Surviving a Finnish Week

Well, here I am! I have made it to week two in Finland! It’s been such an adventure and all I’ve done is orientation stuff. I do have one class tomorrow and two on Thursday, but that’s the thing, we haven’t even started classes yet and I already feel at home! I knew coming here would open my eyes to many new things but no one can really prepare themselves for a change this big.

1) Jyvaskyla is the biggest city I’ve ever lived in

I come from what Europeans refer to as the countryside. I call it the middle of nowhere, lost in a bunch of crops and herds of cattle. I live surrounded by whatever the crop for the season is – wheat, beans, corn, or milo, and more of my neighbors are animals than humans – chickens, cows, buffalo, llamas, pigs, horses, ducks, peacocks, dogs, cats, and goats. Until I came to college, I lived outside of a township (that most Europeans here call a village) with a census count of about 220. When I moved to Emporia State University, the population only grew to about 25,000. This semester I am living in the 7th largest city in Finland, with 137,000 people. With more people comes more roads and more places to get lost. But also, more places to explore.

The city center has crammed so many shops, clubs, and restaurants into just a few blocks and I love it! But, I can’t wait to get outside the city center and around the lakes to explore more of the nature.

2) The only language I speak is English

Which, apparently, is a huge asset. To my American friends, count yourself lucky to be a native speaker of the most widely spoken language in the Western world. Also to my American friends, please please please (!!!) listen to your parents when they tell you that you will benefit from being multilingual. Don’t be stubborn like me and refuse to learn Spanish just because you feel like it’s being pushed on you. As much as we are privileged to be born in a place where we already have a language almost the whole world knows, it also makes us complacent. Almost all of Europe has two languages minimum in their brains, many people have more. Take time to learn a second language. I have spent time this week with people who speak Spanish, Dutch, German, Finnish, and a few others and I can’t share any of those languages with them. I wish I could.

Also, everything here is written in Finnish and Swedish, but my friends who speak Dutch can sometimes find their language printed on food packaging. English is rarely there. So navigating the grocery store here is a challenge!

3) Home is hot, humid, and storms are really stormy

I was prepared for cold, being so close to the Arctic Circle. I wasn’t prepared for the rain. Until today, it was been rainy and cloudy every single day. But that doesn’t stop people from riding their bikes and walking to wherever they go! If people stayed indoors when it rained, nothing would ever get accomplished. Thankfully the rain doesn’t necessarily bring wind, so even the cold ins’t bitter yet. Even my friends and I have wandered through the rain exploring the lakes.


4) I am too colorful for Finland

Lol my wardrobe is full of pinks and blues. I also have greys and blacks and maroons, but my personality is bright and my clothes (and purse and backpack and watch and glasses) reflect that. But…. black is the color of choice here. So I stick out. Which I don’t mind but I think I might adapt to the style here as it continues to get cooler.

At the train station in Helsinki

5) I am a homebody

Everyone I’ve met so far loves to party! And that’s great. And I will join them. But party animal, I am not. I enjoy cuddling and books and coffee. My free weekends include spending time with maybe one or two people, finding playgrounds we are probably too old for, or sitting on the couch, bingeing a TV show or movie series.

College is a super strange place. It’s wild. It’s a little mischievous. It’s an adventure. It’s a train going down hill with broken breaks, barely holding onto its tracks. And if you aren’t ready for it, it can be a bit overwhelming. And really… location doesn’t change that. At home, I knew where I could find people who’s adventures didn’t include clubs and 3am and too much alcohol. I know in time I’ll find where I am comfortable, but for now, my first weekend was super underwhelming because I am not all of those things.

But I did take some time to hang out last night before people wanted to go to a bar at 10pm over 2km away. And it was fun! For the few minutes I was there lol. They were playing a German drinking game called “flunky ball.” A video of how it played is a couple sentences away 😉 I trust that I will adapt to the lifestyle of the people I’m bonding with. Just slowly. And with lack of drunkenness because eek! I’m such a prude.

6) I came to this country with the thought in my head that I’d meet Finns

Silly thought right!? “Kalliope wants to go to Finland. So Kalliope will meet Finns!” Actually, no. “Kalliope is going to study abroad. So Kalliope will meet other people studying abroad.” And honestly, I’m not disappointed! I have a whole semester to get to know some locals! And I already have! I have Meri and Anna, our Finnish tutors guiding us through the ways of Jyvaskyla and the university. I also have my family here, Outi and Vesa Alakärppä and their three daughters. But I never expected to make so many friends from all over Europe! Holland, Austria, Germany, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy. I’ve even met people from Chile and Brazil! And actually, I’ve even met people from Oregon, South Carolina, and Iowa! It’s a big world, but there are 92 non-Finnish people at this school, and the only continent not represented is Australia. Which is sad, but I already know a few people who live there 😉

7) Class schedules at home make sense.

I still have two classes that registration doesn’t open for until Thursday or Friday but classes function here super weird. This is my class schedule for the semester (obviously minus the two classes I haven’t been able to sign up for yet):

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And it’s super weird because exams aren’t necessarily during class time. Some of the classes meet a lot, a couple only meet three times. And hardly any of them are always in the same classroom. Nothing makes sense.

So but anyways. Life in Finland is not what I expected. But why would it?

“Have I not Commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

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