University of Calgary

Postcard from Finland

Why study in Finland?Wanting to pursue a career in international social work, University of Calgary student Karla Cote knew a placement abroad would gain her invaluable international work experience. “I thought living in Finland would be a really fun, exciting and positive experience.” Cote has found that studying at the University of Lapland in Rovainiemi, Finland is exactly that.  This is her postcard home.

In many ways, Finland is a lot like Canada. It has a very similar climate; it is not too much colder than Calgary despite the fact that Rovainiemi is in the Arctic Circle. There is so much beautiful scenery and wildlife. What is unique about northern Finland is the difference in sunlight. When I first arrived, I only had about three hours of sunlight, but in July the sun does not set all day.

Tell us about your program.

I am a social work student participating in a displaced persons project. It is an exchange between eight universities in Canada and the European Union. Its main objective is to provide students with field education in an international setting by working with marginalized and displaced populations. I am doing my practicum at both the Finnish Red Cross Refugee Centre and the Rovainiemi Immigration Office.  I am mostly working with asylum seekers and refugees. The actual exchange is through the University of Lapland, which was so well organized that I did not have to worry about much once I had arrived. I would definitely recommend this exchange to other students who are interested in an international experience or working with displaced people.

Tell us about your adventures. Recently, I helped organize a trip to a snow castle in a place called Kemi, for the clients at the refugee centre. It was a really great day and I think everyone had fun. Now that it is getting a bit warmer out, I have a lot of new plans. I am going on a snowshoeing trip with a Finnish student I met at the Red Cross. I am also going to a very popular ski resort called Levi to go snowboarding for my birthday. I am also going on a snowmobile safari. 

Every week I plan on going ice swimming, but I have chickened out a few times. Ice swimming is basically just hole in a frozen river that people jump into. I don’t think I will last long, but I have to do it!  I have also gone to the sauna at least three times a week. They keep it between 80 to 100 degrees but it is really nice. I know I will miss the sauna a lot once I come home.

How have you personally grown from this experience?

I think more than anything, I have learned a lot about myself and my own culture by being exposed to a new culture. In my first few weeks, I thought Finnish people were quite unhappy and sometimes even rude (which I realize is not true). Now, instead of looking at what is different about the Fins, I am looking at how my culture has impacted my interpretations of events and experiences. 

For a while, I was feeling like quite an outsider here in Finland. I think this experience will be a very helpful tool when working with newcomers to our country. I think I will be a much more empathetic social worker because of this experience.

Tell us about your future plans?

In Canada or elsewhere, I hope to be able to work with displaced peoples. Although it is heartbreaking at times, I have really enjoyed working with the customers. I definitely hope to find an international social work job at some point in my career. I have also been thinking about applying to the U of C’s Master of Social Work program (focusing on international social work).

For more information on study abroad programs please visit the Centre for International Students and Study Abroad website (www.ucalgary.ca/CISSA/). This postcard was supplied by the International Centre.