Bringing the learning home (Australian Learning & Teaching Council)

Winter in the land of Santa Claus


View from my window

So, it’s been 10 days since I arrived in Turku, Finland, in what people say the most snowy and coldest winter ever after a very long time. I was actually coming late and missed the Orientation as well as all the first week of study because of visa problem, so beside adapting to the new place I also have to catch up with the study. But I guess at least I didn’t encounter the shock of leaving your family behind and going to a strange country by yourself, thanks to the fact that in Australia I was already an international student.

But other than that, it is still hard. The cold winter hasn’t hit me yet (I heard February is always the coldest month of the year), but the slippery ice has. Actually, I hit it, and the pain was as much as the embarrassment.

However, the hardest part is taking care of things in a country where you don’t speak the language. Some of the important matters, like schooling or banking, you can find people speaking English or websites in English, but things like ordering a meal in Hesburger (Finand’s largest fast food chain, based in Turku) can be problematic if you don’t speak Finnish. Same thing with buying groceries, most of the time I just buy food by looking at the content hoping it is what I think it is, because they can have names in 8 different languages but it is possible that none of them is English. And the most tricky part is finding your way around. Beside Google Translate, Google Maps also happens to be my best friend. But this friend might be deceptive sometimes. I had been having headaches for days wondering why it is so hard to find the way in Finland, because not only the street signs are incredibly small, but they appear to have different names on different maps as well as on different parts of the same map. Only until yesterday I found the answer, that since Finnish and Swedish are both official languages in Finland (especially in Turku, the “Swedish part of Finland”), most streets are displayed in 2 names, also Finns are big fans of suffixes, different suffixes in street names indicate different things. For example, Aurasilta, Aurakatu, Auragatan are all the different names of the same street, ‘silta’ indicates the part of that street that is a bridge, ‘katu’ and ‘gatan’ are suffixes meaning street in Finnish and Swedish accordingly.

The thing I notice about Finland is it’s so industrialised and machine-based that sometimes things become incredibly complicated. You need heaps of “identifiers” altogether to be able to do your online banking, need a radio-controlled key to use school printers, you need to order your student card online, and you need to book the turn to do your laundry, then when actually do it you have to use your mobile phone to call a number to activate the washing machine. And it wouldn’t be so hard if only the machines gave you instructions in English. But, the thing I love about this is you can do almost every transaction online, like topping up pre-paid phone or paying the rent, with immediate effect and no fee.


One interesting thing that I found is most (female) Finns, regardless of age, have some kind of a "reflector" like this attached to their coats, in different shapes and colours. Maybe to get some more light in the dark winter?

I’ve been here for only more than a week but I already went to this thing called “Cottage Weekend” organised for exchanged students in Turku, where apart from games and parties we got to try traditional Finnish food and the important Finnish “ritual”: sauna. And I loved the sauna. Here at the place I live there is free sauna every Wednesday for 2 hours, so my goal is going there every week during my stay here. Another goal is one day ordering Hesburger in Finnish, even if I don’t understand I will also have to say it in Finnish. Let’s see.

Sledging at Cottage Weekend

On Tuesday I also went to this Info Market where exchange students representing their home universities and countries to give information to Finnish students considering going on exchange. I was so glad I brought the Murdoch T-shirt with me, and it was nice sharing my experiences in Australia to Finnish students.

Small stones "sprinkled" on snow to make it less slippery always make me think of choc-chip icecream


5 responses

  1. Jan Gothard

    You are a fabulus abmbasssador for Murdoch! Your insights as an international student will really add a different dimension to this blog and I hope you keep up your communications and observations. Do you think your experience as an international student in Australia helped prepare you for this or is culture shock just as great second time round? And – private note – is it all you dreamed of? I know you have been living for this particular dream for a long LONG time – is it all you dreamed of?

    Just a thought – how do you identify yourself – as a student from an Australian university, or as a Vietnamese student studying in Australia? Have you met others in your bicultural situation? Tell us how you think about your self at this moment – where is home right now?

    So glad you are settling in


    January 22, 2011 at 8:36 am

  2. I knew that you would bend into just fine. Way to go, girl!

    January 22, 2011 at 8:43 am

  3. Jan: The experiences in Australia help me a lot, although 3 years ago I was given more time and support since at first I lived in a homestay, but still, I often recall those moments now that I am in a different country again. And it’s hard to say whether it is what I dreamed of, I kind of just set a goal for myself that I have to try living in Finland, not exactly because I thought it was a paradise or something. I actually didn’t picture it in details, I just know I have to try it. You know, like people say, the journey is as much enjoyable as the destination πŸ™‚ And now I’m here, after all those years of dreaming, it’s amazing!

    How do I identify myself? At the end I’m still a Vietnamese, but being fortunate enough to be able to try out different cultures and education systems. Although while adapting to the new way of life here in Finland I miss Australia and Perth a lot, I miss the wide variety of groceries (and I used to think Perth was small), the simplicity of doing things, and of course the sunshine.

    Dao Hoang Son: Thank you very much for the constant support!

    January 22, 2011 at 3:19 pm

  4. Lovely post πŸ™‚ As a Finn living abroad it’s nice to read about how foreigners see my home country.

    The reflectors on coats are for safety – so that car lights reflect on it when you walk in the dark! Would be good here in the UK as well, sometimes I can’t spot people walking on the side of the road and it can be quite scary!

    January 23, 2011 at 10:14 pm

  5. Pingback: Winter in the land of Santa Claus | Wanderlust

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