Written by Joshua Copus-Oxland |
In winter, especially from December to January, the Finns only see the sun for six hours a day. If there’s a country that epitomizes the winter blues, it’s Finland, complete with the cold, isolation and lots of woodland.
When I travelled to Finland last year to study at the Turku University of Applied Sciences, I sampled a slice of those winter blues, as well as blues independent from the weather. There were a few months of preparation beforehand, the applications to Erasmus and to accommodation, but while I read about the Finnish culture beforehand, I knew next to nothing about the language and didn’t really know what to expect.
As you can imagine, there was a bit of culture shock moving out from my home country to somewhere completely different. Not long after I arrived, a tutor helped me find my way around the city and to my new apartment. There was an orientation of one of the campuses with the other exchange students. That eased me into the Finnish experience, at the beginning, at least. However, the weeks that followed the first month were perhaps the hardest part of my exchange.
Mentally, I hadn’t been all that well, and in all honesty, taking a five-month trip to another country was probably the last thing I needed to help with those issues. I spent most of my time indoors, except for shopping and classes, and flirted with antidepressants for a brief period before going cold turkey altogether due to tiredness.
That, along with the lack of daylight and my generally introverted nature made for one of the loneliest experiences in my lifetime.
As much as I anticipated it would be a problem, the language barrier was surprisingly easy to work around once I got used to the etiquette surrounding it. A huge portion of Finnish citizens are proficient in English, being the 8th top ranking according to the EF English Proficiency Index, so for the most part, I got by without knowing much of the language. I was still motivated to use it in mundane situations, such as thanking the bus driver ‘kiitos’ and learning basic phrases from the language sessions in the course. For more complicated situations, I was forced to ask the awkward phrase ‘Puhutekko Englantia?’, which contributed partly to that feeling of isolation and being an outsider.
After enough time spent with the lessons and interacting with the Erasmus Student Network, I started making more connections. I was getting more motivated to go out and explore the city and beyond. I had more reasons to get out of bed and started having fun more once I realised how much there was to do in Turku. While I still kept to myself to an extent, it was much more balanced, and it led to some of the best experiences I’ve had in my life. At the end of it all, I even travelled to Helsinki as well as several other places; I’ve written more about my experiences somewhere else, so check that out.
On the whole, Erasmus was a great experience for me, as it encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone and broke me out of my shell a bit. Sounds cliché, I know. To be honest, I am still a guarded person. I don’t tend to reveal much about myself to others close to me and am careful with my words and how I approach social situations. However, this made me realise how important it was to make long-lasting connections that will give you a reason to go outside more.
As for the future of Erasmus, unfortunately, that’s up in the air. As Brexit enters its final stages, there’s the very real possibility that the UK might leave with no deal. If that happens, funding for Erasmus further than 2020 might be gone. Certain universities could continue to fund student travel, but even so, extra steps would have to be taken by the students to be able to migrate to other countries for studies.
For anyone reading this and thinking about taking an exchange trip, I urge you: Make the most out of this opportunity before it disappears.