Why did you choose NArFU?
Salli: Our international coordinator at the university recommended NArFU. I wanted to come to Russia and learn Russian language. Arkhangelsk is smaller than St. Petersburg, for example, and here when you go anywhere you must speak Russian, whereas in St. Petersburg you can speak English. You get more experience in practicing Russian here.
There’s a stereotype that Russian people are unfriendly and closed. Do you agree?
Ville-Veikko: No. But when you speak English with some of them they can just go away, because they don’t know English well. They’re confused (laughing). But it’s quite the same in Finland. I can see this attitude in both Russian and Finnish people.
How did your relatives and friends react to your decision to go to Russia?
Hilkka: They were a little bit surprised but they were quite fine all in all. In Finland it’s really valued if you speak Russian, especially in Northeast Finland. So we decided to stay for one more semester mostly because of the language.
Have you changed your opinion about Russia while you have been here?
Salli: Well, it’s a good question. I wouldn’t say so. Before I visited Russia I thought that people here are proud and closed maybe, like Finnish people. When I came here I realized that Russian people are very friendly and so kind! They want to do all the best for us and sometimes I don’t know how to react to this kindness. But it’s really great!
How did the University meet you when you arrived?
Salli: Really well. We had great tutors. And they helped a lot because we didn’t speak Russian at all when we came here. And the international service works great.
What can you say about the services and people who helped you?
Salli: A big thank you! Words won’t be enough. Great people and a lot of help! The international office has been taking excellent care of us as exchange students.
How did the University help you to integrate in the Russian community? Were there any special events?
Hilkka: When we came to Arkhangelsk, we had three or four excursions around the city. Then we had an opportunity to visit the Solovetsky Islands. It was really great and it was possible thanks to the university. And we’re very lucky in that way. Solovetsky Islands are very beautiful, with a very special atmosphere. Also we got acquainted with a very nice group of young students there with whom we have spent time together both on Solovki and in Arkhangelsk.
What is the strangest in our language for you?
Salli: The hardest part in the Russian language is pronunciation. There are so many consonants together (for example in встретиться) and there are so many Ss that our tongues are in trouble! But even though we make a lot of mistakes, it's easiest for us to speak. We just put some words one after another trying to create sentences that others would understand. I also think about the grammar... It gets complicated. Just to let you know, we have no idea about the whole Finnish grammar, so we hardly try to understand the Russian one.
What about the city of Arkhangelsk? What do you like or dislike?
Ville-Veikko: When we came here last year we thought that "this is real Russia", and I really liked it. It is not like a typical European city or like St. Petersburg. It has its own atmosphere with old buses, holes on the road (laughing). But it’s not bad, it’s nice. The city is quite nice, it’s small enough and there are nice cafes and restaurants where we hang out. People in the city and in this area are really hospitable and warm, and it also influences how we feel about the city. There is also a true Russian feeling in the city.
There is nothing that would make us hate Russia, but there are cultural differences of course. Because of them we have had to learn to make some things in a different way. For example we don’t have lessons on Saturdays in Finland as you do. You work a lot.
What has impressed you in Russia most of all? What is extremely different from Finland?
Salli: This bureaucratic system. These papers, papers, you always need papers. If you want to go somewhere you always need to give the papers to the immigration center. In Finland at the university you don’t need papers to go somewhere. If I go on holidays I can just go, it’s my own business. I have neither to tell it to my teachers nor write a permission paper.
People make the country and people here are so warm, friendly and always ready to help. We love Russia because of them! And not to forget borscht soup and blini!
When you go back home and someone asks you to describe Russia with one phrase or word, what will it be?
Hilkka: It’s interesting. "How beautiful it is".
Salli: "Because it’s Russia". (Laughing)
Ville-Veikko: It’s our favorite phrase. Everything is possible in Russia!