Columnist Ida Väisänen – October 2012 – For all that you can be


”Where are you from?”

This is the question I usually run into every time I meet a new person these days. During Fresher’s week I met more people than I have in all my life and that’s usually the question that follows after exchanging names and degrees. Where am I from. It’s the accent. Gives me away every time. I don’t mind people asking though. It’s considerate of them to ask. I’m not just classified as foreigner. Either people show interest, or they’re just being polite. I don’t really care if it get’s the conversation going. It’s funny though how my nationality has now become a part of introduction, a part of me worth mentioning. Back at home it was self-evident.


The reactions following this answer vary. Some people just say things like ”that’s cool” and move on to the next subject. Someone might ask more questions. Where is it? What’s it like there? (What to say, what to say?! I must be loyal but still keep things short and sweet. No one wants to hear a lecture. I usually say it’s cold. Accurate enough.) I only tell if someone asks. I don’t want to push. I tend to go into too much detail about cultural differences and such, but I justify it by the fact that this is one of the few subjects I actually know about. Besides, I’m reciprocal. I always ask whereabouts the other person is from. Usually a lot closer than I am. Then comes the question of how I ended up here. Well, I applied and got accepted. Of course it’s way more complicated than that.

Unlike UK students I wasn’t prepared for my uni application. Sure there were the info sites and e-mail addresses to send the questions to but mainly I was handling everything all by myself. My statement, getting documents translated and so forth. I got some crucial help from my teachers but mostly it was just me handling things. Making calls, sending e-mails, chasing down people. I got extra headaches because practices for certain things couldn’t be more different between two countries. (Someone who’s made three separate phone calls about the same document knows what I’m talking about.) At some points applying to the UK was like a full-time job. How I ended up in Bangor was half-coincidence but I’m here now. Starting a whole new life.

Am I the only one who finds that sentence a bit distressing? All the welcome talks at the university sure meant well but I couldn’t help wondering, ”Am I doing something wrong?” The words ‘fresh start’ were mentioned more than once and I instantly felt guilty for missing my friends and family. One of the points mentioned struck me most. You can be whoever you want. Can I? I hardly know how to act somewhat normal in the first place. I’m constantly confused, forgetting words during conversations not to mention the fact that I’m constantly tired of using English for all communication. (If anyone else is experiencing the same I was told it will pass. Promise! It’s only temporary. Like life itself.)

Of course it sounds wonderful. The freedom of choice. New life and all that. But freedom is always accompanied by responsibility. You have the responsibility of making the right choices and that puts certain weight to first fine-sounding things such as new life. I’m wondering am I expected to be something more than I was before I came here? More intelligent? More pleasant? More brave? At least those talks about being whoever you want were sort of right on my behalf. Using your second language always takes away a part of your personality (or adds something to it) and I can only hope that I’ll be able to find friends with this new selfhood.

And then there are the other things that come with your new life. I’m being told left and right to have adventures and also rehearse time-managing and create routines because they’re so good for you. There are the lectures, seminars, study groups and fire safety talks alongside ordinary housework like cleaning and cooking. Oh, how I miss the times when the food would just magically appear on the table! At the moment I’m struggling with the self-service tills (I still blush while thinking about my first encounter with a self-service till and how I somehow managed to mess up the whole machine), wonder how much is alright to pay for a pint of milk and marvel the fact that everyone wears shoes inside the house. In the middle of all this I should make some sense out of my new everyday life. No pressure. But at least I always know the answer when I’m asked where do I come from. Now that I think about it feels kind of secure. In this ever changing world it’s nice to know that some answers never change.

If you’re interested in taking part of series of interesting workshops or just fancy free refreshments you can stop by at the Learning Lounge, a very exciting new project launched by the Careers & Employability and International Student Support Services. To find out more about it and what other stuff is going on with the International department check out the newest newsletter in

And to find out about the trips and events organised by International Education Centre and this year’s Cultural Challenge competition (the first prize is a trip to Beijing!) look up

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