120 Days in Finland

6.10.2015 :: Author: Tanja Vallo, Photos: Aleksis Magne, Vojtěch Šimetka & Tanja Vallo

Czech exchange student Vojtěch Šimetka’s semester in Oulu

This article was first published in OSAKOLAINEN student paper 3/2015

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Like so many students in Oulu, Vojtěch cycled throughout the winter months.

45 days, mid-February

Dust of the first month has cleared. Vojtěch has settled in Otokylä and got his studies under way. Although his first days in Oulu weren’t the best, things have sorted out.

Arriving in Oulu at midnight on January 6th, Vojtěch made his way to Otokylä and the 2A building with his tutor. The flat was a mess, and it turned out that he didn’t only share the apartment with another student, but also the room. As Vojtěch needed some peace and quiet to write his thesis, he asked to switch to another apartment. Now he is living in a studio in the same building.

Vojtěch is finishing his Master’s degree in Computer Graphics and Multimedia in Brno University of Technology. He doesn’t mind attending Bachelor’s level IT-courses in Oulu UAS; the content is anyways different than back home.

Although Vojtěch’s main focus is on studies, he has found ways to have fun, as well. He is especially looking forward to the trip to Lapland in two weeks. More than anything, he would like to see the auroras. So far he hasn’t managed to spot any in Oulu, as there haven’t been many clear cold nights. Winter has been warmer than Vojtěch expected; luckily the rumors of -40 degrees haven’t turned out to be true this year. Winter cycling has been manageable, even enjoyable.

The first cultural differences Vojtěch noticed already in Helsinki on his way to Oulu. He visited a Czech restaurant and tried to chat with the waiter about the history of the place.
– The place was empty but he told me he is busy and can’t talk to me right now. This is not the only experience like this I’ve had. It seems many Finns are task-oriented. In Czech you would’ve spent an hour talking to him, Vojtěch laughs.

Vojtěch has lived abroad also before, so things being done in a different way is nothing new to him. Cultural differences can be seen in the little things of everyday life: in Finland bread is different and florists are scarce. Finns rather buy expensive Finnish tomatoes than cheap foreign ones. Many students work beside their studies, whereas in Czech students are supported by their parents. Vojtěch is also familiar with the stereotype of Finns being talkative only when drunk; so far this seems to be somewhat true.

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A visit to a husky farm was one of the stops on the Lapland trip.

84 days, late March

The trip to Lapland was a success. There Vojtěch got to do all the things he wanted to do while in Finland: he saw the auroras, went on a husky and snowmobile safari, and got to know a bit more about Sami culture. He also swam in the Arctic Ocean in Norway. His grandmother stopped talking to him after hearing this, convinced that he’ll get himself ill.

Since then things have slowed down. All of Vojtěch’s courses in Oulu UAS are pretty much over and although he now has plenty of time to write his thesis, he isn’t making much progress. Vojtěch has been down with a flu for nearly three weeks. As opposed to his grandmother’s warnings, the flu hit right after he missed winter swimming once.

Shopping in pharmacy turned out to be quite an ordeal; Finnish names on shelves and packages were unrecognizable, and Vojtěch had to visit two pharmacies before he managed to get customer service in English.
– These are the kinds of situations where tutors could help. On the other hand, it’s also up to us exchange students. We should ask for help when we need it, he says.

Vojtěch has only one fourth of his exchange left. He has started to be afraid that his cultural experience will remain incomplete. Few weeks ago he took part in a panel discussion in student union’s training for new tutors, and raised a concern about the cultural aspect.
– Quite many exchange students come here to actually experience Finland. It’s also my case. I don’t know if I’ve really had the most Finnish experience; I’m hanging out with people from other countries all the time. I’ve learned more about Germans than I’ve learned about Finns!

To celebrate Easter in multicultural Otokylä, Vojtěch plans to introduce a Czech tradition which includes whipping girls with a bunch of branches to wish them good health. The reception remains to be seen.

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Out of more than 150 teams, Vojtěch's team made it to the seventh place in May Day city orienteering, which is a student tradition in Oulu UAS.

119 days, early May

The Czech Easter whipping worked out really well. Doing something so typically Czech in a foreign country made Vojtěch think about his own perception of maintaining such traditions.
–When you live abroad, you do the cultural things you never did before. I know I would still want to do this Easter thing. It’s part of our culture.

Unlike Easter, Vojtěch’s last week in Oulu has been rather awful. He found out that his university was planning on expelling him for missing an exam in Czech. Vojtěch had agreed on taking the exam after his exchange, but this information had never reached the administration of the university. It took several calls to Czech, but finally everything sorted out.

Sitting in his empty apartment, surrounded by his luggage, Vojtěch is ready to leave Otokuja 2A. Lately he has had to say goodbye to someone every day. The best moments and memories of the past four months are related to the freetime activities, like the trip to Lapland. Arrival in Oulu still feels like the biggest disappointment: waiting for the bus in the middle of the night in -27 degrees and finding the messy room unprepared for his arrival.
– I was thinking what am I doing here. But then it of course got better. I met nice people and the problems were addressed. After all, staying in Otokylä was quite nice. Facilities weren’t the best, but at least I had company.

One thing Vojtěch would change about his exchange, is his own behavior. Combining exchange and thesis didn’t turn out to be very productive. Vojtěch missed some events because he felt like he should stay in and write, but eventually didn’t manage to achieve much. For the new exchange students, Vojtěch has one advice to give: decide your priorities and enjoy your stay.

Flight back to Czech leaves tomorrow, but today Vojtěch has to do some shopping to prepare his return: he is planning on baking pulla, sweet Finnish buns, for his friends and family back home.

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