For us international students, the university inevitably shapes how we experience Finland. At the university, we are defined by our two most obvious statuses: international and student. Naturally then, we are grouped together (in the same programs and classes), and largely separated from our Finnish-speaking counterparts. Our closeness to one another has some advantages. We have almost remarkably easy access to people in the exact same situation as us, and the chance to form friendships with them. Because our studies are often stressful and the cultural context is new, this becomes invaluable for our sense of comfort in Finland.
There is a pitfall to our constantly being around foreign students, however. In my experience, our constant proximity to one another leads our international student status to be normalized to such a degree that, among others, we start to take for granted the things that we as foreign students might be able to – even should – appreciate most about Finland. When I first arrived 2 years ago, my friends and I were able to fully grasp all the benefits that studying in Finland implies. The country gives us the opportunity to see egalitarianism first-hand, something nowadays only visible in a handful of countries. It provides us with a considerable degree of comfort in our individual lives, such as university housing and impeccably functioning transportation. And for the hard-working student, it offers alluring professional opportunities. I used to be slightly appalled even, when I saw locals complain or take such things as a given. Over time, however, as my friendships and life have routinized, I have noticed us falling prey to the same lack of appreciation of Finland that locals are sometimes accused of. We do not talk as much about what we value about studying here. Instead, we take these things as natural, and talk about our individual lives, which now unfold without our constantly thinking of all we have here.
One could point out that getting used to what we have in Finland is a natural process, something that all people who have moved to another country eventually experience. Experts describe it as one of the stages of cultural adjustment, preceded by an initial period of excitement, and sometimes even utter discontent with the new cultural environment. There is not much unique to the situation of international students, excepting perhaps the student qualifier of our international status, which arguably adds unique anxieties to our lives.
And yet, it is useful to sometimes be reminded of the things we were once able to prize so highly about studying in Finland, but that we now take for granted. For me, this happened most recently when seeing new swarms of fresh-minded, excited international students start roaming through the library this fall. In this case, being around foreign students also made it possible to be reminded of these things.