My experience as an Erasmus trainee

As a master’s student in experimental psychology with a strong interest in child development, when I was introduced to the FinnBrain research laboratory, it seemed like the perfect match and the obvious choice for my Erasmus traineeship. Without hesitation, and despite the quizzical looks from my compatriots who couldn’t understand why someone would actively choose to spend a considerable amount of time in Finland, I stuffed all my love and fascination for the Nordic countries in my bag and set sail for the happiest country in the world.

A statement that, I have to admit, appeared quite inaccurate as I arrived in Turku during the depths of the Finnish winter (a sentiment I later found to be shared by most Finns). Fortunately, however, what the weather lacked in warmth and brightness (but still with its ways to work its magic, like the very rare aurora that appeared at the end of February), was immediately compensated for by the people I met in the laboratory – people I still had no idea how much I would get to know and how much they would contribute to making this experience as enjoyable as it was. I won’t talk much about all the immensely valuable lessons I learned while assisting with FinnBrain’s work: the great dedication of the researchers and research personnel, the blooming scientific production, the top-notch conferences and seminars, and the world-changing consortiums of the study are topics better covered in other posts on this blog.

Instead, I would like to share thoughts about the amazing human experience I had. In fact, beyond being in a thriving scientific environment, rich with resources and opportunities, I found myself within a family. And I am not using this term lightly, as the very researchers involved in the project affectionately refer to themselves as the ’FinnBrain Family,’ a vibe that is very present in the office (and in the only criteria used to chose collaborators and researchers at FinnBrain: ’We don’t work with a$$holes!’ – which is wonderfully efficient). The principal investigators, Linnea and Hasse, are the exceptional ’parents’ of the bunch. I recall with a smile our initial email exchanges when, after writing several obsequious  ’Professor(s) Karlsson’, I was kindly asked to simply use their first names. Since then, I’ve come to understand that brilliant and accomplished professors and researchers do not have to be any short of friendliness and kind-heartedness.

And so, surrounded by warm smiles, friendly laughter, and great people, I found myself adapting to this environment with very little effort. Although it also helped that I wasn’t particularly picky about espresso coffee or the timing of meals, as I ended up having lunch at the time I typically have breakfast.

I had the chance to experience a good number of the most typical Finnish activities. In less than a week after my arrival, I found myself taking dips in frozen lake waters and enjoying saunas, surprising both my Finnish colleagues and myself. I became so fond of it that I even got myself a sauna hat (pictured for evidence). Then, it was all about learning to pronounce ’löyly’ correctly (arguably one of the trickiest Finnish words to say – [ˈløy̯ly / loew-Iew] if you’d like to give it a try), and shortly after, I was caught closing the sauna door after an amateur forgot to do so, mumbling disapprovingly: ’tourists.’

Among the countless cherished memories from this period, it’s worth mentioning the annual FinnBrain sailing event, witch was an amazing opportunity to explore the stunning Turku archipelago (the largest in the world, they say), and to realize how difficult it must have been not to crash in any odd rock or island in these waters back when you didn’t have radars. And such as the waters of the Baltic sea, the endless inland woods  and lakes stroke me with their beauty and wilderness. Most of all, I enjoyed making use of the ’everyman’s right’ to pick dreamy amounts of berries and mushrooms – with which, surprisingly, I was prepared the best tagliatelle ai funghi I have ever had in my life (some say that Hasse is the best cook in the world).

It a bit sad to say that leaving, as my Erasmus ends, I carry with me an unexpected sense of belonging. These few words are just a glimpse of what it was for me to be part of the FinnBrain family, but I am extremely grateful to every single member of it, and I like to think that I will see you again at some point in the future. Thank you, and see you soon!