Culture Shock: A Myth?

Why are people so alarmed over culture shock?

 

When I first decided I wanted to study in Finland, I only knew three things about it: It has the best education system in the world, it’s expensive, and it’s cold. As soon as I stepped on the Finnish ground, I found out something else about it too: it’s super clean. Seeing as I didn’t know pretty much anything about Finland, I had braced myself for some serious culture shock.

 

Finland view

 

Coming from Kosovo, a developing country, I was bound to notice a lot of differences between my home country and Finland. The whole process of coming to Finland took a lot of unexpected turns. At first, I kept repeating to my parents that I needed to buy lots of winter clothes because I didn’t have enough to last me a whole year. I packed my bags full of skiing clothes, thick jackets, scarves and woolen shirts. I regretted that decision as soon as I arrived; turns out September is actually warm in Finland. I had to borrow clothes from my roommate for quite a while, before it finally turned cold by the end of November and I could start using my endless supply of winter clothes.

Upon arrival, I thought I would never get used to the quiet atmosphere of Valkeakoski, a small town where my university was located. The first few days, every time I went for a walk, I was reminded of the fact that Finland was completely different, not only from my home country, but also from all other European countries I’d visited. There was a certain air of morality and honesty here: everyone tries to be helpful, people don’t stare, they don’t lie, and no one will try to steal anything from you! The latter was especially hard for me to fully grasp. I remember this one time during my first few weeks in Finland, I was in class when I suddenly remembered I had forgotten my phone in the school’s cafeteria. I started freaking out that someone must have already stolen my phone. All my Finnish friends were looking at me weird (later, they told me they were trying so hard not to laugh at my unnecessary panic attack). It goes without saying that my phone was still in the cafeteria, just where I’d left it.

Another thing that came as a shock were the staggering prices. I mean, Finland is expensive even when compared to other EU countries, but I came from Kosovo, one of the cheapest countries to live in! The steep prices were extra shocking for me. Soon I found out this wouldn’t be a problem if I had a job in Finland, as the wages are more than enough to cover all expenses.

 

Helsinki Christmas Market: Warm feeling in cold weather

 

“How are you handling the culture shock?”

With every passing day, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for me to have some sort of breakdown from the cultural differences. After all, everyone I had talked to since I’d arrived kept asking me “How are you handling the culture shock?” with a sympathetic, almost sad, look in their eyes. Yet, as time went on, I found myself growing accustomed to this wonderful place. It felt like home. I had made such an amazing group of friends, my professors were great, and I’d even discovered cheaper stores to shop in! My visits back home became fewer and shorter, and my stays in Kosovo were mostly spent missing Finnish culture. I missed the people, the food, the sauna nights, the nightlife (they throw parties on cruise ships to Stockholm!), I even started missing the weather… to put it simply, I missed the life I’d built in Finland.

 

Saunas are a big part of Finnish culture

 

While I’d also been accepted to study in the UK and the US, I had nonetheless decided Finland would be better suited for me, and I’d been right. Finland truly is one of a kind. The quality of education here is a delight to experience. Your professors are more your friends than they are your superiors. You call each other by first name, as you would with friends, you go out drinking with them, you mock each other, you share inside jokes… All the while, these people are giving you the best tools to grow and enhance your academic future and career. It is the best of both worlds.

 

The colorful streets of Helsinki covered in white

 

Written by Morea Ibrahimaj

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