During the Spring 2013, I spent the semester as an exchange student in Jyväskylä, Finland at the University of Jyväskylä.
Why I chose my specific study abroad program:
If you want to study abroad for a semester or a year, the best and most cost effective program is a bilateral exchange program. After narrowing down the programs to places that had my major classes that I could take, I started researching these few countries and the programs at the universities. Finland seemed like the best match for me. I wanted to go to a country that I didn’t know much about and wasn’t on the typical student’s list of countries to study abroad in. I also love Christmas, winter, and have always had a dream of seeing the Northern Lights. The idea of going to a country that was a winter wonderland made me all the more excited.
A few more practical reasons were that Finnish people speak English extremely well. You will have a hard time finding people who don’t speak any at all. The university I attend in Finland has a great programs for international students. Before you even arrive, you are assigned a tutor who helps you out throughout your stay. This is a HUGE help. My tutor picked me up from the bus station, took me to buy groceries my first night, helped me open a bank account, and answered any questions I had. The whole university is very accommodating to international students.
How study abroad has affected my life:
Through studying abroad I have realized just how difficult it is to be an international student in a new and different place. Before coming to Finland I had never been out of the United States before. The longest flight I had been on was only a few hours. I only knew two words in Finnish (Kiitos which means thank you and Moi which means hello). When I landed in the Helsinki airport and grabbed my luggage and headed to the exit, I was exhausted, nothing was in English, and the first person who came up to me was speaking in Finnish and I just stood there and stared at them.
For the first few weeks I didn’t even know the name of where I lived because I couldn’t pronounce it. All the street signs looked completely foreign and I never knew where I was. At PSU, I felt like I made an effort to befriend international students and be involved in that part of the university, but now I know I could’ve done so much more. I was a Pitt Pal, but I could’ve been so much more than that. I feel like now I have a much better understanding of what students go through when they first arrive at a foreign university as an international student. I remember hearing a story once about someone who gave a ride home to two international students at Pitt State. The two girls forgot what the name of their apartment complex was and it took forever to finally get them home because of it. I remember being told the story by people who couldn’t fathom not knowing the name of the place you were living. But then I said, 'I could'.
Favorite memories of my study abroad experience:
In March 2013 I went on a trip to Lapland with many other exchange students and it was amazing. We visited the Kemi Snow Castle, Santa Claus Village, and a small town in northern Norway. I was able to feed reindeer, go on a husky safari, snow shoe through the forests, and run screaming through the Arctic Ocean. We spent every night standing out on the frozen lake at the resort we stayed in waiting for the Northern Lights. We saw them almost every night and every night they became stronger and stronger. I remember the first time we really saw them and they were the most beautiful sight I have ever seen in my life.
My boyfriend at the time, Caleb, came to visit me in Finland during his Spring Break and proposed to me under the stars on a frozen lake. The rest of that night, and the rest of the week really, was full of smiles and hugs and love and it will always be a night and week I cherish in my heart and one more reason Finland will always be a part of our lives.