finland took place under a heavily internationalist guise. However, due to the Finnish traditionalism of my name – Suvi Kristiina Joensuu – and physical traits of blonde hair and blue eyes, my mother tongue of English and my background growing up in the United States came as a surprise to many. Politically-speaking, my experience in Finland has been defined by egalitarian opportunities. None of my education before university cost me a penny, and I was always provided with a hearty school meal and public transport subsidy. After graduating from upper secondary school, I was presented with the enviable option of studying at Cambridge (UK) or Yale (USA). I chose Cambridge and have since received excellent student support from the government of Finland. I have concluded that Finns have much to be grateful for in terms of the opportunities offered by the Nordic welfare state model.

I come originally from Greece. Having studied Philosophy of Law in Athens, I decided to live and study in Finland for a couple of years, fascinated by the system of wealth redistribution in Finnish society. One of my main aims was to discover the mindset sustaining the Finnish reallocation of resources and capabilities and bring my impressions back to my country. I could never ever have imagined that, 2 years after the launch of my project, I would describe the Finnish life as incorporating elements of the Spartan way of life.

For us international students, the university inevitably shapes how we experience Finland. At the university, we are defined by our two most obvious statuses: international and student. Naturally then, we are grouped together (in the same programs and classes), and largely separated from our Finnish-speaking counterparts. Our closeness to one another has some advantages. We have almost remarkably easy access to people in the exact same situation as us, and the chance to form friendships with them. Because our studies are often stressful and the cultural context is new, this becomes invaluable for our sense of comfort in Finland.

My name is Siyanda (but if we've met already, I may have given you my first name, which is virtually impossible for non-Tswana people to pronounce due to the click in the middle of it) and I am a young African writer living in Helsinki. I write mainly humorous non-fiction but my day job is studying for a degree in pure mathematics in Botswana. I am here on holiday!

I found my professional calling in Finland as a corporate trainer and English teacher. In New York I worked in sales at various large companies and learned early on that selling anything to anyone meant quickly establishing credibility and likeability. You had to know your stuff and develop rapport.

I have been living in Helsinki for 2 years and it is only now that I am really starting to discover what lies beneath the surface. Each week I am taken to a new area by friends or hear about something that I never knew about and completely intrigues me. I have the urge to visit and experience everything Helsinki has to offer.

There is something comforting in waiting for a bus and knowing the minute it will arrive. Similarily, it's reassuring entering a bus and knowing the public transport etiquette and how things work. But maybe that's my opinion, because I'm one of them; one of the infamously silent Finns.

I was born in Helsinki and lived here like any normal Finnish child with typical hobbies (gymnastics, ballet, and that hilarious attempt at violin). I started school here and dreamed of that near-distant day when, as a sixth grader, I would take a trip to England with my friends.

I was 8 when my road took a sharp turn. A big move to a different country, so I hugged my friends goodbye and promised to back in time for sixth grade and that trip to England.

I wasn't.

Once I arrived in Finland, I could not believe such a friendly country and such friendly people existed on earth. I have lived both in Poland and the UAE for a long time and was expecting something similar; to live as an expat. Yet it seems that in Finland, there is no great difference between expat and citizen – here everyone is treated in the same way.

The clock reads 10:30 on a Saturday morning and I am already too late to find an open table at the Helsinki University library. Every one is full of students, headphones wedged firmly in their ears as they flip through academic tomes on politics, biology, and everything in between. It would appear that Finnish students take their education much more seriously than I imagined, a change in perspective for this Yankee who spent the last 2 years 'studying' at a university in the United States. But as the crowded library indicates, I am not in Kansas anymore.