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Mixed feelings

Goodbyes are hard. Leaving home ain’t easy, even if it means going back home at the same time.

I cleaned my desk this afternoon. I had been piling paper all year and while I was going through the stacks to see what to throw into recycling bin and what to lug back to Finland with me, I got flashbacks about everything that’s happened in eleven months.

Five papers that I’ve authored or co-authored have been submitted this year and a few more are work in progress. One has already been accepted and should come out any day now. I’ve presented posters at SNEB and ACR conferences, learning about different research and practice perspectives from nutritionists and consumer researchers. We are also developing an application for small, concrete habit changes which aim to change the triggers and cues in the environment. All in all, it’s been a fairly productive year, although many things that were being planned or even started never came to fruition. Perhaps that is a good thing: survival of the fittest ideas. And my resolve to strive to do meaningful and practically useful research has strengthened.

Nevertheless, papers and posters weren’t the things that I was reminiscing. Instead, I formed a mental collage of things that made it possible for me to enjoy working – and living – here. It all comes down to good people and small daily things, interaction and collaboration.

I’ll take with me Adam’s constant encouragement and uplifting quips, Sandra’s infinite patience, Kate’s bubbly energy, Julia’s laughter, Sudy’s smart decisiveness, Aner’s kindness that manifests in so many ways, Drew’s unwavering enthusiasm, and Brian’s radiant warmth and generosity. I’ll also remember those who left before me: Margaret’s resilience, Will’s hands-on attitude, Alyssa’s good-heartedness, our summer interns. Not to mention people I met at Maplewood, improv, Ithaca Health Alliance, Amnesty, Toastmasters, conferences, AIDS Ride, and just generally everywhere at Cornell and Ithaca. Memories of them will stay with me.

To name a few… Charlie, Annie (“yes, and”), Marjaneh, Gulzhan, Javad (richness and beauty of Persian and Kazak culture), Daniela, Kris, Simone, Alice (the four kindred spirits who I hope to see again in Europe), John (“I’m always good”), Lijin, Yun, Yi, Xiyue, Joanne (great housemates), Jason, Lorraine (newcomers to Cornell, unite), Andrea, Amy, Claire, Rob (healthcare for all), Wayles, Andy, Ute (human rights), Taz, Ron, Cheryl, Ishbel (building confidence), Erin and David (delightfully wacky), two Daniels. Brian and Adam’s families, so lively and accepting. This incredible diversity.

Mindless golf tournament with Adam, Kate and Rex, when I managed sometimes to swing the club fairly well, but only if one of them reminded me about the correct stance. Adam piggybacking me up the stairs after the Dragon Day parade, when I was still on crutches. Road trips, late night talks, and great dinners with Brian. Reading a bedtime story to his daughter. AIDS Ride in perfect weather. Birthday surprise arranged by Kris. Aner’s improv classes and movie nights. Lunch break banter. Hugs and laughs…

I will miss you, guys. Eleven months is just enough time to realize that I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like.

Yet at the same time, I am happy about going home. Being seven hours and over six thousand kilometers away from the person I otherwise share my life with has been tough, and I also long to see my family and friends again (including those who visited this year). What’s more, our group of people at work is equally nice and good-hearted. I could make a similar catalogue of memories about the years I’ve been working at VTT. Wouldn’t be a bad idea, actually.

Coming a full circle – the mix of sad and happy feelings is kind of similar to the ones I had when I came here. I’m happy that I care about people so much that I feel sad about having to leave them. And even if I won’t see some of them again, the connections have been real and left a lasting and overwhelmingly positive impact. I wish I can help others to connect as well.


Cultural adjustment

Okay, time for something a bit more theoretical! I wanted to analyze cultural adjustment right in the beginning of this adventure, since I might need it later on when I hit the crisis phase.

According to Lysgaard’s U-curve model, adjustment to a new culture goes through four phases:

  • Honeymoon: loving the new culture, noticing only the positive sides, being curious and interested in everything.
  • Crisis: phase of frustration when reality hits hard, noticing only the negative sides, feelings of incompetence, blaming other people for communication difficulties and misunderstandings.
  • Recovery: realizing that the culture isn’t going to change, and you just have to accept it.
  • Adjustment: understanding the new culture and taking the best out of it, living here and now.

Of course, the stages do not apply to everyone, their length varies individually, and people can go back and forth between them. I guess I should be in the honeymoon phase currently, and perhaps I am, but too early to tell. Things have been going pretty well so far, but I’m certainly not absolutely in love with everything. I also experienced a short bout of frustration and homesickness on my very first day here, but that’s probably normal due to being jet-lagged and having so many things to take care of. Anyway, I hope that my extensive acceptance and commitment training helps in adjustment 😉

The U-curve hypothesis has also been expanded to a W-curve to cover the return to home. Basically, the phases are the same: first you love everything (food, family, friends, the way things work), but then you realize that things either have changed or have not changed, and you may have changed (or not) as well. You also notice how peculiar some customs in your own culture are.


I wonder how large part of the troubles people have with adjustment is related to the time of the year? For instance, if you go abroad in September in the Northern Hemisphere, winter and darkness could make the crisis phase even worse. I hope that the increasing amount of light here will make things easier for me during the spring.

Some practical things that I’ve encountered so far include different locks, taps, doors, and lack of metric system. These are pretty easy to get accustomed to. A bit harder is to develop a natural reaction to how-are-yous. And I think that once I get started at work on Monday, I will face many things that are more under the surface and difficult to recognize at first. But it will be interesting, that’s for certain!