Saturday, August 28, 2010

Transitional home

So here it is on a Friday night, my first weekend in Finland, and I'm lying in bed updating my blog.  What a crazy life I'm leading, huh?  Partly it could be because I just came back from a show by my friend's band, with a beer and some bizarre Finnish veggie burger in my stomach (here they include such things as spicy mayo and pineapple in addition to the usual burger toppings), and a desire to just take it easy and get some rest.  The band itself was, oddly enough, a Southern rock band called Gangster of Love, and there was something a little surreal about watching some metal/punk kids dancing around to a Finnish Stevie Ray Vaughn with no Nascar shirts, barbeque, or John Deere ball caps in sight.  It really shows that borders in music are all but arbitrary these days, and that you can really find any kind of music anywhere in the world - not just metal!  And who knows, if some guy from Lapland can sing exactly like he's from Louisiana, maybe I can make a pretty good impression of being from Finland someday.  Anything is possible.

It's really nice living here with a friend for the first week.  It's been very helpful to have someone to help translate, or even just to talk to in general.  I do miss my friends - and especially my cats - back home, but already I'm meeting some new folks here: the guys in the band, for instance.  And that doesn't even cover the people I'll meet when I start to go to the university.  I love how everyone is surprised that I sold everything to move here; I always want to say that they would not be surprised at all if they knew me over the past 5 years or so!  This place already is starting to feel like home, even though I know I probably still have some culture shocks ahead of me.  We'll see what the winter brings.

I'm still going through my little mental checklist of all the things I need to do now that I'm here, and so far I seem to be getting some of them done every day.  However I've also discovered all kinds of red tape this week - needing papers from the university to open the bank account which was needed to pay the registration fee so that I could acquire the papers, then the ridiculous difficulty in transferring funds from my US bank account to my Finnish one, and so on.  Luckily I seem to be able to take these snags one or two at a time and work them out, and nothing's been particularly impossible so far.  Everything that is stressing me out now should be resolved within a week or so.  Then perhaps I'll have some new things to stress about!

It's technically still August but today was only about 55 degrees F, and I spent the day in jeans and a hoodie.  It seems so strange after sweating my way through July and most of August, and now it's fall already here.  JP thinks that the first snow will come in October - even to me, though I love the snow, it will seem pretty early - in Ohio there was never any real snow until January (you could count on everything melting away until that point).  As soon as I get my apartment, I'm going to mail myself some boxes of winter clothes I packed before I left - might end up needing them sooner than expected.  Luckily, there's always sauna in the meantime.

Also, that ubiquitous saying that you never forget how to ride a bike?  Bullcrap.  I'm letting you know that after 20 years or so of not riding that yes, you actually can forget how to ride a bike.  Maybe I'll work on that this weekend since it may become a very important skill to have around here...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Day one - takin' care of business

Having safely arrived in what was previously my home away from home and is now just my home, I was ready to settle in.  Somehow I managed to avoid luggage fees that would normally be $175 for checking three bags - the man at the desk was a little confused about some mysterious glitch that skipped the prompt for payments and simply spat out 3 claim tickets instead.  Also I managed to not have to deal with customs, as my bags were checked through Copenhagen all the way to Turku, and once I arrived there was no-one at the customs station at the airport (a smaller airport I never did see – we were the only plane there).  I was a little worried that there might have been some problem, as flying through Frankfurt I always had to pick up my bags and go through customs and then re-check my bags to my final location.  But anyway, I was happy to leave the Day of Endless Travel behind (mainly due to crankiness resulting from a lack of sleep thanks to loud children and seat-kickers) and took a taxi into town to my friend JP’s place.  He fired up the sauna which now includes both wood and electric heat, and it was quite intense – I started to overheat and stepped outside until I felt better, and took only one more sauna turn before I knew I was done.  So I took a shower instead which was really nice after a day on planes, and even got to borrow some strong terva shampoo!

Right away I thought to charge my laptop and discovered that my outlet adapter wasn’t going to work, as the charger had a 3-prong grounded plug and the adapter would only accommodate a 2-prong.  So today JP and I walked out to this place called PC 911, a sort of used computer parts store, and I picked up a charger cord to use with my AC adapter that had a Euro plug for 2 euros.  Back in business!

Also one of the first-day surprises occurred as I stopped at an Otto ATM to pull out some money.  However rather than give me money and my card back, the machine just paused and eventually said “Card retained.”  I started to panic as that was my bank account card, and that I wasn’t going to have any access to my money if that was gone!  So we took the number of the ATM and the time of the occurrence, and went to the bank today to try to sort out the card, and possibly open a new account.  But for the new account I need a stamped form from the university, so that I will pick up tomorrow.  And I should be able to pick up my card from that bank Friday afternoon, so at least I will have that back.  One step at a time!  I still wonder why after years of using that card to pull money out, it took the card – perhaps because without a chip and since it’s a foreign card there was some security flag triggered.  Regardless, at least it’s something that fixable and once I have my money in a Finnish bank, I’ll be able to trust those Otto machines again.  Luckily I have some USD in my wallet that I changed to Euros which should get me by in the meantime.

Walking around town this morning was very satisfying.  The weather’s cooler but still a little humid, but it’s comfortable – the sun was mostly out except for a few clouds, but not the all-day rain that was forecasted… the riverside is beautiful, and the markets have tons of fresh produce and just about anything else one could want.  I bought some tofu and veggies to make a simple stir-fry, as well as the black pepper cheese I’d been pining for.  We stopped and had a beer on one of the little boat-restaurants along the river, just enjoying the breeze.  It’s so much quieter and less chaotic than in the states, even in the middle of the city.  Of course, it’s also the middle of a workday…

En route

Currently I'm sitting on an A330 somewhere over Delaware.  I'm on my way, a journey I've spent the last two months preparing for: the stress, the rush, the frantic selling of stuff, all of it done.  Now all that's left is to watch the East coast crawl by on the flight data screen.  My own country, the last of it I'll see for at least two years.  It's been fun, but I need to see other countries for awhile.
But how did I end up here?  Why Finland?  I get asked this question all the time, usually by people who don't know me that well - especially by Finns themselves.  I have thought about this question a lot myself, and unlike a lot of things I think about, I can pin my fascination with this cold arctic country on a specific event in time and place.  During December of 2000 I was home in Charlotte, NC on winter break from college, as was my brother, a couple of years younger than I.  We both would use my mother's car to drive around to visit friends or whatnot, and I was on my way somewhere in that car when I noticed a CD sticking halfway out of the car's stereo.  Figuring it was something my brother had left there, I put it in and it started to play.  The opening keyboard riff of "Stargazers" pounded into my ears with such unexpected volume and intensity that I nearly ended up in a ditch on the main thoroughfare outside my high school.  The CD was Oceanborn, and the band was Nightwish, and from that particular moment I would never quite be the same.
As soon as I could I hounded my brother with questions: who was this band, where were they from, did he have any more of their CDs?  I took back to college with me a couple of ripped discs from Sonata Arctica, Therion, and that Nightwish CD and immediately set to work finding out what I could.  There was only one other CD called Angels Fall First, but there was a new one out soon, Wishmaster, that might even be released in the states due to some attention from Century Media and Metal Blade records.  Joy!  Though I thought sadly that some random band from Finland would never make an appearance in the states, as Americans probably wouldn't go for that music.  But instead I set about learning about Finland, curious as to why so many bands I had recently discovered - among them Finntroll, Children of Bodom, Stratovarius, they came flying out of the woodwork by the dozens.  Sweden had a couple of good ones too, such as the aforementioned Therion, but what was it about Finland that gave its music some indefinable power?
The rest, as they say, is history.  I found a language course on tape and eventually a teacher.  I traveled all over the place to see bands that finally started to trickle into the US.  I read about the country's history and several English translations of Kalevala, Finland's national epic.  Eventually I planned a trip there in 2006 with my mom, where she would meet her penpal of 50 years and I would trek through southern Finland like a wine lover would devour the Napa valley.  It was love at first sight.
"I'll move there someday, even if it takes my entire life."  I used to say those words a lot, and they came true a lot sooner that I would ever have thought.  I never expected to have such luck so early (considering I had been prepared to spend decades fulfilling this dream), and I suppose the reality of it all isn't even sinking in quite yet.  Two months ago I came home for my usual lunch break, fired up my email and saw that email from the university I had applied for in February - the Univerity of Turku - congratulating me on my acceptance in the EuMachs master's program.  I had all but given up hope on acceptance, seeing as how my friend from Columbus already attending had gotten accepted in mid-April, and thought that the email would say something along the lines of "Sorry, you are not a winner, thanks for playing" or whatever the Finnish equivalent would be.  But nope, that was a notification that my official acceptance papers were in the mail.  I felt the floor under my little life shift a little and then fall away, kind of like how it feels at the top of a roller coaster before the big dive at the beginning, and I knew that life as I knew it was going to start to change forever.
The next two months rolled inexorably forward like a train in a Shinkai film, and life became a constant rush to get everything done on time.  Would I get my visa, a process advertised to take 8-12 weeks?  Would I be able to sell just about everything I owned except for some winter clothes?  Would I get a place to live in time?  What kind of fees, forms, and red tape would I encounter?  But I managed it, playing it by ear but with the help and advice of some friends near and far.  Somehow I pulled it all together, and here I sit, now in Connecticut, and the world rolls by.  The entirety of my life thus far exists only in a rearview mirror, my life in the states, and I've never been so excited and optimistic.
So long, America, and thanks for all the fish.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Welcome to my blog.  Here you'll find all the recollections and discoveries of one person on a rather unique journey of emigration from the US to the small yet awesome country of Finland.  While this isn't a situation I expect many would be able to relate to firsthand, I hope that my various meanderings can be entertaining, informative, and maybe even provide some encouragement to step outside and wander a bit beyond the fields you know.