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 :)


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