The last weeks in Northampton were so busy that I did not have time to write anything. Also after returning back to Finland I was busy with starting my new-old life (moving together with Mr. R.). Now I´m finally back and going to write about some sort of summary about the exchange.
If I would need to give some advices to a student who is considering to do the same than I did – be an exchange student and especially having a placement in Northampton – I would mention probably some aspects which I was not very prepared for.
Prepare to be alone especially if you are older / mature student and don´t live at the campus.
It may be challenging or at least take a long time to really get to know anyone. It´s a good question how much this “keeping a distance” is a cultural character. All the people I met were very friendly and helpful, but I must say I felt myself quite lonely at times, even if I really tried to do something for it. Mentioning the cultural angle I know it would be probably much worse to be a British exchange student in Finland, where people sometimes hardly talk to each other. In the placement I met a lot of lovely people, but I felt myself mostly quite an outsider. There were a lot of more formal discussion (like the reports in the morning) and informal discussions (like the jokes) in the office of which I did not get much. Of course I kept asking about those things from the educator, but sometimes we were just too busy to discuss about those.
I know that this language barrier part of the loneliness would get better after a while. There was one team member in the ward who told me that he comes from Portugal and had been living in the UK about 15 years. I probably would not have guessed he´s not originally from England because his English sounded so good to me. He said it took about six months to get along with the language somehow. I comforted myself by thinking about his words in the moments I was struggling with my language after these less than 3 months.
Besides the rent (which is going to be probably expensive anyway) think about the location of your accommodation contra the university / to your placement. The house I stayed in Far Cotton, was not literally far from the uni (4,2 miles = 6759 meters), but still in the rush hour it meant one hour bus trip, 2 hours all together / day. The biggest cultural difference generally – which I never get very used to – was the huge amount of the people making many of the things quite slow and challenging. Going from one place to another (especially in the rush hour), standing in the queues, organizing your daily living and so on. I remember to wait 2, 5 hours in the mobile operator´s chat queue – and never got the answer to my simple question.
I also didn´t realize beforehand in Finland that travelling is quite challenging and expensive in the UK. Actually from Northampton I found it pretty (=too) challenging. For example making a trip to Cambridge (about one hour drive by car) would have taken more than three hours by the public transportation. There were no budget hostels (or the ones were fully booked) and all the sofa surfing requests I send were declined usually by saying that the persons already had someone to host. During the three months I saw some places in Northampton, Wollaston (village nearby having Dr. Martens outlet-shop) and London. That´s it. I had some plans to make a trip to Cambridge and to Stratford-upon-Avon, but after finding out how expensive it would have been, I decided not to go, especially knowing that I would have made the trips by myself, alone.
Prepare to plan and organize your life in beforehand. Generally I think I learned something what comes to this aspect, for example meaning my daily routines or my trips to London. In the city sized like London, you need to have a plan A, and probably at least a plan B (at least) for managing to experience and see the things you want to.
The best side of the whole exchange were the people I met. Although I was quite lonely at times, the people I was in contact with were anyway lovely and friendly. For example my fellow student Kerry who spent about 6 hours in the library helping me to translate my essay in to academic language… I think it was such a shame that I realized too late that this lovely person lives almost in my neighbour. Also the old (meaning already from Finland) friend James who borrowed his wife´s bike and helped me to make photocopies when I was crying with my flu, tiredness and language barrier in the very beginning at the university. Also my educator was such a fantastic person and a real professional in occupational therapy. I will always remember his great sense of humour and patient /calm style to deal with all kind of fast changing situations. I do appreciate his way to support the patient´s independence; not to do the things for the people, but encouraging them always to try by themselves. I am gratefull for all these (and not in here mentioned) people who shared some unique moments in my life giving their time, knowledge, bike, smiles etc.
One example about the unique moment(s) was the group session I lead in the ward. Knowing the variety of the clients (meaning about their occupational abilities and motivation) I asked some tips for the theme of the session from my educator. He suggested I would have a mince pie tasting session – Christmas was coming – which would probably motivate most of the clients. I bought six different types of mince pies which are quite different than Finnish Christmas plum tarts. I started the session by asking the clients to share verbally or mimically what they like in Christmas. I gave an example about the simple mimic about the activities I like to do at Christmas: sleeping and reading a book. I think everybody was able to say something. They did not use mime, which was a sort of experimental and new task to them. Then I had the actual tasting session in the way I gave them personally a small piece of the pie A, then another piece of the pie B – and asked which one was the better one. I also asked them to taste carefully and slowly, because in the end we chose the Mince Pie of 2015. This way they had a some sort of sensory session, with smell, taste, touch and also need to make a choice. In the final end I told shortly about the real original Santa Claus in Finland. I even had some evidence material: a short video clip about Santa´s village in Rovaniemi. I was amazed how much discussion it raised; about the Santa, Christmas and even about the northern lights. I asked also if the clients remember if they believed in Santa Claus in their childhood. One client – usually a bit serious older man – said to me, that he still does. He also thanked for the session with a handshake. I was quite happy about the whole session, which I think went quite well. The clients usually having quite challenging behaviour were able to concentrate, share something about their Christmas, wait their turn and be social about the whole hour which is more than I expected.
What did I learn? I think I learned a lot; probably I realize all the learnings after a while, little by little. Besides the language I learned of course about occupational therapy. For example some occupational therapy concepts got more practical sense in my mind (like the activity analysis and professional reasoning). I learned about the client group (brain injury patients) and about the variety of the effects, symptoms and challenges they are having caused by the injury. I learned about the interventions and assessments, for example doing the interest checklist, road safety and orientation assessments, community trips, cooking sessions, morning hygiene programmes and news groups. I learned about the multidisciplinary team (MDT) member´s work and roles by interviewing them. I learned something about making notes. I got an idea about the hospital sized like St Andrews, saw some different wards and OT´s working with different client groups (for example the patients with dementia , Huntington´s disease and the youth with mood disorders). I got an idea about the relevant protocols and guidelines (NICE guidelines, Mental Health Act, Mental Capacity Act). I saw some different actitivities the hospital can offer to the patients (the activity center, Work Bridge, the multifaith room). Maybe one of the most important learnigns was that I got some brightened ideas what I want to do in the future as an OT.
This is the end of this chapter and this blog. Time to say goodbye and thank the random readers. Beside I´ve had to duty to write about the exchange it has been therapeutic to write. Definetely would recommend.
P.s. The pictures with quotations are from British Library´s exhibition about Alice in Wonderland and the last one with Marilyn Monroe´s words is from the museum of Northampton. The piece of street art with owls is made by Dscreet and the one with two characters by Stik.