A Postcard From Finland: Studying Abroad with Citizenship
-by Deven Tokuno
Catching the study abroad fever is easy to do at the Honors College. Stories of adventures in exotic places around the world encourage students to learn more about this unique opportunity. For some, country selection is the hardest part. For others, it’s as easy as dual-citizenship.
Not-your-average traveler, Mikko McFeely, senior English, professional writing and rhetoric and sustainable development double major from Kirkland, Wash., studied abroad in Oulu, Finland for a semester in fall 2011. In addition to his interest in Finnish culture, McFeely is also a citizen by birth.
The Republic of Finland borders Sweden and Norway to its west and north, and Russia to its east. Religion, politics, and the language are influenced by all three.
Although he has traveled extensively, including several trips with his family to Finland and a six-month stay in New Zealand, McFeely wanted to live in the country of his mother’s roots for an extended period of time.
“I started losing my Finnish,” says McFeely, “and really felt the need for cultural immersion. So, why not Finland? I was even fortunate enough to study at the same university that my mom studied at-the University of Oulu.”
Though much has changed since his mother attended, including structural renovations at the university, McFeely felt a strong connection to Oulu and his parents were extremely supportive of studying abroad.
“I felt like a guest whenever we’d visit,” he says. “But I wanted to feel like a resident, to be able to live day to day in the country of my heritage, meet people from a very different culture, and learn more about their daily lives.”
With a ten-hour time difference and colder winters than on the Palouse, he had much adjusting to do, though he insists that “everyday life was very similar to life in America.”
During his semester abroad, McFeely lived with three other college students, all from Germany. Perhaps it was this boisterous group of young men that helped him feel at home, or perhaps the interdisciplinary classes he took.
McFeely completed 16 credits of mostly culture classes including a Scandinavian studies program, all taught in English, with 20-30 students per class. As a sustainable development and English double major, he also satisfied his interest in nature by taking a class where he visited national parks.
Not every aspect of a study abroad experience is focused on “studying”-rather, cultural immersion includes getting involved with the local community. McFeely was a member of the Boy Scout troop on campus and had a kummi family, or “god parent” host family. He saw them nearly every week which helped his understanding of Finnish culture. He had dinner with the family, went swimming, enjoyed local foods and arts, and watched hockey.
McFeely also traveled to Germany (only a time zone away) where he met up with Honors alumnus and current Fulbright scholar, Julian Reyes (’11, civil and environmental engineering).
McFeely successfully extended his dual-citizenship indefinitely by renewing his passport while abroad. Because of his studentship and extended time in America, he will not be required to serve in the Finnish military.
This world traveler’s advice to students? “Go abroad!”
“Go with an open mind; face the fear of the unknown. As Honors students we are taught global competency, but only when abroad can you actually apply that knowledge in real-life situations. Put your education into action; use it to its full potential.”