So, I’m a little over a month into my Fulbright, and I have to be honest and say that my first few posts, while true reflections of my occasional life here, have not fully captured my day to day experiences in Turku. Although living abroad, traveling to different places, and being a fly on the wall in a foreign hospital are quite glamorous, sometimes life here is also just hard. A day doesn’t go by where I feel like I haven’t made some sort of awkward cultural mistake, and I always come home exhausted, not necessarily from a busy day, but just from a day full of differences that my body and mind are still trying to process. It’s in times like these that I have to remind myself that this is the sheer purpose of living abroad: to challenge myself, to make mistakes, and to hopefully find some humor and joy in it along the way. So, here’s a list of some funny (potentially embarrassing) occurrences from my first month:
-Riding my bike and consistently being passed by bike-riding Finns of all ages: toddlers, the elderly, mothers with three children riding on the back and groceries in the basket on the front…
-Being asked if I wanted to do a vaginal exam and/or be first assist in a c-section, as these are normal things for Finnish medical students, but alas, I am neither Finnish nor officially a medical student.
-Outing myself as the only native English speaker in my Finnish class full of European exchange students, only to then be asked by my professor to read out loud in English every time there are written instructions for the class.
-Laughing when my colleagues at the hospital begin laughing, even though I have no idea what they have said that has caused this laughter. This is usually followed with a range of sad to confused looks from them once they realize I have no idea what I’m laughing at.
-Smiling when I walk past any stranger on the street, even though I know by now that said stranger will only glare back at me in confusion.
-Assuming all barre workout classes in the world are the same, and quickly realizing that in Finland a barre class is actually a legitimate ballet class.
-Falling into the traditional American stereotype when you accidentally share your love for McDonalds with your European friends who hard core judge your affinity for greasy, processed foods.
-Attempting to make a recipe from home that has measurements in cups, and realizing that measurements only come in deciliters here.
-Nearly missing the boat to Estonia because when people call a boat a “ferry”, you don’t picture a cruise ship, nor factor in the extra time to go through the boarding process of said cruise ship.
-Accidentally eating horrid hospital cafeteria food at least twice a week because you can’t read the menu nor do you really know what it is by the looks, so you think, “well might as well give it a try”.
Even when everything feels messy though, I am slowly figuring things out and counting my small wins. For example:
-The time when the lady sitting next to me on the bus asked in Finnish if this was my stop and I responded with “Joo kiitos,” to which I received a “Ole hyvää” back without her realizing I was not Finnish speaking and switching into English.
-Finally finding almond milk in the grocery store, once realizing that they don’t put it in the refrigerator and learning that it is called “maantali maito.”
-Picking up words during neonatal rounds that help me actually understand the infant’s diagnosis, how the mother is doing with pumping/breastfeeding, and when the infant might be able to go home.
-Actually learning to enjoy all of the rye bread here, and beginning to think you might miss it once you go home.
-Finding some like-minded Finns who also want to talk about social issues, health, good books and podcasts, etc. and getting them to open up enough to start becoming friends.
-Enjoying some sunshine while waiting for friends to meet you outside of Turku Cathedral, and having your own “Finnish Nightmare” moment when a group of tourists pulls up and completely ruins your nice Finnish peace and quiet.
(Is that last one a win or a loss, I’m not really sure?)