Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Suomi Night

Most of the people longs to belong somewhere, someone or something. It is an itch, really hard to explain. I sometimes find myself wishing to have that desire too. Am I incomplete as a human being? Probably not. Other/Normal times, I am perfectly happy with my nomadic soul which refuses to attach a stationary source to support its existence. That nomad needs to know all, to see all and never be out of a plan. My last plan was to start a Master's degree, abroad. I also wanted to continue my career in a scientific level. So, Helsinki happened.

If living in a place means to embody a piece from it, then Helsinki will be the fifth city and Finland, the fourth country. I believe being exposed to the culture as an expat, pushes your borders and opens up opportunities to see the world from a different angle. That is why I like it better to live in a country, despite a short touristy visit. It demands more effort than a vacation, yet it is much more rewarding. So here I am, since my first day, trying my best to find out more about Finland. My enthusiasm can be spotted from miles away. I want to share what I learned so far. I am even considering to write about the language sometime cause I started to take a course to learn Suomi (Finnish in Finnish) and I am enjoying it -yes, it is a pretty hard language-.

Today I will keep it simple with the food which I have tried so far and something frightened me at first: the sauna. Sadly, I don't have any pictures for today. I don't like to share food photos so much -unless its for a recipe or something really weird- and you obviously get the reason why for the sauna. Bringing cell phones in a sauna is irrational, what else did you think of?

Couple of days ago, student organizations in our campus throw a Suomi Night for us, foreigners. Of course I jumped on it and I dragged some friends too. The event was held in the club room of pharmacy students. They nearly have half of the floor with the meeting room, the sauna, the common space, and the kitchen. Lucky pharmacy students! And lucky us that they were so welcoming!

The event started with the food (yay)! I was just out of my last class that day and my stomach was forcing me to eat. Menu was pea soup and "karjalanpiirakka" -read j as y, rest is read as written-. The pea soup is more like dense vegetable dish, not as liquid as a regular soup. It was very similar to lentil soup back at home. They served the pea soup with fresh basil, chopped onions and mustard. Mustard is smth that I love a lot, but I have never tried it with a soup. It was a bit odd for me. I enjoyed my soup better with the basil only. For the karjalanpiirakka, it might be better if I posted some pictures. But not yet: I am saving that to the day I learn to bake them -coming soon-. It is basically a small, cute, salty pie. The crusty part is made with rye flour and inside is soft, filled with rice, potatoes or carrots. So far I just tried the rice ones. I like them mostly at the breakfast.

Let's come to the dessert part. The black candy: The Finnish delicacy (!). I tried "salmiakki" on the second day I arrived here. It is salty licorice -still type of a candy-. Even though I fancy licorice a lot, I didn't like salmiakki a bit. Maybe we didn't manage to find the right brand or it could be an acquired taste. More than the candy, I enjoyed looking at my flatmates' faces who also tried it for the first time. A small note though: It goes great as an alcohol flavor.

After the food and getting to know the student organizations, it was the sauna time. Before, I had mentioned that I preferred cold over hot. That was why, I was suspicious about liking the Finnish sauna or not. Apparently sauna is a huge component of the culture here and going to sauna is not a luxury at all. We even have a common sauna in our building. Anyways, I was really curious about my first sauna experience here. Finally happened! We joined the women's session at the party. I removed my lenses and like everybody else I took a shower. Our Finnish friend warned us to wash our hair too, in order not to burn the hair. Would it be that hot? At first, it really really feels that hot. Yet, getting used to is easy. It was such a relaxing, liberating environment. I think we stayed there for half an hour chatting, singing and bonding. Within ten minute breaks, we took showers then came back inside. You also need to drink lots of water afterwards to prevent dehydration. Despite having red eyes and terrible hair afterwards, sauna time was the peak of my night. No kidding at all! I hope I won't get addicted to it.

Rest of the night was classic: dancing and chatting. Some people also played beer pong -not my favorite game-. I preferred to cheer for my friends. So much fun and some new cultural experience for us! Before the exams coming up, I really appreciated such an event. Thanks for arranging it!     

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Little Pinkys in Life

Happy lazy Sunday everyone! I am reporting from my bed. Today, I stayed at home because of the fragile state of my body. I don't want a little cold turn into something bigger. It is just too early to get sick here. Luckily, my illnesses don't last long -strong immunity you can say-. Even though I will feel better tomorrow, I'm mourning right now because of missing the Helsinki Puppy Parade. Maybe next spring.

Well, it is a funny story how I managed to get sick. I hear some voices whispering: "Because you always dress up so lightly..." No my dears, that wasn't the case here. I was wearing a wool sweater with a t-shirt inside and carrying an additional leather jacket with me. Glad to do that (?). I guess my over-exhaustion was taken as an invitation by the pathogens.  For this weekend, I was planning to volunteer for the Slush, then to find an eternal peace with all the dogs in the parade next day. My plans slightly changed because of our neighbors who are are living at the next building.

We met these neighbors across our terraces, a few weeks ago. I recognized "The Mustache Guy" and realized that they were some of the exchange students from the orientation. Actually, just waving at them or saying hi could be enough. However; boredom was at its highest peak, so being spontaneous was inevitable. I jumped to our roof and asked them if they would want to come over. Their answer was convincing, so we went to their place. Be smart and never say no to cheap Estonian wine and good company.

On Friday, "The Mustache Guy", invited us to their house-warming. We decided to go there with *E and *K. Since our master key can open their building door too (?!), we took our time and joined to them later. When we arrived, house was already crowded. Mostly exchange students, so you can understand that everybody was extremely loud and happy. My Turkish sister from the Netherlands was also at the party. Her and I bonded so quickly since we are very similar spirits. I think it was her who said there was another party in the campus. An alternative was a good idea because house parties always get noise complaints.

Soon, as expected, neighbors complained about the noise at 11 pm something. While we were about to leave, I saw a toy flamingo standing on the stairs. I claimed it as a friend due to their abundance at my home town -maybe I started to be a little homesick, secretly-. At the terrace, I was introducing Pinky to everyone and we were laughing how it yodels when you push its wing. Of course Pinky had to come to the other party too. I literally stole it from the house and carried it for the rest of the night.
The party was at a club room of a student nation. When we arrived, Finnish people were already drunk and enjoying themselves. By the way, I think I forgot to mention that Viikki campus includes only biology related disciplines. Being surrounded with this much of students who are interested with biology, this is really new for me. *K doesn't understands me and says I am being boring if I talk biology stuff. I like to talk about many other things too, but being able to talk about my passion with people who share the interest, that is something else. No offense my social sciences and engineering friends, I still love you too. And guess what? I wasn't the only animal freak in the party. There was a guy who was wearing a toy snake as a necklace and a guy with a hat made with toy animals -a seal, a bird (?) and a snake to be exact-. We were talking as a group for a while, and it was amusing. The night itself was pretty amusing.

Next morning, my throat was sore. I drank tons of water and two cups of hot tea. Feeling didn't recovered and I decided to ignore it. I woke up everyone because we were late! When we arrived at the Slush venue, Alan was already there. That angry look was an earned one. Still, I think we all had fun while volunteering. This was my second Slush Talkoot and being a part of it was a different experience. They are the biggest tech organization in Finland and most of their volunteers are made up by university students. The whole organization was getting ready for their big event and we helped the construction team. Their commitment to their jobs is really inspiring. First event that we randomly found was a dream catcher workshop; however, this time we were cleaning and cutting carpets -at least for us light workers-. To be honest, not my kind of work this time. But, doing something as a team was really motivating.

I think, I might have pushed myself too much there without noticing. I got worse and had a fever. I didn't want to worry the girls. I knew that it will go down if I rest a bit and eat. At home, *E gave me medicine and made us hot cocoa. Love her so much! Now, I am much more better while drinking one of my countless cups of tea. Pinky, the stolen flamingo, is still in our place. Tried to return it, yet its owner said he will steal it when he comes to our house-warming. Seems fare enough!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Don't Be a Couch Potato

Home, sweet home. I got so used to my comfort-zone here and so do my flatmates. We started to resemble old-married couples and we mostly stay at our place. Cook together, eat a lot and chat a lot. We will have a movie night tonight. I guess it will be an Indian movie, "Parched". I am planning to write this post until they call me.

This weekend, I didn't want to stay at home. No more PSP drama (!) I told to myself. There were  plenty of events during the week, but I am not a club person and I didn't even craved for concept parties this time. To make up for the stay-home week, the weekend should be spend outside. Also, I needed an extra blanket and a pillow. SO, Saturday was Ikea day! *A was an Ikea virgin since there are none of them in India. While I was telling her about the Ikea, I said that she should try the Swedish meatballs there with the cranberry sauce. Her eyes got wide open, looked me with a great surprise. Auch! Then I remembered she was a vegetarian. I said sorry instantly and we just laughed of course. *E wanted to get some stuff, she joined us too. All together, we got on a bus and went to Ikea at Vantaa -a city, a bit outside Helsinki-. You can reach Vantaa with a regular city bus, but there is a catch about it which I will mention soon.

Ikea was a typical Ikea with the exact same interior plan and same meatballs -in addition, they have a vegetarian option here-. This visit brought up many memories because the hospital I worked in Izmir was very close to Ikea. I used to park my car there, and I used to eat in food area, if I would be alone for the lunch. In the end, with my belly full of Swedish treats, I picked a cool hedgehog shaped pillow and a tiger print blanket. Orange color really energizes me! Plus, I fell in love with my keyboard playing, hipster hedgehog. Now, it's name is Viska. Its sweater matches with my new blanket. Enough of my new pillow friend though. Time really flies by while you are touring around and it was so late that we missed our bus. We had to walk some distance to find another bus stop, then we waited like half an hour. The catch I mentioned before is here: Our bus cards didn't worked this time and we ought to buy tickets. A bit odd from my perspective. You can go to Vantaa without paying extra, but you cannot come back to Helsinki on same condition (?). At the end, I was happy that *A liked Ikea and we got stuff that we needed. For her, it was a jolly nice place to kill time if you get bored. I think she got the meaning of it right!

As usual, I went to bed late. I need to lose that habit soon, not for forever I will be having classes starting this late. In the morning, I miraculously woke up early enough to go on time, to the Peruvian food event. I promised my Mexican classmate, Alan that I will be there on time. It was a house event where everyone gather and eat together. Typical Southern American thing, said Alan. Because I was with a Spanish-speaker, they assumed I knew perfect Spanish too. No senior, yo hablo un poco Espanol. Naturally, my sweet friend did all the talking. I got a chicharon, the fried pork belly, and he ate a ceviche made of fish and lime juice. We really appreciated the home cooked dishes and the hospitality. Later, we decided to explore the city center more. Just some wondering around like tourists - which still we are-. In Hakaniemi, I finally found a flee market and it was cute, despite its small size. I know I always talk about the weather, but it was the scariest thing here, according to everybody. "Oh, you are going to freeze in Helsinki, even in the summer!" Oh, you were so wrong! Today, it was really sunny and nice again. Twenty something Celsius degrees. While Alan and I were enjoying our ice-creams, *E came over, finally. In search of decent coffee, we found a nice Italian coffee place with a view of the Cathedral. My luck, its in renovation too. Same thing happened last summer in Italy. White church is still looking pretty though. Credits to Alan, I am sharing the photo that he took there. It appears to a bit dark, because a light rain had started at the moment.

Nothing is better than pizza, to end a chill day with friends. We ate some pizza at a slightly touristy place, close to main square. Pizza was okay, but the place was very warm and original. Also, I met a womanizer poodle there. Dogs always make my days better. I was saying the guys that this dog looks like a sheep, and his owner said, chuckling: "My dog? Looks like a sheep?" I petted the dog and it came really close, stepped on my feet to avoid me to move. According to his owner, it has a soft spot for women. I love my pheromones, they are sometimes really useful.

The end for my weekend, there are two classes tomorrow. I guess (?). Then, we will go to a Mexican night with some classmates. I am looking forward for it. Helsinki seems to be a pretty international city, it didn't make me regret for coming -so far-. Goodbye for now, I will write next weekend probably.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Hobbit House in an Elf Land

Classes haven't started yet and this girl has already started to feel overwhelmed. That course-like thing called PSP (Personal Study Plan) is really tiresome because arranging all your degree structure is no picnic for sure. To chill a bit, I decided to write a new post. Writing about something fun will definitely cheer me up. Since the most jolly place in Helsinki is our HOAS home, let me tell the story from the beginning.

Once upon a time -before starting to her Master's degree-, a girl already had lived abroad two times before. So, she knew the importance and difficulty of finding a place. As early as possible, she applied for a furnished room via HOAS -a company which provides apartments for students in Finland-. After waiting for some months, she had an offer for a room in a five-people apartment. The apartment was a replica of her home back in Izmir: five rooms, two stories at the fourth floor.  Not so long, she received an e-mail about a flatmate, *A who was eager to meet with the others. This was how I met with *A from India and *E also from Turkey.

We created a WhatsApp group ASAP and accompanied each other while getting ready for the unknown. Even *E and I got here with the same flight and went through all that struggle with the luggage together. First, we carried these back-breaking -maybe I should be more creative and say hand-breaking- stuff to the HOAS office in the city center. They gave us a SIM card and two smart keys there. One key for the front door and our apartment door, and the other for our individual rooms. Coming to Viikki was a second cab ride.

Unrelated from the topic, I love to say Viikki because its so similar to one of my cats' name. Missing my furry babies like hell!!! 

When we arrived at the apartment, surprise surprise! Our fourth flatmate was already there: a Polish girl called *K. She will be our survivor for the next days since she already discovered the area a bit. We clicked in seconds. Honestly, who could have resisted her cheerful nature? She showed us around the apartment and took us for grocery shopping to the closest place. Former residents were really nice because they had left us tons of stuff and a giant world map at the common area in order to everyone leave their mark here. For me, it became the favorite furniture at our place. At the same evening, *A arrived with two male friends who were helping with her bags. All of us were like, "Yea, she is the smart one!" Unconditional giggling didn't stop until the men left the place. Then it continued again because *A speaks so fast and combine that with a great enthusiasm. She also has this charisma which makes her so cute. Every time she opened her mouth, especially *K, we couldn't hold our laughter. Instantly, we earned a badge for being the loudest apartment ever. Still hoping our neighbors don't hate us.

We had some cleaning issues about the apartment. The floor was really sticky and everywhere was covered with dust. Each room has a large window and a small one, and each window has two layers of glass. Hopefully that double glass method will provide us a good isolation in cold days. The problem about the windows was, especially the gap between two large windows were all full of dead bugs -apparently since these windows are not meant to be open, they don't have to be clean(?)-. First thing to do, was calling the HOAS and asking for an inspector for the cleaning. However, kitchen cannot wait. None of us wanted to cook there and we didn't know any place to dine. As a unit, we cleaned up all the shelves, picked useful kitchen tools, and washed all those decade old dishes. Now we have clean glasses for all kind of drinks, a big chunk of mismatched plates, and stuff that we even never used in our cuisines -like a Chinese type rice cooker with all original Chinese writings on it-.

Within the next couple of days, we bonded so quickly. Going to events, shopping and cooking together, and all that sharing about our lives back in our countries. There was only one dark cloud at this sunny sky. Our fifth flatmate hadn't arrived yet and curiosity was intense. Then one day, *C came along with her mother. Since we were all excited, greeting was very loud and warm. She left her bags and they went out for dinner. We were afraid that we scared her off and she wouldn't be coming back. When she was back, she had a lot to do before the orientation. Despite all that busyness, *C was soon in our close circle. At first, it was pretty hard to follow her Scottish accent. I think we are all getting better on that subject and also her efforts on speaking "proper English" paid off a lot. Plus, she is an excellent cook and her short breads were awesome. It was so kind of her to teach me how to make these Scottish biscuits. I will share the recipe later.

Nowadays, we are a group which surprises everyone with our closeness. When the long nights come, we will be prepared to keep each other away from the depression. Giggles and loud laughter will not leave this apartment I think. Yet some times can be exceptional. For a short period, we can be a bit depressed. I checked them an hour ago, everybody is dealing with the PSP situation by their own way. I am writing, *C is cuddling up with her blanket, *K is watching a Korean drama, *A is on Skype with a friend and *E is stress-eating a big plate of macaroni. Being so different, yet so similar. How original of me (!). Although its the truth, its not our catch phrase or something.

We are all young women, all ambitious biologists and all shorter than 1.60 cm. Since we are all shorter than an average Finnish person, I jolly -*A's favorite word- like to call us a Hobbit House. So happy in our cozy, little home. I feel so lucky to have them. More stories about them are on the way.
I am adding this view from our terrace to the post, just to celebrate our lovely beginning and to remember the last sunny days we are enjoying.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

First time in Helsinki

Hi everyone! I am reporting from Helsinki, Finland. It has been a week since I arrived this beautiful, green city which will be the start point of my new life. I had three reasons to start this journal: First, to share my experiences about Helsinki -and later, many other places hopefully-. Second, to keep my connections with my family and friends. Last, to remember the journey I will have. Long story short, here is my first post and I hope you like it -fingers crossed-.

Right now, I am sitting on my bed, sipping my lemon macaroon-green tea. My little window is open to enjoy the light breeze. At home, I am still wearing my short pjs with a light cardigan. Finnish weather is just as I expected. I am a person who likes her drinks ice-cold and the air a bit chilly. Summer here is the perfection for me -we will see about the winter-. And everywhere you can see is green green green: forests, wetlands and fields. I love to take long walks in the forest, it's really peaceful. I think I adjusted the idea of being in Helsinki and feeling welcome here.

Aside from all that romance, I sure experienced some problems. The biggest ones were probably the residence permit card's delay and my lack of ID number situation. My card arrived two days before the flight and I was extremely nervous, as much as I couldn't realize I was leaving. When it finally arrived I didn't care if I got an official Finnish ID or not. Apparently I should have. Because without it, I cannot open a bank account and some other stuff about the Student Union. Yesterday, we went to local registration office and while others got registered, I applied for an official ID number. Hopefully, I will have it in 4 weeks. Not a minor issue, but I am in honeymoon period and who cares official details, right?

For the other basics, I can honestly say that Helsinki is a practical city for students. Also, I was lucky about my resourceful tutor from the university and a flatmate who arrived a couple days earlier. Together we got our discounted travel cards from HSL with only a student document and a easy fill-in form. The good part about the travel card is that it is possible to update the balance for multiple weeks or months. Price is %5-%10 discounted depend on how many weeks of balance you get ahead. Student discount is also good and once you have the HSL card, within the Helsinki (or whatever area you picked) all trams, metro and buses are at your service. I must say, the transportation is very reliable here. Everything is on time and everywhere is easy to access. Although, mostly I prefer to walk these days to enjoy the good weather as much as I can. Getting lost is hard because of nicely put road signs all around the place -even in the forests-.

This is what I can write so far, I want to socialize more before the classes start and for sure before the winter comes. My next post will be about my home probably, with the house and the people. Stay tuned for the more fun parts.