Right now, I am enjoying my U.S. Fulbright Student program experience through the, combined, 2021-22 Fulbright Finland Foundation and the Finnish National Agency for Education Fellowship. For the time being, I am the only Fulbright grantee whose research has taken them to Eastern Finland — all other grantees have designated necessity or preference for Southern Finland. Does this mean I feel like I lose out on community with other Fulbrighters? Perhaps a little bit in the beginning, but I knew early on that I needed to prioritize making meaningful connections with a few individuals in my Fulbright cohort and in Eastern Finland from the get-go, so I did.
For me, anticipating my needs for academic, social, and professional circles was important, but acting on that knowledge was essential. Because of that foundation, two months into my grant I had social circles in various places in Finland, virtually, and in the U.S. on which I know I can lean if I need to — or if I just feel like chatting.
Your Experience is What You Make of It
I was recently reminded (via audiobook) that procrastination is a form of self-harm. This message is not new; in fact, you can find articles, inspirational quotes, and a number of other sources discussing the statement. With that in mind, taking action for yourself is the best piece of advice I can provide.
In many ways, it’s like a muscle you can flex — whether it’s learning to be more mentally and emotionally present in the moments you are alone or taking initiative to meet a new person — it gets more familiar each time you work it out. Your experience is what you make of it, not what someone else may save you from. I had to learn this the hard way.
This is my second time living abroad, actually. Immediately after earning my master’s degree I decided I wanted to have a new experience, so I found a job and moved from my home state, West Virginia, to La Paz, the acting capital of Bolivia.
I had the enthusiasm for the change and, with help from a friend, laid the foundation for the job, apartment, and documentation I would need to be there. However, I was totally blindsided by the largeness of the city and the distinct differences in cultural norms. It was not bad — in fact, I loved learning about the people and the new culture — but I was emotionally unprepared.
I struggled to know what to anticipate and spent a lot of time just soaking in the new world around me. Absolutely I missed what was familiar to me and those days gave me practice to flex that action-muscle I referred to earlier. Some days were better than others, but I made the attempt to engage in the new world around me just about daily. I did not find a consistent group of people to hang out with very quickly and did not plug myself into the local community outside of my work and exploring the country. Those are pieces I now wish I had done, but I also recognize that I could only do so much at that maturity point in my life.
Here in Finland, I am able to continue to grow and give back to the community around me. While I am sure that my future-self will see even more opportunities than I’m taking now, I remain content with practicing being present in the moment, focused on my purposes for being here, and grateful for the people who have stayed by me so far in this new adventure.