After a few weeks of near constant rain, we've had a couple of really nice clear days. It's crisp and cool, and perfect for wandering around in the forest. So I decided to take my camera out for a stroll, since I've been here a month and hadn't even taken it out of the drawer yet! You can see some photos of the countryside near my house here in a Flickr set. I'm trying to spend most of these last clear sunny days outside when I can, because I'm going to become very familiar with the heated interior of buildings over the next few months. The fact that the windows here are triple-paned and about six inches thick speaks for the winters people cope with on a regular basis up here. But for now, when the sun does shine, it seems exceptionally bright, and the clouds hang low. Even the atmosphere is different up here.
I've been busying myself with paperwork for my spring exchange - I've settled on the University of Köln, as its programs are most relevant to my thesis ideas, it'll be cheaper and easier to travel to and from, and I already know a smattering of German from my high school days. Complicating things is that the university is on a very different academic schedule, and the spring (or really, summer) semester occurs from mid-April through July. This means I won't have a chance to hold a summer job, but it does give me a pretty large break from January to April, and perhaps I can find something then, when there's less competition from other students on summer break. I'm certainly planning on coming back to Finland at least one weekend, if for no other reason than to reset my 3-month visa-free stay in Germany. It's also disappointing in that this was really to be my summer to enjoy being here, since next summer will probably be consumed with the stress of finding a job. Plus, it will be frustrating to have to put my Finnish studies on hold for 4-5 months. But at least I'll have an Erasmus grant paying for some of my monthly expenses, so it won't be a complete financial disaster.
Coursework is also starting up, along with a web seminar next week which should prove interesting. It'll already be difficult to procure some of the required reading, as there's usually only 1 or 2 copies of the books we need in English in the library, and 3 of us who need to read it in that language! But most of the materials so far have been available on the university library's website, which includes a great selection of journal and research databases, and can be saved or printed right from one's own computer. The libraries here in general have been awesome so far, both for schoolwork as well as recreational reading and music. I've been borrowing things on a regular basis including books that I own and miss, and new music that I can check out for free... there are literally hundreds of hard rock and metal CDs to choose from.
One recent event was Turku Day, which was a citywide celebration that included a lot of music performance in the older parts of town near the cathedral and library. There were some bands playing some old Finnish tunes as well as modern stuff. Let's just say that a live rendition of "Säkkijärven Polkka" is a lot more entertaining with a toothless old guy dancing around to the tune! There were also lots of street vendors and most of the art galleries and museums had their entrance fees at half price. I took the opportunity of visiting Åbo Vetus again, since I hope I can work with them during my practicum/internship next year. At the end of the day there were fireworks at the city center visible even from my apartment.
Even though there's a definite city rivalry with people from Tampere and Helsinki (neither have particularly favorable opinions of Turku, but I suppose people in Cleveland and Pittsburgh don't have a lot of nice things to say about each others cities either), I really like it here so far. Even though some of the novelty is slowly wearing off, and culture shock pops up every now and then, there are still many days where I stop and think about how glad I am to be here.