So I kinda freaked out when I first got here. I was overwhelmed by being halfway around the world all on my own. I convinced myself that I wasn’t going to make friends and that I would be miserable here. But everything changed once my suite-mate arrived and orientation week started.
My roommate came in the middle of my second night. She’s a Peruvian woman named Fiorella and she’s awesome! She’s really nice, loves Marvel movies and loves to travel, so we have a lot to talk about!
We spent the day going around town running errands and getting to know each other. We stopped for lunch at a Chinese restaurant where I had some of the worst Chinese food I’ve ever eaten! I was told food in Finland was going to be bland, but I didn’t expect it to be this bad! On the other hand, I wasn’t expecting to see any Chinese restaurants in the first place. The city center actually has a surprisingly diverse array of restaurants, even if they may not be any good.
After meeting Fiorella, my anxiety dissipated, and I was ready for orientation week.
On the first day, I met the rest of my tutor group. They’re from all over Europe and I’ve slowly been getting to know everyone and learn about their respective cultures. I’ve also been meeting tons of new people outside my group.
Most of the international students are Europeans, and there is also a significant number of Latinos and East Asians. I have yet to meet a single American, and I love it! I’m so glad I chose to go to Finland. Being in a country not many Americans go to forces me out of my comfort zone and makes it easier to make friends from other countries.
Speaking of which, I was really worried about traveling to Europe as an American in the age of Trump. Ever since the election, America has become the talk of the world and I’ve been hearing that Americans who travel to Europe now have been having a hard time because of it. I was worried people might judge me and that I would often have to talk about politics. But that’s been far from the case. As soon as I say I’m American, people light up. One Italian guy I met, who’s passionate about American football, asked me “Why would you come here and leave such an amazing place?!” I found it funny how Europeans romanticize America the same way Americans romanticize Europe.
Since it’s the best way to get around, the other day I rented a bike for the semester. This has got to be the most bike friendly place I’ve ever seen. Instead of sidewalks, there’s basically a separate little road for bikes and pedestrians which goes everywhere the normal roads go. There’s no place you can’t get to by bike! And everyone here bikes; supposedly all year round. Even in the dead of winter! People here must be so healthy!
I cannot stress enough how glad I am I decided to come to Finland. I have gotten so much support from the university with my whole study abroad experience. Everything here is so well organized! Throughout orientation week—from student life to class registration—everything we would possibly need to know has been explained to us. I am especially grateful for my tutor Pauliina; I don’t know what I would have done without her. Not only did she pick me up from the bus station and help me and my group with orientation week, but she’s also been teaching me so much about Finnish culture and life in Jyvӓskylӓ!
One thing that surprised me since I came here was how friendly people are. Before coming here, I had this stereotype that Finns are very shy and introverted and don’t smile at strangers, but this has not been my experience at all. In fact, Finns are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met!
In terms of environment I cannot get over how similar Finland is to Washington! There’s evergreen forests and water all around the city. And Jyvӓskylӓ is about the same size as Olympia or Bellingham! While a lot of the other students are shocked by how different it is, I feel right at ho
Even the weather is similar. Right now, the temperature is the same as back home, and everyone’s been telling me that fall here is extremely rainy and overcast: exactly like Washington! The big difference here is that it’s going to get much, much colder.
The way people dress here too really makes me feel like I’m back in the Pacific Northwest. All the dyed hair, tattoos, and piercings transports me back to Olympia or Portland. Actually, with all the bike lanes, the city this reminds me of most would have to be Portland. It’s almost like I never lef
t home, except everyone’s speaking a foreign language.
One last thing, the international student organization organizes trips all around the region, and I just bought tickets for a visa-free trip to St. Petersburg, Russia! It’s next month and I can’t wait! I didn’t think I would get the chance to visit Russia!