Text: Clément Fonteneau Pictures: kiia komulainen

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Living and studying in Finland can be quite a shock for foreign people. As a French student many things shocked me. Even if you travel a lot during holidays, it may not prepare you to stay in another country for a long time. It is a very different experience. You will see things and experience a lifestyle in some ways you couldn’t even imagine.

But what is a culture shock exactly? It is basically when you arrive in a new country and you have different problems such as language barrier, technology gap, homesickness and many others. Of course, you generally don’t have all of these problems, and they won’t affect everyone the same way. You should also know that it happens through four phases, if you are just visiting for holidays you stay in the first one called honeymoon, where everything is amazing and interesting. It usually takes 2 or 3 months to enter the second phase, where you have all kinds of problems. Then 6 to 12 months later, you enter the last 2 phases where you are integrated.

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Of course, when you arrive in a new country you may already have some stereotypes in your mind and they can be true. For example, I expected it to be cold in Finland in winter, and obviously it was. There was no big surprise there. Some others were more subtle. Some friends warned me that Finns were not very fond of contact. They love their personal space and I admit, it is pretty true.

On the other hand, some things that you weren’t expecting might shock you. I can easily think of one thing I still do not understand at all. When you walk with some friends in the street, on the sidewalk, occupy the whole width, Finns will stay behind you. It often happens that the person is riding a bike and just waits for you to move but you never hear them. They say nothing, so they just stay behind you. This can be very weird and it happens almost every day.

French people have the stereotype of loving food, and we really do. So, every time we arrive in a new country, food shopping can become a whole new experience. You just wander across the supermarket trying to find some food you already know, and it can be challenging in Finland. The first time we went to buy some food we were shopping for some breakfast items, but Finnish grocery stores don’t have the same cereals, sweet bun or anything else we eat for that matter. It was basically the same thing with meat and snacks. We also found shelves of vitamins, proteins and other things that we don’t have in France. It can become hard to find some food we like or know.

Another thing that can shock French students happens in the university. In the middle of the class some students just get up and leave the class, for a drink, a smoke or basically anything. In France, or at least in my school, you can’t leave class. You have to wait for a break to do anything out of class or otherwise ask to the teacher. Also in SeAMK, another thing that is pretty different,is the video surveillance. Here there are cameras everywhere .You don’t get that in France. We do not have a single one in our school, we only have an alarm for the night, and that’s it, I am not sure why they need so many here.

If you ever go to France and take any kind of public transport you will notice one thing, they are often late. It is normal for a train to be 5 minutes late, and it will not be announced unless it is at least 15 minutes late. Imagine my surprise when I saw in the Helsinki train station that trains were indicated late if the delay was more than 3 minutes ! I consider that being on time. In France sometimes, city buses are so late that they get caught up by the next bus. It must be awesome to live in a country where public transport is on time and you don’t have to call the person waiting for you to tell him you are going to be late.

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All of these examples are what forms a culture shock, this one was not an extreme case, at least not for me. I was surrounded by other Erasmus students, including many French, so I wasn’t completely lost and if I was I was not alone. Finns are also very nice people so as soon as you have a problem, you can always ask for help. Sometimes I have problem understanding what a sign says for example, and I can find someone to translate, so everything is fine. Hopefully that is what mainly happens. You won’t have any huge problems you won’t be able to face.


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