Well, it is official. After 36 hours of traveling, four trips through customs, three plane rides and two in-flight meals, and I have arrived in Jyväskylä for my first ever experience abroad.
Everyone claims that studying abroad will change your life, so I am excited to put that statement to the test. More importantly however, I am excited to be sharing my experience with you.
Before I begin, I guess I should introduce myself. Terve! (Hi!) My name is Kendra MacLure and I am an incoming junior at State. While my major is Hospitality and Tourism Management, I am studying in Finland this summer for my Honors Interdisciplinary minor. We will be spending two weeks at the University of Jyväskylä and then an additional week in Turku.
To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. When I pictured Finland, all I seemed to imagine was five and a half million Oaken’s running around, “yoo-hoo”ing and promoting the “big summer blowout.” (I later discovered that the Frozen character is not even Finnish, he is Norwegian.)
Turns out, apart from the accent, you really can’t tell the difference between a Fin and an American. Almost the entire country speaks English, typically along with one or two additional languages. However, there are a few key differences to the States that I have noticed since we arrived, and I am totally digging ‘em.
Not Your Cup of Joe
Anteeksi, yks kahvi kiitos. As much as it may look like a bad case of writer’s block, I assure you I did not just slam on the keyboard. It happens to be a very important phrase, and for those of you who know me, you know I have used it often. It means, “Excuse me, one coffee please.” (It is pronounced an-teek-see, ook-x, kah-vee key-tos.)
In Finland, the notion of grabbing a cup of coffee is more than a quick pick-me-up or a caffeine fix; it is a social event. On average per capita, a Fin consumes ten kilos of coffee per year—this translates to a little over five cups a day. So it is kind of a big deal. Any time we have any kind of spare time, the recommendation we get is always to order a kahvi. Needless to say, since we’ve been here I have had at least ten cups.
I would say that the biggest difference though, is the coffee shops themselves. Whilst in Jyvaskyla, I have not seen a single Starbucks. (To all those right now who “can’t even”—trust me, you can.) In place of the mass franchise are dainty, unique cafés that not only serve the best coffee you have ever tasted, but also the best desserts, pastries and snacks.
Their Green Looks Different
By this, I do not mean that they perceive green in a way that we Americans perceive red or blue. I mean that their green looks different. Green is something that cannot only be seen, but also smelled and heard. Imagine having Yosemite National Park as your backyard or living in a Christmas tree lot. It is something that can be serene, calming and powerful all at once. It looks like this:
Leg Game Strong
Since the weather has been so miserable, I will admit that I have not actually seen a Fin’s legs. However, we walk absolutely everywhere. In a typical day, we have learned to pack the essentials, the non-essentials, and the just-in-case items, merely to avoid the four-mile trek if you have the misfortune of forgetting something. The average distance for getting to campus, grabbing something for lunch, spending time in the city center and walking home equals about ten miles. However, the exercise is part of a double-edged sword. On one hand, my feet are in constant need of some love and the twenty-one person group we travel as takes forever to get from place to place. On the other hand, Jyväskylä is breathtaking. The sights I have seen would have been cheapened from behind the glass of a bus window.
My Classes Make Me a Giddy, well, Schoolgirl.
What do long lectures, pointless readings, and multiple-choice exams have in common? In Finland? Absolutely nothing! In four days, the material here has been more interactive and hands-on than my entire educational career at SDSU. During class, we have scoured actual Finnish supermarkets for popular items, experienced the culture by tasting the food and listening to the music, traveled to Alvar Aalto’s museum to witness the architect’s work first-hand, and practiced the language by ordering in a café. Each activity was engaging, memorable, and fun—making it a no-brainer why the education here system is ranked number one in the world.
Finland’s Idea Of a “Dayger” Is a Sauna
For a Fin, life literally begins and ends with sauna. In saunas, mothers give birth, corpses are given a final cleanse and politicians discuss executive decisions. Sauna is a way to relax but can also be the main focus of a party. It is often a Fin’s favorite hobby and sauna’s can be found in almost every Finnish home. I figured it had to be worth the hype, right? I will say that sauna is…interesting. The best way to describe sauna is to imagine being baked alive and then somewhat enjoying it. I can’t say I am obsessed or that I will do it again but it is a Finnish experience I was glad to take part in.
Being in Finland has definitely been an adventure so far and I can’t wait to see what Helsinki, Tampere, and Turku have to offer in the weeks to come!
P.S.: Shout-out to Ryan Lieu for taking the featured picture at the top! Isn’t it absolutely incredible?