Saying Goodbye

It finally hit me. I was leaving.

I think it finally sunk in when the girl from Estonia, who was in Finland, as a veterinarian handed me the 50 euros to buy my bike from me. I knew I was leaving in 2 days, but it didn’t feel real until that moment. My bike was my complete source of transportation since I arrived in Finland. For the first 3 weeks before I bought Ton Ton the Sassy (yes, that was his name) I walked everywhere. It took me about an hour to walk to class and an hour to walk back and even longer to get to other places. I didn’t really mind at first, in fact, I enjoyed it. I could take my time and enjoy the beautiful scenery around me. And after the first 20 minutes I was hardly even cold in the 16 degree weather. But that was before I had a bike.

I bought him at the second hand bike shop across from the campus library from a man who kept guessing my nationality as he took me back to see all the bikes he had in storage. He thought for sure I was German. From the moment I tested him out, I knew that Ton Ton was going to be my bike.

Tonton the Sassy at his finest

Tonton the Sassy at his finest

It seems silly when I say it. But if people here in the states can call their cars their babies, I can call my bike mine. Why wouldn’t you cherish something so dearly that brought you back home in 20-30 minutes instead of an hour? Yes, you still had to push it up the hill, but that was your own leg strength’s fault, not the bike’s.I remember the first time I rode a bike on the ice and snow. It really freaked me out. First of all, I hadn’t ridden a bike for several years. And I had never ridden a bike in these conditions. I was riding a friend’s bike and so scared that I was going to fall off and die (really, the snow would break my fall..).  I screamed at the top of my lungs the first hill I went down and I think my new friend thought I must be crazy.

I guess leaving Finland meant leaving a lot more than Finland. It meant leaving my friends. It meant leaving my bike. It meant leaving the new experience that I had longed for for the past year. It meant going back home to my ordinary life. It seemed so wrong. No matter how bad I had wanted to go home just a month before, I wanted to stay that badly at the end.

the first dinner

The goodbyes that were said were the most awkward goodbyes I’ve ever been given. They were goodbyes of question. Would I ever see these people again? We said we would see each other again, at least, some people had that attitude. But even that attitude seemed forced. It kind of made me upset at the time. The people from Europe would see the other people in Europe. They have no excuse really. Their plane tickets aren’t thousands of dollars.


We had all been thrown into this situation together. All exchange students, in a foreign country, didn’t speak Finnish, didn’t know each other at first, and somehow we all became friends. Despite all of our differences in language, culture, and personality, we all had this one thing in common. Everyone was so willing to talk and become friends and open up to each other. It was kind of like this unspoken bond that we all had. We were in this situation together. It was unifying. It was comforting.So when we hugged and said those last words to each other, it was one of the most surreal things that has ever happened to me. Even though we only knew each other for 4 1/2 months, we had become kind of like a family. And it’s hard to say goodbye to your family.

santa claus village

People always say it’s cliche, but those 4 1/2 months in Finland changed my life. It was the best decision I ever made. Although I haven’t sorted out every reason that it was, or every way I have changed, or the exact moment in time that I became a different person, I can see the experience as a whole and see that it was the best time of my life. It opened my eyes to new experiences, it made me more adventurous, it taught me to live in the moment, it pushed me out of my comfort zone, it made me learn how to communicate more effectively, and it gave me insight into new languages and cultures. It made me into a teacher, something I thought I’d never be. It made me into a better leader. It made me into a better friend. It made me into a better listener


Being in Finland made me more aware of who I was and why I was that way. It made me reevaluate the way I live and think and view the world. It made me more open to conversations with people I wouldn’t normally have conversations with. Honestly, I could go on and on about how this experienced has changed my life, but the there is one thing inside me that is yearning to get out. I want others to have an experience like I had.


When I was thinking about studying abroad for a semester, students at my university were shocked. “A WHOLE semester??” It’s funny to me now because most students I met in Europe found it normal to go on an exchange for a semester. They didn’t have short term programs for a months or a week like we do here. Maybe it’s a cultural thing or maybe it’s because of the expensiveness and distance between the U.S. and most countries. Even I thought I was crazy at the time.

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There were so many times before I actually left for Finland that I thought the trip was impossible. There were so many times when I almost gave up. There were so many times when I thought I wouldn’t have the money, when I thought I wouldn’t make it to New York to get the visa, when I thought my visa wouldn’t be approved, when I thought flights were too expensive, and when I thought I couldn’t bear being away from Caleb for that long. There were so many moments of despair that I can hardly count them all. But I made it to Finland. I got there with the support of so many people. But really, Caleb was the one who encouraged me and the main person who got me on that plane. He pushed me even when I said I wasn’t going anymore. I told him I changed my mind, but he told me I was going.

I want to be that person for someone else. I want to push someone to make the decision that is scary and awesome and life changing. You’ll never have another great opportunity like this. College is one of the best times to travel. Don’t let the small things weigh you down and don’t let the big things do it either. It’ll be hard. You’ll have moments where it seems impossible. But one of the things I am most passionate about since I returned from my trip is that it’s possible. If it was possible for me, then it’s possible for others. It’s possible for you. But if you don’t take that first step, you’ll be letting go of an opportunity that would have changed your life forever.

You don’t have to go to Finland. You don’t have to go to Europe. In fact, I encourage you to go some place that you know almost nothing about. Go someplace that you would have never thought of going. Be surprised. Be culturally shocked. I hope you take that step. I would love to be that first step for someone. I would love to talk to other students about my experience. I guess this makes me your open book if you want. Ask away. But be ready for an adventure.


Helsinki, Secret Tunnels, Frozen Lakes &…a Ring?

The one thing that I was not looking forward to when spending a semester abroad is more long distance. Last fall was actually the first semester that Caleb and I lived in the same city since the summer when we first started dating. But this wasn’t just a 2 hour drive away, this was half the United States and an ocean away. This was 5,000 miles and 8 hours ahead long distance. It’s something that made this adventure a little bit scarier and a little bit more uncomfortable. That is one of the reasons I decided to study abroad though. I wanted to try new things. I wanted to have a brand new experience that was uncomfortable and scary and unknown. Nothing was going to stop me.

Caleb had told me before I left that he was going to come and visit me. I had laughed. “No, you aren’t,” I said. Why would he come all the way to Finland just to visit me? Why would he spend THAT much money? Besides, it wasn’t practical to do that. Plus, who visited their significant other when they were studying abroad? It was supposed to be a new experience for them to have on their own.

Turns out a lot of girlfriends and boyfriends visit each other when studying abroad. Like, a lot. Practically everyone I met here who had a significant other back home, had a visit from them at some point in the semester. Granted, all of these people lived in Europe. It’s not like it was really that far or that expensive to go there. Some people’s families even came and visited them…

I remember Skyping with my mom soon after I found out that Caleb had bought his plane ticket. I was telling her about friends I knew who had friends, boyfriends, or family members coming to visit them. I thought it was so weird. “I still find it really weird that Caleb is coming to visit me…I mean, I’m so happy and excited that he is coming, but it’s still weird. Why would he visit when I’m studying abroad? That just sounds weird.”

We met in Helsinki minutes after I ran off the train and I buried myself into his arms. Sometimes you just miss hugs. The whole capital city of Finland was waiting for us, but I just wanted to be there. Even so, we left to find the hostel. We soon found out that in Helsinki, if you stand on a corner staring at a map long enough, soon a local will ask you where you are going or what you are looking for. You’ll tell them, then they will point you in the right direction. They will ask even if they are older and don’t know much English. They can point, and they will do just that.

Buildings in Helsinki

Buildings in Helsinki

After dropping off our bags at the hostel, we went up the observation tower that is located right next to the Olympic Stadium. The man at the counter failed to tell us that there was a Czech film crew at the top filming some sort of movie. We had to awkwardly move around them and try to stay out of their scenes. I secretly wanted to jump in each one and yell and point saying that I saw superman (I resisted the urge). The view was nice and we got to see Helsinki from above, before we saw it below.

View from the top of the tower

View from the top of the tower

The Czech film crew

The Czech film crew

We spent the rest of the day trying to find food that was in our price range and walking around the city. Caleb was dead tired. He had landed that morning at 8am in Helsinki and hadn’t slept much during the travels. I’m sure exploring the city was the last thing he wanted to do! I was proud of our progress though even if we went back to the hostel a little early.

The next day we started off with a tram ride around the city. I’d never been on a tram before and we could not figure out where we were supposed to pay for our ride. The view around the city was nice and it was lovely not to walk for once. We got off near the harbor by a very large cathedral. We explored the cathedral, walking up it’s many steps, trying to avoid slipping to our doom.

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Then we found another cathedral that looked very Russian. The outside was much cooler than the inside however.

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We walked across the bridge of love and Caleb was very upset that he left his lock in the hostel otherwise we could have made our own mark on Helsinki.

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We then headed to the harbor and took the ferry over to Suomenlinna Island, which was my favorite part of our Helsinki trip. Suomenlinna is a small island just off the cost of Helsinki which about 800 people live on. It has the remains of the Suomenlinna fortress which has many tunnels in it. We explored the island and the tunnels, which was very fun.

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Exploring was fun and we got a great view of the Baltic Sea from one end of the island. Even though it was pretty windy and cold, it was the best part of the trip.

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We took the train back to Jyväskylä that evening. While on the train I kept seeing posts on Facebook about people in Jyväskylä seeing the Northern Lights. This hardly ever happens that far south in Finland and I felt like I was dying inside knowing we were missing it when we were on a train. By the time we arrived it was around 11pm when we started walking back to my apartment from the train station, dragging Caleb’s luggage behind us. While walking, I saw a flash of green to my left and turned to see some very active Northern Lights, whipping across the sky! We stood there watching for a while in awe, before becoming too cold so we kept walking. Every once in a while we stopped to see if we could still see them. We finally arrived home and spent the rest of the night trying to keep warm before we fell asleep.

The next day, I showed Caleb the city center area, we did some shopping (Caleb bought me a hat), and we ate dinner at a wonderful Pizzeria (only Caleb would find the best pizza in the city). We got a huge pizza to share for only 6 euros. That came with a salad buffet and free tea and coffee. We then rode our bikes back to my apartment (Caleb borrowed a friend’s bike).

I had been writing Caleb letters since I first arrived and decided that this would be a good time to give them to him since we were together. After reading them I think he was feeling a little mushy because that was when he suggested we go back out onto the frozen lake that we were on the night before and star gaze. I agree and we rode our bikes down to the lake and walked out onto it.

The clouds had begun to creep across the sky so we didn’t see very many stars, but the city is very beautiful at night and we look at the skyline and the lit up bridges and buildings reflecting off the snow and ice. We make our way out towards the path in the frozen lake that was smoothed over for ice skating. There are benches and we choose one to sit on while we enjoy the view. We start to talk about our past and memories we’ve had together. Caleb was being so sweet with his recollections, showing me his perspective on everything that happened. I remember thinking that if he were to propose to me, it would be a perfect moment. Of course, I had no idea what was actually going to happen that night and I quickly put the thought out of my head and continued with our conversation.

There was a lull in the conversation somewhere around that point and I announced that I was getting cold and perhaps we should start heading back to my apartment. Caleb suggested that we stay a few more minutes and I didn’t object. At this point we were standing up in front of the bench and Caleb was holding me in front of him, staring in to my eyes, and telling me how much he loves me. He unzipped his jacket, confusing me, and then took out a small box. I was just realizing what was happening as he knelt down on one knee. I think the tears from my eyes already started fall when a rush of excitement and joy went through me. He asked me to be his best friend forever and I shouted yes before he could say any more. There was hugging, more crying, and probably squealing between then and when he put the ring on my finger, and more afterwards. It was dark and I could hardly see the ring, but I didn’t really care.

The rest of the night, and the rest of the week really, was full of smiles and hugs and love and it will always be a night and week I cherish in my heart. I get to marry my best friend.

we are engaged!

Tonton the Sassy & Other News

I have been completely lax about this blog business. I meant to be very organized with consistent weekly blogs about specific subjects, but I apologize in advance for what might be a very very random blog post.

One of the most exciting happenings within the last few weeks is that I have finally found myself a suitable bike so that I no longer have to walk at least 45 minutes anywhere I decide to go. When it takes you half the time it used to when you go to class, you almost forget what it was like to own a car and driver everywhere. I am actually *gasp* thinking about buying a bike whenever I return home. My friend Zach bestowed the name “Tonton the Sassy” onto my bike and sassy it has been (he’s sassy because he’s purple and pink).

Tonton the Sassy at his finest

Tonton the Sassy at his finest

Evidently naming your bike isn’t that uncommon here in Finland because my student tutor, Helmi, named her bike Rhino, which I find very fitting. If you would like to know the origin of my name please Google “Taun taun + Star Wars” and look at the images. Can you see the resemblance?

Even people at the Museum of Central Finland will know my bike's name

Even people at the Museum of Central Finland will know my bike’s name

Every Friday several museums and other places have free admission and we’ve been taking advantage of this for sure. A couple weeks ago, Ondrej, Zach, Andy, and I visited the Museum of Central Finland which is right by the campus. Naturally we spent most of our time at this one table full of old toys and such (we’re so grown up).

Andy, Ondrej, & Zach

Andy, Ondrej, & Zach

The museum had some interesting displays (other than the toys) as well as some creepy wax figures that always seem to scare me. It was much bigger than the Alvar Aalto museum and had several floors spanning of different eras in Finland. We also went to the tower overlooking the city again, but this time it was light out. I think I could go to the tower at least once a month.

Overlooking the city in daylight

Overlooking the city in daylight

Everything is always so pretty and white…except for, last week. Last week was unusually warm. It varied from 30-36 degrees all week, but mostly sticking to an even 34 degrees Fahrenheit. Some would think it would be a nice change from 10-20 degree weather, but I should tell you, it is deceiving. When the temperature goes above freezing here it is a disaster. The lovely crunchy snow packed to the sidewalks turns to slush and ice. This brings up the dirt/mud and makes everything brown and ugly. When it snows it lands in big wet gobs in your eyes and all over your clothing. Your bike tires spin out and slide every hundred feet when going across a manhole where the melted snow and ice seem to collect. You are wet, annoyed, and angry. Every Finnish person walking by gives you funny looks as you slide around yelling in English at your bike and the wet snow under it. I have never before in my life thought that I would say “I wish it would get colder”, but now I understand. It is such a relief to be in 18-22 degree weather. This must be the perfect temperature.

Within the last 2 weeks I have made Finnish pancakes (pannukakku) and Finnish pulla (basically cinnamon rolls). I made Finnish pancakes with my flatmates Ulli and Mentxu, and Finnish pulla with Ulli, Alex, Celina, and Svenja.

Mentxu, me, and Ulli with our Finnish pancakes we baked in the oven

Mentxu, me, and Ulli with our Finnish pancakes we baked in the oven

Finnish Pulla!

Finnish Pulla!

This past weekend I went to the Panda Chocolate Factory with a big group of exchange students who all decided they wanted to go. Although we didn’t see any oompa loompas, we did see a lot of Pandas (sadly not real). We saw the outlet store, tried all the samples of chocolate and other candies, and bought panda keychains, gummies, chocolates, and anything else we could find.

The big group of us outside of Panda

The big group of us outside of Panda

You would think I would be keeping really busy here in Finland, and I guess I do feel busy, but I still feel this lag of time and this open space that I feel needs to be filled with productivity. However, I believe the last few weeks have been the most unproductive of my life when it comes to school. The classes here are set up so much differently and it gives you even more of an opportunity to procrastinate because EVERYTHING is due at the end of the semester (mostly). It is a lot different not having a job here as well. I don’t think I have gone this long without working since I was 15 years old. This fact surprises a lot of people here in Finland. Is this an American thing? Or does it apply to other cultures as well and is only foreign to people in Finland?

Me with Panda

Me with Panda

I have officially been living in Finland for over a month now and it has flown by crazy fast. It seems like I just arrived, and at the same time it feels like I’ve been here for ages. There are moments when I feel very out of place and there are moments when I feel like I have lived here for months. Sometimes the language barrier is forgotten because I am around other exchange students so often and so many Finnish people speak English without a problem. Then there are times when I am so unexpectedly reminded that I am definitely not in the States anymore. I find myself really wanting to use Finnish phrases and words so I can at least ask the cashier at Siwa how she is, or wish her a good day. I seem to forget those phrases I learn in those moments, but hopefully I will soon be better. On the other hand, I am afraid to use Finnish because it seems like once I do, even with little words, people automatically assume I speak the language and go off spitting out several sentences in Finnish, leaving me standing bewildered and embarrassed. It’s even more embarrassing when you say…sorry, English, and the person just stops and walks away. The whole thing is definitely an adventure and one that I am enjoying immensely, even with the occasional bad day full of ice, slush, and homesickness. I’m learning to look at things positively and in a new light. I think when I go back home I can even bring this philosophy with me. Adventures can happen in Pittsburg, Kansas too.




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.