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!