International Nursing

Recent alum eases transition for Finland student studying at Nazareth

by Sofia Tokar

Anna-Mirjam Vainikka and Jhannine Verceles

Anna-Mirjam Vainikka (left) and Jhannine Verceles '18

Anna-Mirjam Vainikka was ready for the cold and snow in Rochester, New York. After all, she grew up in Finland, a Nordic country with comparable winter weather conditions.

What she wasn't as prepared for was the amount of reading.

"Everyone told me it's going to be a lot of reading, reading like you've never read before," says Vainikka, who is studying at Nazareth College for one year through an exchange program with Laurea University of Applied Sciences in Finland.

The "applied" part of the university's name is key because the school emphasizes learning by development or by doing, often in small groups and then through one-on-one instruction in healthcare settings. This differs from the more theoretical or conceptual approach to nursing education offered in the United States, which involves classes, textbooks, and standardized tests, with some experiential learning.

"An appendectomy is done the same way in both countries. What's different is the college academic experience," says Mary Dahl Maher, chair of Nazareth's nursing department and coordinator of nursing global studies. As a result, participating Nazareth students become more independent and self-motivated in their studies, and witness firsthand how a universal healthcare system works. Finnish students, meanwhile, enhance their academic knowledge and their English language skills.

But what makes the program unique, according to Dahl Maher, is the dual degree that participants earn after completing their studies abroad and at home. This lets Nazareth students apply to practice as professional nurses in the European Union, and enables Laurea students to sit for the U.S. nursing licensure examination.

Since the program's inception in 2008, 46 students have earned their dual degrees. Among them is Jhannine Verceles '18, who found her Finnish education eye-opening. "When it came time to learn how to give subcutaneous shots, we actually gave each other subcutaneous shots," she says. "It's completely different than reviewing a PowerPoint or watching a simulation video."

Verceles met Vainikka abroad in a nursing fundamentals class and encouraged her to consider a year at Nazareth, an opportunity Vainikka embraced wholeheartedly. But despite her extensive practical education in Finland — including regularly working 40 hours a week alongside a nurse instructor and developing and implementing a health promotion intervention for the elderly — Vainikka's first day of classes at Nazareth shook her self-confidence.

"I remember thinking, 'I don't know if I can make it.' The expectations are so different," she says.

But through hard work and with the support of her Nazareth professors, fellow exchange students, and Rochester locals like Verceles, Vainikka is now thriving —she’s even made the dean's list. "I've been tested here more than I've ever been tested in my life. This experience has built up my academic confidence," she says.

Fortunately, that experience isn't all books and no play. Vainikka has explored the Rochester area, experienced her first Halloween and Thanksgiving, visited Niagara Falls, and plans to travel during breaks.

She's also connected with Nazareth students, American and international alike, who share their perspectives on the world — and the weather. "My friends here from Cambodia and Venezuela have never experienced snow before,” she says, “so it's nice to see it through their eyes."

Sofia Tokar is a writer in Rochester, New York. Photo by Kurt Brownell.

Get the Most out of Study Abroad

"My advice for getting the most out of studying abroad is to be open — to anything. Yes, it's scary, especially with language barriers or culture shock. But you're going abroad to learn and experience more than you could have if you stayed put. So open your mind, and occasionally your wallet, and go with the flow. Never skip an opportunity to try something new or different, because you never know if you'll get that chance again."

—Jhannine Verceles '18