*Disclaimer: I’m posting this weeks late because life. I wrote it just a few days after my dad and Suze left town, but didn’t get a chance to edit it until now so please forgive the messed up timeline. 🙂
A little bit of Ohio came to visit me this week! My dad and step-mom, Susan, came all the way to Turku with American snacks, winter necessities, and lots of hugs for me in tow. They have been planning lots of trips around my time here in Turku, and this is the first of two visits they plan to make to Finland while I’m here. Of course they weren’t pleased when I asked them to bring half my closet and half the grocery store across the Atlantic, but they made it happen and I couldn’t have been more grateful.
I met them Tuesday evening at the Helsinki airport, taking the train from Turku to Vantaa and then directly back again. They were jet-lagged and wide-eyed, but nonetheless ecstatic to see me when I found them at the airport train station. I had booked a dinning car table on the train back to Turku, so we were able to eat and catch up all at once. We were, as expected, the only people talking on the train, and my dad and Susan couldn’t get over how quiet nearly all public spaces here are. I remember the peace and quiet being a difference I noticed immediately as well, but have since gotten used to it I guess. It’s funny how you forget those small differences once you’re here for a while, but noticing them again makes me appreciate them even more.
Although my parents were only here for four days, we packed them with Turku’s famous sights, lots of nature, and heartfelt meetings with some of my favorite people here. The castle and cathedral were some of my dad’s favorites, while Suze loved the Fazer chocolate cafe and Marimekko. They also got to stop by the NICU one morning to see where I work and compare the unit to the one they experienced back home in North Carolina. The preterm birth of my twin niece and nephew almost 5 years ago was a huge moment in all of my family members’ lives, and its the inspiration for why I do what I do. My dad and Susan spent hours with my sister and her husband in the NICU, and so they have a good idea of what the NICU is like in the U.S. The unit here is so strikingly different that it is sometimes hard for me to believe its real, and they felt the same way when they visited.
Our evenings were filled with meeting my friends and mentors here over good food. We had dinner Wednesday night with my good friend Michelle, another Fulbrighter living in Turku. On their final night here, Liisa, the physician I work with, made us the most lovely dinner full of traditional Finnish dishes–Smoked salmon and rye appetizers, reindeer and potatoes, and Glogi for desert. Although it’s always nice to have your family meet your friends and mentors, these meetings felt particularly joyful, and I think it left my parents feeling a little more at peace.
Although I haven’t really missed home all that much outside of the occasional cravings for certain foods or the intermittent FOMO I have for Elon events or family gatherings, words can’t describe how nice it was to have people who really know me be here. People always talk about “discovering yourself” while abroad, but that paints an oversimplified picture. Of course, the suggested self-discovery of travel results from the experience of truly being an outsider in a new place, but I’m not sure if this experience is ever fully translated to normal life once you return. The person you were at home and the person you become out of necessity while abroad are very hard to congeal. I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to fully integrate these two versions of myself after any of my travels, and maybe that will change because I’m actually living in Finland, but I still feel that there is this huge difference between the Sarah I know and the Sarah those in Finland perceive me to be. Be it the language barrier or the cultural differences, it can be hard to feel like I’m ever fully portraying myself accurately in my actions and words, but with my family here a little bit of that dissonance subsided.
We said goodbye for now on Friday evening, and they successfully caught the train to the airport early that next morning. It was hard to break our hugs when I left, but I will see them (and the rest of my family) at Christmas. Overall, it is always a good feeling to have your family fall in love with the places and people you’re falling in love with, and I’m already looking forward to the next time they visit.