Finnish mumbling confronts small talk
How much International Summer School can scare you before it has even started? A lot. How can I speak English in public? Do I understand what other students say? What if I use wrong words? Can I debate anything about global social work?
These were some of the questions that rolled in our heads when we started the first lecture of International Summer School on Wednesday. We sat on the back of the lecture room wondering how to survive the whole week. At first we did not talk anything with other students but they seemed to know each other already and had small talks right away. Maybe this was natural for them because most of them stayed in the same hostel. For us, maybe because we are Finnish, small talk feels really difficult and weird and we noticed that it was also difficult for other Lapland students. We wondered how it is so hard ask who or how are you or even just say “hello”?
At first lecture we got to know each other better by making short discussions and introduced our new friend to the class saying a few little things about him/her. We noticed that during the first break some people had discussions in little groups so apparently introducing ourselves was pretty useful. Yet again, the Finnish students had their own conversations. That clearly shows that we need more time to warm up. However when we had welcome reception in the evening the atmosphere was already more relaxed. Obviously outside the classroom people dared to speak English more easily, maybe because it is easier to talk about something else than the subjects of social work. At least, we felt this way because we think that some subjects are quite difficult to speak even in Finnish.
Our breakthrough in English-speaking happened on Saturday. During the weekend it was time for the unofficial part of the program and on Saturday some of us made a day trip to the Amethyst mine. There everyone had chance to dig their own amethyst. Students were wondering and admired Finnish wildlife, especially our clean air. It is usually forgotten that these things are not self-explanatory for everybody. We also got to see some reindeer so the day was fun and successful and hopefully everyone found their own lucky stone. Informal environment opened our word for coffins and we got to know other students better. We wouldn’t care if some words or grammar were not perfect, because we noticed that we were still understood. So we were able to have real conversations with international students. It was surprising that other students asked us to forgive that we will have to speak English even though we are in Finland. Clearly, many Finns are asking the forgiveness of their poor English language. Wonder why?
On Monday evening, we had pot luck dinner where everyone brought their own country and culture dishes. Food really is the thing that connects people. Everyone was excited to present their own home country food and all those looked really good and tasted even better. Some foods like Finnish black sausage or Chinese black sesame soup raised eyebrows but the first impression by looking were often wrong and the food actually tasted really good. Students seemed to come along with each other really well, as if they have known for a long time. Every nation were in harmonize and everybody just enjoyed the delicious food.
Niko Korhonen & Savanna Paulin
Social Work students, University of Lapland, Finland