Page updated 12.8.2019

Being on your own in Finland – stereotype meets reality

When I decided to pick Turku as my Erasmus+ exchange destination there were 3 words that I had heard from every person that I shared this information with. Those words were: cold, dark, shy. But was being on my own in this country for 5 months as bad as people thought?

When you google “stereotypes about Finland” you can find over 5,400,000 results. They are quite popular in Europe. People think that Finns are really shy introverts, who struggle to open up in front of strangers. It’s always dark over there, and for 80% of the time, you can spot some snow outside. St. Nicolas lives in Lapland with his reindeer. Finns drink a lot and go to sauna. 
Before the departure I heard a lot of those not-so-nice stereotypes about Finland. But I don’t regret coming to this country at all. Why? Because both Finns and Finland have much more to offer than snow and reindeer.

Introverts & personal space 

There is some truth in that Finns are not the most open people in the world. But every flaw has its advantage. I was the only exchange student in my class. At first I was really scared that I will talk too much, or annoy people some way by my quite loud behaviour. But the reality is never as bad as we picture it in our head. From what I’ve noticed, if you let Finns make the first move, they will be really friendly and welcoming towards you. You just can’t push it too much – just like you shouldn’t in any other country.

Finns don’t do small talk. At first I was surprised how students waiting for their teacher are sitting in the classroom in complete silence. I used to find this silence very uncomfortable. Then I heard a piece of advice from a Finnish guy: “it’s better to sit in uncomfortable silence than start an uncomfortable conversation”. 

Finns may not talk as much as the rest of Europeans but when they say something, you can be sure that they really mean it. I was lucky enough to make some good Finnish friends over here, and I’ve noticed how loyal and dedicated they are when it comes to friendship. If you ever find yourself in trouble, they will be willing to help you no matter what. And this is what I really like about Finland – how much a given word means to this nation. They definitely are honest people of their word. 

Finns really respect their personal space. Finns are not the most touchy-feely nation, but it’s not bad to hug your friend goodbye or greet them with a kiss. But when it comes to a further group of friends – a simple nod by your head will be enough. It also works both ways – they respect their own personal space as well as personal space of other people. You won’t find a lot of people gossiping here – when it comes to other people’s personal life, Finns really don’t care. 

For me there was also something else about the silence. I find it very calming. Even though Poles are not the loudest nation we are also not the quietest one. When it comes to Finland I find the lack of pressure of talking very relaxing. You don’t need to fill the air with some worthless chit-chat. You can just wait for a tram in the silence, or enjoy the ride on the bus on your own, without a stranger talking to you. And don’t we all sometimes want to be alone? 
 

Dark & snowy

That was the biggest lie I have ever heard. Of course – it’s colder here during winter than in Spain. But the stories about terrible snowstorms are coming out of the blue. During my stay in January and February of course it was snowy, but I don’t think there was a day when the temperature went lower than -13 degrees. And even this temperature happened only a few times. 

When it comes to the darkness – I didn’t notice much difference from Poland, where I come from. It’s quite common knowledge that during winter the sun rises late and sets very early. So as long as you graduated primary school biology you can be safe – there is nothing to worry about. 

What I really liked about the winter in Finland was how people were still trying to get the best out of it. Countless ice rinks, cross country skiing, sauna & bathing in the lake – Finns really knew how to entertain themselves during that time. Winter may be quite long, but it’s also very active.

What I’ve noticed here was that for the first time I was very excited about spring. Every year spring was kind of coming & going quite imperceptibly but this time every spot of green grass and every blooming flower was exciting. I loved watching how trees were changing colours, and more and more people were starting to spend their time outside. Trust me, after the Finnish winter you will appreciate the sun more. 

Boring Country

A lot of people were asking me what I will do in Finland. Spain, Italy – those are the countries that you are supposed to visit during exchange, not Finland. What you can do in Finland? Well…

Starting with the fact that I was able to experience a completely different way of teaching than in Poland, Finland is not that boring when it comes to the night life either. What was the best about it? Many student parties, organized not only by ESN but also by the Student Union TUO (which doesn’t exist in my faculty at the University of Gdansk) and wonderful Finnish traditions. 

I will be forever glad that I got to experience Vappu, the biggest working class & student party of the year. Not to mention adorable overalls, graduation hats, or patches that you can collect at the parties. Finns really know how to have fun!

Organisation

I hate dealing with paperwork and offices. Somehow the thought of having to get a new ID or dealing with anything official became my nightmare during my life in Poland. So I was really scared how it will look like in Turku. If I am struggling to do it in my home country, how I will be able to make it outside? 

Luckily I believe that I lived in the best organized country in the whole world. Everyone I met at TUAS was very nice and willing to help with every problem. There was not a single task that can’t be done, or a problem that’s impossible to solve. You don’t need to print millions of files and fill them all. Almost everything is digitalized and easy to do on your own. 

Alcohol

People drink alcohol. That is the fact. But is the consumption in Finland much different than in any other country? I don’t think so. Students party the same way in every place in Europe. 

The only thing that surprised me was how much Finns like games during parties. Board games, drinking games or any other kind – I’ve never met a nation that does it that often. That’s why in the beginning board games in every bar was quite a surprise for me. But I guess every one deals with the stress about meeting new people in different ways. And for Finns, the best way to break the ice is to play some Scrabble while drinking gin long drink.

 

text & picture - Agnieszka Olenska,
Intern at the TUAS Communication Services