Embracing Chan­ge: Fari­ha’s Jour­ney from Dha­ka to Oulu

Woman sitting on the grass

Meet Fari­ha, a master’s stu­dent in Educa­tion and Glo­ba­li­sa­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Oulu. From the bust­ling streets of Dha­ka, Bangla­desh, to the sere­ne charm of Oulu, Fin­land, her jour­ney has been not­hing short of a trans­for­ma­ti­ve one. Disco­ver how the warmth of Oulu’s people, the chal­len­ges of lear­ning a new lan­gua­ge, and the beau­ty of Fin­nish natu­re have sha­ped her expe­rience.


Be bra­ve. Take risks. Not­hing can subs­ti­tu­te expe­rience.” The­se words by Pau­lo Coel­ho have echoed in my mind ever since I embar­ked on a life-chan­ging jour­ney from Dha­ka, Bangla­desh to Oulu, Fin­land. My name is Fari­ha Khan, doing my second master’s, in Educa­tion and Glo­ba­li­sa­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Oulu, and I am a firm belie­ver in the trans­for­ma­ti­ve power of expe­riences.

It’s been 10 months since I tra­ded the fami­liar hust­le and bust­le of Dha­ka for the sere­ne charm of Oulu. With a background in English lite­ra­tu­re (bachelor’s and master’s) and 6 years spent as a uni­ver­si­ty lec­tu­rer in Bangla­desh, I year­ned for a dee­per unders­tan­ding of educa­tio­nal policies, par­ticu­lar­ly I wan­ted to learn about the concept of inclusion in educa­tion.

Fin­land, celebra­ted for its unpa­ral­le­led educa­tion sys­tem and its sta­tus as the hap­piest count­ry on Earth, cal­led out to me with the pro­mi­se of aca­de­mic excel­lence. I desi­red to enga­ge myself in its educa­tio­nal landsca­pe first­hand, eager to wit­ness the principles of inclusi­vi­ty in action and unders­tand the sec­rets behind Fin­land’s educa­tio­nal success.

Why Oulu

Choo­sing Oulu as my new home was a deli­be­ra­te deci­sion, main­ly because I wan­ted to stu­dy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Oulu. With fami­ly mem­bers alrea­dy sett­led in Fin­land, especial­ly my brot­her who was also stu­dying at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Oulu that time, I had heard a lot about the uni­ver­si­ty and had high expec­ta­tions. I must say my expec­ta­tions were qui­te met as I belie­ve I have tru­ly lear­ned a lot from my uni­ver­si­ty, especial­ly from the facul­ty of educa­tion.

Howe­ver, the day I arri­ved in Oulu by train from Hel­sin­ki, I was a bit disap­poin­ted with the modest size of the railway sta­tion. Nevert­he­less, I soon disco­ve­red that the city’s true beau­ty lies not in its gran­deur, but in the warmth of its people and the abun­dance of natu­re sur­roun­ding it.

Woman in Koitelinkoski

Perks of Oulu

Cont­ra­ry to the ste­reo­ty­pe of reser­ved Finns, I found the people of Oulu to be remar­kably friend­ly and help­ful. Des­pi­te the cold weat­her, I found the hearts of the people remar­kably warm. Whet­her I was lost on a street or in need of direc­tions, their wil­ling­ness to assist and genui­ne ent­husiasm made me feel at home.

Des­pi­te my struggles with the lan­gua­ge bar­rier and the chal­len­ges of inte­gra­ting into a new cul­tu­re, I found solace in the genui­ne kind­ness of tho­se around me in Oulu, whet­her they were from my uni­ver­si­ty or other places I visi­ted. One of the most poig­nant examples of this was my inte­rac­tions with my daugh­ter’s preschool teac­hers. Eve­ry time I visi­ted the preschool, they would greet me with genui­ne warmth, their smi­les glowing a sen­se of care and concern. The­re was one elder­ly teac­her who would give me a mot­her­ly hug on each time I visi­ted, pro­vi­ding com­fort and reas­su­rance during my uncer­tain­ties regar­ding an ini­tial fami­ly issue.

Alt­hough we moved to Oulu as a fami­ly, my hus­band had to return home due to an emer­gency. During tho­se dif­ficult months when my hus­band had to return to Dha­ka for urgent rea­sons, lea­ving me and my daugh­ter to navi­ga­te the unfa­mi­liar natu­re of Fin­nish win­ters alo­ne, their sup­port beca­me inva­luable. They would go an ext­ra mile to speak in English just to inqui­re about my men­tal well-being, offe­ring words of encou­ra­ge­ment and empat­hy that eased my bur­den.

But abo­ve eve­ryt­hing else, it was a moment of sheer beau­ty that I genui­ne­ly want to remem­ber as my best memo­ry from Oulu, a per­so­nal moment of magic which tru­ly cap­tu­red the essence of my ‘Oulu exis­tence’.

One cold win­ter mor­ning in late Decem­ber, as I gazed out of my eighth-floor win­dow after having a sleepless night, I saw a breath­ta­king sight: snow-cove­red pine trees bat­hed in the soft glow of the mor­ning sun, stretc­hing as far as my mor­tal eyes could see. For a moment, it see­med as though time itself had frozen in the milk-whi­te landsca­pe. In that moment of puri­ty, all my wor­ries and fears mel­ted away, replaced by a pro­found sen­se of peace and gra­ti­tu­de for the trea­su­res of natu­re.

For me, one of the most stri­king aspects of Oulu is its clo­se affi­ni­ty with natu­re. Coming from the conc­re­te-made met­ro­po­lis of Dha­ka, the abun­dance of gree­ne­ry and tranquil forests around eve­ry cor­ner feels like a reve­la­tion. Hupi­saa­ret Park, in par­ticu­lar, has beco­me my favou­ri­te – a place whe­re the sea­sons play magic, offe­ring solace amidst the chaos of life. It’s qui­te near to the place whe­re I live.

Oulu in winter

The first time I visi­ted the park was during win­ter, and it see­med almost like an enc­han­ted Nar­nia, a true win­ter won­der­land. To my surpri­se, I disco­ve­red a comple­te­ly dif­fe­rent look of the place recent­ly, now that it’s final­ly sum­mer in Oulu.

“The park see­med almost like an enc­han­ted Nar­nia, a true win­ter won­der­land.”

In sum­mer it’s a per­fect place for fami­lies with kids. You can see children playing, whi­le lying or sit­ting on the grass besi­de the casca­ding litt­le streams and lis­ten to the music of flowing water along­si­de birds’ chir­ping. Oulu is sur­roun­ded by plen­ty of simi­lar parks and water bodies which can offer a quick esca­pe from the chal­len­ges of eve­ry­day life.

Chal­len­ges that I faced In Oulu

When I arri­ved in Oulu during autumn, many people I knew would make joke in a war­ning man­ner with the famous phra­se, ‘win­ter is coming!’ Ini­tial­ly, I thought the harsh win­ter tem­pe­ra­tu­res, drop­ping to nega­ti­ve 30 somet­hing degrees, would be the big­gest chal­len­ge to me as I come from the war­mer part of the world. Howe­ver, I was soon to be pro­ven wrong!

From the moment I set foot in Oulu, I eager­ly began my quest for part-time emplo­y­ment. To my surpri­se, this tur­ned out to be the grea­test chal­len­ge I had ever faced. Des­pi­te my efforts, I did not recei­ve a single inter­view call – a stark cont­rast to my past expe­riences.

Back in Bangla­desh, I pri­ded myself on my track record of never being rejec­ted by an emplo­yer and had main­tai­ned con­ti­nuo­us emplo­y­ment since my under­gra­dua­te days. The rea­liza­tion that I had applied to near­ly a hundred places wit­hout a single res­pon­se was a bit­ter pill to swal­low. The culprit? Most pro­bably the lan­gua­ge bar­rier.

In Oulu, as I soon disco­ve­red, fluency in Fin­nish is often a pre­requi­si­te for emplo­y­ment. Des­pi­te my impres­si­ve resu­me and cre­den­tials, my ina­bi­li­ty to com­mu­nica­te in the local lan­gua­ge pro­ved to be a sig­ni­ficant hurd­le. Howe­ver, I didn’t lose hope. I kept on trying.

How I Ended up at IH Oulu

As a man­da­to­ry com­po­nent of my uni­ver­si­ty stu­dies, I nee­ded to secu­re an interns­hip posi­tion. Howe­ver, the first two months pas­sed in fruit­less search. It was at an interns­hip fair orga­nized by the Facul­ty of Educa­tion, Uni­ver­si­ty of Oulu, that I stumbled upon a ray of hope – the Inter­na­tio­nal House Oulu. With renewed opti­mism, I pitc­hed myself to their selec­tion com­mit­tee and prompt­ly sub­mit­ted my applica­tion.

The call for an inter­view came swift­ly, mar­king a pivo­tal moment in my jour­ney. Whi­le the pros­pect of emplo­y­ment was inducing, the mere oppor­tu­ni­ty to be inter­viewed fil­led me with a sen­se of accomplish­ment. And thus, my tenu­re as an intern at the Inter­na­tio­nal House Oulu began – a role for which I am immen­se­ly gra­te­ful.

Woman wearing winter clothes in Oulu

My Two Cents for the Newco­mers

My expe­rience taught me the impor­tance of lan­gua­ge pro­ficiency in navi­ga­ting the Fin­nish job mar­ket. In a count­ry whe­re Fin­nish is the pre­do­mi­nant lan­gua­ge of com­mu­nica­tion, fluency opens doors to oppor­tu­ni­ties and fos­ters mea­ning­ful con­nec­tions. Whi­le English pro­ficiency is widespread in Oulu, mas­te­ring Fin­nish remains inva­luable for tho­se see­king long-term emplo­y­ment and inte­gra­tion into Fin­nish socie­ty.

In conclusion, my jour­ney in Oulu has been a tes­ta­ment to the power of embracing the unk­nown and step­ping out­si­de of my com­fort zone. Through the highs and lows, I have emer­ged stron­ger and more resi­lient, enric­hed by the expe­riences that have sha­ped my path. And as I con­ti­nue my jour­ney forward in this city, I wish I get accus­to­med with the lan­gua­ge quickly and start spea­king Fin­nish to con­ti­nue living under the nort­hern lights (which I haven’t got an oppor­tu­ni­ty to see yet!).

Woman by the Oulu river