My name is Aaron, and I’m from the US. I came to study in northern Finland to experience something unique. Even though Finland is a developed, western country, it is in no way boring. Eight months later, I still find myself navigating my way through interesting situations related to a language barrier or a cultural difference. These situations make me stop and think. They can be funny like teaching English to a class full of third graders with British accents. And they can be awkward like sitting with some newly made Finnish friends in silence as they look at their phones or simply stare at the wall. But each of these moments holds a million lessons and opens my mind that much more.
One of the first things I noticed was that Tornio is a very small town. The other students told me that there was absolutely nothing to do. They also said most students are consistently unable to find employment. This was an unfortunate discovery. If I would have accepted things as they seemed to be, I would have been like everyone else; bored and jobless. But I spent the next few months networking. I did this relentlessly, even with my tight budget. I got outside and joined groups, clubs, and lessons. I even caught rides to other cities and started meeting people every day. I found a swimming pool, movie theater, gym, rock climbing gym, I found jogging paths around the city, I took a slow dancing lesson, and yoga lessons. I found a youth club, a bible club, two different choirs, and so much more. I have built a network of friends and I’m considered family by many. This was a lot easier with the help of the school.
Lapland University of Applied Sciences facilitated my networking immensely. The first place to start meeting people is where you go every day. The Finnish students won’t go out of their way to meet you, but the school provides student tutors who help integrate newcomers into the community. We had a group of tutors designing ways to get us connected to each other and to the school. For the first weeks of school, they arranged parties, events, and competitions every few days. They provided a link between us newbies and the established communities within the school. They were also there for us when we needed advice about banking, establishing permanent residence, and getting a population number. A friend of mine actually landed me a job for the summer on an organic sheep farm, where I will be able to make enough money to last the whole next year. None of this would be as magical without Finland’s crazy natural beauty.
That first day in Finland I walked around with my mouth open. I walked around the lake near the school. The warm soft breeze churned the green leaves in the trees and bushes while the white sun lit up the shimmering blue water. Early in the school year I picked blueberries, raspberries and bunchberries every day at the nature reserve near the sea in Sweden, a few minutes from my flat. I froze my berries and was able to make them last all winter. When the warm weather was finished, northern lights lit up the sky multiple times per week. When we would walk to and from the clubs, we would watch the skies dance with greens and yellows. The towns are so small and far apart here, that just a few minutes in any direction lay the brightest stars you’ve ever seen. Welcome to the top of the world.
- Aaron Celeste, BIT'15 -