Heidi Heikkonen arrived in Dublin in spring. Studying social work at the University of Lapland, she decided to pack her bags and see the world on a whim. She reminisces on seeing the tide for the first time, meeting sheep in the mountains, and stirring up a hornet's nest at an Irish party.
”– I’m from Pirkanmaa, far away from the coast. I’ve never seen the tide. When I saw the low tide for the first time, I just wondered where all the water had disappeared.”
What was your exchange destination and what have you studied?
OK, I’m Heidi Heikkonen. I was in Dublin, Ireland, from January to May. A bit over four months. My major was social work and I took a couple of courses for my own major on social policy and the practices of social work. I also studied archeology, horticulture, and folklore.
Why did you go for student exchange?
I’ve been to UK before as an intern and liked it a lot. Then all of a sudden, during the second application period I decided, "Why not? It’s not too late to participate!"
My Bachelor topic will be quite difficult and I need foreign sources for it. Spending almost half a year speaking only English made a real difference in terms of my language skills. And of course, I really wanted to see the world.
Did the exchange period contribute to your mental skills in any way?
Absolutely! Especially my first time in student exchange. I was about 20 – already then I developed as a human being, this time even more. At home I have a spouse, and my friends are close by. During exchange you have time to think, to elaborate on yourself as a human being. For me, it’s a way to develop as a person.
Of course, you also get used to travelling. I’ve traveled pretty much all over Ireland. It’s easy and cheap – the trains are expensive but the bus system is very good. It’s a small country, so it hardly takes more than two hours to reach the other side.
Let’s expand the context a bit – describe Ireland, what is it like?
[laughs] Talking about expanding! As an exchange destination, depending on the university of course, Ireland is full of friendly people and the pub culture is great. Dublin is a tourist city, not representative of the whole country – just as well, because it concentrates on tourism. But in small places people are really friendly.
I’ve had a very good time in Ireland. Nature is all around, there are hills that are like mountains and then… sheep. [laughs] A lot of them.
Did you acquire any academic skills from your exchange university?
Perspectives, at least. I’m the first university student of my family, so I did not necessarily know what to expect.
My stay in Dublin prepared me for academic writing because I had to write in a foreign language. Things are easier when the foreign language has clearer rules, you can’t blabber away like when using your native tongue.
Was it easy to adjust to a new country?
I lived on a campus four kilometers from the main campus. It was a cozy little place with many international students. I also left behind a couple of Irish friends. And clubs were abundant – I was a member of a paddling club – and I made friends there. It was rather easy to adjust, but there were a few cultural shocks as well.
One of them took place at a local student party at someone’s home. In Ireland, well, the status of women still isn’t that equal yet. At this party we were chatting about this and that, and I just happened to say that I don’t want children and that my boyfriend knows my stance. The entire bunch of girls turned to look at me and said, “Come again?” A storm of questions broke out. As a Finnish woman I was not quite used to such intense questioning. I felt like I had stirred up a hornet’s nest. But it was fun to come up with another perspective!
Did you have any adventures that you would like to share with us?
We got lost so many times, I can’t even remember! But it was a nice neighborhood, so it didn’t really matter.
I also swam in the ocean. One of my friends from the US had always lived by the ocean – she just walked right in. I, on the other hand, am from the middle of Finland and had never seen the tide. When I saw the low tide for the first time, I just wondered where all the water had disappeared. I didn’t have the courage to go half the distance she had. She must’ve walked at least half a kilometer off the shore. It was pitch black and there she went in the water like the little Bambi. That was totally nuts! [laughs]
Do you recommend student exchange to others?
Yep, definitely. It provides a chance to develop as a person. You get friends from around the world. Especially from the academic point of view, I have benefitted from it. And of course, your language skills will improve.