Mai Pen Rai

 

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Sawadee ka from Bangkok, Thailand!

This trip has been so unimaginably awesome so far. Tomorrow will end week three of being here for me. I have learned so much and grown so much in these past three weeks that I never thought was possible. I have met so many awesome people, friends, locals, teachers, students, and most importantly our ISA resident director, Aaron aka P’A. This experience would not have been as amazing without everything he has done for our ISA group. So, let me tell you about some of the things I have experienced, food I’ve tried, culture, and much, much more!

My ISA group consists of 19 students from all over the United States. It is hard to describe how close knit our group has gotten just in these 3 weeks of being here in the unknown. The first day we arrived, we had a welcome orientation held by P’A. We talked about some cultural norms, do’s and don’ts, safety, basic language, and Thai life in general. After this orientation we loaded up into two vans and drove 2 1/2 hours outside of Bangkok to Kanchanaburi. When we arrived, we checked into our hotel, by the way it was so beautiful, so many gorgeous plants, trees, and scenery. We left for our first floating market, which was more unbelievable than I had ever imagined. I experienced so many different smells, foods, crowds of people, sights, and socializing with the locals. The next day we visited the Death Railways War Cemetery and Research Center. I learned so much about Thailand’s history here. It was so eye opening and stomach wrenching to see how people got treated.

After that, we took off to swim with elephants at Erawan National Park. We got to ride in the back of a pickup truck with benches and a safe overhead cover. This is one of the many popular forms of transportation utilized in Thailand. Swimming with the elephants was by far my favorite part of the whole trip so far. I had so much adrenaline the whole time! You don’t realize how huge those animals are until you are right up next to them and in the water with them. Eventually after they started warming up to us and vice versa, we got to ride them around in the water. They are such playful animals, they loved to dunk you under and try to knock you off. The owners of the elephants lived in little huts on the same land as the elephants, which I thought was so beautiful and different.

The next day we drove to a different part of Erawan National Park and hiked up 7 levels to the top of a gorgeous waterfall. It probably took an hour to hike up to the very top, and in the heat and humidity here it was not as easy as it sounds. But the second I reached the top and saw the scenery, every drop of sweat was worth it. The water was so clear and full of minerals. It was a little bit chilly but felt amazing. We had around 3 hours to hike around and do whatever we wanted, so we played around in the water, and I got some great shots of the views.

I also visited a temple cave during our Kanchanaburi trip. It was unbelievable to see such a huge Buddha in the cave, and so many people were in there peacefully meditating and worshiping the Buddha.

So there are a few things I have experienced throughout my first week here in Thailand. In my next few blogs I will expand more on the culture, food, Thai people, language, and life here in general.

Kop khun ka for reading, and always remember Mai Pen Rai. (This means “it is what it is,” a huge expression used, and lived by here in Thailand.)

America v. Finland: A Princess Complex?!

I had taken a month long break from the Lovely University of Lapin AMK. During that time, it wasn’t truly a vacation; it was spent navigating the Spanish bureaucracy to obtain a visa (“Fun” times, Believe me). While returning back to Tornio, Finland (literally on the train back), my housing emails had still not been responded to, thus, I was homeless.

Frantically, I’m trying to get in contact with the program intern or the program director. They must be able to do something, right? They would be the person willing and able to change something or help, right? Wrong, the response I received wasn’t my expectation at all.

In a nutshell, I was told that it was the weekend, I should have contacted them earlier, and that they were busy. Of course, this starts full panic mode. Of course, I try to reach out to the director, which I was told she was busy and she shared the previous thought as well. The suggestion: stay with someone else for the night, and go to housing on Monday. It was Saturday. After 26 hours of travel, running on 4 hours of sleep, and a protein bar, I was not a happy camper AT ALL.

I received a message the next morning as I was holed up in a classmate’s kitchen, that the housekeeper would give me a key later on in the evening. I could’ve wept. Three others were in the same situation as myself, and we all were going to be on the floor of a mutual acquaintances one-bed room.

On Monday, class resumed in the summer school. I was still peeved that such a thing occurred. It was then the Director of the program addressed the situation by stating that “some” (meaning me) of us have a “princess complex.” It meant that we expect people to do things for us as we command. The Director stated that in Finland, weekends are sacred and work life is separate from weekend life. We shouldn’t expect additional assistance, outside of emergencies, during these times.

Shocked, and admittedly pretty irritated with that statement, I came to a realization. In the US, we don’t compartmentalize our responsibilities. We maybe on vacation, or out of town, but we are prepared to answer work calls whenever to create 24-hour service. Even if it is not our job, we expect to have service or assistance from someone, somewhere at all times. Specifically, in academic services, professors answer emails on weekends, residence halls have RA’s or hall directors for aid, and so on. In Finland, when things close, they CLOSE.  It doesn’t help that the emergency contact in the building doesn’t speak English.

A situation that I believed was an emergency was seen as merely a temporary inconvenience that I could figure out. The ideals of customer service are definitely different. In the US, we are much more demanding because, culturally, we believe that we should get what we paid for and then added services to keep us coming back. Customer Satisfaction is important in a competitive market, so it is valued heavily.

Customer Satisfaction is still greatly valued in Finland. However, it is customer service as defined by the rules. You will receive a quality product with great service, but when the time comes to close, or the task is outside of the usual means of operation, you will receive a simple “no, it cannot be done.” Of course, it depends on who and what company.

I was pretty disappointed with this as an international student who felt stranded in an unfamiliar land and not receiving the help I expected from the host school I was attending. However, it is a lesson learned. When you travel, you must change your expectations to fit the local culture.

America v. Eastern Asian Beauty Standards: It’s Cute?!

In the Arctic Summer School at Lapland University of Applied Science (Shameless Plug), we have many different nationalities. The 33 students hail from many different parts of the globe, however, we have a sizeable portion of the class from Eastern Asia. Of course, beauty standards differ in various areas.

For example, in the US, we have been making movements that support body positivity with #Effyourbeautystandards in an attempt to embrace beauty of all sizes, or the natural hair movement to encourage women to love the hair you are born with. Many more movements exist and more pop-up with increasing popularity, all with an attempt to make beauty a more inclusive term. Eastern Asian countries, in my experience, tend to steer toward a specific standard of beauty that promotes thin bodies and pale skin.

Not only is that a cultural norm, it appears that it is public scrutiny of your appearance is common, particularly in the family structure or with people you are closer to. I was told that mothers can easily tell their children they are fat, or need to stop eating so much, or to stay out of the sun out of love. In the US, we would easily consider that to be emotional abuse and unbelievably rude.

You can only imagine my reaction, when a classmate come to me, and while feeling my arms says that they are “fluffy like a marshmallow.” When I expressed how that was kind of offensive, the response was “It’s cute!” This is the same classmate that disclosed her mother’s tendencies to criticize her body. I was definitely ticked off and more than a little bit upset that someone who I felt close to would make such a rude and insensitive comment.

This point was noted again when a second classmate from eastern Asia patted my stomach and stated how had the same stomach, as she poked hers out and laughed. The original classmate then said “See!” It was meant to be in reference to Asian culture’s openness to discussing the body in negative/positive (depending on which end you come from) lights. Even after I explained how the statements were offensive, it was laughed off as if unimportant. When I asked how does it make them feel for their mother to say those things? I was expecting them to say it made them feel negatively, to inspire them to maybe not say those comments that I considered to be so rude. It was once again just laughed off and it was deemed to be normal and common, therefore unimportant.

I left that conversation very upset. 1) I felt like my feelings weren’t considered at all. In the US, if you offended a friend, even without the intent to offend, you would apologize. That wasn’t the case here. 2) I was saddened. Over the short period of time knowing these young ladies, I had heard them refer to themselves as fat and ugly. I had watched as they tried to stay out of the sun because darker skin or a tan would bring scrutiny to them. I had listened to their stories of their family members speaking of their bodies negatively. And the worst part, to me, was that they viewed all of this normal, as if it should be expected to hear and say these things.

The comments I felt were rude and would never refer to a woman’s body in such a way, especially in public, is common place. So when I was hurt and offended by the comments because my culture has deemed them insensitive, another culture saw no issue with comments therefore there was no reason to apologize.

Cultural differences play a huge role in how we view ourselves and others. While America is trying to push away from conventional standards of beauty, other cultures may have a totally different view on dismantling, or maintenance, of beauty standards. I still don’t appreciate the comments that were made (and admittedly how they responded to it as well) however, it has made me realize some important things.

  • Self-love is crucial. I could let someone define and dissect my body based on their own preferences and biases, but how could I ever truly be happy always trying to live for the acceptance of someone else? My body may not be where I want it to be, but I love the skin I am. I whole-heartedly believe that I was not designed to be anything other than me.
  • Culture plays a role on what is tolerated. Things that I felt shouldn’t be said, were perfectly common to someone else. Though, I may not like it, it’s important to be considerate of someone else’s culture (even if they aren’t considerate of your feelings lol).
  • Finally, Words matter! As much as I would like to say the words didn’t affect me, they did. They made me look at my body in a way I hadn’t previously. It was very unsettling for a simple sentence could make me question myself. It made me wonder, how many conversations did I walk away from feeling fine while the other person felt belittled, ugly, unattractive, or stupid? Probably a lot, I may not have been my intent, but it was the reality. Instead of building someone up, I have, at some point and time, either deliberately or accidentally, torn them down and made them feel less than the wonderful person that they are. It’s a harsh reality, but a great reminder that sticks and stones leave physical scars, but words leave wounds that only the soul feels so deeply.

My Life at the ArcticSummerSchool!

Hey, Bearcats and Bearcat Family!

I’m currently studying at Lapland University in Tornio, Finland for the summer! I’ve got one month down and two to go! Instead of just telling you about how great and wonderful my experience has been; I’ve decided to show you through this colorful cartoon! Actually, it was for one of the many projects I’ve had to do this summer, but STILL it’s got some really great info in it! So…sit back, relax, and enjoy the film!

World Wide Wanderlust: 5 countries, 1 car

Moi,

What happens when you put a Dutch, a Hungarian, a Scott, a Belgium and an American in a Volkswagon Golf? A 14 hour car ride extravaganza of the sorts, I tell you what.

This past weekend I got to go on my first trip of the semester. I traveled with 4 friends (also exchange students) in a rental car to Levi, Finland. Levi is in the northern most part of Finland in a region known as the Lapland. It is literally like a Christmas snow globe. Santa Claus lives in the Lapland in a city called Rovaniemi, so obviously we had to make a stop to make sure we were all on the nice list for this Christmas. We also go to see some reindeer and husky dogs among other things.

The Lapland is also known for the Aurora Borealis. Unfortunately it was extremely cloudy every day we were there and we were unable to see them. I know I was pretty bummed but I’m pretty dead set that I’m not leaving Finland without seeing them (and photo evidence).

Anyways, back to the trip. During our extremely long car ride that seemed like forever, we did a lot of singing to try and detract from the pain and numbness we started to feel in our butts from sitting for so long. Eventually we made it to Levi just around 11 pm. We struggled to find our lodge but after a short trek through the snow, we found our quaint little cottage to live in for the weekend.

Friday morning, first on the agenda was heading to Yllas ski resort. I for one had never touched a pair of skis or snowboard so it ended up being quite the experience. Rachael (Scottish) and I both being inexperienced decided to experience it together. We were able to rent a snowboard, boots and a helmet for 35 euro for two days which is far cheaper than any ski slopes in the States. Krisztain (Hungarian) and Romain (Belgium) both had been before so they got the pleasure of attempting to teach us the basics. The first time down the slope we mostly just tumbled/rolled to the bottom. The boys stuck with us the whole time though helping us get up and trying to explain how we were doing it all wrong (language barriers suck in situations like this). After a few struggling attempts down the mountain, we got the hang of things and are now self proclaimed professionals and are now training for the Winter Olympics. Place your bets now on the US and UK taking the gold and silver.

After a windy, cold morning on the slopes, the lifts were closed for the day so we had to find some other way to spend our time. We coincidentally were staying less than 100 yards from a snowmobile shop. We went in to check out their safaris and they were pretty pricey and we couldn’t go during any of the scheduled times. Fortunately we were able to get some cheap prices and our own private little safari…… Must have been my American charm or something. Anyways, we had an hour or so to eat quick and get back to the shop before our little trip. Rachael and I shared a snowmobile while the boys rode alone. We definitely had more fun together but caused more problems. I may have flipped the snowmobile on its side a couple of times and the tour guide may have said he wasn’t surprised but hey, it was all in good fun. It led to lots of laughs, mostly at us and not with us but if you can’t laugh at yourself, then you’re not really living life. Friday also was Rachael’s birthday so we bought a case of beer and had a few drinks to celebrate.

On Saturday morning, we once again headed back to the slopes since, you know, we’re professionals now. We stayed on the mountain into the afternoon and then headed home for some food. Our next stop was an ice bar. It wasn’t nearly what we expected and actually turned out to be more of a museum/ice castle. We may have brought our own supply of alcohol in to make it really an ice bar….. Oops. It was pretty cool though. There were etchings in the walls and an ice hotel. The owners claimed they’re booked every night but there’s no way I could sleep in a building made entirely of ice. I’m too big of a pansy. I need heat. After the ice castle we tried to look up some husky and reindeer farms to visit. Well….. long story short they were all closed and we thought we would take a shortcut back home and we got lost on a road that didn’t exist on googlemaps and couldn’t turn around because it was a one-way road and the snow drifts were a solid foot high on either side of the road. So that was the fun we had on Saturday night.

Sunday morning we slept in awhile and left for Pori around 11 am. We had to try once more to see some reindeer so we went to a farm that (of course) was closed. Don’t worry though, I used that good ‘ol American charm I talked about before and the owner let us feed the reindeer for free. It was pretty cool. Reindeer are beautiful creatures. And of course since we saw Rudolph, we had to go see Santa Claus. So we hopped in the car and drove two hours to Rovaniemi to get a picture with the fat man himself (picture to come soon). That was the last official stop on our trip.

Although I didn’t get any new stamps in my passport from this trip, it was more fun than I could have expected. My advice: take a quick weekend trip with your friends, or even with people you aren’t really friends with. You will have the time of your life, I promise. Even if you’re a poor college kid like me. It will be worth it.

Hyvasti,

Hannah

World Wide Wanderlust: Life lessons are hard to learn

Things I’ve learned:
1. Do not ever let anything important out of your sight, possession, etc. Make sure you know AT ALL TIMES where your valuables are at, even if it means you have to stop at every street corner to give yourself a pat down.
2. Lock everything. Always lock everything. Lock your phone, lock your computer, lock your apartment (but don’t lock your keys in your apartment) and lock down your bike like freaking fort knox.
3. Always have a back up communication device (or two). I had my phone stolen last night, had serious computer problems tonight and lost all communication, but then remembered that I had my iPad packed away as well. If you only are relying on one form of communication to get you through an international trip, you thought wrong. I forgot a lot of valuable travel accessories on this little adventure of mine, but lots of technology thankfully was not one of them.

After all the chaos that has happened in my life in the past couple of weeks, it is easy to look at myself with utter frustration. It’s easy to say ‘screw it, I’m coming home’. But then I have to think to myself…… Nothing about coming to Pori, Finland (of all the places I could have chosen) was easy. Moving away from my family and friends to a community where I am the only American and only native English speaking person was probably one of the hardest things I will ever do in my life. But I didn’t hesitate for even a moment. I have had my moments of weakness on this journey, sure, but as I’m evaluating my situation, I can see all of the wonderful people at home that I have grown to appreciate so much more just in the 3 short weeks I have been away from them. I also have met some of the most amazing friends in Pori that I know I will be friends with for the rest of my life and I know that I can’t complain about a thing. Life goes on.

Hyvasti,
Hannah

World Wide Wanderlust: Bikes and seas and classes oh my!

Hei hei,

With my first week abroad officially under my belt, I have so many amazing things to share.

First things first, all the students here use bicycles as their primary mode of transportation. I was lucky enough to find a cute, second-hand bicycle from a Pori local for just 35 euro. It took my body some getting used to (I haven’t rode a bike since middle school) but now it is so much more convenient than walking and takes about half the time. On my first bicycling adventure, I was heading to my first class. The class was in the evening, so here the sun had already set and it was as dark as you could imagine. I was cycling alone, thinking I could use the map on my phone for guidance. That was a decent idea except that I didn’t factor in the below freezing temperatures. My phone froze and turned off, so what should have been a 10 minute bike ride turned into about a two hour bike ride and I missed half of my Introduction to Finland course. All is well though, I made a few friends out of the deal and of course they took advantage of making the American the butt of the joke.

After that endeavor, a Dutch exchange student offered to help me get to the other campus the following day for class. Now I’d say I’m pretty accustomed to the route, no phone necessary! It’s safe to say now that I’m comfortable with the trip to class that I am loving it! My classes are all wonderful and I love them (maybe more than American school). This week a class of mine is going to a refugee camp to interview war refugees. This is an opportunity of a lifetime and I never could have anticipated anything like this! The workload is also much less here. Lots to do, but much less stress.

I also got the opportunity to visit the Baltic sea as my first little adventure here. It is absolutely beautiful and a nice little getaway here in Pori. I am in complete awe at the beauty here. Pori is kind of a hidden beauty and I’m very blessed to have this wonderful city as my home for the next few months. It makes me so excited to explore the rest of the country and the world. So far I am planning a trip to Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day and another to Spain in May before I travel back to the states. I also am just a short boat ride away from St. Petersburg, Russia so I hopefully will get the chance to visit.

Finally, I experienced my first international “gathering” and boy was it something. All of the international students here are so kind and I love all of the new friends I’ve made! We all kind of just hang out in one of our apartments and listen to music and talk about life and home and everything. Also, for anyone ever travelling to Europe, be easy with European alcohol. It has a much higher concentration and puts you on your butt far more quickly.

Anyways, that is all I have for now. Until next time,

Hannah IMG_7321IMG_7322IMG_7404IMG_7411

World Wide Wanderlust: Hello my only one

Hei

So Pori is still just as beautiful as ever. Adjusting to the short daylight hours and the eight hours I lost during travel has been quite the task (I’m still not adjusted), but I think the biggest struggle I have faced thus far is being American…. the only American. There are only about 20 international students (students not from Finland) at my University. The majority are from France, a small amount from China, and then me. I can’t say I am entirely surprised though.

For those who know me well, you know that I am a pretty loud and outgoing person in the states….. Well you could only imagine the way that comes across to Europeans. My roommate tried to explain to me the difference in what I would consider “personalities” between Americans and Europeans from different areas. Basically what I grasped from the conversation is that I scare them. I think they’ll start warming up to me though, sooner or later.

I haven’t really gotten out to do a whole lot of “fun” things yet. I’m trying to take advantage of some quiet time to adjust as best I can and try to be as prepared as possible for the upcoming semester. Paperwork, paperwork, and more paperwork has pretty much consumed the first three days of my trip, but I’m not complaining. I have a pretty nice view out my bedroom window.

I don’t want to share too much with you all on just my second post, so until then.

Niin kauan nyt,

HannahWindow

World Wide Wanderlust: Tervetuloa, from Finland

Hei (hello) all from Pori, Finland. I must say, I could not have every anticipated the shear bitterness of the Finland winter. It is very frigid, but still very beautiful. The sun sets at 3:37 pm, my time so it gets very dark, very early. It is a wonderful city and today I got to experience a European shopping mall. Surprisingly, it is very similar to American shopping malls, however, navigating can be a struggle. Really, navigating any and all of the city is fairly difficult on my first day. I am waiting to receive a bike to use for transportation for the length of my stay, so I will be getting in plenty of exercise while I am here.

I had some road bumps along the way trying to make it to Pori in one piece. First I left my wallet (with all of my important documents, IDs, credit cards, cash, etc.) at home in Fairbury. Luckily I was able to bump my flight to a later one that would not conflict with my remaining two flights. I made it to Chicago and then onto Paris safely. I didn’t have much time in either city to stop and look around. Once I got off my plane in Helsinki, I was lucky enough to have LOST one of my bags. No worries though, it did not board in Paris, but made a flight all by its lonesome last night. Hopefully I’ll get ahold of that puppy sooner than later. Right now I’m just trying to take in the sights and praying for a peaceful adventure (of a lifetime I might add).

 

Hyvasti,

Hannah

Rainbows in Limavady

As we get further in December, it’s been raining more here, but the temperature has stayed pretty consistent, around 50 or so. However, when I saw sunshine approaching on the weather forecast I knew I had to squeeze in one more outdoor excursion.

Some friends and I headed to Limavady, to walk in Roe Park. It was a beautiful nature trail along the Roe River, and the day was perfect with blue skies. I was also glad for some time with the friends I’ve made here, as people are starting to head home after classes end. I’ll miss the people I’ve met here most of all, as I think people are what make any experience worthwhile.

Limavady itself was a cute little town, all decorated for Christmas. Another thing I will miss about Ireland is all the cute small businesses, from the little shops to the unique cafes. After we walked in the park, we stopped in town to grab a tea and a pastry before making our way back home to Coleraine.Limavady 2 Limavady 3 Limavady 4 Limavady 5 Limavady