Engaging with locals can help students to adapt to the local environment and get an inside look at the culture, traditions and people. LUT’s Meet a Local Family / Friend programme brings together international students with local South-Karelian families. Each year, from 50 to 100 students and families take part in the programme.
In this blog, we have interviewed one exchange student and his local family about their experiences.
Local family: Satu and Turo from Imatra, Finland.
Exchange student: Malte from Germany. Previous studies in industrial engineering.
Came to LUT for an Erasmus exchange focusing on business model development and sustainability.
Why did you decide to take part in the Meet a Local Family / Friend programme?
Malte: If I may – I didn’t just take part in it; I was blessed (!) by it, and to this day, I’m thankful I got the opportunity. If I remember correctly, it was led by my wish to take “a nice walk or two” with Finns outside uni. Students are rarely exemplary for a society. I would never even have dreamed of how things unfolded with Satu and Turo – my local friend family!
Satu: Originally, we decided to take part in the programme for two reasons: to keep up our German language skills and to experience new things. We wanted to offer an international student the kind of experiences they would otherwise probably not get. I myself have been lucky to receive these kinds of opportunities while backpacking through Europe, so I wanted to enable the same for someone else.
What activities have you done together?
Malte: I hoped for “a nice walk or two” and ended up being shown the region and beyond. I have tasted slow cooked moose with cranberry sauce, gone shooting, gone to sauna, learned about the famous Imatra dam, visited the district heating plant where Turo works, and much more.
Satu: We met our exchange student for the first time in September, and he went back to Germany for Christmas. In these four months, we did a lot of different things together. For example, we went to pick mushrooms and berries, took a trip to our cottage, went to sauna and swam in the lake. On our cottage trip, Malte prepared us a traditional German breakfast. It was delicious!
We also went to the swamp to pick cranberries, which was fun for Malte since he had never been to a swamp before. After the berry picking, we made kiisseli, which is a typical Finnish berry-based jelly dessert. The picture below is from this trip.
Turo is a part of the army reserve, so all of us went to the Immola shooting range. We also drove to the Russian border, visited a forest museum in Punkaharju and stayed in Helsinki for a weekend. Of course, we also did the traditional sightseeing tour in our hometown Imatra and we went to see a biathlon competition there.
A week before Christmas, we had a traditional Finnish Christmas dinner at our place. Keeping up with the traditions, my parents, who live close by, also joined us. As a Christmas present, I knitted Malte wool socks that he still uses, four years later.
What have you gained from this experience?
Malte: Without any exaggeration: meeting Satu and Turo as well as their families and friends has been one of the greatest gifts of the past five years. The multiplicity of unique moments that have continued to this day – visits, postcards, parcels and messages – is best summarized with a deep sense of gratitude and connection. In exchange, I have left a piece of my heart in South Karelia 🙂
Satu: We got everything we wished for and more. It was nice to do things together when Malte went along with everything we could think of with an open mind. We also got a different perspective on the Finnish way of life when we compared the two cultures.
Most importantly, we gained a friend from this experience. We were lucky to get a student as amazing as Malte is. He takes in the world with open arms, has a good sense of humor and appreciates even the littlest things. It was nice to offer him new experiences – the things that are normally mundane gave joy to all of us on a completely other level.
We still keep in touch and have seen each other multiple times after Malte returned to Germany. He visited us in Finland only a few weeks after we had our son, and last spring all three of us visited him in Germany.
Bonus question for Malte: Was it easy to adapt to the Finnish culture, and what do you find is the weirdest thing about Finnish people?
Malte: People everywhere facilitated my adaptation and that of the other exchange students. Thanks to Antti, I had a mattress to sleep on less than an hour after my arrival. Kaisa made all the formalities of an exchange student happen in no time. Satu and Turo repeatedly exceeded any hospitality scale – who would expect they’d celebrate Christmas early just because I was leaving before the holidays?
The weirdest thing is that Finns see themselves as socially distant (and maybe cherish this self-image?). The extent of their outdoor activities and hospitality is purely outstanding and remarkable. When Satu, Turo and their son Tuukka visited me in Germany, I did my very best to return the favour. However, even with the elaborate schedule I had planned, I wasn’t able to wear them down.
The application period is once a year, each September. LUT coordinates the families and students together and organises the first meeting. After that, the student and their local family can decide what they want to do together themselves. You can read more about applying to the programme and find the application form from here.