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Student Reports: Lauren Johnson, Finland, 2009

Lauren Johnson, senior in Chemical Engineering, spent spring semester of 2009 in Finland. She was studying Chemical Engineering at Abo Akademi in the city of Turku. The greatest impression that she brought from this Northern European country was the trustworthiness of the people.

“As soon as you go into the building, you have to take off your shoes and your coat and it will be there when you come back. That’s their culture. They really value honesty and look down on theft,” Lauren said.

The most impressive and most interesting thing she saw in Finland was the Northern Lights.

“Who gets to see that? Who do you know who’s seen that? It was very cold, probably 20 degrees below zero. It has to be very cold in order for them to show up very well. My friends and I had taken a trip to Lapland which is the part of Finland which is above the Arctic Circle. We were driving in the middle of the night and I looked out of my window and I saw these green, glowing lights above the tree line and I said: Stop! Stop! I see the Northern Lights. Because the whole trip we were looking for them and we get to see them on our way back down to Turku. It was really exciting! We just stopped for 10 minutes because that was about all we could handle because it was so cold. So we stopped for the minutes and watched – and it’s just ribbons of green light floating across the sky.”

Lauren did not use her Study Abroad program only for visiting Finland. She
had a real multicultural experience by visiting many other European countries. For St. Patrick’s Day she went to Ireland.

“They had a parade for St. Patrick’s day. The whole city was on one street. Everybody was having a good time, like St. Patrick’s Day here but on a much bigger scale,” Lauren explains.

In Sweden, she went by herself.

“In some countries you maybe don’t want to travel alone if you are a girl but in Sweden, it’s perfectly fine. It was nice to have freedom of not waiting for other people and trying to coordinate around their schedules. It was beautiful – Scandinavia is a very beautiful area.”

Lauren also visited Norway, England, Estonia, and Latvia. In the two former Soviet republics, she saw how valuable freedom of speech can be.

“In Estonia and Latvia, I got to see the remains of the Soviet rule and the people talked about it. They said that now it is different because they can actually talk about it whereas before they were repressed and encouraged to say nothing about their government.”

Lauren’s classes also had an international character. She met people from Greece, Poland, Russia, Germany, France, and, of course, a lot of Finnish people.

“Classes were great. Most of my classes were very small – less than 10 people. They would teach the class in English. I took five classes – two chemical engineering and three chemistry classes. I also took a little bit of Finnish language classes.”

For international students at Abo Akademi in Turku, help was provided by the international office. They would organize different trips and help students in their everyday life.

“I had a Finnish student tutor. She was assigned to me by the international office and she was very helpful: she even picked me up from the airport and showed me around the city. We are still friends, we still keep in touch, “Lauren explained.

Her studying abroad experience was valuable in bringing different perspectives as well as a deeper knowledge about oneself.

“Being outside America and looking in it, you learn a lot because you have a different perspective. I was gone when president Obama was inaugurated and I heard European perspective. It’s just different to analyze it from outside. I also learned how to handle being on my own. When I went to Finland I didn’t have anybody from UT with me. I was alone and I had to start over – to build friendships all over again. Before I went there I wasn’t really sure I could handle it but now I am not afraid of going anywhere.”

Lauren plans on continuing traveling abroad.

“Maybe some people are afraid to go abroad because they think that people from other countries are weird just because they are from another country, but really people all have the same values and they treat each other in general the same as we treat each other here . So it’s nothing scary.”