Find yourself in Lapland

Thao Trinh Phuong, Vietnam


Thao Trinh Phuong from Vietnam, a degree student of International and Comparative Law, learned how to ski, how to get lost and how to find her way again in Lapland. Read more on how the Arctic light felt right for our dear Thao.


“When you have a chance to control what and how you study, it’s really good for a student. Studying is not “compulsory” anymore, not forced. It helps students love what it is they are studying.”

You’ve brought something dear to you to the interview! Could you tell us what it is?
Okay, yes! This is one of my souvenirs from here, a memory from Finland. I spent my Easter holiday at my friend’s house, they are really sweet and kind. I think – most Finnish people I’ve met have been really helpful. They’ve tried their best to share their traditions with me, as much as they can.

At my friend’s house, the parents don’t speak Finnish. With my broken Finnish, it is very hard to communicate with them. But they are really, really friendly, they make me feel like I’m at home. So during this Easter holiday, they showed me how they spend their holidays, together, and they taught me how to decorate this little tree. They showed how they go around visiting their neighbors, singing and dressed up in ugly costumes. Their neighbor had a really good laugh!

You mentioned your broken Finnish – but you DO speak Finnish! How do you like it?
A little bit! I try to study as much as I can. I know Finnish is very difficult, I’m trying my best. So far it’s not very fluent. I still speak worse than a one-year-old child! [laughter]

What is the best thing in Lapland?
Christmas, even though I’ve only spent one Christmas here. But everyone was so thrilled, the Christmas spirit was really strong.

Another best thing here is nature. Because it’s Arctic, it is very unique. In winter the weather can be very extreme, but you can see one of the most beautiful sceneries in the world. Of course, the Arctic light is… you can’t describe it. It’s an once-in-a-lifetime thing, but here you see it almost all the time in winter.

Did you know of any stereotypes of Finnish people?
I thought that when I’d come here, it might be difficult to join the community. But during my time here, I haven’t really experienced many of the stereotypes. They [Finnish people] have all been really welcoming. Finnish people, they are not that shy, not that cold. Even with strangers they are very friendly. In my own hometown I don’t get strangers walking up to me and saying “hi!”, but here they do. Even when I fell down on my bike, people helped me as much as they could.

Also, I remember one time when I was lost and couldn’t find my friend’s house. An old couple just came up to me (they didn’t speak English at all!) and tried to help me. They even let me in their car and drove me to my friends place. Really, really warm and welcoming.

Have you made a lot of friends during your stay here?
Yes, at the University of Lapland I’ve had a lot of chances to meet new students. From my faculty, from other faculties, exchange students. The University of Lapland has even encouraged me to meet them, talk to them, to share my experiences. We have each other to go through difficult or challenging things.

Have you had an adventure in Lapland you’d like to share with us?
I got to experience skiing for the first time! It was very nice. I was very surprised to see that Finnish people are so sporty – even seven-year-old kids were so talented. But me, I was really horrible, fell down all the time, but it was a really fun adventure for me! [laughter]

How do you feel about the more independent take on studying at the University of Lapland?
Yeah, I really like it. I have more power to control what I want to learn, what I want to develop in myself, individually. Over here, you have to make your personal study plan. It’s a very helpful thing, it teaches you to plan everything ahead. It’s a skill you must have in life. Sometimes things might not go as planned, but it helps you.

When you have a chance to control what and how you study, it’s really good for a student. Studying is not “compulsory” anymore, not forced. It helps students love what it is they are studying.

Can you think of some differences between your home university and the University of Lapland?

At my home university, the teachers are very busy. I mostly meet them in the classroom, during the lecture. I hardly get a chance to meet them outside the office hours, but in here students actually can write emails to the teachers, and they answer in detail. They even invite students to their office for more detailed explanations.

What future plans do you have?
I will pursue my career as a lawyer, but in my home country. I want to contribute myself to my country, in the field of law. But Finland has become my second home – it will always be one of the most important places of my life.