Architecture, Star Wars, & A Great View

It seems like for an adventure to happen you have to get lost first…or at least think you are lost.

Friday started out like a normal day. I didn’t have plans. I had things on my to-do list and ideas in my head, but nothing set in stone and no one to plan with. I had heard that a museum in town was free on Fridays, so of course, like any poor college student, why not go to a museum of a famous Finnish architect? After making plans with Zach and Ondrej, we went to lunch at Lozzi (one of the campus restaurants) and ended up meeting up with some other friends there who wanted to go to the museum as well. We found our way to the Alvar Alto Museo, which is in honor of the famous Finnish architect and designer. His designs were very modern and Finn like. It was an interesting museum, but very small.

Ondrej and Zach looking at Zach's camera at the museum.

Ondrej and Zach looking at Zach’s camera at the museum.

I told the others that after the museum we should find the observation tower that overlooks Jyväskylä. My tutor Helmi had told us about it before and I was pretty confident that it was also free on Fridays. We asked the lady at the museum where we could find the tower. She said: “Oh, you want to look at the stars?” It made me realize that it was already dark outside even though it was only 3:30pm. However, this statement should have made us aware. This lady thought we were talking about a planetarium tower that was out in the middle of nowhere.

So then we left, heading in the direction the museum lady told us, all happy and smiles (some of us) toward what we thought was the observation tower. Andy (Ireland), Zach (USA), Jeff (Netherlands), Bianka (Hungary), Ondrej (Czech Republic), and myself walked along. It took us a long time. It took us a very long time. But, I told them, it would be worth it. I was so excited about seeing the tower and going up inside of it. I had this whole picture in my head of how it would be and how I would see the glorious lights of the city of Jyväskylä while being up high in a wondrous tower. I became even more excited after a Red Bull car pulled up next to us and the employees offered us free Red Bull and took our pictures. This is why I do not drink energy drinks. It was the air head candy in liquid form on crack. That caffeine hit me like dynamite. I believe that Jeff thought it was quite amusing later on. Next we had to climb this hill and the tower (we thought) was at the very top. So we climbed and climbed, some of us pulling our bikes along, and some of us skipping with our Red Bull up to the top (actually that was just me).

“What. The. Heck. THIS IS NOT THE TOWER! THIS IS R2D2!” That pretty much sums up that part of the story. I was furious. I ran up to it to see if I could climb on top, but I don’t think anyone took me seriously when I said I could reach the ladder if someone gave me a boost (and no one volunteered). The only thing that was keeping me together was that I finally saw R2D2 and found out he lives in Finland in a forest. Perhaps this is his sanctuary for his retirement.

This "planetarium" building looked just like R2D2 from Star Wars.

This “planetarium” building looked just like R2D2 from Star Wars.

I immediately called Helmi, our tutor, who didn’t answer, but called me back immediately. I went on about how we tried to find the tower and ended up at R2D2 (I really don’t know if she understood me over the phone), and I asked her where the tower actually was. She asked me where we were…”I have no idea!” I said. The tower is actually located in the City Center. The. City. Center. The most obvious and central located place in the whole entire city. Our group was pretty disappointed from our towerfail adventure (somehow R2D2 didn’t even cheer them up) but somehow I got them to continue on to the City Center to find the tower (it did exist)! After a fun and very talkative trek back to the city center and up another hill, we finally made it to the observation tower!

The observation tower!

The observation tower!

If it was closed I would have been heartbroken. Thankfully it was still open for 30 more minutes and it WAS FREE! It was definitely worth the adventure and the walk to see the top and the view of the city. It was very pretty.

Free admission on Fridays! I will definitely be coming back.

Free admission on Fridays! I will definitely be coming back.

Some of us decided to take the stairs?

Some of us decided to take the stairs?

The view from the top!

The view from the top!

Another view from the top!

Another view from the top!

The group said that I was right, they were glad they kept going to make it to the tower. It was a fun night, a great view, with some great people. I’m glad we can have small little adventures like this every single day. And I was also really happy we finally made it to the top!

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Winter Wonderland

I can’t count how many strange looks I received whenever I told people I was going to study abroad in Finland. “Why Finland?” they would ask. My family especially, would imply my craziness when telling me about how cold it was here in the wintertime. I am not denying that it is cold here, (right now it isn’t bad though!) but what is so bad about that? Right now it is 25 degrees Fahrenheit (I have to make the Fahrenheit clear for my Celsius friends). It is going to get colder, I know, but I think this temperature is pretty much perfect for a winter wonderland. It is cold enough for it to snow and the snow isn’t melting and neither is the ice. This is so that you aren’t stepping in puddles of slush (gross).

Every December in the states, I “dream of a white Christmas”. I only remember getting it once in my life. I love snow. It is so beautiful. I remember seeing the view out my bedroom window the first morning I was here and thinking, “am I really here? Is this real?”.

The view from my bedroom window

The view from my bedroom window

The nature of Finland is the most beautiful I have ever seen. That is one reason why I chose this country to study in. The pictures I gazed at baffled my mind. God’s creation is so evident here. The landscapes are so beautiful and picturesque. My photos by no means capture what I see in full form.

The lines of snow covered trees along the path to the bridge.

The lines of snow covered trees along the path to the bridge.

Not only is the scenery gorgeous, but it is also peaceful. The silence is steady in almost every place here. Finns are comfortable with silence, just like the nature around them. It is so incredible peaceful to just walk by yourself anywhere. It is the perfect place to contemplate or just to enjoy what you see around you.

This is the sky soon before the sun was about to set.

This is the sky soon before the sun was about to set.

I can’t help but think of Narnia at least 5 times a day when I am here. I want to read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe again while I am sitting outside in nature. I swear it looks just like Narnia right after the four Pevensie children first went through the wardrobe. If you look at my photos you will agree.

It looks like Narnia, right? This photo even has the lamp post.

It looks like Narnia, right? This photo even has the lamp post.

I apologize if all of my pictures that I have taken are just of the scenery and the landscape here, but I can’t seem to unglue my eyes from this beauty. Every picture I take I am unsatisfied with. They cannot do the real thing justice. If you are someone who loves nature, come to Finland.

Are you ready for an adventure?

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.

It’s Becoming Real!

On Monday, after almost 2 months of waiting, I received an email with my letter of acceptance to the University of Jyväskylä in Finland! I will receive the real letter in the mail soon! This is quite a relief because I am going to have to take this letter with me to New York to prove that I was accepted.

After almost 7 months of knowing where I wanted to go for exchange, it is finally becoming real. I leave in 33 days to go to New York to obtain my student residence permit and I leave in 105 days for Finland! I have been busy the last 2 months making sure I have letters of recommendation, filling out the application for study abroad, and getting classes approved for transfer credit. By the first part of October I should know if my application for study abroad was approved by the university and what kind of stipend I will be eligible for. I am very excited to get these parts out of the way and on to buying my plane ticket and getting ready for my trip.

This semester I have a Pitt Pal, which is a program on campus that matches a US student with an International student and they get to know each other, help each other out, and learn each other’s cultures. My Pitt Pal, Reeta is from Oulu, Finland. We have hung out a few times since the beginning of the semester and tomorrow she is going to help me fill out the form for my student residence permit (it is all in Finnish). For some reason Google Translate doesn’t want to translate part of it because it is in a different format so I had to copy and paste individual words or even type them out (which isn’t natural for a native English speaker). So Reeta is going to help me translate!

So about a month ago I changed my time on my phone to 24-hour time since that is what they use in Finland. I thought I might as well get used to it. I am actually getting pretty good at it. Although, sometimes I just feel like I never know what time it is. Some other little things I will have to get used to: kilometers instead of miles and Celsius instead of Fahrenheit. I also need to practice reading a map since I won’t have my handy GPS on my iPhone.

Reeta was telling me how she had trouble with Fahrenheit vs. Celsius. She always had to convert it to figure out what the temperature really was. Also, she told me this funny story about how her and her roommates, who are also Finnish, freaked out because their oven’s temperature went so high. They realized later it was Fahrenheit…haha.

I am nervous and excited. I am anxious and thrilled. I am wanting time to go slow and fast. 105 days.


Choosing Finland

I’ve had a passport for almost a year, but I’ve never been out of the U.S. I have a bucket list full of places I want to see and things I want to do and many of them are far out of my reach. I’ve always known I wanted to study abroad. I never thought it would be for a whole semester. And I never thought it would be in Finland. 

In January I went to visit the Study Abroad coordinator at my school. I already had researched what I wanted. My school has exchange programs with international schools in several different countries and I knew this would be the cheapest option (this is my biggest barrier of all time). I looked through the different countries and tried to find universities that had classes that were similar to my major…and were taught in English. I narrowed it down to 3 countries: Finland, Malta, and Thailand. 

The study abroad coordinator (Megan) was wary of Thailand because of recent flooding (and perhaps other reasons she was holding back). She said I should probably take that one off of my list. So it was down to Finland and Malta. For some this would be an easy choice: Heat vs. Cold. And for me, it was pretty easy. Megan described both to me, how the universities were, how the people were, what was different, similar, etc. It was easy to see that Malta was more of a tourist spot and the university wasn’t as friendly. That night I ended up reading every single blog post of a girl I knew from my school who went to Finland for a semester. I couldn’t stop reading and when I was done I wanted more. I was sold. 

I’ve always loved Christmas. I have always loved snuggling under covers drinking hot chocolate. I’ve always loved snow and cold and the feeling of being in a winter wonderland. Let me tell you….look up pictures of Finland during wintertime. It is a giant winter wonderland. I’m so excited. 

I want a completely brand new, out of my comfort zone, away from securities, experience that I will never forget. 

Researching Finland and having a 2 hour conversation with my friend who went to Finland confirmed what I think I already knew while I was sitting in that office with Megan. I’m going to Jyväskylä, Finland for a semester. 

I will be writing about what I find out about Finland before I even go and all of the process of applying to a foreign university, getting a visa in New York, how I am managing my funds, and the loads of paperwork I will be doing this fall semester before I leave in January!