Published: January 7th 2007January 7th 2007
Main shopping strip
Located in town centre
It’s been an incredibly busy and hectic week! I haven’t been here for a full week yet, but I have a lot to share with you…
Departure from Canada and Arrival in Jyväskylä (‘Yu-vas-cue-la’)
I left Canada bright and early on New Year’s Day without having had any sleep and after spending New Year’s Eve with close friends at a concert at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton. Considering that fact, I had a relatively good flight. I had two seats to myself on my 8-hour flight from Chicago to Stockholm, which was a lifesaver! All in all, the 13-hour journey went well.
When I arrived in Helsinki, I made my way to the train station in order to depart to Jyäskylä. It was a little frustrating at this point because I had a difficult time trying to get a hold of my student tutor (more on her later) to let her know what train I was taking. In Finland, people don’t use public phones very often since everyone has a cell phone. I found a public phone but couldn’t figure out how to use it - no English instructions and it was quite busy in the station when
Typical theatre in the Agora Centre on Matilanniemi Campus
I arrived so it was difficult to find someone to help me out. I decided to just go on the train and hope for the best. In the end, everything worked out. I arrived at the Jyväskylä Travel Centre without any incident and found a helpful shop employee who had seen quite a few international students arrive and knew that I was looking for my tutor.
My student tutor Tiina soon arrived and we were off to Kortepohja (‘kor-te-poi-ya’) Student Village where I am now living. Tiina helped me find my apartment and showed me around my apartment and we made plans to meet the next morning for the first day of orientation. After a long flight and encountering the 8-hour time difference - it was time for bed…at 8 pm (haha!).
Orientation Week/Settling in
Orientation began the next day at 10 am and I was refreshed from a 10-hour sleep from the night before. Tiina met me in Kortepohja and we made the 40-minute walk to the Agora Centre in Mattilanniemi Campus. There are three campuses at the University of Jyväsklyä and Matilanniemi is the one where I will be taking most of my classes.
I won’t bore you with all the details of orientation but it was extremely helpful. Not only did the International Office talk about administrative stuff such as registering for classes, how the school system here works, etc., but they also had people lecture about how to survive in Jyväsklyä, what the culture in Finland is like and how Finnish people will treat you. As a general rule, Finns are very practical and reserved people who talk very directly (i.e. they don’t “beat around the bush”). We learned to not expect a lot of Finns to approach us - Finns feel that if someone is alone, their privacy and personal space should be respected and that they are alone because they want to be.
Tiina showed me all of the main buildings on campus and explained that the famous Finnish architect Aalto Alvar had designed the newer buildings. The buildings that were designed by him are very modern looking - clean designs, lots of natural lighting that doesn’t get in your eyes, and spacious common areas with lots of comfortable but simple furniture. There are areas where everyone hangs their coats in all of the buildings so that you’re not
Getting out of the lake!
You can't tell but I am scrambling to get out!
having to lug around a big winter coat with you to all of your classes (Why don’t we have these in Canada?). Another thing about the campuses and the town in general: there are lots of trees. Finns are very conscious of the environment and so you don’t see a lot of concrete spaces like you do in most of North America. Most buildings are situated within forested areas, except for the town centre.
One thing that I have to mention is just how much Finns walk! I don’t think I’ve ever walked so much in my life! Taking the bus is fairly expensive and a litre of gas is about 1,30 EUR so most Finns either ride bikes or walk EVERYWHERE. Tiina tells me that from a young age, you just accept the fact that you’ll be walking or riding your bike everywhere and make the necessary time allowances for that. Even though I haven’t owned a bike since I was 13, I will definitely be purchasing one here.
Besides helping me with finding my way around town and the university, Tiina has taken me shopping (both for food and household things), answered all of my questions
Second time in
First time wasn't enough...
about life in Finland, helped me find a cell phone and has generally shown me how things are done (e.g. in the student cafeterias, she explained what everything was and what was included in the student discounted meals). I can’t begin to explain how much of a help she has been and how patient she is! I don’t know what I would’ve done without her.
If you’ve heard that everything is expensive in Finland, it’s true - except if you’re a student. As I mentioned before, students receive discounts at university cafeterias - each meal is 2,15 EUR, which is even cheaper than a meal in Canada. I think I’ll end up eating on campus most of the time as groceries are expensive. The food here is hearty (lots of meat and potatoes or rice) but bland. Apparently Finns don’t like to use a lot of spice (Tiina told me that putting salt and pepper out on the table was introduced in the ‘80s). Obviously my experience with Finnish cuisine is limited to what the cafeterias sell but I think that it’s safe to say that unless you go to a nice restaurant, you’re not going to find really
Group of International Students having a drink at the local pub
flavourful and experimental food (another example of Finnish practicality).
Oh yeah! My roommate. I share my very small apartment with an Estonian girl named Maili. She’s very sweet but extremely quiet. Other than our walks to school, we don’t spend a lot of time talking to each other. Hopefully I’ll be able to get to know her better the more time we spend with each other. Maili studies Russian and Finnish linguistics and this is her last semester of her undergraduate degree. She’ll probably do a master’s - getting into a master’s program here is vastly different than in North America. You don’t really need to apply to get in, it is assumed that you will do a master’s degree (you don't register if you don't want to but you're not competing with others for admission). Even if she doesn’t do her master’s in Finland, it sounds like the Estonian school system is quite similar. Actually, all of the European institutions are part of what’s called the ERASMUS network so that receiving credit for classes you take on exchange are very easily transferred to your home institution. I’m extremely jealous of this as the U of A is strict on what you receive credit for. I’m not yet sure how many credits I’ll be receiving for the classes I do here.
The other thing about the school system here is that there is a lot of choice and flexibility. Even if your major is Russian History (as Tiina’s is), you can take courses in other faculties without much problem. Of course you have to have a certain number of courses toward your major but the courses here a not just lecture courses. There are a lot of seminars with visiting professors from all over the world, a lot of web courses and literature courses where you never attend a lecture but instead read specific literature and then write an exam. As a result, attendance is mostly optional - you are responsible for your grades and so you make the choice as to how your time is managed. While no one takes your attendance back home, certain professors will arrange the curriculum so that it’s very difficult to receive a good mark if you don’t attend lectures.
Finnish Sauna and International Students
After a busy week at orientation, it was time for some relaxing. Last night (Sat. Jan. 7) I had the opportunity to experience the Finnish sauna! Most of you back home have been in a sauna (I think) and it’s not that the actual saunas here are different. However, sauna is an important aspect of Finnish culture and in a population of 5 million, there are 1 million saunas! The other difference is the whole business of jumping into a freezing lake…
A group of us international students (as organized by the Student Union) walked from Kortepohja to the Laajavuori Ski Centre (about 1 km away) where a small lake and public sauna are located. We were told that if we wanted, we could jump in that lake! Now, even though Finland is having the warmest winter since 1972 and I keep getting apologies from Finns for the lack of snow, it was still -1 last night, which meant that the lake was freaking cold. I first warmed myself in the sauna and mentally prepared myself for jumping in the lake. Stacey (another girl from the U of A) and I were the first ones (from both the girls and guys saunas - they’re segregated) to jump in. I can’t really describe to you JUST HOW COLD it was jumping in that lake and I decided to jump in all the way! When I surfaced and got out of the water, I heard a guy make a vague comment about “northern people” under his breath (haha!). He knew that I was Canadian somehow and thought I was crazy. Most of the other girls dipped their legs in or went in up to their necks but I decided, “What the heck, there’s only so many times I’ll get this opportunity, might as well go all the way with it!” I’m glad I did it but just writing about the experience is making me cold! After the numbness settled, I decided that the whole experience was actually quite refreshing.
After sauna, I decided to go out with some of the other international students who I met walking back to Kortepohja from the ski centre. Included in the group were three Canadians (Stacey, Tahir - a business student from Toronto and I), two Austrian girls, one Dutch guy, an Italian girl, two Americans and a guy from Catalina, Spain. We went to a small bar near Kortepohja for “one drink” that turned into quite an adventure in it’s own right. In this bar were quite a few older Finnish people (in their 40s to mid-50s) singing karaoke! Remember how I said that Finns are reserved? That holds true until they have a few drinks. Everyone was having a great time singing both English and Finnish pop songs (bad, bad old pop songs) and the crowd was quite loud and boisterous. We didn’t expect any Finns to approach us but all of us got asked to dance quite a few times! It was quite a fun way to end the week.
And there you have it, my first week in Jyväskylä, Finland. I hope everyone back home is enjoying their last days off from school (or if you’re not in school, I hope you’re enjoying the new year)!