Almost everyone knows that Finland belongs to the Northern countries and it is supposed to have cold and snowy winters with magic in the air. This of course may depend on the area of your stay, but especially in Lapland snow is guaranteed. However, the darkness of the Finnish winter might catch you by surprise. At least as I arrived from Kazakhstan where it is bright until 5 p.m. in winter time, I felt a significant change starting from the beginning of November last year: I became passive and sleepy, I started eating a lot, and frankly speaking, I did not have any mood. “That’s it! Winter depression!”, I told to myself. Sunlight deficiency had played its’ role.
And now, one year later, I am a completely a different person who has passion for life and smiles even in these dark winter days. So, what has changed from the previous year? I would like to give you some tips how you can cope with the darkness in Finland. First and foremost, you have to take vitamin D and multivitamins. Second, you should walk outside at least for one hour during the bright time of the day. The schedule at UTA is quite flexible, so you can easily create such a break between the lectures. Third, you should stay active and do sports. Winter suits perfectly for outdoor activities such as skiing and ice skating. In Tampere I would recommend skating on the lake Näsijärvi, if possible. It is a wonderful experience!
In addition, try to socialize and communicate with people. It will certainly lift your mood. From my personal experience I can tell that traditional Finnish sauna and drinking tea or cacao in good company are the best recipes for prevention of the seasonal depression. Last but not least, make your surroundings as bright and light as possible. For example, you can wear bright clothes: yellow, green, blue and even deep red are particularly recommendable. All these shades will remind you about the upcoming spring.
In Finland, while the Midsummer Day is eagerly welcomed and celebrated, the darkness of the Polar Night (kaamos in Finnish) is what may tense people up in winter time. At the polar circle the night lasts for more than 24 hours, and the harsh freezing Nordic winter can make the darkness even more challenging. As I come from Vietnam – a tropical country – I am used to having plentiful sunlight throughout the year, so I did struggle with the Finnish kaamos, but so far, have managed to “survive” and even earned thrilling moments from it.
Firstly, I believe awareness and preparation are crucial, so that you know what is happening and how to cope with it. Soon after my arrival in Finland, I got well informed of this period thanks to my professors and tutors. The University of Tampere also offered a workshop for international students from which I gained many useful survival tips such as taking vitamin D supplements, using reflectors, or taking drowsiness easy when it caught me more often. Secondly, I bake. Sounds funny, right? Actually, I get inspired by the different baking culture here in which rice flour is not used that much but wheat flour is dominant (and berries of course!). So, for me baking times are like little discoveries and the “sweet aromatic outcomes” are always enjoyable, especially with hot tea and some friends around. Lastly, the Northern Lights are a great compensation. You can savor this magical northern specialty even in Tampere and for me, watching blazing green strips dancing in the deep mysterious sky is one of the most memorable experiences I have had in Finland.
I remember a local friend told me “Finns don’t stand winter and kaamos, they enjoy them!” From my personal experience, I agree that there are many glittering things hidden in the Finnish Polar Night. The Finns have found them, why can’t we?