Between those who feigned enthusiasm, and the others who weren’t so subtle about disguising their not-so-positive reactions when I told them about my exchange plans, I wasn’t feeling totally convinced by my decision to come to Finland for this Autumn semester.
I had done very little research into my host University of TAMK, or indeed the city of Tampere where I’d be living. At every step, the countless forms and emails I filled in and sent out were completed at the very last minute; a fitting portrayal of my ambivalence towards the whole process. A constant dialogue ran in my head in the months leading up to departure day:
“Just stay in Glasgow… naaaaaah, go on, it’ll be exciting! But it would be easier to just leave it… I do like change… wait, no I don’t, just stay here, on this course, where it’s nice and comfortable. But how often is this chance going to come up?! It’s a great opportunity, go for it!”
In the end, as you can probably deduce, it was the latter argument which prevailed.
And I’m certainly glad it did.
Things didn’t start quite as smoothly as may have been desired; the Dutch were concerned that the the folding trays in the aeroplane wouldn’t fold properly… or perhaps it was something slightly more integral to the flying properties of the vessel. I don’t know. It was all Dutchy… but either way the flight was delayed, which were it not for the saving grace of a 100 kroner “sorry”, might have stressed me somewhat.
Stress however isn’t something I often succumb to; indeed, I arrived in Helsinki sleeping like a log. From there it was a mere two and a half hour bus journey to Tampere, where at about three in the morning on the 6th of August 2015, in the cold, dark, wet bus station, I met my first Finn.
Actually, there were two of them. The one who first introduced herself was Anni Hirvonen, whom I had previously known only through email. She was to be my tutor for the semester; a guiding hand, and ever available ally on whom I could call when facing the challenges of integrating myself into the Finnish culture. The second was Tytti Kapanen, who was to be our chauffeur.
Needless to say I was not my usual sprightly self. A total of roughly 18 hours travelling had drained most of the life from me, so it was with limp hand and rather blunt “hi” which first brought out worlds together, and between hauling my luggage into Tytti’s car, driving, de-hauling my luggage and entering the flat which would be home for the next few months, I’m afraid to say I was a rather feeble ambassador for Scotland!
But it didn’t matter. The next day I started to get to know my flatmates, and later we met with Anni again for a quick tour of the city. Having arrived at night and in the rain, I had not come anywhere near to fully appreciating the beauty of this fair city; from the grandeur of the centre square, to the millions of trees dotted here there and everywhere, to my personal favourite of the many lakes, which have already played host to countless refreshing visits (as well as a sizeable community of ducks), the at-oneness with nature Tampere boasts is truly breathtaking (see pictures attached).
One month in, I know I made the right decision.
Text and photos: Seamus Lane