What did I know about the North before? It was one of the major directions on the compass rose. The blue part of the magnet. The sweet captivity in the realm of mesmerizing night-time light. However, north is also the guard of never-ending winter with a silvery glow. Silent birch trees and pines are bending over the meandering forest routes. The surfaces of the lakes like emerald eyes are staring at the sky with an intense attention: what feelings and moods would be brought by the polar winds today? Everything from books came to reality, when I decided to head towards Finland. It is not only a geographic journey, but a spiritual voyage in the country of thousand waters and possibilities.
From Central-Europe where I am coming from, the city of Oulu already seemed to be pretty far. Only here I realized that it is just about the middle of Finland located at the 65th parallel. It was inviting in an inspiring way to prepare for this term. I have expected a harsh environment and a place where time stands still a bit. But it happened the opposite way. Here exists this galvanizing vibe in the atmosphere that liberates your creative energies and pushes you to challenge yourself, both physically and mentally. You experience it all around. In the lecture rooms with people with different approaches and inventive minds or let it be your teacher who tries you with brain-stimulating projects. One of the most valuable experiences was this enkindling way of cooperation and the level of appreciation I only experienced in the Finnish education system.
I have arrived here in January and -25 do introduce you to the idea of winter. All the waters have been frozen and the landscape has been covered with all kinds of tracks people or animals left after them. I did not see it coming, but evidently there is much going on in this season. Finns are not scared to use this time for vivid activities, like bravely biking on the most slippery ice, swimming in the ice-holes they cut open or just run freely out after great sauna time. But for some of us exchange students it was already difficult to navigate through in a shop. Thus, the daring students enrolled a Finnish Survival Language course, where we have met the charming structure of the Finnish language. In addition, it was a cultural course after all and for example provided with happy times to recreate the absolute necessary Nordic treat: the Pulla. It is always a bit scary to start in a new country and a new place. Compared to other international students I had the easiest procedure with Finland and the OUAS. We have tutoring teachers and students who took care of anything regarding administration and the 5 W’s – who?, what?, when?, where?, and why? We received the maximum level of attention and guidance well before our arrival and it was true throughout the whole term. The teachers and the school personnel are very open and can be reached at any time with any problems that should occur. There was a whole introductory day for us and it was followed by a fancy reception at the City Hall of Oulu.
Being one of the international students is a great opportunity to meet up all the others, and eat a dinner where the company speaks at least 8 different languages and eats the same amount of different dishes. But I enjoyed observing Finland too. The Finns I met all shared a correct, balanced and ultimately helpful spirit, eventually a very genial mentality. I was delighted to explore the stories this country has to tell beyond a simple tourist’s point of view. What I expected to be rigid and mirthless soon turned enchanting and opened up to me. I especially enjoyed how Oulu, the capital of Northern Scandinavia, exists on a human scale too. Here you find the chimneys of the industrial areas and some wind turbines, but otherwise the characteristic architect of the houses and the little gardens especially in the spring time invokes a friendly living space.
The student residence of Otokyla is a whole other world, where many strong bonds developed amongst people with time. There is nothing better than to rent a car together and ride up North on roads that no one else is coming for hours; or tumbling in the snow with laughter and see how our breath is frozen in the air while we are waiting for the sublime Aurora Borealis to appear on the horizon. There are many possibilities for recreation, having a great picnic at a park or the Baltic sea-side, or go for a pub course and listen to the smoky yet chilling voice of a Finnish singer.
Before I head south again I have to let my thoughts stream around this place. Sooner or later all of us have fallen in a pile of snow and made a snow-angel with a thankful and happy heart. Now we know that Finland is Suomi in Finnish; that we have been living deep and sucked out all the marrow of life.