In September 1967, five young Finns left for France to study medicine in Montpellier: Martti Hyvönen, Visa Lautamatti, Timo Vartia and his sister Heini Vartia, and Antti Helin. Along three other students enrolled at the Bordeaux university, they were the first students to benefit from the agreement initiated by the dean of the University of Helsinki and the French ambassador to remedy to the doctor shortage in Finland, where there were only three medical schools at the time (against five today). In 1969, these young students founded Coccyx, a friendly association gathering Finnish medical students studying in France (thirty at the time) and aiming at promoting the interests of Finnish medical students in French universities. Three of the founders met with us at the Institut français to share their experience in France, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the first student departures for France.
Nothing had predestined these brave students to choose France for their studies, since few had studied French in high school. “Going to France was a crazy idea” they say. However, it was an experience which deeply affected them and about which they speak with great emotion.
The arrival in France and the discovery of a new country and its culture was not without difficulties, between administrative problems regarding social security and the strikes of May 1968, all in a foreign linguistic environment. Nevertheless, these hazards did not weaken the enthusiasm of the three men, and they unanimously testify of the wealth of this experience. Even though they had attended intensive French courses at the Centre Culturel français in Helsinki (former name of the Institut français), they established a few simple rules to ensure they would improve once in France: rewrite their classes notes two or three times, have at least one French friend, and always speak French with each other. “We were silent in French” Visa/one of them jokes.
This adventure was extremely rewarding for these students, who have been able to pursue their careers in Finland thanks to the exam equivalence in both countries. From the hundred of students who studied in France, more than half became doctors. Proportionally, we count more specialized professionals and holders of a PhD among the doctors who have studied in France than among all Finnish doctors. “Since the school year started later in France, we were able to do longer internships in Finnish hospitals, which allowed us to gain a lot more experience than other Finnish students.” Their studies in France also gave them a different point of view on medicine, by showing them a different approach from the one they had known in Finland.
According to them, this stay was also “very positive” on a personal level. They broadened their vision of the world, looked at it with more humility, understood that Finland is not the center of the world but, in the end, also realized how much they loved their country. Living in France allowed them to travel to neighboring countries, and to live among an international community: “We have built long-lasting friendships there, and met people with whom we are still in touch to this day.”
Would they advise today’s young Finns to go study in France ? Absolutely, “Go ahead ! It is not easy, but it is worth it !” they said, especially now that things are much easier since Finland is part of the European union. One of them concludes by saying: “Studying in France came to an end because I got my diploma, otherwise I gladly would have stayed a few more years !”
Even though the agreement was only in effect for seven years, the Coccyx association is still active. Its members, all of them alumni from French medical schools, organize yearly reunions, some of them taking place in France, during which scientific and cultural conferences are being held alongside pétanque games. Every year they publish the bulletin Coccyx bulletin, which gathers the report of the annual reunion as well as numerous articles, travel journals and thoughts, most of them written in French. To learn more about the association, head over to their website:
If you are interested in pursuing your studies in France, please visit our Campus France page: