Reflections – 6 months in Finland

Six months ago, we arrived in Finland to a tiny hotel room and a vicious cold snap that surprised even the Finns we talked to. This week, we determined that summer is over, although I’m not sure it ever actually began.

In May and June, I surprised myself by thinking that 14°C was warm enough to walk around without a jacket. Today, 14°C feels so chilly I wish I hadn’t lost my lightweight down jacket in April. I seriously think I would have worn it today. A couple of us wives had talked about going early to the sauna on Wednesday to swim in the lake and hang out on the beach, soaking up the most of the summer sun while we could. We decided not to go early, and later in the evening while in a fleece and standing next to a fire, we were wishing we had heavier jackets.

It’s actually surprising how seldom I think about the fact that I’m living in a foreign country. Most of the time, it just feels so normal. I miss my family and friends, of course, but Stephen and I are both quite happy being alone most of the time, and we mostly hang out around the apartment, watching TV, reading, me doing crafts, him playing video games – it’s all so very normal. Every once in a while I realize, “Holy crap, I live in Finland!” and it all feels very surreal.

There’s a bit of a language barrier sometimes, but most people under 50 speak English at least well enough to get by, if not better than me. It’s sometimes a bit hard to communicate with people, but it’s almost never truly a struggle. Everyone is very nice here, with a few exceptions (our grumpy neighbor downstairs), and I’ve never met anyone not willing to help if I ask and they are able.

In the States, I maybe went 10 days a year without driving somewhere. I think I may have driven the car 10 times since we’ve been here. One of the things I was looking forward to the most on this move was the chance to not have a car – to walk everywhere I needed to go. And it’s one of the things I still love the most about living here. You would think as much as I walk or ride my bike, I would have lost some weight, but no such luck. One of the other wives was surprised at her lack of weight loss, as well, and she thinks it’s because we have no stress around us, so we burn less calories. I don’t know, maybe she’s right.

It’s an odd feeling, not working. And I honestly don’t know how I managed while I was. Several of the other wives agree with me – I’m surprised at how little free time I actually have. I don’t sleep all day – I’m generally up by 7am. I fix Stephen’s lunch and see him off (such a good little housewife), and then it’s laundry and dishes and dusting and ironing and a trip to the grocery store and then it’s time to cook dinner. I’m lucky if I watch an hour of TV during the day, luckier still if I’m able to pick up a book between 7am and 7pm. I’ve done some writing (my job, as Stephen calls it), but not as much as I feel I should have, given the “free time” not working allows me. Until recently I hadn’t even exercised much, although one could argue that all the walking and biking around town should count for something.

Until recently, it was my habit to see Stephen off to work, then fix myself breakfast and a pot of tea and watch an hour of TV. Then I would surf the internet a bit, catching up on Facebook and email, then look at the clock, realize it’s 10:30, and jump in the shower. Then my day would fly by, with all the little errands and chores and random meet-ups with the other wives. I realized that this schedule was not working for me, so a couple of weeks ago I changed things up. I see Stephen off, then have a small cup of tea while checking email and Facebook, do a couple of small chores, and at 9:15 I’m out the door, running 3 miles or biking 14. Get home, shower, then handle the rest of my day. Things have gone much better on this schedule, I’ve been doing more writing, and I feel better about how I’ve spent my day.

Things haven’t been all good. I’ve had my dark days since moving here. A bit of homesickness, a bit of loneliness. For some reason, knowing that we will probably not get any visitors while we’re here upsets me. I want to share this experience with someone (other than Stephen, of course) – I want someone else I love to see how I live and what I do and enjoy the things around me like I do. And I get sad when I think that won’t happen. Finland, and Western Finland at that, is remote and hard (and expensive) to get to. I get that. I, too, if given a choice between a vacation to Finland and a vacation to France or Spain or England or Italy would not choose Finland.

I worry about the winter. Summer was beautiful, more like April where I’m from, sunny and breezy and warm, but not hot. I had the doors and windows open, I was outside when I could be, I sat on the balcony and watched soccer practice across the street and read a book while sipping a glass of chilled white wine. Now, while I’m actually looking forward to the cold and the snow at this point (I can’t explain it, don’t ask), I’m scared to death of the darkness November and December will bring. I have loved the 20-22 hour days of sunlight, and I think I would be happy with them year round. I’m worried that having only 4 hours of sunlight, weak, horizon sunlight at that, will make me depressed and negative and irritable. I don’t want to be like that, and I’m quite sure Stephen doesn’t want me to be like that. I know, I know, I’m letting it get into my head. Focusing on the bright side – I think this is one NaNoWriMo that I’ll be able to complete!!

In the end, life keeps moving right along. I’m just lucky enough to be able to have this amazing experience, with this incredible man by my side. Six months down, another 18 months to go. I’m already sad about the dwindling timeline.

Some highlights so far:

  • Finnish Penkkarit. It wasn’t necessarily one of those incredibly cool things, but it was such a surprise, completely unexpected, and it delighted me on an otherwise cold February day.
  • Walking on water. Another completely random surprise, going for a walk and suddenly realizing you’re walking on the sea. I can’t wait to do it again!
  • Finnish Artist Juhani Linnovaara. Yet another surprise, an artist most people have never heard of, and his paintings had me in awe. I’m very glad I bought a print, so I can look at it in fifty years and remember those colors.
  • Our trip to Normany, France.
  • Our first experience with the Finnish Sauna. Plus a lovely conversation with a 14 year old French girl who wants to visit Missouri.
  • A trip to Tallinn, Estonia – a place I had never even heard of before we moved here – and I can tell you where Suriname and Montenegro are without looking at a map!

Up next – a trip to Ireland at the end of the month. I can’t wait!

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Categories: Finland, Random | Tags: , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “Reflections – 6 months in Finland

  1. John

    Excellent chapter for your book.

  2. I like this. I cannot believe it’s already been 6 months!

  3. I love that you are so positive. Being away from home, and in a (really) strange place can be daunting. But clearly you are making the most of it!

  4. I love not driving. It’s one of my favorite things about living here. I can relate to pretty much all of the other stuff you mentioned, too (finding time to write, etc.). Also, can I have some of your motivation to run? I could use it! 😉

    • My motivation to run is currently on my hips – I’d be more than willing to give it to you! 🙂

  5. coldradio

    Stock up on Vitamin D, invest in an indoor solar panel, and prepare to get outside a lot for the fresh winter air which also helps…I am heading into my 3rd winter here in Finland and for myself the worst is not until January or February and then March…ugh! March is so long and dark here, but when you know that spring is on the other side, it is not so terrible…really.

    • Yep, stocked on Vit D, have plans to get a sun lamp, and hoping for the best other than that! I was surprised at how bright it was during February and March, but I think once you’ve dealt with it for several months already, you’re ready for it to end, and that’s the real problem. But I’ll get through it, one way or another! 😀

      • anonymous

        The winter solstice is somewhere around December 20th. So, sunwise, February is a bit like early Novermber or late October. In addition, there’s snow, which makes all the difference anyway. If you get past November and the snowless parts of December, you’ll be fine.

  6. Congrats on 6 months in Finland and enjoy your trip to my homeland! Greetings, Irish in Tallinn.

  7. Pingback: What I didn’t know a year ago « Embrace Life. Be Inspired.

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