NOTE: Video at the bottom. Please read on to get to it!
After three full months living in and exploring Finland, I decided to jump on a plane and visit my dear (old) friends in the UK, Sarah and Andrew. They are actually young compared to me, but we were good friends back in the day when we were raising our girls in suburban North Carolina. Sarah was a breath of fresh air in my life then and nothing has changed. One of the reasons I wanted to come to Europe was to reconnect, so of course I HAD to go to Scotland. I was very proud of myself for not bursting into tears when she picked me up at the airport (as I had done when I picked her up 14 years ago at Albuquerque Sunport). Apparently I am growing up and learning to keep my emotions in check! But man it was great to see her.
Sarah and Andrew took the time to show me all around Edinburgh, including visits to two castles, a drive through the rainy green countryside, Mother’s Day lunch near a Loch (yes, they have Mother’s Day in March in the UK), a take out meal of fish and chips, and a home-cooked feast of haggis and tates. That was the best!
I couldn’t bear to be in the UK for just three days, so I took a train through the countryside down to London for a few more days of sightseeing, this time on my own. Prince William, six museums, and a few palaces later, I was sated. I decided to leave before I was run over crossing the street. The painted signs on the street that say “LOOK LEFT and LOOK RIGHT or LOOK BOTH WAYS” saved my life on more than one occasion.
An interesting take-away from this short trip was that I was able to talk education with my friends, particularly about the British education system, and I was able to step back from Finland. I took advantage of sitting next to friendly folks in Edinburgh and London, striking up conversations whenever I could. I felt like the real me again and not the more contained Finnish version of myself. I thought for a moment that maybe I should be living in a country where the natives are more outgoing, as I like to be. For a moment I even questioned what I was doing in Finland and if I was learning and seeing enough about the schools and the culture.
After a very long travel day with missed connections, a delayed flight, and the ultimate landing in Helsinki, I struggled to navigate in my adopted country where I can’t read the signs. I had missed my train and was confused and disoriented in a small train/bus station outside of the airport. It had been so much easier in an English-speaking country, even though I continued to say Kittos (thanks) to everyone who helped me. I called customer service for the train service and remembered why I love Finland. They didn’t have to waive the fee for a new train ticket but they graciously offered to do so in order for me to get home and not be stranded outside of Helsinki for the evening.
Now that I have re-acclimated and am happily back in my small city and world, I remember why I love it here. A recent example of the kindness and generosity of Finns happened this week. Going through the cafeteria lunch line at the university, I served myself a huge bowl of cream soup – or so I thought. At the register, the cashier politely told me that it was not soup but cream sauce for the rice or potatoes. When I acted embarrassed, she did everything she could to put me at ease, including asking me to taste it and see if I wanted it as a soup, telling me that many people make this mistake, and generally ensuring that I felt supported and comfortable. As some Finnish university students told me today, this cashier acted very Finnish.
Stepping away from my immersion in this new culture helped me to see and recognize more about Finland when I returned. It helped me remember why we travel – why we leave our normal world to see other ways of living and being. The act of leaving and returning teaches us so much about the people and places we visit, as well as about ourselves within those environments. My hope is that I have that greater perspective when I return to my small town in the New Mexico mountains and my “tribe” there. Of course, I know that I will be the same yet different for my travels. My trip to the UK will be a large part of that. Thanks for reading, or as we say “Kiitos”.