My Fulbright Scholarship Experience (p.3)

Thanksgiving – November 2003
We hosted Thanksgiving for student Fulbrighters. This was interesting because turkeys are not easy to find in Helsinki nor cheap. I think I paid 30 euro for one. Furthermore, being a 24-year-old vegetarian, I had never cooked a turkey. But everything turned out well (and dry) and it was nice to celebrate with our fellow expatriots.

Stockholm – December 2003 (aka The Drunk Boat)
Ah, the drunk boat. What you have heard as legend I will confirm as fact. A number of ship lines operate on 2-day round-trip schedules between Stockholm and Helsinki, amongst other cities. The sell you on tourism, but end up filling you on booze. The ship departs in the late evening. Guests are not allowed to bring alcohol on board. Immediately upon entering the ship, one is directed to the huge beer store in its belly. Because it’s offshore, I believe local steep tariffs do not apply, so stocking up makes sense. Interestingly, one is not allowed to consume their purchases on board, instead reserving their palettes for ship pubs. University students – who purposely occupy the cheap rooms in the ship’s basement – do not obey this rule. Instead they immediately convert the underbelly of the boat into USA college dorm life – open doors, cracked cases, smoking in the hallways and scattering when security comes lurking (with plastic bags for confiscating empties). True demonstrations of Sisu abound.

Oh yes, and Stockholm…it’s a fantastic city filled with 16th century shops and buildings. Unfortunately the drunk boat gives you six  hours to scour the mainland before returning to the ship for another night of raucousness.

St. Petersburg, Russia – January 2004
Taking the train to St. Pete had to be one of the highlights of my whole Fulbright experience. At the Hermitage in St. PetersburgOur train was a Russian-style one and it was decked out in 1960s greenish decor and Kalashnikov-armed guards who often threw open our coach door and yelled in Russian (our automatic response was to turn over our passports). I will always remember crossing the border (the biggest socioeconomic divide in the world); the immediate smell of cigarettes, the crumbling shanties painting the landscapes, the expired can of beer delivered with my dinner (I drank it).

When we arrived in St. Petersburg it was evening. We were delivering a package to a relative of a classmate and she in turn helped us navigate the subway system to our hotel. Thank God! The St. Pete subway system was a complete multi-level maze and we may well have been dead without her assistance.

Our hotel was nice enough – smoking prostitutes in the lobby, brown water from the sinks, noise from the bar keeping us awake all night.

The following day we spent walking up and down Nevsky Prospect, the main drag in St. Pete. It was wintry and cold, but everyone was very hospitable and we never felt threatened. We visited the Hermitage and a few restaurants and that was it. It was a perfectly enjoyable glance at another culture.

Brussels – March 2004
Every year, European Fulbrighters are invited to apply for a week-long grant that takes them to Brussels and Luxembourg to become introduced primarily to the EU and its institutions. I won the grant from Finland and thus experienced this excellent week.

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