Saturday, October 27, 2012

The University of Turku in Pictures

Besides the part where I'm not a rabbit, this is so true (also, I can spell "fourth")
So there's good news and bad news about my lack of blog posts. The bad news: I'm out of practice and I can't promise sound writing. The good news: I've mostly not been blogging because I've been having a great time doing tons of other fun things. Also, I've taken lots of photos so I don't actually have to worry about the quality of my writing! 

The University of Turku:

This is a view heading up a hill on campus towards the library - the building here is a university building, but I couldn't tell you what exactly is in there. It is a steep hill, though, and I have to catch my breath at the end of it almost every time I ascend. 

This is a path on campus that leads to a building called Juslenia, where my Finnish course and Baltic Sea Region lectures are held. The campus is situated in an interesting mix of settings. In some places it is surrounded by foliage like this, and in other places it very much blends in with Turku's more urban landscapes. Since I last blogged these leaves have changed color and fallen off...yikes!

This is the inside of the ICT building (Information and Communication Technology), and it is very modern looking. In fact, most of the buildings (even some of the older ones), are much more sleek and modern than a lot of US university buildings. If you notice, the seats in the foyer actually spell ICT. I don't have any classes in here, but sometimes I get lunch in their cafeteria. 

This is the courtyard area between the Educarium and Publicum buildings. Again, these buildings have a very modern feel to them - inside and out. Both buildings host different departments or faculties, lecture halls, offices, small libraries, and computer rooms. Educarium also houses the sports facilities, the IT helpdesk, and another cafeteria.

A closer look at the bike ports outside the buildings. Bicycling is a very popular mode of transportation not only for students but also for the population of Turku as a whole. Bike lanes all over the city make bicycling around a very practical form of transport. I personally take the bus just because I had a hard time finding an affordable bike and in the winter (now) there is no way I would try to bike anywhere. Didn't make sense to drop 80 EUR on a used bike that I would only use for two months. Plus, public transportation is AWESOME! 

This is the front of the Turku School of Economics (Turun = Of Turku, Kauppakorkeakoulu = School of Economics) - sometimes there are more bikes outside of this building than the Educarium/Publicum courtyard.

Inside the School of Economics - it is also very modern architecturally. It has a cafeteria (below), lecture halls, offices, departments, a small bookstore, small library, computer room, and most importantly for me the International Office.

Turun Yliopisto is Finnish for University of Turku. This is the Main Building - it's both an administrative and academic facility. 

This is another courtyard - to the left is the Main Library, straight ahead is the Natural Sciences Building, and to the right is the Main Building. These buildings definitely are not as modern as some of the others. The courtyard is nice, though. It's difficult to see but just beyond the red flowers is a fountain with a statue of the Finnish Maiden on it. Apparently, Finland is shaped like a woman sticking her arm out in a flowing dress. Hence, the Finnish Maiden. If you, like me, are having a hard time visualizing that this should help:

I happen to think it's shaped more like a fish (I apologize for my lousy photoshop skills):

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Getting to Know Turku (Part 1)

It's hard to believe I have been living in Turku for just over two weeks now. Sometimes it feels like I only arrived yesterday, and other times it feels like I have been here for a whole semester already. In the past couple of weeks I have met people from all over the world, I have started taking classes at Turun Yliopisto (The University of Turku), and I have learned where to buy the cheapest milk in town. Here is part one in a rundown of my life here in Finland so far:

The People


Not just anybody can color coordinate with a viking hat

Sampo is my University of Turku student tutor here in Finland. In the US, typically a tutor is somebody who helps you study or figure out your homework assignments. At the University of Turku, however, a student tutor is everything but that. Student tutors volunteer with the university's International Office to help exchange students get settled in their apartments, handle administrative necessities (e.g. opening a Finnish bank account and purchasing a bus pass), and answer any questions about Finland or the university during their exchange period. Sampo is a Finnish-Hungarian third year student studying political science and contemporary history. He spent a semester at the University of Vermont as an exchange student and was very sad that he had to leave.

Sampo and John (appearing to) appreciate art

Sampo has gone above and beyond as my and John's tutor. In fact, we both simply consider him a friend now more than a tutor. He has spent time with us at the Turku Museum of Art, at his apartment watching movies, at his friends' house-warming party, and he has even included us in multiple Political Science Club (P-Klubi) events. Sampo has gone out of his way to make sure we meet native Finns, has plans for us to travel to his hometown of Tampere, and has promised us a feast of traditional Finnish food. This is especially impressive considering his 1-5AM shifts delivering papers almost every night. His genuine interest in whatever we have to say, enthusiasm for learning about Texas, accessibility, kindness, friendliness, and sense of humor never cease to amaze me. I owe Sampo for my smooth transition into all things Finland and for what has already been an amazing two weeks. 


Sagar and I picked up a putter so we can play on the abandoned mini-golf course nearby

In my apartment there are three single rooms connected to a common room with a kitchen, table, balcony, and bathrooms. My suite mates are Sagar, a degree student from Nepal, and Elias, a Finnish degree student. Elias has been working and living in Helsinki since I arrived so I am only just getting to know him. Sagar has been here since day one, though, and we have become fast friends. On my second day in Turku, jet-lagged and homesick, I walked into the kitchen and introduced myself to Sagar. He very kindly offered me coffee and some of the delicious-smelling curry chicken that he was making. Sagar told me that he had been studying bioinformatics at the University of Turku for over a year, and that there was actually a fairly large Nepalese community in Turku. I told him a little bit about myself, and he invited me to play soccer with him and his other friends from Nepal. It was extremely comforting to know that I would be living with somebody so friendly. 

Sagar (left) and his friend Ragat, another student from Nepal, playing ping-pong

In the past two weeks Sagar has introduced me to many Nepalese who are almost as compassionate and helpful as he is. Sagar still offers me food/coffee almost every time he is cooking (and I always accept), helps me make sense of Finland's many quirks, and showed me how to get meals for 1,48 Euro at the ICT building on campus. We have played ping-pong in the apartment's common room, played basketball on the neighborhood outdoor court, had a beer in an Irish bar, and played soccer with 8-10 other Nepalese. Sagar's interest in photography, movies, learning to play the guitar, and writing screenplays has inspired me to stick to my hobbies while I am in Finland. Someday he hopes to visit the US, and if he makes it over I can only hope to be half the host that he has been. 


I wrote about John a lot in my last post, but over the past two weeks I have come to appreciate living in the same complex as him even more. It is nice to have someone nearby to commiserate with over frustrations with the class registration process, how expensive things are here, and how cold it can be. On a more positive note, we help each other practice Finnish in everyday situations, decipher Finnish groceries, and explore the city of Turku. Here are some pictures of that exploration process: 

Turku Harbor

Tug-of-War in the city center 
These three dominated

Turku Museum of Art

Sampo and me at Hesburger - the Turku-based restaurant chain is not unlike an expensive McDonald's

A piece of art called "Harmony" in the harbor

The Pharmacy - an old pharmacy resurrected as a pub

Outside Turku Castle

Turku Castle - inside the first set of walls

The Turku Cathedral is a major symbol of Turku, former capital of Finland

Turku Castle

Turku Castle

John didn't make it through the hobbit door

Oversized faux ducks in the Aura River

Texas Barbecue in Finland!

All about the University of Turku, orientation, and classes in Part 2! Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Home Sweet Haliskylä: Arriving in Finland (Part 2)

I arrived at the Turku bus station at 12:35pm after my two-hour ride from the Helsinki airport. As soon as I stepped off the bus my student tutor, Sampo, and another American student he was helping, John, were there to meet me. Sampo is Hungarian-Finnish, and spent a semester studying abroad at the University of Vermont so his English is great. Coincidentally, John is also from Texas - originally from Richards, TX and studying psychology at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX. His English is okay, too. 

We rode a bus to my apartment so I could drop my bags off before heading to the International Office. On the bus I learned that John had already been in Turku for almost a week, and already knew his way around the city. At first, I was a little bit wary of hanging out with another Texan - fearing that I might miss out on a legitimate Finnish experience, or get too comfortable with what was familiar and not push myself out of my comfort zone. I had nothing to fear, though. I lucked out and John is as interested in all things Finland as I am. He is enthusiastic about learning the language, getting to know natives, and travelling to different regions of the country. Almost immediately I could tell that he had spent as many hours as I had typing "Finland" into YouTube, Google, or Wikipedia - fascinated by this strange place that is about as far from Texas as you can get.

At the apartment, Sampo gave me my keys, showed me my room, and then we were off to the International Office to take care of some business. Here are some pictures of my room and the apartment:
My unit in the Haliskylä apartment complex - most exchange/international students live here
Close-up of the berries in the tree - not sure what kind they are
Why do I have a fan? It just might be too well insulated here.
The view from my window - the building in the background is the S-Market (grocery store)
After our visit to the International Office we rode another bus to Ikea so that I could purchase all of the basic supplies for my apartment and get some lunch. 

Two Texans at a Swedish store in Finland - yes, that's John he looks like a Finn!
Cockatoo flip-flops for 2 Euro, probably the best purchase of my life
After Ikea I crashed in my bed at 6:00pm. I had been up at least 28 hours straight at that point and was exhausted. The next morning, John and I walked about 3 minutes to the S-Market to get cereal. The S-Market is a magical wonderland of modern me at least. In order to get a cart, you must insert 1 Euro into the coin slot attached to the handle, and when you return the cart you get your Euro back. Then, you walk through the automatic swinging gates that let you into the shopping area. You cannot go back through the gates once you enter - you have to go through the store and past the registers. Almost every product is labeled only in Finnish and Swedish - this isn't a problem for things like bananas, Cheerios, or bread but can get tricky when looking for butter or particular yogurt flavors. They had many products labeled "Tex-Mexican" (because of course Finland is the place for Tex Mex), but John said not to trust it. Apparently he found out the hard way. Here are some picture highlights from the S-Market:

The back of S-Market
Recycling machines - insert bottles and cans, receive money
Not a gallon in sight
Took me forever to decipher this one
After you check out, insert Euro coins to go double-or-nothing at the arcade-style slot machines...and try to be more successful than John was.
More to come very soon! Thanks for reading!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Home Sweet Haliskylä: Arriving in Finland (Part 1)

On August 21 I woke up at 4:00am and departed from the San Antonio International Airport at 7:05am. I had to say a very bittersweet goodbye to my parents; I will miss them a ton, but was excited for my time in Finland. I won't see my dad until December, but my mom is going to come visit in November!

Saying bye to mom (note the Texas luggage tag)
I arrived at Chicago O'Hare at about 9:30 and had a boring six-hour layover there until my 3:45pm departure to Helsinki. It was a good opportunity to chat with my girlfriend Savannah, my grandparents, my friend Brian, and my folks, though. 

Finnish flags at the international terminal in Chicago

I rode on a giant Boeing 767 from Chicago to Helsinki
The plane made the little AA jet behind it look like a paper airplane
My view for the next 8 and a half hours
I was so relieved when boarding finally began. Although the plane was big, the seating was still quite cramped. There was a row 3 seats across in the middle and a row on either side 2 seats across. The monitors were awesome because they showed where the plane was real-time on a map like a GPS and constantly updated the time in the Chicago and Helsinki, the plane's ETA, and its speed. I sat next to a very friendly couple on the plane; the husband was an American from the Chicago area and the wife was a native Finn who had lived in the US for awhile. They asked me questions about my trip, taught me Finnish words/phrases, told me what to see and do while I was there, explained some things about Finns, and told me about their son's experience in the Finnish military to maintain his dual citizenship. I was very grateful for the couple's company on that extremely long flight.

Unfortunately I didn't get much sleep (maybe two hours max), but the in-flight drinks, snacks, and meals were surprisingly good. As we eventually descended into an overcast Helsinki all I saw were lakes and trees everywhere. In fact, when I stepped off the plane I could actually smell the pine in the cool air. It was a refreshing smell after spending almost 9 hours in an airplane cabin.

Fresh off the plane
The famous and luxurious Finnair Lounge
Customs means business: I went through the red line to declare prescription meds
A small grocery store in the airport - it was so small and modern-looking
A Finnish taksi
After I got off the plane I followed the baggage claim signs to customs. The Finnish guys at customs were big guys and when they spoke English they sounded like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Once through customs I pulled out Euros from the ATM equivalent called Otto, went outside to the bus stop, and hopped on a bus to Turku. On the bus I marveled at the rolling hills covered in pine trees and the beautiful lakes they often surrounded. I also spent a great deal of time examining my Euros. The 5 Euro mark looks exactly like a piece of monopoly money, and the 2 Euro and 1 Euro coins look like Chuck E. Cheese tokens. Also, I couldn't get over how small the trucks in Finland are. They looked like toy trucks, and I kept expecting a kid's hand to reach down from the sky and snag one clean off the road. The biggest truck I saw during the 2-hour ride was maybe an 8-wheeler.

The bus stop. Every crosswalk in Finland has an accompanying sign and cars stop for you as soon as you look like you might cross the street
Below are just some of the pictures from my Helsinki to Turku bus ride:

Tiny truck and tall pines
A lake 
Pine trees...pine trees everywhere
A poliisi station (bet you can't guess what that is!)
That's it for Part 1. I will update again soon with Part 2 and pictures of my room, apartment complex, Supermarket, friends, the University, and the city of Turku. Thanks for reading!