A Student Story: Back garden Northern Lights to experiencing Finnish family life

Posted in: Award, Culture, Funding/Scholarship, Mobility, Student mobility, Turing funding

Written by Jessica Potts, BA(Hons) Education with Psychology student.

Jessica's blog came first place in the 2022-23 Turing Stories Contest. Congratulations Jessica!

Image of Jessica Potts with frost forming on her eyelashes
Cold enough to form frost on my eyelashes

This time last year I had minimal knowledge of Finnish culture and Nordic life. But, a year later and I’m left with not only lifelong experiences and friends, but a whole other family. 

It shocked me when I first discovered that the population of Finland was half that of London. Five and a half million people spread across a country the size of the UK, whose language is solely confined to its borders. 

As a minority language, the country drives bilingualism as a means to connect to the rest of the world. My placement role was as a teaching assistant in a bilingual classroom, set in a rural elementary school just two hours south of the Arctic Circle. A role like this is crucial in remote towns and for young students to be exposed to a native speaker of English. 

Although I had a wide variety of placement opportunities to choose from, the Finnish education system - world renowned for its refreshing modernity - was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up on. As an Education student, my options were limitless; however, it’s not uncommon for these experiences to be unpaid. 

Due to lack of funding in the education sector, NGOs and non-profit schools are unable to offer students, like myself, paid placement positions, even though such support is vital. I was faced with the conflict of wanting to take up this unique opportunity abroad but unsure as to how I could afford it. However, knowing that I was eligible for the Turing fund allowed me the freedom and reassurance in this decision. Not only did the scheme enable me to gain significant and meaningful life experiences, but it enables small educational organisations to receive the support they need from university students. 

A Finnish family making food together around the table
My Finnish host family

To fully immerse myself into Finnish culture, I decided to move in with a host  family in the municipality of Liminka, a short bike ride away from my placement. This would be a large change from normal student life moving in with a Laestadian couple and their six children. My daily commute changed from a bus up Bathwick Hill to a bike ride through knee-deep snow and my student dinner to traditional Finnish family meals. All the while learning the beautiful language, very different from my own. This was one of many culture shocks that I  experienced, paired with the dark winter days and temperatures dropping to -23  degrees. 

The northern lights. mysterious green waves in a black sky.
The Northern Lights

Witnessing Finnish culture organically through the family I lived with made the challenges utterly worthwhile. Their appreciation of the smaller things and beautiful simplicities in life, to me, is what defines the people of Finland. This beauty extended to the world around me, from the drastic change in seasons to seeing the northern lights from my back garden.




The view of Liminka on my flight home
The view of Liminka on my flight home

I can now say that I have strong ties to this rural town just south of the Arctic Circle. Not only was I able to bring value to this school, but I now have a clearer understanding of why the Finnish education system is held in such high regard.  I’ve grown as an educator, but this placement has also shaped my approach to new experiences. 

Posted in: Award, Culture, Funding/Scholarship, Mobility, Student mobility, Turing funding


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