Meanwhile, back in Finland....

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  1. HerHubby

    HerHubby The SF Poet Laureate
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    Parts I and II of an article I previously posted but cannot seem to find the first part now. Very interesting about Finland.

    Stripping down in Finland
    An interview with Leslie Epling
    Jewel Aldea
    Posted: 10/30/06
    The only thing I knew about Finland before interviewing senior Leslie Epling about her experiences there was that, to Finns, late night host Conan O'Brien is a god amongst mortals there: he is a dead ringer for the Finnish president. Both of them are tall, with a flaming red coif. Her name just happens to be Tarja Halonen.
    On a personal note, I didn't know where to start - in addressing our mutual need to be nerdy and constantly talk about being abroad, I have heard much about her time last semester at the University of Turku, located on Finland's southwest coast. Getting past her initial thoughts ("It was really cold and clean, and the people there are nice and quiet"), we moved on to her initial preconceptions about Finland. "I thought they would be happier - they have everything a person could ever want, but they have the highest suicide rate in the world!"
    In her decision to go to Finland, Leslie felt that it would be interesting to be one of the first people from ETSU to participate in an exchange to that country. Also, she wanted to experience a truly socialized country. She says, "Everyone has health care; everyone has access to child care; all of the university students have their school paid for."
    She had to contend with the Finns' preconceived notions about Americans. In her classes, several professors assumed far too quickly that she was dumb and unable to think for herself. She proved them wrong, earning 19 hours and completing an internship - an ungodly accomplishment compared to most who study abroad. But that's why she chose Turku, a school renowned for its work in biotechnology and bioinformatics. Because of her experience, she now feels that a career in research would suit her.
    In some of her classes, Leslie was the only non-Finn, subject to wide-eyed stares.
    "No one would talk to me unless I spoke to them first." Though she learned enough Finnish to get around, as well as a little Turkish on the side, language was not a barrier. "In fact, I was the first native English speaker that most Finns had ever met. So, they were eager to practice their English with me."
    Leslie also remembers that Finns assumed that Americans were also "always enthusiastic" and up for anything. And she means everything.
    For example, an inebriated man asked her once if she would touch him "like Paris Hilton," citing Hilton's foray into the world of porn.
    Speaking of inebriation, I have my own experience with Finnish students in Holland, and they can put the liquor down. Leslie confirmed that this was the norm, not the exception.
    It's a matter of national pride that they are able to drink most of the world under the proverbial table, imbibing unusual liquors native to Finland. "Although I didn't get drunk while I was there, I tried all of the special Finnish alcohol, including one that tasted like black salty licorice, called salmiakki."
    The bulk of our interview dealt with one issue: nudity. "I had a lot of experiences with nudity in Finland, in the saunas mostly. Everyone has one - they're in houses, apartment buildings, schools." For up to an hour and a half, three to four times a week, the Finns take a sauna bath, sometimes while being hit with birch sticks to cause a little bleeding, flushing out the toxins.
    But why do you have to be naked? "The Finnish saunas are much hotter than any sauna here, about 82 to 90 degrees Celsius." (For you non-metric people, you have to remember that 100 degrees Celsius is the boiling point.) "The sauna would melt your bathing suit." She eventually adapted. "It's almost addictive. You feel as if your muscles melt, and you sleep really well afterwards."
    While most saunas are single-gender, some are co-ed, such as those on college campuses.
    Leslie and her fellow sauna-enjoyers were not the only ones who were nude. On May 1, Finnish students, as well as other European students, traditionally participate in political rallies as part of Vappuu, a national holiday. Some Finns ran naked through the streets.
    She didn't exactly understand with which party these streaking Finns were affiliated, but "they did wear sailor hats and wave large flags."
    To be continued. In the next issue: Finnish politics, sub-zero temperatures and learning to enjoy what Finland has to offer.
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    © Copyright 2006 East Tennessean

    Stripping down in Finland
    An interview with Leslie Epling part 2
    Jewel Aldea
    Posted: 11/6/06
    As our interview progressed, I noticed that Epling's tone changed the more she spoke of Finland. At first, I thought that she didn't have a very good time, but I realized that she was more appreciative, rather than critical, of Finland's peculiarity.
    Finnish people defy the stereotypes of most Northern Europeans. They don't even consider themselves European, preferring to say that their country is 'Nordic' or 'Finno-Scandinavian.' According to Leslie, the Finns require a lot of personal space (two meters, she claims), and do not touch each other very often out of affection. They follow the rules to a 'T'. For Finns, being on time is being five minutes early.
    Of course, Finns are not always so serious. "Finns never take their work home with them," Epling said. We talked about the general drunkenness of Finns almost as much as we talked about nudity. "Finns drink at any time of day; there isn't a stigma against it. Professors would even pass out liquor on the last day of classes. For example, one of my professors passed around six bottles of champagne, plus dessert," she said. Student parties, pub nights, and picnics are the norm, with advertised drink specials.
    Her classmates were generally very welcoming and wanted to help exchange students. However, for an American, the pervasiveness of our TV shows caused a certain reputation to precede Leslie. Some Finns expected her to act as the women do on "Desperate Housewives". Her tutor in the Finnish language was a very nice person who was disappointed that Leslie's proportions did not reach "The Biggest Loser" standards.
    As we discussed Tarja Halonen, Conan O'Brien doppelganger/Finland's first female president, we talked about the other notable feature of Finnish politics: not only does Finland boast a socialized democratic system, but 28 percent of members of parliament are official members of Finland's Communist Party. "I really didn't think there would be so many. However, it's not hard to see with the Russian and Swedish influences."
    It seems that no one can afford to go without shelter or food in the extremely cold climate. Leslie arrived in Finland on Dec. 29, 2005, but the height of the winter was not until February. "The temperature reached down to 35 degrees Celsius below zero. Those were hard times." She had to make decisions unheard of to those accustomed to mild southern winters. "I had to decide whether or not to wear my scarf over my face. If I did, I would risk having my scarf frozen to my face. If I didn't, I would have really severe windburn. Either way, I would end up with a bloody face."
    Despite the bitter cold, Epling's adjustment period was only about eight weeks. "I adjusted pretty quickly with school things, but not everyday things - public transportation, shopping, not getting stuck in a pay toilet." Finnish food was one of the hardest things for Epling to digest. She says, "I really love fish, and I ate a lot of it there. And dark bread they had there was excellent. Otherwise, all I can say is that I don't like reindeer meat."
    Had she the opportunity to do it all over again, Epling said she would have gone to the sauna even more than her three to four times a week? "I would also have been braver about swimming in the Baltic Sea in the dead of winter. It's supposed to be a very disorienting experience." She loved traveling to the small, 'authentic' Finnish towns, where preserving nature is a priority. And she visited many of the 23,000 beautiful islands off of Turku's coast.
    Besides traveling throughout Finland, Leslie took the opportunity to travel to Stockholm, Sweden, "a gorgeous and fun city," twice riding the overnight ferry, an old Carnival cruise ship. She took the MCAT in Frankfurt, Germany, toured Zurich and Salzburg, and watched aerial ski jumping and women's hockey at the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.
    She misses Finland intensely. To keep her hand in the game, upon her return to the States, Leslie signed on to be an ISEP Ambassador at ETSU. She helps incoming exchange students, showing them around and helping them overcome culture shock. She also gives advice to those going to Turku or other places in Finland, as well as promoting international exchanges in general.
    "No one in my family understood why I wanted to go to Finland," she said. "In the time after my return in May, I have become more private about my experiences, which has been sometimes difficult. I have also become more independent." She wants to go back to Finland, but doesn't have any specific plans as of yet. "Turku, as Finland's old capital, is a mix of the old history and the newest technology. It's a great place."
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    © Copyright 2006 East Tennessean
     
  2. HerHubby

    HerHubby The SF Poet Laureate
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    Another student responds to the above articles:

    Europeans are sensitive, too
    Posted: 11/2/06
    Dear Editor,
    I must say that when reading stories like the one written by Jewel Aldea makes us Europeans look at some Americans as ignorant and arrogant, presenting with a lack of both cultural sensitivity and a deeper knowledge of the target country. Her article consists of generalizations rather than focusing on the individual experience. As to drinking, the Finnish people has the Nordic drinking style called binging along with other 'Northern countries', and they have infrequent but high intoxication rates, which are somewhat lower than those of the Brits and the Swedes, according to the latest British alcohol research. It is like people in Finland would think that all Americans carry a handgun and if you disagree with them they will pull the trigger at you without further consideration, or that all Americans are really loud when they talk. Of course these and many others are all false statements; people in the Northwest are actually quiet and soft-spoken and go on binges.
    The Finns are called the linguists of Europe because they have to study so many foreign languages and they speak them very well. They also travel extensively and many foreign students are attracted to Finland thanks to its high educational standards and multilingual environment.
    Turku, the 800-year old castle city has been a destination for many nationalities throughout the last thousand years, including Britons and Americans! The rate of suicide in fact is not the highest in the world, even if it is among the highest - among men! Maybe this is the high price Finland pays for not having 30 percent of the population on Prozac, as is the case in the U.S.?
    Remember that Finland is currently, according to many reports and statistics, one of the most advanced countries in the world. A quick glance at levels in technology (Nokia, Linux), education, infant mortality, competitiveness, poverty, corruption, freedom of the press, political stability, social service sector and so on, put Finland at the very top globally. And it is driven by private economy with a high taxation in the Scandinavian tradition.
    Read your newspapers carefully! I live in the U.S. and every time I visit Finland I feel how superior the Finns are in many ways, especially knowledge-wise, to the Americans.
    Thanks!
    Eric Holmsten
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  3. HerHubby

    HerHubby The SF Poet Laureate
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    Finland has lower intoxication rates than the British and Swedish?!
     
  4. AnonymousOne

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    And apparently thanks to Government control everything is peachy. I disagree, vehemently.
     
  5. HerHubby

    HerHubby The SF Poet Laureate
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    Uh, about the governmental control or the intoxication rates?!