I’m currently sitting at the Columbus airport waiting for the first leg of my flight back to Finland while enjoying my last taste of American pizza for the next few months. I initially thought I might write a bit more over the holidays, thinking maybe I would be ready to reflect on all that the first half of this adventure has held, but with only 12 days to see family and friends I was kept pretty busy. Thankfully, the new year and the inherent sentimentality induced by airports has finally given me the inspiration I need.
A very wise friend of mine loves to talk about how we often oversimplify our time abroad, feeling as if simply being in a different place engenders some sort of rare self-discovery. And she is right. Living in a different country provides a lot more questions than answers, especially about ourselves and some of our most strongly held beliefs. Over the past 4.5 months, I’ve been challenged in so many ways. There have been times when I’ve wondered if I will continue doing this work for the rest of my life or if I will change my path and land in a different area of medicine. I’ve endured interactions that have made me feel like I’m from a different planet and not just a different country, and left these interactions reminded of how hard communication can be sometimes. There have been times when I wasn’t sure if I really had this whole adulting thing down well enough to balance work, travel, and family and friends, all while living in a new country and adjusting to cultural changes. I’ve been made to wonder if there really is any perfect approach to healthcare, education, social services, etc., if even here there are things to improve upon. And finally, I’ve been forced to reconsider how I communicate, when I should stand up for myself, and when I can let some things go.
We definitely have some things to learn from the Finns, and they have a lot they could learn from us as well, but I think the beauty of being immersed in a new culture is that you have the chance to encounter and digest different perspectives in the places they are created, and eventually return home to decide if and how these perspectives may fit into your own. But you can’t really know this until you leave. Returning home, I’ve been reminded that our country is far too large and too diverse to discredit. Sure, we have a lot to improve upon, but it isn’t fair to forget about the sheer differences between our two nations. While there are days when I generally feel hopeless about the state of American healthcare, it is good to remember that we are doing pretty well given our history and culture. I’ve also decided that (surprise!) Americans are too loud, especially in public spaces, but Finns are still far too reserved for my taste. I can’t tell you how nice it felt to finally interact with strangers normally while back at home. When I smiled, people smiled back, and people were never visibly awkward when I asked them how they were doing. While this is the case, I’m really looking forward to the reliable peace and quiet of Finnish city streets.
Being home and finally getting to feel like my full self again was a much-needed reminder that 1.) I don’t stick out in the world as much as I might think I do in Finland, because in America I am at least a sort of normal human. And 2.) I am one of the luckiest people alive to be able to have this year to explore, learn, and grow even if it means I have to leave a lot of people and places I love back home. My day to day routine in Finland may sometimes feel monotonous and nearly everyday holds some sort of challenge, but when I really step back and think about this life I’m living right now, monotonous is the furthest thing from reality. Here’s to 4.5 more months living in this winter wonderland and doing the work I love.