Stanford experience by Rasmus Viitala

An amazing adventure indeed! For someone originating from an island with 400 residents, studying this summer at one of the world’s most prestigious universities and meeting talented students from all over the world was definitely a dream come true.

As others of our Aalto-six crew shared the same courses as me, I will be focusing on more practical tips on how to maximize your Stanford summer experience, with some suggestions being extracted from previous blog posts for your convenience.

Team picture

Team picture

Preparations for the journey

  1. Ask for feedback on courses you’re interested in, the descriptions are very brief so it’s worth the effort to investigate.
  2. Buy flight tickets early, but do consider thoroughly if you’d like to fly a week early and stay after the program, as this is expensive to change later on (I arrived to San Francisco 5 days before the program started and left the US to Canada one week after it ended. It was definitely worth it in my opinion and you don’t necessarily have to know ahead of time what you will be doing in the US for instance after the program, I certainly didn’t). Also try to coordinate your flights so that everyone doesn’t come on a different day and many of you have to see things they’ve already seen (ended up visiting the Fisherman’s Warf three times during the first week).
  3. If you’re planning on staying in San Francisco, I would recommend checking out a hostel called Green Tortoise which was both very pleasant and offered a lot of activities.
  4. If you want to go to Alcatraz on your own, book it very early (can also go for free with the program, but there is very limited number of spots).

The first weeks at Stanford

Lagunita Court

Lagunita Court

  1. Buy a bike ASAP, don’t rent it! Buy the bike from Walmart or Target, they are cheaper (can be as low as 80$) and have bike return policies (you can also check out craigslist and, Stanford’s own marketplace, to get a good deal for a bike and selling it after the summer school’s over, but we all opted for Walmart due to speed and certainty). Emphasis on getting the bikes fast as Walmart was all out of bikes after Sunday of the welcoming weekend. Also check the Stanford shuttle times to Walmart ahead of time so you get there and back before dinner ends, and don’t have to cram five bikes into three Ubers. An adventure, though not one I’d recommend too much.. Lastly, returning the bikes in the end of the program is not guaranteed to work, though they have a 90 day return policy.
  2. You must get pillows, sheets, towels, a cover, hangers etc on your own, do that for instance in Walmart when getting bikes.
  3. Phone: discuss getting mobile data plans, not everyone needs them as the main gain is being able to order Ubers, however about $50/month + probable extra expenses from unrecovered trip shares are a good idea to split for instance with an app like Splitwise. All data plans don’t work with Finnish phones (actually very few do), but you can check this from
  4. Printing: you can print with your ID card at computer clusters in each dorm building, but you have to upload credits to your card first and download drivers etc if you want to print from your computer, more information at:
  5. PO Box: If you want to order things for instance from Amazon (free 6-month student prime membership with Stanford email), you need to get a box. You should also try to split it with a friend so both get keys for added convenience and reduced payments (note: you should get back about half of your payment after the summer as you end your contract in less than 2 months).
  6. Be very active through participating in events and try to diversify your network also to graduate students (many of the events organized at campus are close to their residences and you might never hear about them without inside information).
Stanford Memorial Church

Stanford Memorial Church

Creating the best summer of your life

  1. Travel on weekends as much as your schedule allows, it is on these trips that many of the best memories are created. Rent a car through Enterprise (students get a discount, though note you need a credit card to pay, so my Visa Electron debit card was to no use in this) and do it ahead of time as the cars start to run out as people realize what opportunities they have. I think I had booked on every weekend of the entire program at least one trip/adventure, and it pays off to make a rough plan early so you can recruit people with you (I recommend considering both the amount of people and diversity. Also note trips don’t happen if no-one takes initiative, but come up with a plan/suggestion and there will most likely be many interested). My favorite places in/near California were Yosemite, Lake Tahoe and Vegas, and when it comes to activities: hiking, surfing and skydiving.
  2. If you know someone working in a company in Silicon Valley, do ask them if you and your squad could come to take a tour.
  3. Utilize the excellent sport facilities on campus. Everything is relatively close by and at least Arrillaga Outdoor Education and Recreation Center (gym with a pool) is free.

    The gym

    The gym

  4. Go fountain-hopping, it’s both refreshing and there are more fountains in Stanford than you imagine, so try to catch them all!
  5. Dining is free and though the food is good and you can eat healthy, the variation is less than optimal. Therefore, it’s good to adventure also to Arrillaga family dining, which further than the Lakeside Diner (inside Lagunita Court where we lived), but is the biggest diner in campus and has a little better diversity.
  6. Visit the classical Stanford sights such as the Hoover tower and the Cantor arts center at some point. It’s easy to forget what’s near and we barely made there on the last week of the program.

All the best, Rasmus Viitala

Engineering physics

School of Science