Hyvää Päivää (that means good day in Finnish!)!
I have been living in Finland for two months now on ERASMUS, and I wanted to experience life here fully sharing my thoughts on it. In the past few months I have jumped right into Finnish life and culture; skinny dipping in lakes at midnight, saunaing with friends, cycling in the snow, even attending a traditional Finnish student party – the sitfest. It’s been an interesting few months.
Now, you may be wondering (most people do) what on earth inspired me to choose Finland for ERASMUS, and to tell you the truth, I have asked myself the same question. My main reason was wanting something that was totally different from anything I’d experienced before. After 4 months working in Spain, I was used to the sun, sea and sand, and don’t get me wrong, I loved my life there and would go back in a heartbeat, but I wanted a different experience, so I chose Finland, a country that gets about four hours sunlight in the winter, and requires many layers of clothing most of the time. It was a big change.
Coming here I didn’t know what to expect. I probably should have done more research! I was expecting it to be freezing cold and dark as soon as I arrived but that didn’t come until late October! It was actually 20°C in September and the sun shone from 6 am till 8 pm just like in Ireland! I was surprised by how similar it looked to Ireland too. I traveled to Jyväskylä by train and we rode through fresh green fields full of cows that instantly reminded me of home. Honestly, I thought I’d be traveling through forests full of reindeer…have to admit I was slightly disappointed.
I was also surprised by how fluent everyone is in English, I thought the language barrier would be an issue but it wasn’t, and everyone I spoke to was so helpful. The train station was tricky as nothing was translated into English but everyone was happy to help. I decided to take a Finnish module though, because I think understanding some of the language gives you a deeper insight to the culture and a better understanding of the people, as well as just generally making daily life easier. It definitely helps to know what potato is in Finnish when doing my weekly shop (Peruna!)!
The biggest shock for me was how different university life is here. In Ireland, my life revolves around university, with around 20 hrs of classes a week, the rest of my time is spent in college at clubs or societies! I never had a free evening in Limerick, with Trampolining on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and volunteering on the committee of Out in UL (our LGBT society) on Mondays and Wednesdays (and every other day really!), I was constantly busy and that’s how I liked it! I love being busy, always having plans and being around my favourite people. Finland is the complete opposite! For the first couple of weeks I had 8 hours of classes a week, now I only have four, as well as two self study modules. I am never in college and there are no clubs or societies to get involved with! I found this really hard to adjust to at first as I’m not living in student accommodation I thought I’d struggle to meet other students, but I have the nicest housemates and I go to a lot of events hosted by the Erasmus Student Network! I also go to a fitness class nearly every evening, just so I’m not at home doing nothing all evening!
That brings me onto my next point, Fins are so active! No matter what the weather they are out running, walking, skating, or cycling. And every sports class I go to is packed. I love this aspect and it’s really motivating me to stay on top of my fitness game, something I’ve actually grown to love this year. My favourite classes I’ve tried here are definitely Body Combat and Zumba Strong, but I love that there is something for everyone, no matter what your fitness level is.
My favourite thing about Finland has to be the nature. Finland is 10% lakes and 69% forest, and no matter where you are there’s surely one of the two nearby. The cities aren’t very exciting, they’re quite small and constantly under construction, but take a stroll a few kilometers from the city centre and you’re surrounded by the most beautiful forests and lakes. I love going for a run around the lake on a Saturday morning, it’s a beautiful way to immerse yourself in the nature. Being surrounded by such beauty really makes me appreciate where I am and the opportunities I have.
One of the funnest, most Finnish things I’ve done was attend a Sitsit, a student party, hosted by leaders who provide rules that must be followed for the evening. These rules can be anything from no clapping, no sitting, even no talking out of turn. If you break any of these rules you face a punishment, and if you see someone break the rules you must tell the leaders. It was very strange to me but it was a lot of fun. I especially loved all the singing, but there was some really weird songs, and some of them were in Finnish so I had no idea what I was singing! But like any good party, it also involved lots of drinking, so that helped remove any inhibitions I was feeling!
One of the most exciting moments so far was the first snowfall. I woke up one morning to my excited Portuguese housemate telling me to get up, and looked out the window and found that the world outside had transformed over night into a winter wonderland. A blanket of snow coated the ground and it fell in flurries from the sky like glitter. Frost sparkled on the ground and it made everything even more beautiful. We went out and played in it like children, taking photos, building snow men, and having impromptu snowball fights. It was so much fun! Unfortunately it only lasted a few days and when it melted, it left a dark, grey, miserable sludge in it’s wake.
I think that’s about all I have to say about Finland, it’s a beautiful country, with wonderful people, and it is a lovely place to live, but I have to admit, it is a little bit boring for me, when I’m used to being busy all the time. That being said, I am enjoying the relaxed atmosphere here, it is such a peaceful place to live and study, and I am loving the experience. The only thing I’m not enjoying is the price of alcohol (€8 for a small can of cider!!!)
I haven’t gotten a chance to explore the capital, Helsinki, yet, and I have a trip to visit Santa and the Reindeers in Lapland planned for the end of November, so there is lots of exploring left to do before I return home to Ireland for Christmas, and you can expect more blog posts to come!
Erasmus is an incredible opportunity and I would recommend it to anyone! It gives you the chance to explore and immerse yourself in a new culture which I think is so important to grow as a person. I hope you enjoyed hearing about my experiences on erasmus so far! If you’ve any questions I’d love to hear from you!
I’d love to know…If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you choose?