Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Suomi, Suomea, Suomessa

Moika! (Another of the many Finnish ways to say Hello!)

As you can see, my entire month of October was overrun with trips and class projects and finals week for the first quarter, which all ran into November and time just slipped away from me entirely! But here is finally an update on my fantastic adventure in Finland!!

First off, I am in a Finnish language course and it is awesome!...and awesomely confusing...Finnish is not like English really at all, save for a few similar words like "bussi" (bus), "taksi" (taxi), and "poliisi" (police). No articles and the prepositional phrases like "in the bus" or "by the car" are all rolled into one GINORMOUS word....hence why Finland is known for crazy words. But--it is probably the prettiest language to hear spoken, and I thoroughly enjoy sitting next to Finnish people having a conversation in a cafe or bus (although this is somewhat rare, as the Finns really do value their silence and prefer thoughtful, quiet conversations over long, loud conversing)

But enough on the language, what is really exciting about this trip so far are the people I've met and the activities I've been able to participate in. Since my last blog post, for example, I have been to countless social events held by the student union, Erasmus Student Network, and my group of friends here including a progressive dinner with typical Finnish food, and two ice hockey games for the local teams; I have been to Helsinki, Russia, and to Stockholm, with plans to visit Lapland in the works, not to mention a great visit from my parents, and visiting some of the coolest cafes in town! Additionally, I have learned my way around a Finnish grocery store, been able to have complete transactions in Finnish, and best of all (for my taste buds and stomach) how to prepare more than just pasta!

The progressive dinner was AMAZING. And single-handedly probably the best event (besides the traveling) here, because it allowed us to meet some new Finnish people and taste some Finnish food that we normally don't get to try since we're cooking for ourselves or going to the university cafes. We started off with a pretty typical potato soup of sorts, and the progressed to Reindeer meat toppings for baked potatoes and a berry-based dessert. You can pick berries and mushrooms from any Finnish forest, no matter who you are, and can take home whatever you find, so berries and mushrooms are SUPER common to see in Finnish dishes. As for Reindeer meat...Yes, I ate Rudolph...but reindeer is delicious!! It's also not super uncommon to see reindeer meat served in Finland I don't think, so it was only a matter of time before I had to try it out! The Finnish people we met were all students at the University of Turku, too, so it was a great time getting to know them for a little!

On the subject of Finnish people, I just have to highlight a very few interesting things that either amuse me or I have really come to enjoy here in Finland. First off, as I mentioned above, Finnish people really are as quiet as they are rumored to be. And they aren't arrogant, they'll be super nice if you need directions and really helpful if you can't find an English menu (which is actually pretty rare). They all just really value their words and aren't careless with conversation, it's quite wonderful. Secondly, and this is one of my favorite things, is that Finns can do ANYTHING while riding a bike. Nearly everyone is riding here and there on bikes (unless they're on the bus) be it rain or shine. And, not only are they cycling, they are multitasking! So here are a few of the amazing things I have learned you can do on a bike in Finland (provided you are Finnish and are great at not losing your balance):

  1. Most commonly I see: DRINKING COFFEE. It may not seem huge, but when you have a sloshing cup of burning liquid in one hand and are trying to navigate two wheels on a sidewalk full of other bikes with the other have some serious skill. Finland is the number one consumer of coffee per person (and I can attest to it just being a thing at all hours), they have to find time to drink it somewhere!
  2. Next, and this is because of the frequent rain, is HOLDING AN UMBRELLA. That is difficult! Particularly when it is very windy, as it very commonly is since we're near the coast here in Turku. Sometimes bikers look a bit stressed doing this one actually...I can only imagine!
  3. And this may be the best, TEXTING. Not calling, not just for a split second, no, we are talking "Look Ma--no hands!" Bike riding and head down texting. It's craziness to me, but hey, these people are talented.
I'm looking for the next talented thing Finnish people can do on a bike, so hopefully I can continue this list on a later blog post (Yes, really, I do plan on actually making more than just these two).

I have to say a little here about the hockey games we've attended in October and is the first time I have ever seen an aggressive Finnish person. They get so hyped up! It's a lot of fun to watch and everything is announced in Finnish, which I especially enjoy.

As for Helsinki, Russia, and Stockholm...I think these will require a separate post, as they each include their own stories and big events and photos...I have loved traveling to these places and in short, I can just say a few lines about each:
Helsinki-I've only seen small parts of it, but from what I have seen, it is the perfect sized city, everything looks so nice, and I really enjoyed the trip.
Russia-It is FULL of beautiful sights-particularly palaces and cathedrals, but it is a little stressful being there.
Stockholm-We mainly visited the Old Town, which is basically a town taken straight from the pages of a fairy tale, with it's narrow streets and quaint old buildings. Just really gorgeous all around!
I promise to have these pictures and full stories up soon!

MY PARENTS VISITED in the second week of October and it was really wonderful to see them :) They stayed for a few days and I was able to show them around the lovely Turku, including the Cathedral and my university and the City Market. We also ate at a seriously cool Viking themed restaurant called Harald's that served super delicious food! (Yes, reindeer meat here too) We also got to walk along the River Aura that flows through the center of town and I got to show them my usual daily walk. It was really awesome to see them, after being away two months at that point, and I'm super glad they got to see the place I'm spending this awesome semester abroad! I do wish my sister Emily could have come along with them! I would've loved to have shown her around here too! After their visit, my parents went on their way to Venice afterwards and it will be good to see them again when I return to the states in December :)

Finally, I have to put in a little note about my struggle with cooking and grocery shopping. For those of you who know me really well...I do NOT cook. That is, until now. I have graduated from the beginner's pasta salad (Shout out to Emily and Marji on this one) to chicken salad, to tacos, to my most recent accomplishment: Quesadillas!! This is after taking three weeks to discover where the chicken (broilerit) was located in Prisma (essentially a mix between WalMart and Target)...and my greatest things I have learned about cooking are:

  1. As long as you have chicken, you can make SOMETHING edible for dinner
  2. Yes, you should add salt to this chicken you are cooking
  3. Measuring the correct amount of pasta for one apparently requires some sort of sorcery...or else you can invite 800 of your closest friends to help you finish it off
  4. Bacon is always a good idea
  5. Resist the urge to buy ice cream whenever you grocery shop if you do not have a large freezer (we don't)
  6. You CAN actually survive without a microwave!
  7. Cooking is better when you have hot tea and awesome people with you :)
I think that basically sums up my adventures thus far, apart from the trips I've taken, which I will elaborate on soon! Finland is still super awesome, and not a day goes by that I am not so happy to have been placed in such a great country with such lovely friends :)

Puhua teille pian! (Talk to you soon!)


Friday, September 27, 2013

Why Finland?

Hei hei from Turku!

I am really QUITE late in starting this up, but it has been a whirlwind of a time getting settled into my new temporary home here in the lovely Turku, Finland. So, to give you some background of my trip:

1. It's been a full month living in Turku, and I am loving it more every day! I had a bit of a rocky start, admittedly, with homesickness, but that notion has nearly entirely passed and I am so enjoying everything this little city has to offer, from the wonderful market square to all of the new friends from all over the globe I have been able to meet!

2. I am studying at the University of Turku in Biology and Baltic Sea Region Studies. It was a bit difficult finding courses to take as a Pre-Medicine Biology major in English here (the national languages here are Finnish and Swedish), but this has allowed me to be involved in some fascinating courses centered on Northern European and Finnish culture and history I would otherwise have never experienced!

3. The number one question I have been asked, both before leaving and especially while here has been: "Why Finland?" So for the following semi-introductory post, I'll try to do my best to give reason to my apparently very surprising and puzzling choice in study abroad destination!

Starting from the very beginning of being accepted into the University of Turku, everyone I told at home had the immediate same reaction: "Finland? Why Finland?" And so I gave my typical answer of "They have a top education system in the world, particularly for science students, it's really safe, and they have courses in English!" It didn't hurt to throw in the fact that the Northern Lights can also be seen from Finland, and people seemed pretty satisfied with that answer.

And then I got to Finland.

And I asked myself, "Why Finland?" And for a short week that initially felt like eternity, I forgot about my excited response to everyone else and couldn't figure out why I thought spending four months in a country where I couldn't even read the street signs would be a great idea for my Junior Fall semester. All of my family and friends were at home (save for my fantastic dad who was thankfully there to keep me focused on staying and trying to enjoy the country for my first week, Thanks Dad!)  and they were doing normal home things in their home comfort zones, and I was here. Why Finland? was constantly on my mind...but then orientation for my new school started and I met my flatmates and new students and before I knew it "Why Finland?" had a far more pleasant ring to it...

Because now "Why Finland?" meant I was meeting someone new. I started meeting people from all over the world, and particularly from throughout Europe as well as from Finland. After the initial question of "Where are you from?" and the surprising awe I usually got in response to saying I was from the United States (commonly followed by, oh, so you have perfect English, that's so nice!), which is another exciting topic on its own, the next question was always "Why Finland?" And so I went to a modified version of what I told people at home: top science education, courses in English, I wanted to study in Europe, but also that no one from my home university had been to study in University of Turku and I was now enjoying being the adventurer that tried something new. Apart from other Finnish students, I have met people from Germany, France, Columbia, Brazil, Russia, Belgium, Austria, and Hungary, to name just a few so far and I have been able to experience so much in the month I've been here with the new friends I've made and have really started to fall in love with this country. Needless to say, my trip took a 180 degree turn from when I first arrived and I now have a TON of reasons in response to the ever present question "Why Finland?"

To just give you a glimpse of those reasons:

  • There is an archipelago off the coast near Turku and I have now been swimming in the Baltic Sea and accomplished a life goal: learned how to sail (more on this excitement later)! 
  • In the center of town is a little market square (Turun kauppatori) that is really lively with vendors everyday with everything from Finnish-made trinkets to fresh veggies.
  • In addition to the market square, there is an indoor marketplace selling everything you can imagine from little vendor stalls, including the traditional Finnish pastry "Karjalanpiirakat", that is enjoyable just to walk through.
  • Everything (except for course registration) is EXTREMELY orderly and neat. Finnish people value being on time and following the rules (people very rarely even jaywalk here) and keeping things clean. It's really a wonderful thing about being here. 
  • People are seriously interested in learning about other places. I love that I get to talk about the United States and sometimes am even the first American a person has met! I feel a little bit like some sort of international representative, which I find pretty fun.
  • University of Turku is very, very, very catering to international students! There continuously events throughout the weeks from parties to language circles to weekend trips just to meet other Finnish and international students. This is something that is just so great about being at this university.
  • Teachers are called by their first names. I really am liking this because it gives all of my classes a lot more of a relaxed feel and it's a lot more comfortable asking questions and to be honest, I think it even helps to retain more being in such a relaxed environment.
  • Finland is just a gorgeous country. With a majority of the country covered by forests and with Turku at the coast, this place is full of beautiful scenery from crisp forests to quaint cottages by the beach.
  • This isn't necessarily unique to Finland, but just about everyone I've met has known the song Country Roads, which is probably one of the best things I've found here because it lets me be sort of connected to home.
  • Finnish is a really lovely language to listen to and even though learning it is really difficult, I think it's a nice language to be surrounded by.
  • The shopaholic in me has loved the fact that there are H&Ms on literally every corner. H&M is a Swedish company that has a huge footprint here in the Nordic countries.
Turku Cathedral, the medieval church of the town
Standing inside of Turku Castle-this place was HUGE

Dad standing inside a corridor of Turku Castle. I owe a lot to him for keeping me company while homesick and really being positive the whole time. I have to say he is the best dad to travel with!
After swimming in the Baltic Sea!

A view from the relaxing summer island of Vepso

The view from the nearest island to Turku-Ruissalo!

Friends and I on Turku Day! We missed most of the festivities but had a great time exploring the city.

Statue and view from the park outside of Turku's Contemporary Art Museum's hill

Waiting for fireworks for Turku Day along the river that runs through the middle of the city: the River Aura!

Me having the time of my life learning to sail :D

Heaven on a sail boat
I could probably name mannnny more things that I've come to enjoy being here, but this has already turned into a pretty extensive catch-up post. Finland really has proven to be a wonderful place and even though it's not a common choice and homesickness, as I've learned, does in fact happen to everyone, with all of the reasons I mentioned above (plus so many more I have yet to talk about in further posts) I guess my response to "Why Finland?' could now simply be Why not Finland? It's certainly got a whole lot to offer :)