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CIMO Finnish Summer Language Course

Going into my study abroad opportunity in Finland I tried to minimize my expectations. I knew it
was going to be a significant journey in my life since it was the first time I was going outside of the
US/Canada and the first time I was going to be travelling alone. I had also heard wonderful things
about the course as Evan, my Finnish instructor for the first two quarters of the past academic
year, had gone to Finland through the same course when he was an undergraduate as well. In fact,
he said it was a life changing experience and he even showed our class the tattoo he got in honor
of his time in the course. I had a lot to look forward to both in the prospects of the course and the
personal challenges I was going to face, but my main challenge to myself was to give up any sort of
preconceptions I had on what was to be and to just be instead. By that I mean I wanted to be in
the moment for every moment of my trip and try to be as mindful as I possibly could.

That being said, I generally failed at being mindful and taking care of my mental health. I've
struggled with chronic anxiety since I was in Elementary school, but after taking up meditation and
running over the past year I've taken great leaps in terms of managing my issues. Although I was
able to keep calm during the initial traveling to Finland (honestly the part I was most worried
about), upon arrival I found myself struggling to effectively cope with my new environment.
Similar to my struggles when I first arrived at the UW last fall, I really struggled managing my
anxiety which then made it hard for me fully appreciate every moment of my experience. This is
not to say I did not gain anything from my experience because I feel as though I gained a great
deal, but I wasn't able to take advantage of my experience as much as I possibly could.

The amount I was uncomfortable is what ended up being what I benefitted from the most during
my experience. When you're discovering the ways in which you need to continue to improve as an
individual you must begin by directly confronting yourself with your insecurities. My time in
Finland gave me an optimal opportunity to deal with my social anxiety and helped me to
acknowledge the fragility of my ego. I've had a fear of people for as long as I can remember and
throwing myself into this situation, where I had to live amongst strangers in a fairly intimate
setting for three weeks, forced me to actively build relationships in order to get the most out of
my experience. Luckily, I managed to do this relatively well as I integrated myself into a group on
my dorm floor within the first couple of days and built relationships that will always be very
meaningful to me. With them I was able to spend both class and leisure time in a less stressful
environment than if I were to let myself become isolated. One thing about the course was that it
was very interactive and required us to engage with our classmates. Talking to so many different
people during the course helped me to gain further confidence in interacting with other people.

Above that however, I believe one of the greatest challenges I faced was in the classroom because
I found myself, for probably the first time in my life, as one of the worst students in the class (or so
I convinced myself) in terms of how I advanced I was with the subject material. I've always been
one of the top students in the class from grade school to now at the UW. It honestly surprised me
how insecure I found myself becoming due to my lower skill level and how I would react negatively
when others were succeeding and I was struggling. I saw how my ego was manifesting itself and
causing me to have resentment towards other people who were doing well. I tried hard to make
sure that these reactions were momentary, however, and I generally did a good job quickly
identifying my insecure responses by stepping back and being honest with myself about why I was
feeling the way I was. Prior to going to Finland, I was unaware just how much my intelligence was
integrated into my identity. The way in which I was reacting to my ego being challenged opened
my eyes up to how insecure I was about my intelligence and gave me greater insight into how I've
subconsciously constructed my identity.

Reflection is one of the most important parts of self-improvement and I was able to find time for
reflection both while I was in Finland and since I've come back. During these times of reflection
I've come to better understand the role my ego plays in how interact with the world. Because I'm
not secure with myself I am unable to be truly secure with anything or anybody else. It won't be
until I'm able to fully accept myself and give up my insecurities that I'll be able to transcend the
limitations I've constructed in my mind. It's weird having the understanding and awareness that
my anxiety and self-loathing aren't rational and that I shouldn't care how other people perceive
me, yet I'm still unable to let go of my fears and insecurities. My focus going into this autumn
quarter is to continue to push myself past my ego and social fears. I truly believe I can be a far
greater person than I currently am and part of the reason why I've prolonged this response is
because I wanted to see how I would respond to my new classes. One of my classes, a colonial
American English course, has it so 50% of my grade is based on class participation which is
something I've always had a phobia of. Unfortunately, the whole first week of classes I failed to
participate even once due to my anxiety. It's obvious that just merely being aware of my
insecurities isn't suddenly going to ward them all away, but it does allow me to slowly chip away at
them. Self-actualization is proving to be a very slow and grinding process, but a process that I find
to be endlessly rewarding and fascinating. I'm trying to solve the incredibly complex problem that
is myself. It's hard to truly become yourself, but it's what I'm striving towards every day. Today I
rose my hand for the first time in my English class and found that nothing overly dramatic
happened. I simply said what I had to say, the professor responded, and class resumed as if
nothing had really happened. It's amazing how stress and anxiety can take over your world even
though, in reality, there's nothing there at all.

Ilmari’s Response
Tristan completed the intensive course of Finnish in Finland, so it is obvious that his project in
general was a very successful one. The encountered challenges and the subsequent self-reflection
and identity exploration, as reported in Tristan's reflection report, further indicate that the project
indeed did have a wide-ranging impact on him as an individual and in constructing his future-self
as a member of the current globalized society we live in. Language learning processes are in many
ways individual and task-specific, and the ways and the time to change the know-what into know-
how vary greatly. That said, learning a foreign language always requires stepping out of the
comfort zone, as the true need for communicating boosts the motivated behavior needed for
successful learning. This can be postponed but not avoided, and the further it's postponed, the
harder the experience will be. As his supervisor and his teacher, I am really glad for Tristan that he
has now undergone this experience of not-knowing and not-being-able-to and hope that it can
also help him set concrete study goals to turn the experience into knowing and being-able-to. I will
on my part continue being there to help him reach these goals.