Category Archives: Culture shock

Ah, kaamos

What does it feel like to study in winter, or, in Finnish “kaamos”? Nordic winter may start snowing in late October and there might be a majority of snowy days until, say, April. That’s also true in other countries, such as Switzerland, or Poland, but in both cases there will be more light than in Finland, or, say, Alaska. Here are reasons to enjoy winter at a higher latitude.

Ah, kaamos: hibernating
Do you feel like hibernating in the long winter of the Nordic countries?

What is kaamos? “Kaamos” is Finnish for days without daylight, basically.  During the kaamos season, around the winter solstice, you will see perhaps a few hours of light, just south of the polar circle, or a few minutes (just north). Places where there is absolute kaamos for a while, i.e. no light at all, are very scarcely populated, at least in Scandinavia. But even a bit south of the polar circle little light might be a bit of a shock if you come from abroad… On the other hand, the actual “kaamos border” is situated 93 kilometers north of the polar circle, where you are at no risk of being studying at a Finnish university… as the northernmost one is found in Rovaniemi. So even if you are enrolled at the Finnish Lapland’s “capital”, the sun will still accompany you year round (in a way).

Ah, kaamos: Tromso
In Tromso, the sun is down all day until January 14. Still, this is a thriving university city, with about 12 000 students, 10% of whom are international.

“Seasonal affective disorder” (SAD), as it is called, is a highly debated concept, which might mean less energy to do stuff, or a general sense of unease as the winter comes or lasts. (This however may not hit you on the very first days of your time near the polar circle, rather this sense of depletion “grows” over time, including in the autumn, a less dark month objectively speaking but one during which the decrease in daylight is the sharpest.) If you find yourself low, do try to ask yourself why. And try to solve that specific problem – additional lighting, or additional exercise if you are feeling lethargic, for instance. Or a more general answer can be found in vitamins, such as vitamin D.

Ah kaamos: vitamins
Vitamins, especially vitamin D, counter the effects of SAD effectively. Usually those living above the 44th parallel might already lack vitamin D in the winter, so this recommendation applies also south of Scandinavia. Vitamin D notably reduces the risk of cancer.

So, you might ask, how much will “kaamos” likely affect your studies? The answer is probably “not so much”, especially if you are a young man (women suffer more from SAD, according to research, and so do older people). But chances are you will be affected one way or another (less energy, unexplained sadness or irritability are among frequent symptoms). While malls in Scandinavia can make up for the daylight you are secretly craving for, by displaying all sorts of entertaining, and highly lit, shopping opportunities, cafés, sports centres, etc. , it is recommended to exercise.

Ah, kaamos: sports
Exercising will, at least, take the lethargy out of you.

You can also stay inside more, at home or in your library, reading, enjoying a cup of coffee, or just watching the snow from the cosy place you are calling your exchange home, but do not let the cold deter you from meeting friends. In fact, many friendships or indeed love stories can be built making a fire in a chalet, on a trip to Lapland, for instance. So if the need to be alone most of the time is one of your own kaamos symptoms, resist it by experiencing the winter to the fullest. Consider for instance:

  • A friendship prone intellectual pursuit: exploring a particular aspect of your subject related to the Northern regions (examples might include geopolitics of the Arctic, the Sami language, or the local fauna) with a friend at your place, with nice candles on;
  • Going to to the sauna (in Finland), skiing (anywhere) or snowshoeing (same)… no need to schedule an expensive trip… skis can be rented, a sauna is usually between 5-6 euros, and many natural wonders are accessible easily from city centres (though you might have to do a bit more planning to go to national parks);
  • Getting to know the local culture, for instance by going to Arktikum in Rovaniemi, the Sami museum in Jokkmokk  (Sweden) or in Inari (Finland), and being inspired by the way locals have adapted to such environments;
  • Finding one thing you would not do at home, and pushing your boundaries to achieve it. It could be avanto (swimming in a frozen lake), camping outside or just, watching a magical aurora borealis/even if it means going BACK outside.
Ah, kaamos: Northern lights
Even if you are not an adventurer, many pleasures of the Arctic winter/spring are on offer, such as watching such lights on your way back home from university…

We once wrote about reverse cultural shock. I wonder if there is such a thing as “surprise to find similarities with home” in culture shock theory. For instance, you might be slightly surprised that Scandinavian/Finnish trains do not always run on time, when the temperatures reach -15°C, 25°C or less. Well, as it is so unusual here, you might as well take it as a way to exercise your patience… read a book, drink hot chocolate… The slower pace of the Scandinavian winter might just be the opportunity your body needs to embrace a pre-clock, pre-Internet, wilderness adventure. For instance, phones might stop working in extreme cold weather, so be prepared to take paper maps 😉 only until you get inside and switch your phone back on, of course!

Useful links to study above or near the Arctic – and Antarctic – circles:

UArctic, a cooperation initiative of higher education institutions and other organizations concerned about Arctic research

Russia

Murmansk Arctic State University, excellently rated for teaching, value for money and security (or their official website)

Finland

University of Lapland (official website here) and its Arctic centre 

Norway

The ‘Arctic University of Norway’: the University of Tromso (be among the first ones to rate!)  Includes campuses notably in Narvik, Hammerfest, and Kirkenes. Official website

University Centre in Svalbard

Iceland

University of Iceland (be among the first ones to rate, or explore the official website).  Studies in English at the university of Iceland. According to the first SA’s review, courses of Icelandic for foreigners seem to be top-notch!

University of Reykjavik on SA and their official website

Sweden

University of Umeå on SA (be among the first ones to rate), official website

Research projects on the Arctic at Stockholm University

Canada

Nunavut Arctic college; Aurora College; Yukon College

United States

University of Alaska at Fairbanks. Study Advisory’s page, official website. Note the relatively low tuition fees for Alaska residents, by US standards, celebrating 100 years old like Finland this year, including an initiative to boost current scholarship schemes.

Meanwhile on the other hemisphere (still a distance away from the Southern pole):

Universidad Nacional de Tierra del Fuego (national university of Tierra del Fuego), Ushuaia, Argentina. Polar sciences page and official website

On dealing with SAD:

Vitamin D foods

Finnish Student Health Service document on kaamos for international students  and summary on bright light therapy

Rendezvous on Tamsui-Xinyi Line

It started raining last night. Lately, every time when I sit down to look and listen to the rain it reminds me of a Hong Kongese movie director Wong Kar-wai. Maybe it is the melancholia that has finally taken over me. Or maybe it is the unholy alliance of the rain, the heat and the sweat, which renders the sunshine completely unnecessary in the process of bodily perspiration. Out of the twenty eight decembery degrees of warmth, none have Christmas spirit whatsoever.

Taiwan_darkness

Alternatively, could the reason for the “Wong Kar-wai rain feeling” be, that the traditional balcony, accessible through the East Asian style sliding doors – of course – where I observe the rain from, happens to be in a building ordered to be demolished, yet which has been taken over by the mafia and renovated, and, for some reason, all this makes perfect sense for me to call home now? What am I doing here anyway?

Every morning in Dongmen metro station the doors to the carriages know how to slide open and close in four different languages. As I step in I am relieved to discover that there is no game of thrones going on with the seats this time. I would have not fared well, I am afraid, as I am on my way to the northern part of Taipei, Tamsui, where I am supposed to meet the professor of linguistics, and really, it must be the end of the line for me, no doubt.

I expect the journey to last for an hour or so, as I forget to look worried in likes of the stressed business people around me seem to do. I guess this is it then, finally, the feeling of being old in spirit.

Taiwan_sun

It is somewhere along the way, where the train enters from an underground tunnel to above the ground, where the hills and the mountains ripe with all sorts of vegetation set the scene for those thousands of indigenous species of animals to eat – or get eaten by – other animals.

Hence, it is no wonder, life itself existing in a circular fashion as it can be observed here, that the various religions from Buddhists to Catholics have found a save haven from this island and are visually present even in the most commercial parts of the city. Regardless, the common spiritual atmosphere has maintained its delightfully atheistic fragrance.

Taiwan_dragon

A family of five enters the carriage. They speak Japanese to each other, as it is a common sight in Taipei. No doubt that their polite and modest conversation concern the most passionate and religious topic imaginable: dinner plans.

If food would be a religion, I would be hell-bent for martyrdom by now, as I have come to realize that in order to navigate through the versatile fabric of Taiwan and its culture, the most important skill necessary is the unsatisfied hunger. Those who lack the hunger, better not set their foot on this soil that is jam-packed with Taiwanese, Japanese and other Asian restaurants, not forgetting the western trends. Even the locals´ take on – what is called – Chinese cuisine deserves a silent smirk and a modest nod of approval, that is, if I am lucky enough not to receive my favorite continental noodle dish covered with a sauce that has the color and the consistency of a diarrhea, and of which name I do not even dare to mention aloud, just in case.

The scene changes into something completely different and unknown to me as the carriage doors slide open once again. Change makes evolution possible, I remember some world renown biologist to argue. Feeling emerges as a breeze of fresh tropic-like air kicks in. I exit. There is still time. And it is exactly that immediate flash of a moment, that makes me wonder: would I change anything.

No, nothing.. In this case I would not even change the change itself.

Taiwan_flowers

The sun set down faster than usual in that day, but not because of the thieves, the swindlers and the other lurkers of the dark were chasing it, but rather because of the ever-present, relaxed and tranquil state of existence that got me carried away as I entered into a philosophical dialogue with a newly met acquaintance who was soon – no doubt – to evolve into a dear friend, as it so often happens in Ilha Formosa.

Truly, Taiwan is best described as an island of infinitely repetitive bye-byes, yet which were evolved from, and hence signify, the existence of infinite greetings, thank-yous and rendezvous; basic human kindness in interactions, with the persistence of the rainy season.

Text and photos: Markku Väisänen

Read more interesting blog posts written by Markku, Study Advisory’s team member, staying in Taipei:

Oulu – Lee Yu-hsuan´s lessons in heavy metal ethics

Dissonant echoes of a former music student

Coming back home from exchange – another type of culture shock

Flying back home

The process of student exchange consists of great variety of different emotional roller coasters – not only fun and games. You might be mentally prepared for obstacles in the target country and studies, even some amount of homesickness and a culture shock. Nevertheless, you might not be expecting a situation where coming back home appears to be the hardest part of your exchange experience. Here are listed some feelings that might fill your head when coming back, and also some ideas how to soften the blow:

Coming back home from an exchange

1. “I have changed so much but back home everything´s the same.”

You have had an amazing eye-opening phase of your life but it might feel like nothing has changed back home. Your friends and family members talk about the same things as they did a year back, and their stories and worries seem so small and boring. Maybe you don´t even remember where the home is if your life has been a bit messy and hectic also in your home country. Try to keep an open mind for the people back home, some of them might have had same experiences as you in the past. You might also find new friends who share your passion for travelling.

2. “I don´t know how to embrace my new lifestyle back home.”

Perhaps while abroad, you started to know who you are a bit more and picked up refreshing new manners and habits? Still, they don´t quite adapt to the life you are leading back home. Your biggest fear might be the fact that in the end, you will not change at all, and you´ll revert back to the same old you once again. However,  you should not worry too much. Many of the things you learn while abroad are so abstract, that you do not necessarily became aware of the change yourself. Once you have opened your eyes to new things, they won´t easily be shut again.

Back home
Don´t you guys understand what I have experienced!

3. “Nobody gets me.”

You begin to sound like a broken record when you constantly bring up the memories from your time abroad and compare the two countries. After a while nobody cares anymore and you begin to bore even yourself. You start to lose contact with your exchange friends and they gradually get lost in the sea of social media. A good way to embrace the new you and revisit the exchange atmosphere is to join your home university´s international circles. Tutoring the newly arrived exchange students should come naturally now that you understand what they are experiencing.

Read here Top 5 reasons why employers love applicants who have studied abroad.

4. “I am thirsty for more.”

Usually life will go on back home: You´ll find yourself again and mix a great cocktail out of the best parts of the two different worlds. Still, if this feels totally impossible, the only medicine to heal you might be planning another adventure. And what´s the harm in that?

Back home you can start to plan new adventures.

For the great adventures ahead, check out Study Advisory´s university ratings.

Study Hacks from a Global Citizen

study hacks
Follow these hacks from a global citizen to fast-track your studies to success!

A successful university or college student is a multi-tasker who needs to absorb useful study hacks in order to achieve their grades and minimise their stress. And let’s face it, whether you like it or not, the modern globalised world requires global citizens who understand cultural differences, and most importantly, have the ability to work with an international team. Ask any current or previous exchange student: interacting with a very different culture can give you some extremely valuable skills to exploit in the future!

Feel free to put on your cultural stereotype goggles and learn these study hacks from different angles of the world and boost your study routines. You may even get a hint for your next study exchange destination!

Check out a few other useful things you can learn while studying abroad: 7 Things I Learned While Studying Abroad

Manage your study group meetings like the Spanish

The first thing that may pop up into one’s mind when thinking about the Spanish studying or working culture might be the siesta: the culmination of their relaxed attitude when tackling daily routines. However, considering their bubbling speech and passionate way of communicating, I have noticed that Spanish people are extremely efficient in their study group meetings. The thing is, it’s perfectly normal for multiple persons to talk at once!

To some foreigners this may seem exactly as chaotic as it sounds (in written and in practice) and one could wonder how to divide attention to multiple sources at the same time. What I’ve learnt is that Spanish people are masters of listening and able to paint the big picture of different subjects handled simultaneously – you can always concentrate on the missed details afterwards. Once you learn their trick, you are able to handle enormous masses of information in shorter periods of time.

Interested in gaining a better understanding of those highly structured meetings? Fun fact: among the Spanish universities, University of Alicante has the highest Study Advisory Rating!

Speak up like an American

I really admire the way Americans are able to speak their mind. It’s not just their linguistic advantage when speaking English; they are verbally very quick-witted and confident. One way they are able to make a study group meeting flow effortlessly is that they speak their mind, not only about their ideas, but they are also comfortable with expressing open criticism. One could say they respond quickly with their honest feelings.

Don’t get insulted or shut completely down when facing their comments: it can be educating to hear constructive criticism. For you it is also a perfect opportunity to work on your negotiation skills.

See a list of universities, academies and colleges in United States here.

Beast-mode on like a Hong Kong native

One might think they are fully capable of handling study-stress and upcoming finals like a boss, but then there are always the students from Hong Kong. Emerging from one of the world’s top economic hot spots in Southern China, Hong Kong natives have learned to work hard towards excellence in order to stand out from the crowd.

The local studying culture is extremely competitive, and the amount of effort they put forth during their studies is something one can see only in top universities of the Western world. Student hostels can be noisy long after midnight, and 24/7 learning spaces full until 4am. All-nighters are common before big presentations or finals.

Therefore, when you really need to meet all those deadlines, Hong Kong natives prove it: you can pull it off a whole lot in a very short period of time. Watching them work this hard tells that you can do it too, especially when you are young, confident and capable!

Feeling competitive yet? Hong Kong has nine universities to choose from, the Chinese University of Hong Kong having the largest number of student ratings on Study Advisory.

Learn to be as efficient as a Finn

Once you engage in a study group with a Finn, you can always count on them to deliver. They are humble, conscientious and respect efficiency. As a legacy of former Nokia engineer inspired work culture, what they don’t appreciate is meaningless dabbling that brings on little results. In general that keeps meetings with Finns short and productive. Killing the brainstorming and free-flow of ideas? Maybe. However, every once in a while keeping it short and simple is what guides you and your study mates through a fully booked week.

The best thing about working with Finns is that the next time you meet with your Finnish group, everyone has done exactly what they promised to do in the last meeting– and they expect you to do the same. Engage in a group work with a Finn if you need good results efficiently. Maybe even bring along those Spanish classmates as well in order to mix things up a little!

Study Advisory has a great deal of highly rated places of learning in Finland. Go and check them out.

Handle pressure like a Colombian

One of my friends did a volunteering job in Colombia, South America. While she had some difficulties with local habits, (such as the more relaxed perception of time and scheduling) she noticed that they were able to handle stress and pressure extremely well.

They can manage to keep it together even in situations where they are expected to perform and they have nothing ready to be presented. Panicking is unnecessary and it usually just stops development short. The key is to always be able to act, and finally, to be happy with the final result. Trust yourself: you did the best you could in the given situation.

Do you have great experiences from a Colombian university and local student life? Be the first one and rate your university on Study Advisory, and be sure to share your own study hacks.

Ready to make your own experiences?

Take the biggest leap forward in educating yourself and start building your own future abroad. Keep these study hacks handy to help you maximise your studies! Use Study Advisory’s search tool and find the best choice for you among nearly 12,000 universities in our database!

Written by Nelli Koutaniemi