From Honduras to Finland: Studying Biomedical Imaging in Turku

International Students’ Story: Rafael Diaz & Marcela Rivera

Diaz Rafael and Rivera Marcela moved to Finland from Honduras to Finland in 2021 to study for the Masters’s degree program in Biomedical imaging (BIMA) at the Åbo Akademi University. They currently work on their final thesis project in Biocity, Turku. In their story, they share experiences of moving to Finland, settling down in Turku, studying in BIMA, finding internships during their study, and having their family.

Our journey began in late 2019, when both of us were considering expanding our horizons. We both were working as biomedical engineers in different cities in our home country, Honduras. We felt we were sufficient enough in our day-to-day tasks, but we wanted something more. Marcela had always envisioned advancing her career from bachelors into master’s and beyond, and even more since she attended a summer school in South Carolina, US, in June 2019 and got to meet PhD students and their professors; Rafael on the other hand was not as interested to furthering his profile in academic studies. Still, the reality of the opportunities in our country was bleak and a settling environment was all there was for us both.

By mid 2019 we had started looking into universities far away from our own world (Germany, Spain, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, etc) who offered English speaking degrees and started working on getting our paperwork ready. We had aimed to apply to Germany in March 2020 and to Spain around June 2020, but in Christmas time of 2019, one of Marcela’s brothers got a job offer in Helsinki, Finland, and had decided to move to the north. He suggested we could apply for degrees in Finland and weight the potential offers. We had nothing to lose, so we looked into English speaking degree options hoping they could offer studies related to our bachelors, and got the requirements done as soon as possible since January 2020 was the application period for Finnish universities in

We sent our paperwork and forgot about the ordeal, until one gorgeous email each came into our personal accounts in late February:

Dear new student,

Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that your application for admission to the University of Oulu has been accepted.

Yes, Oulu had been the first university to accept us, but we had to think it over since we would have been too far away from Marcela’s family in Helsinki. We waited while the other universities we applied to responded to us and we finally got an offer from Åbo Akademi, in Turku, to study Biomedical Imaging. We were getting ready to fly over 12 hours, going through lots of layovers and then:

March 11, 2020: Honduras closes its borders; two people carrying a new virus had entered the territory via airplanes.

Rafael (left) and Marcela (right) in their student village apartment’s balcony
BIMA students volunteered in ELMI 2022 (21st International European Light Microscopy Initiative Meeting)

There was no way out, even from our homes. So, we emailed whoever we could see what our choices were. Thankfully, the university agreed to delay our study places for a year (without losing our scholarships). We patiently waited as we gathered our paperwork and bough the tickets for the trip. All seemed to go well, until we read about the residence permits and noticed there was no Finnish embassy or consulate in Honduras, or in Central America for that matter. Another obstacle. A trip to either Mexico or Colombia was suddenly in our plans but with the COVID19 pandemic, it would be somewhat difficult. Visas had to be processed and we got to visit Mexico City. By this point, packing our bags for the final trip was the only thing missing.

We had an idea of what we were getting ourselves into when we applied to the master´s, yet the reality was completely different. Turku is considered a leader for biomedical imaging, providing services for researchers all across Europe. We would be learning about microscopy with brilliant researchers and get to work in a laboratory in which a Nobel prize microscope technology was developed. Needless to say, the master’s program has opened our eyes to what is out there for us to learn and experience.

More information about the program:

Next application time: January 4-18, 2023

Why Finland:
Why Turku:

This blog post was published in cooperation with Åbo Akademi