I have to admit that I am too lazy to check up if someone already wrote about this. I would assume that some of the other exchange students would at least be aware of this phenomena, if they didn’t write it down here.
Sometimes I feel weird when I go out. I suddenly realize that I am in Japan. I have been here for about three months now, but still from time to time it comes as a shock. This is because, in a sense, I live a double life. Or maybe even triple life since I am from Finland, but I study in Australia, so I have deep connections to both of these countries. I follow the Finnish and Australian news and social media. Therefore, when I sit in front of my computer, I kind of enter my own world that is mixed with Finnish and English language and people from all over the world. I followed the Finnish parliament elections from the internet and felt a bit weird to go outside into the reality after that. In my mind I was in Finland, but physically I was in Japan.
I had the same feeling when I was backpacking in Southeast Asia few years ago. I used internet cafes in many countries and I always visited the same internet pages and send messages to the same people as I would do in any other location. So I sometimes forgot where I am physically and I realize it only when I leave the internet cafe and enter the real hot and humid world of Southeast Asia again.
So when I sit here in my dorm writing this and listening to my Finnish music I feel like am at home…But what is home? A mental state?
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.
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.
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.