Life goes by very fast in an environment that you are familiar with, especially one that has unlimited responsibilities queued up for you daily. As an international student in Finland, combining work with a study is more like a social norm and seem ingrained in the system such that you may not find an escape route easily but embrace it generously, so you may meet your basic needs. By that I mean, survival for most student especially international students, and most especially students from developing nations. The economic gap is enormous, it will take less than 24hours before you realize how meagre the millions worth of your local currency in the new system you just found yourself. Your natural survival instinct will kick in by the second day of your arrival in whatever city of Finland you find yourself. Your first line of defence would be cutting your excesses and living a strictly budgeted life. This is easily adaptable and could be even easier if you have an unlimited source you could call on from back home, parents or relative that are willing to support your education. But regardless, it is a tough option and requires a lot of discipline. In another light, it also questions your sense of responsibility and empathy for the people sending you the hard earn money from the other zone. When you could sacrifice some of your study and fun hours to take away such burden of responsibility from them. I know because I survived on this ‘option A’ for my first year of study. The second option apparently is to get a part-time job. This comes at a cost; reduce hour of study, reduce energy due to physical tiredness, phycological strain due to occasional complains and fear of being fired from work (your source of livelihood), mental stress due to educational lags (classes and assignments). There are also some of the subtle misses, such as one that brought me to this page ‘deprivation of extracurricular, or social activity and international academic experiences available to other independent students (am I supposing that most international students taking ‘option B’ are not independent ?). Once you are trapped in the work-study syndrome, your educational ‘explore-ability’ is cut short. Your allegiance is to the income status of your bank account. School fee payment and the compulsory living fee for residence permit renewal will become ones nightmare, as the academic calendar speed to an end. Ceaseless adverts and announcement about international exchange and bilateral programs designed for your studies appear like a farce. The human nature in you already block your senses or sensitivity to extraneous needs, needs fundamental to your survival take the front stage. I will not go into the detail of how I escaped the rat race, such that today I am writing about my experience as in international exchange student from the Baltic state of Latvia. That would be a subject of another mind piece. But I would share the experience of natives and international students here in Latvia based on my experience and observation, and that explains my short drift into the relative social subject from my Finland perspective.
I wanted to escape Finland or even Jyvaskyla and get some space to breathe some fresh air, new people, culture, values, purpose, world view, experience and knowledge. I have lived in Finland for four years so I crave experience of other parts of Europe with a slightly different social economic challenges. I have a list of three destinations. Spain – I love the Spanish language because I think it is romantic (I guess I got that phrase from somewhere, most probably in a movie, but it has since shaped my view of the language). Besides, I know basic Spanish and I would like to develop the language skills further. France – because I understand the French language to the level of intermediate proficiency. Secondly, I have learnt from while I was a kid that Paris was the most beautiful city in the world, maybe she is still the most beautiful arguably and I crave the experience of her magnificence. I would like reconstruct and transform my childhood abstract experience to reality. But the first country on my list was the United Kingdom. I think because of the English language and the diversity of the population. I also have many friends and relatives in many cities in England who I could catch up with, after a long time. But how on earth I did end up in Latvia, Riga? Well, regardless of the listed personal preferences, my main purpose is to escape Jyvaskyla, complete at least two practical-training courses and get some new experience. The criteria to get into the highly sorted cities I listed in my options was high. I got selected for the UK option by the international office but the school were not responding to their correspondences. The international office is not promising anything, because they also don’t have enough information to base their conclusion. I kept my finger crossed, and suddenly something happened. A student decided s/he would not take an offer to go to Riga at the eleventh hour. I got a message the Int’l office asking if I don’t mind to fill up the spot. Does it mean I would get to breathe another city air, get away from my daily struggle in exchange for some freedom -; a living fee (funding) without having to sweat and I would be able to study for 18ECTs worth of credits? If the answer is yes then it is a yes from me! It is a luxury I long yawn for, it is a benefit I long could not access not because it was not accessible but because I was limited by my background and environment. So I took the opportunity with open hand and mind.
Although, navigating the bureaucratic landscape of any grant-liable opportunity could be a hard nut. But it was a bit simpler with the Erasmus+ application, to be honest. I, however, met my roadblock when my background was again brought to fore. I have a Nigerian nationality but I am resident in Finland and I have valid continuous EU residence permit. My passport validity could last for the period of my stay for the PT program, and it would still have one-month extra valid duration by the time I am done. But the receiving institution’s Int’l office wanted more. I have to get a new passport or I can’t make the trip. No other option was considered. My plan was grounded for another 4-6weeks because of this avoidable delay. I have to apply for a new passport at my country embassy situated in Sweden. The process involved turned out to be as complicated as applying for a grant for a PhD studies. This should not even have come up at all. The stated immigration rule does not apply to me in my opinion. Or if at all I could apply for a new passport after arriving at the destination since I would be staying for 3months, I would get it before the program is over. Moreover the aforementioned rule does not prohibit me from entering Latvia. Non of those options cut it for me. You have to follow the rule, this is an immigration issue was the common response. I got frustrated, I have to let go of the opportunity. The whole idea became unreasonable. How did I come up with the idea of a PT program abroad in the first place. Every passing day, waiting for a new international passport to be issued was like a decade of wasted time and effort. I have a good reason not to embark on the trip. My disinterest becomes emboldened, strengthened by negative reviews that are now visible to my searching eyes each time I try to read about my city of destination. I read something on the internet, my friends think, my family said, almost make me changed my mind. But then, I understand that it was just my negative emotional state. And when it come to the internet, I know one would always find whatever news or perspective you search for, Good new or Bad news. It is also imperative to mention that, my Tutor and home international office personnel were supportive and gave useful advice during this period that make me deal with the situation reasonably. PT is a choice, you could or should cancel the plan if you want but take your time to think about it, be sure it is what you want and not that you are throwing in the towel because of the delay, even though everything else you need is ready. Their insight was helpful in deciding the eventual duration that would accommodate my plans and program objective. The receiving institution also were flexible at this point with my options. I would say it takes a concerted effort to make today a reality. I am writing my first Blog post from Riga Stradin University (RSU) library :). Subsequently, I would write about my trip and life experiences here so far. Please make it a date with me on this interesting journey.
O di gba kan na……… Ka pa de la yo!