I stumbled upon the notion of going on the exchange while scrolling through the University of Toronto newsletter. When the words “Finnish Exchange” jumped out at me, I was intrigued. Two of my colleagues previously had left to work for Orion a pharmaceutical company in Finland. On a whim, I decided to apply hoping, that I would be able to do something similar.
Coming closer to the leaving Canada, it became more and more apparent that my summer would be different from what I was expecting. When I left Toronto, my work was to research and prepare material for the 65th anniversary of the exchange. However when I arrived, I discovered it had changed to working in the Geology Department of the University of Helsinki. This certainly was a drastic change, but I went along with it.
Over the course of the summer, I had three jobs, all very different and unique in their own ways. I spent time teaching English, researching nanoparticles at the University of Helsinki, and landscaping parks. The diversity between these jobs was fantastic–I enjoyed being exposed so many different situations and people. These three positions cohesively gave me a wholesome experience of the Finnish working culture. Also, I was able to meet a wide variety of people through these jobs.
During the first three weeks of my work experience, I lived in Tuusula, a city in the Finnish countryside. The days were filled of interesting conversations with the students and biking the endless forest trails in my spare time. After those three weeks, I started research at the University of Helsinki where I was able to work in a very international environment and see an approach to research that is very different from what I had experienced in Canada. Following this, I began landscaping with Mike for five weeks. Landscaping became a job where I was able to learn practical skills and form friendships that will last beyond this exchange.
To some a job that requires waking up at 5am and working laborious days may appear to be unpleasing and unappealing work. To me landscaping originally was, luckily this changed very quickly. I had two coworkers Alexis and Miro who thrilled and enthusiastic to work with Mike and I. They relished the opportunity to practice their English skills. On one of our weekends, Mike and I both went to one of their summer cottages where we had a traditional Finnish cottage experience. Our last Saturday in Finland was an adventurous night out in Espoo with Miro ending with Mike and I walking back to Pohjois-Haaga from downtown.
Before setting off for Finland, I was told by alumni the jobs are only a small part of the exchange experience. Originally, I found this difficult to believe. However, the more and more time I spent in Finland, the more the exchange became a vast learning experience, and a way to experience the culture and customs of Finland in a unique and engaging way. Those memories from Kasper’s Farm Vestlax, picnics at Suomenlinna, Reggae stomp, Juhannus, sitsit, and Finnish sauna parties are those that I will certainly remember as my greatest experience at the University of Toronto. The summer was definitely different than what I expected in an incredible way–it completely exceeded my expectations in a way that I did not know was possible. I look forward to being involved when the next group of Finn’s are selected, and being a part of ensuring that they will have just as memorable of a summer as I had.