Hello from Helsinki

Hello from autumn! I’m enjoying one more week off here in Helsinki. I’ve been on my own so far, but will meet up with my friend Sara for the rest of my stay here tomorrow. Here are a few pictures from my wanderings:

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The Big Leap

I’m leaving on Tuesday.

This moment has felt so far away all summer, and now it’s a few days away.

First, I am stopping in Helsinki to see a study abroad friend. After a week in Finland, I’ll spend a whirlwind day in Bucharest, go on a field trip with the other Fulbrighters, and then my faculty contact will drive me to my temporary accommodations at the university.

As a planner, I have been anticipating this moment for a long time: the moment when all of my plans come together and it doesn’t seem inconceivable that everything will go smoothly.

The worrier in me is still having a ball, though. I won’t have an apartment until I arrive and find one. My clothes are shoved haphazardly into the two suitcases I’m bringing and every few minutes I think about something I’m sure to forget (at least 50% of the time I think it will be my passport). I’ve written up syllabi for my two fall classes, but leave them open on my computer so I can click over to them and second-guess myself.

Still, the reassurances of the very friendly people I have been in contact with have helped me to sleep easy at night. It’s hard to believe that the end of September has arrived already–but I’m happy it’s time to stop talking about doing the thing and do the thing!

Just Say Yes

I’m leaving for Europe in just over a week. Now that my departure date is quickly approaching, all kinds of anxiety and excitement that has been lurking for months is bubbling to the surface.

Meanwhile, I’m reminding myself of an important concept that guided me through my time in France and Greece and many other experiences: Just Say Yes.

This concept came in handy last January, when I was doing research in Paris for my Independent Study. Before leaving, I let myself become anxious about being lonely during the week I would be in Paris among the 17th-century books I was afraid to ask for. I worried that in the dark of winter, I would go the whole week without talking to anyone. Even as an introvert, it didn’t sound like the ideal trip.

I set my mind at ease by telling myself that as long as they didn’t interfere with my work at the archives, I would just say yes to any opportunities that came my way.

In just under a week, I met a friend of a friend–a Finnish student at Oxford studying abroad in Paris–for lunch at a bustling, quintessentially Parisian bistro. We hit it off, so we made plans for dinner later in the week as well. We talked about our studies and the importance of a well-rounded education and becoming your own person overseas, away from home. We talked about how lonely it can be until you find someone who understands.

On another night, I met my parents’ friend’s parents at their chic apartment in the third arrondissement, and we ate home-cooked Moroccan food and drank wine while they swapped stories with friends they had invited to share our dinner. Their daughter was applying to college and I recognized her giddy and nervous excitement. They made sure I made it home safely on the Metro.

One evening, when I came home to my Airbnb after a full day at the archives, my hosts invited me to join them for une verre with a few people in their living room. I met a young American violinist living in Paris and trying to make it as a musician and a Parisian man who had just finished his Master’s degree at Stanford. The three of us talked well into the night about the struggle of young adulthood.

Happily, my host family from my time in France in 2011 was also able to visit me, and we spent all of Sunday together, mostly eating and walking, and when it started to rain, I took my host sister to the train station and we had a warm cup of coffee while she waited for her ride home.

I’m lucky to have a network of friends and connections that reaches across the ocean, but I’m also glad that after spending years anxiously and shyly avoiding too much social interaction, I learned how to say yes. I could have spent all of my free time curled up in bed with Netflix (and I admit: jet lag did get me one evening and I did just that). But that week in Paris last January was filled with experiences that I could not have had if I had retreated inside of myself–and they brought me so much joy.

So, to all of my introverted friends out there: just say yes! Netflix/the book you brought/your bed will be there when you reach your limit.

(And for the record, I did actually do the research I went to Paris to do.)

 

Twenty Tiny Penpals!

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Little brother was eager to help

This week, I had the pleasure of visiting my little brother’s first grade class to talk to them about Romania and what it’s like to move to a different country. We also practiced introducing ourselves in different languages–I taught them French, Greek, and (questionable) Romanian, and they taught me Mandarin. They asked questions that revealed the deep curiosity of children: “What do houses look like in Romania? What do children do in schools in Romania? Do they have seasons in Romania?”

I answered their questions as best as I could, but in the end we realized that there are only so many things you can learn about a country before you travel there, so each of the children held on to their questions and will send them to me in letters.

It will be heartwarming for me to receive a box of letters from six-year-olds while I’m adjusting to life overseas. But I’m also looking forward to making connections between cultures clear for small children. It’s a skill I hope to hone as a public historian: making complexities of history and culture accessible to everyone.

There are fun things to convey about the history of Romania, such as the (much toned-down) story of the real Dracula that I hope will catch the imagination of six-year-olds. But mostly I want them to realize how alike we all are as humans, even all the way across the ocean and a continent.

Planning for a year in Romania

One of the most overwhelming parts of moving abroad is the planning involved beforehand. Working with the information I have gleaned from across the pond, I’ve filled pages and pages with lists to make my transition to Romania smoother.

I know I’ll be living in the mountains and that winters can be long and cold, so I’m bringing my warmest professional clothes (shoutout to Ohio teaching placements–luckily I won’t have to buy much!)

Moving to Romania is different from both of my study abroad experiences in that I will no longer be a student with the privilege of sitting back and letting someone else fill my brain with knowledge. Now, it’s my job to teach and hopefully fill some brains myself.

Planning my syllabi for my fall classes has been quite the challenge. Having never been to Romania, I can’t gauge with 100% accuracy what kinds of cultural differences I will encounter in the classroom. What level of English will my students speak? Will they be comfortable writing long essays in a foreign language? Will they be used to group work and discussions, or will they expect only lectures?

I’ve made some decisions–my students will do peer reviews, whether they want to or not! After all, Fulbrighters are cultural ambassadors, and although I will strive to be sensitive about my students’ needs, it won’t hurt them to have a bit of an American influence in their educations.

I’ve dug out my warmest wool sweaters. I’ve triple-checked that my passport will be valid through my stay (it will, plus two extra years). I’ve downloaded Dracula on my kindle. As unbelievable as it seems, I think I’ll be ready when I leave in three weeks.