Finnishing School

An American student in Finland

Stockholm Syndrome and Culture Shock

Monday, August 26th at 11:42 A.M. I began my study abroad journey. With all the flights and time spent in airports I was a little stir crazy (a seven-hour layover in Stockholm) and a lot grumpy. In fact, after the ten-hour flight from Newark to Stockholm, I was ready to go back home. Seriously— I was already homesick and I hadn’t even reached my final destination. 

However, international travel is not as difficult as I expected it to be. Sure, you have to go through security and take off your shoes a million times, but after the security checkpoints you simply find your gate an wait to board the plane. The worst part is the waiting, especially with a very long layover.  

After the waiting comes the really long flight. My longest leg was ten hours, but it passed surprisingly quickly. I never slept, however, which means I am wring this post on my 33rd hour of no sleep. If you have a choice on which seat you get, then sit by a window that you can lean on. Not many things are worse than trying to sleep sitting straight up so you don’t disturb the passengers to your left and right.

The culture shock hit as soon as I arrived at Stockholm airport. As you may know, many of the airports in the states are jam-packed with loud people going in a thousand directions. But when I set foot in the most crowded part of Sweden’s airport, I could have heard a pin drop. Yes, a crowded room at an airport was that quiet, and I was genuinely shocked. Something that also threw me for a loop was the fact that the only announcements that were in English were those about not letting your personal belongings get stolen. So pay attention to boarding passes and don’t always think it will be so easy to find someone to help you figure out the answers to your questions. There are a lot of willing airport workers in Nashville, but not necessarily in other countries.

After an emotional seven-hour layover, I very shortly arrived at Turku airport, where I was met by a student tutor sent by the host university. This is a real luxury— someone to take you to your accommodation and help you get settled in to a new city. 

However, I went to the grocery store alone. Of course the cashier spoke to me in Finnish. Of course I had to ask him to speak English. And of course I didn’t do the right thing with the bananas I was trying to buy— so that was embarrassing and did not help with my homesickness. Then I found out that you have to bring your own bags to the grocery store. So I had to walk all the way to my apartment with a bag of bananas, a box of cereal, a carton of milk, and 4 rolls of toilet paper. Really, don’t forget that you’ll need toilet paper. I know it’s not fun to talk about, but you will be in for a very rude awakening of you don’t think about practical things that go hand in hand with your study abroad program.

Honestly, I am still homesick. When I talk to my mom and boyfriends later, I will cry. But there’s no turning back and that homesickness may as well be channeled into something productive (like a blog post).

Obtaining a Finnish Residence Permit

Ever since I was a little girl, sitting in my Nanny’s living room watching Disney movies, I have dreamed of traveling. All of the exotic places and cultures in Aladdin and Pinocchio and the lands of princesses and castles in Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella made me realize how big the world is and I knew that I wanted to see as much of it as I could someday.

I had always thought of studying abroad, but I didn’t seize the opportunity until my third year of college. I was taking a class in which many of my classmates had already traveled abroad and when the professor asked me if I planned to travel I said, “No,” and then hastily added, “But I plan to.” The next day I visited Tiffany in the Education Abroad Office of MTSU.

Perhaps one of the most important parts of preparing for a semester or year abroad is all of the official paperwork that must be filed in order to obtain visas and residence permits. Not to be dramatic, but in my limited experience, applying for a residence permit for Finland is a very grueling and tedious process— and I imagine that this is true for most countries. This is after doing research, and sending in applications and fees just to get accepted into a foreign university. 

It is a very good idea to do research on the visa or residence permit process of the specific country or countries to which you plan to travel before you are even accepted or placed at one their universities. Go to the country’s immigration website and the Embassy’s website to find applications and complete lists of necessary attachments.  It is absolutely imperative that everything is done exactly as the Office of Immigration asks or the application could be delayed or even rejected. 

For traveling to Finland, Americans do not need a visa if they are staying in the country for less than 90 days. However, if the stay exceeds 90 days, a residence permit is required. This is the complete list of attachments needed after the application itself is filled in:

A note on the passport photo that the Finnish application calls for: Different countries have different passport photo requirements, so going to Walgreens, Walmart, or CVS and getting an American-sized passport photo will not suffice. Go to a place that specializes in digital photography and give them the exact Finnish measurements. The page of the application to which the is to be glued lists all of the requirements and specifications. 

Above what a Finnish residence permit for a student looks like (I received mine today, hence my first blog post). In order to get one, it is necessary to follow the link I posted above, fill in the application, gather all of the attachments, and travel to the Embassy of Finland in Washington, D.C. to turn everything in and be fingerprinted. You can also fill in the application and pay the 250 euro application fee on the Finnish immigration website:

However, keep in mind that you still have to take two copies of everything to the Embassy with you. 

All of the preparation for studying abroad is terribly boring, but very much worth all of the work. I have yet to have my first adventure abroad, but the date is fast-approaching and the excitement is definitely building!