After 30 hours of sitting in airports, planes, and buses, and not much sleep, I finally arrived at the Jyväskylä, Finland travel centre. I stood there all bundled up with two suitcases and a laptop bag, staring at the new world around me. I was unconnected. I had no phone service, no internet, and no way of contacting anyone in the world. I was on my own. I had found my way to where I needed to go and I have never felt so empowered in all of my life. I was exhausted, but I was happy. Although it was very dark, the snow lit my way and glimmered in the street lights.
At the University of Jyväskylä, they have what they call ‘student tutors’ for the international students. These tutors have a group of about 3-5 international students and they pick them up from the travel center, show them around the city, help them with getting settled, give them a tour of the university, and are just there for whenever we have questions. My tutor’s name is Helmi and she is a 3rd year (In Finland, a bachelor’s degree takes 3 years and a masters takes 2 years. Everyone always gets both if not more degrees) student in speech communication. All of the members of our group are communication majors and so are members of another group that we hang out with a lot.
Helmi took me to the grocery store so I could buy a few items for breakfast the next morning (this is also when I found out that my debit card doesn’t work here) and then she took me to my flat. I knew I was paying for a furnished flat, but I thought my room would just have a table, a chair, and a bed like they had listed. My room not only had that, but a bed side table with wheels and three drawers that lock with a key, a large bookshelf, and a wardrobe/closet/dresser thing. It also has a large cork board to pin things. This was all much more than I expected! It is also very nice.
I live in a KOAS apartment. They are a company that has apartment complexes all over Jyväskylä. Each section is a “village” and there are 27 of them. I live in Etelä-Kekkola (don’t ask me how to say it). Most of the international students live in Kortepohja though. It is the student village which has EVERYTHING. They have their own bar, second-hand store, grocery store, hang out places, and EVERYONE lives there. Some international students live in KOAS, but most of them live in different villages. My flatmates Ulli (from Germany) and Mentxu (from Spain) and then Tristan (he lives in the building next to us and is from the Netherlands) all live in this village, but we don’t know of anyone else. We were told that most of the students who live in this village are Finns so they aren’t here yet.
Orientation started the morning after I arrived and Helmi came to pick me, Ulli, and Tristan up. This was before Mentxu arrived. The international office staff was introduced and so was each student tutor. The tutors then introduced each of their tutorees and where they were from. We got to hear many different names and countries. The lady that spoke at the beginning and welcomed all of us was pretty great. She told us she had just seen “The Hobbit” and asked who else had seen it. She told us she absolutely loved it. She talked about how she hoped our experience would be here in Finland and that she hoped they could help us with little bumps along the way. “As Gandalf said to Bilbo, ‘Are you ready for an adventure?'” At the end she told us to “Be a Bilbo Baggins”. The references made me laugh and feel much more comfortable in the setting.
When I chose to study abroad I knew it would be an adventure. I knew I would learn new things. But I think I have been on several adventures and learned several things each day I have been here. It is so much fun talking to other international students and learning about them, their country, and their culture. I know people from Germany, Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands, and more. It is funny talking to them and discovering small differences between our cultures. Zach (another student from the U.S. who lives in Virginia) and I were discussing how people in the U.S. call soft drinks different things depending where they are from (soda, pop, soda pop, and coke). Our friend Andy from Ireland was listening in and said they called soft drinks “fizzy drinks”. Zach and I couldn’t stop laughing. Andy said, “Yes, it is cute isn’t it?” It is funny how very small differences can throw people off.
One big difference that I was trying to figure out even before I came to Finland is the electrical outlets and the voltage differences. Still, I guess I couldn’t figure it out even when I got here because the first morning I was here I tried to dry my hair and sparks flew out of the socket resulting in a jump back and a scream from my poor American self. Another one is that the light switches are square and small and very low on the wall (I never find them in the dark). The toilets are also funny. You flush them by pulling up on this round handle that is on the top of the toilet instead of a handle you push down on the front side. Little difference that are so small can throw you off when you are going throughout your day, but they can also challenge you to be flexible even if they are as small as these. I have loved learning so much in only a few days since I have been here. It has been an adventure and I look forward to the rest of it.