I have been in Finland a little over a week now. When I first arrived I was shocked to discover how warm it was. The Polar Vortex of 2013 followed by another historically cold Indiana winter had drastically changed my definition of cold. That combined with the fact that I was just a few hundred miles away from the Arctic Circle made me brace myself for truly glacial temperatures. I was certainly not expecting to be greeted with the mild(er) temperatures of Helsinki. Yet ever since I arrived the temperatures of this humid city has been comfortably shifting between 35 to 45 degrees. I have even slept with my windows open most evenings.
I arrived Wednesday morning and went straight to my apartment and it was perfect! (Blog post on the apartment coming soon!) I unpacked all of my things and set up camp for the next few months. I took a short nap and then I went out exploring that afternoon. I got lost a couple of times, but I eventually figured out how to get to the University. I also found Kampi (the main shopping center) where I could buy some essentials that I was not able to bring with me (EU hair dryer and hair straightener). I also got a small amount of groceries and bought a bus pass and a Finnish Phone system. By the time I did all of this I was quite exhausted and I made the trek back home to my apartment. (I had not yet figured out the tram system and as I had reached my limit of learning new processes I decided it was just easier to walk.)
The next morning I woke up early and set out to meet my adviser. I got to campus early, met with the director for international students, filled out some paper work and then I and got the keys to my office. I had no idea I would have an office on campus! This made me realize how well respected the Fulbright program is in Finland. While this is quite an honor it also made me understand the level of performance that is expected from me during my time in Finland. This is when my insecurities started to rise. I suddenly began to worry that I may not be what they were expecting.
So, I was suddenly even more nervous to meet my academic adviser. Ever since he had been assigned to me I have been reading all of his papers and research in the field of mathematics education. I came in with so much respect for him coupled with the intense fear that I would disappoint him. However, He was great, and helped me observe a math education course for first year education majors at the University.
Then we discussed my project. I instantly realized I was not as prepared to discuss my research as I had previously thought. I am in a whole different ball game when it comes to University level research at an institution as dedicated to academic research as Helsinki University. I left the meeting feeling very insecure about my abilities to perform at the academic level and produce doctoral level research. I realize now, that was partly my fault. I had not accurately communicated the expectations of my program goals or the level of my own experience when it comes to formal quantitative research.
I left the meeting feeling very tired and worried. It was probably a combination of jet lag, exhaustion, hunger, and my personal demons of intellectual insecurity. I also realize now that I had just had my first meeting with a Finnish person. They are not known to be overly talkative and enthusiastic. Many people had warned me that the first time you meet a Finn you might not think they like you. Looking back with a different lens perhaps he was perfectly receptive to my project. He just didn’t respond to it the same way an American would.
Later that evening I met up with my adviser again and He and his girlfriend took me out for dinner to a very nice restaurant that overlooks Senate Square, the most beautiful and iconic spot in Helsinki. It took a little while to warm up, but once we did, we realized we had so much in common. The evening was perfect. It was full of laughter, fun and conversation. They told me about their incredible lives and I was able to entertain them with some of my classic “Kelly Day” stories. We also made fun how uncomfortable Americans (in general and me specifically) are with silence, while Finns think that silence is a perfectly normal part of a conversation. After Dinner Dr. Hannulu took me for a walking tour of Helsinki and it was nice to see the city from the perspective of a native Finn. It is true what they say- the Finnish people are reserved when you first meet them, but once they open up they can be some of the most fun and inviting people in the world.
The next day I got to work. While I am sure many of my insecurities were self imagined I also knew that I still had a lot to prove. Then there was also the added pressure of my looming presentation in Jyväskylä. in just a few short days. Other than a short trip to Suolimena island with some newly made friends, I spent the next several days bunkered into my apartment researching, reading and creating a cohesive presentation.
Finally, the week of the Fulbright Forum arrived. I woke up early to catch my train to Jyväskylä, a small city in the middle of Finland. About 10 minutes outside of Helsinki, I realized how unique the capital is to the other parts of Finland that are not surrounded by the temperature moderating Baltic Sea. The rain I had experienced the past three days suddenly transformed into snow and I found a whole knew country that looked like a winter wonderland. The sudden difference was quite a shock. It was as if someone had drawn an invisible line in the ground and I had magically entered the land of Narnia.
As I watched from the train window I was suddenly enchanted by the Finnish countryside. It was covered with brilliantly white snow, perfectly green pine, quaint little farms and sprinkled with frozen lakes and ponds. I don’t know if it was just me, but the greens were greener, the snow was whiter and there were moments where I wished I was not in a high speed train, but in a one horse open sleigh exploring the powdery forests filling with quiet snow.
Once in Jyväskylä I check into my room, practiced my presentation for the umpteenth time and then headed to the town in search for food. I suddenly realized that the beautiful snow came at a cost. The city of Jyvaskyla does not salt or plow its sidewalks. Instead they sprinkle it with small rocks to give it traction to the many pedestrians and bikers who use these sidewalks daily. While this is a financially sound decision (especially considering the amount of snow they receive), it does however create a very cold and slushy 20 minute walk into the city center. And while the view was gorgeous along a beautiful frozen lake, I was a little less enchanted with the snow than I had been while watching from my comfortable train window. I was also very hungry. In my feverish attempt to create an awesome presentation for the Forum I had kind of forgotten to eat in the past couple of day.
I needed something good and something Hot. I wasn’t sure where to go. So I asked a woman on the street. In true Finnish style she went above and beyond the call of duty. She told me that if I allowed her to drop some things off at the post office she would then walk with me to the city center and help me find a good place. So after a wonderful stop at the post office we headed towards a Viking restaurant. She not only took me there, she followed me inside, helped me order from the Finnish menu and sat and talked to me while I ate. ( She had already eaten lunch.) This was so incredibly kind and we had a lovely chat and visit. I think I made a real friend. Now, fully fueled and warmed, the walk back to the hotel felt a lot less daunting and I was able to enjoy the gorgeous Jyväskylä Lake.
That evening I was able to meet up with some of the other Fulbright researchers in Finland. We went as a group to visit the Alto Museum that showed the amazing contributions this Finnish Architect made to the world. They are an incredible group of individuals and it is quite an honor to be counted as one among them. The U.S. Ambassador to Finland also made an incredible and inspiring speech to the Fulbright crew. This reminded me again how much respect and esteem the Finnish people have for the Fulbright program.
The next few days we did our presentations and I was immediately impressed by the breadth and depth of knowledge represented. My presentation went very well and I am proud of what I was able to produce. I feel like I conveyed my message in an informative, clear and interesting way. I left the conference feeling absolutely amazed by the individuals studying here in Finland. I was inspired by the diverse and incredible projects presented. The topics ranged from the mechanics of wind turbines, the transformations in information technology, education reform all the way to the gene expression of the Stickleback Fish. It was clear this world is full of interesting, intelligent and passionate individuals and there is just soo soo much to learn from this world!
I left the conference feeling like I had made many friends and I was ready to be a Fulbright recipient. I also left feeling a great sigh of relief. My presentation is over and while there is still a lot of work to be done I now feel like I have the freedom and time to focus in and do the work I set out to do over the course of the next five months.
But first I must visit Russia!
Tune in next time to hear about my exciting one day trip to St. Petersburg!