Being able to travel is a great thing. You get to visit places that you have seen in the internet or in television, and meet people who have lived very different lives than an average Finn. For a beginning traveler as myself, Europe has more than enough places to start seeing the world. Travelling today is relatively cheap, and the students of Finnish schools even have a great possibility to do this while making progress in their studies at the same time. Although taking the first step to the life in a new environment might not be that easy.
I was an exchange student in Hungary for the spring semester last year. My intention was to learn talk with people in English and maybe a bit in German too, so it would become easier and feel natural to use foreign languages. I even studied a bit of Hungarian while I was there. I tried my best to use the local language in daily grocery shopping and such, sometimes even succeeding at it. I also had a German roommate so I really got my share of language practices. Before that trip I had used hardly any of my foreign language skills while talking to people. Outside the classrooms, that is. Afterwards I felt a lot more confident when communicating in English, which really helped me in my later weekend job where I often spoke with foreign customers. Now I’m also excited to go and explore places when abroad, and not being afraid to have a conversation with people even if there is a bit of a language barrier.
A year after my studies in Hungary I started to think about the possibilities of working somewhere in Europe. I would do well with my English and with a bit of learning, I might even get by with my German or Swedish. It is only a question of what would be the country I could consider working in. Or at least going there and seeing what it’s like for a couple of years. Finnish engineers seem to be well appreciated in Europe, so I’m thinking of staying somewhere nearby at first. The problem is that many places don’t use English as much as we have gotten used to. In Finland it’s a common thing to be able to handle the basics of English but that’s not the case in many of the bigger European countries. That is why I have started practicing by using the languages that I consider needing in the future, in my daily life. With the internet giving access to all over the world, it’s easy to read news or watch television shows from different countries even in their own language. Hearing or reading the language has helped a lot in getting familiar with it, but it has to be done often. It helps to read about something that is close to me, about my hobbies or maybe some technical stuff that could be a huge help in my future job.
If you consider of travelling on any scale, do it. Start with a small trip and practice talking to people. If you don’t know all the words, don’t worry. Use hand signs, draw a picture or do whatever comes to mind. There are no specific rules of communication you would need to obey. Even with my limited experience I have noticed that to really understand and enjoy the foreign cultures, you need to know the people. And getting to know the people requires you to talk with them. Maybe it’s just about the day’s weather at first, but that is a start. The main thing is to lose the Finnish mentality of being afraid to fail, and to see what happens.
Keeping an open mind, who knows how far the road will take you.
Text: Joonas Kolehmainen, student in the course FV11A9502 Independent Study in English