Finnish University Survival Kits

Flag_of_FinlandOne of the options available to us from student housing services is a “survival kit”. This contains a blanket, a pillow, and bed linens; 3 plates and flatware for 1 person; a pot with a lid and a ladle; a mug, and a glass. All of it is used, but clean. If we want the kit they’ll loan it to us, for a €60, of which €40 is refundable if the items are returned clean and in good condition.

I can see how this might be a good deal for a single exchange student visiting for a semester, or a year. I don’t know that it works for us. Yes, it would be nice to arrive in Jyväskylä and have some basic items waiting for us. But for two of us we’d need 2 kits, and for €120 we can go shopping and buy these things and then some (like towels, soap, shampoo, and things we’ll have to go shopping for anyway).

Exploring the city and learning where the shops are is one of the things we’re looking forward to. I kind of expected that we’d be “roughing it” for the first couple of days, while we acquired some things. I figured that at least our first couple of meals would entail going out to eat until we acquired some groceries and the kitchen accoutrements to cook it and eat it off of.

So while I like the idea of the survival kit and am glad that they offer it, I think we’re going to pass. We’re going to be there for two years, so I think just buying at least a few things well use every day outright is a better deal. I also think that, psychologically, after getting rid of nearly all of our stuff in New Mexico, there will be a sense of comfort in knowing that we at least we own the pillows we lay our heads on the the pots we cook with.

Getting Finnish Health Insurance

Flag_of_FinlandThis week we need to look into getting Finnish health insurance. As legal residents, our understanding is that we will be covered to some degree by the Finnish heath care system, but we are required to purchase supplemental insurance in the event we need care for something catastrophic or expensive. Our preliminary research shows that will cost us the equivalent of about $50 US for the two of is. That’s incredibly reasonable.

What I need to find out this week is how this will fit in with the Affordable Care Act. Will it count as being covered under the rules of Obamacare, or will we end up paying a fine out of our taxes? Will we have to carry U.S. health insurance, even though we’re not going to be able to use it because we’re in another country? I don’t know, yet. That’s what I need to find out, ASAP.

Staying Present Amid Future Plans

Flag_of_New_MexicoOn most days I have at least half a dozen things going. I need to work on long, higher word-count projects, because if I don’t nibble at them them every day they’ll never get done. I have shorter projects, most of which get banged out in a couple of hours. I have school work, which includes reading, research and writing. I have a list of tasks related to the move to Finland that I need to pick at if I hope to be prepared. Then there are posts for the two blogs, and two newsletters, to craft. While I try not to multi-task, and focus on what I’m doing when I’m doing it, the broader scope of any given day looks like chaos as I hop between roleplaying games, business law, Finnish language and culture, and any number of other things.

Last week, everything aligned so that I had a day where I could just do one thing, work on one project, all day long. All other deadlines had been met, school assignments were all caught up, I could buckle down with a large block of time, several hours, without thoughts of the next thing, or the thing after that, or the thing after that, that I’d have to get to as the day wore on.

It really got me thinking about how present I’ve been, in my work, and here in Albuquerque in general. In short, I haven’t, not really. I need to get ready for a major move and a whole series of major life changes, yes. Yet I also need to pay attention to what’s going on right in front of me, right now. I need to appreciate and enjoy and savor the moment that I’m in.

That’s why I’m trying to maintain some semblance of work/life balance. Katie and I are trying to have small adventures around Albuquerque, spend time with friends, and see the things places we love one last time. I’m trying to take a little time out of each day to look up, to walk around the neighborhood, to talk to friends.

I’m aware that my focus on getting to Finland borders on obsession, and while it is the theme of the blog, I’m trying to not be too annoying about it. If there are other things you’d like to see me writing about, send me questions. I’d much rather be present and talking to you, than up in my head and merely talking at you.


Katie’s Finally on Spring Break!

Flag_of_New_MexicoSpring Break in this school district was pushed back until Easter Week this year in order to accommodate all of the standardized testing. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, on the outside looking in. All of my teacher friends, including my wife, as brain fried; things like Spring Break help break up the year, and help them recharge their batteries. If they worked normal 9-to-5 jobs, sure, they wouldn’t need it, but what teacher in the United States works normal hours? All of the teachers I know start before dawn, and bring stuff home to work on in the evenings and on weekends. If you worked 60 hours a week and had to listen to people make jokes about how you only have a part-time job and are undeserving of the pay you get, you’d be fried, too.

The nicer weather (here, at least) means the kids are getting squirrelly, too. They want a week off so they can go run around and have some fun. By pushing things back to Easter Week, though, I think you’re going to lose their attention. When they get back from the break they’ll already by unfocused for the first day or so, but they’ll also only have 4 weeks left in the school year. Give them a break so close to the end, and I think a lot of them will just check out and be counting the days until summer. Then we can blame the teachers for their lack of focus.

Anyway, enough of my grousing. I finally get to see my wife for more than an hour at a time. We’ll be visiting some places around Albuquerque, trying to cross items off the bucket list before we move. We’ll spend time in the studio getting prepped for the last craft show at La Cueva High School on May 3rd. And, of course, we’ll be cleaning out the house, figuring out what’s going to charity, what’s getting sold, what we’re giving away, and so on.

Wrestling with Transparency

Flag No SleepOne of the reasons I haven’t turned to crowdfunding as a means of raising the money for this trip is because I’m not entirely sure how to deal with transparency. My sense of ethics demands that I’d have to tell people exactly how much money we have socked away for this move, how much we expect to need, and what the gap amount is. That’s only fair, right? If you’re going to ask people for money, they should get to know why you need it and how you intend to spend it. That’s what allows people to make informed decisions about what charities they support and what crowdfunding projects they back.

I have a few concerns, though. I’m doing some research into these things right now, and asking some folks who have crowdfunded things (as well as backers who have contributed to crowdfunded projects) what they think and how they’ve handled these situations. They might seem silly, but I’m going to hang them out here as astep toward educating myself and, well, being open and honest and transparent about it.

Concerns About Privacy

If this were a publishing project, and I was disclosing how much printing costs were and what I intended to pay writers and artists it would be a different story. But I really have reservations about telling the world how much money my wife and I have in our savings account, or what our rent in Jyväskylä will be. When asking for people to donate to something like relocating to another country to go to school, how much of this sort of information is other peoples’ business? Where is the line? My answer, at the moment, is that the line is right at my comfort level with disclosure, which is why I’m not crowdfunding at the moment.

There’s also the matter of scammers, identity thieves, and other predators. Who’s going to come out of the woodwork trying to get their hands on the money we have, and who’s going to promise us the sun and the moon and the stars when they see how much we need? It’s not so much a privacy issue at that point, but a safety issue. I don’t want to become a target.

Managing Perceptions

After lurking around crowdfunding projects for a while, and seeing the sorts of comments and feedback people provide, I’m left with two intertwined conclusions. No matter what numbers I disclose, someone is going to look at the ratio of what we have vs. what we need and declare that we’re pretty close, so we don’t need their help. Another person will look at those exact same amounts and declare that we’ll never hit the goal, so its futile to back us. Neither of which should be a concern, because if we don’t ask, no one will contribute, and people looking for reasons to not back something can always find reasons.

What concerns me is how to deal with the types of comments we’ve already received without asking people for money. There are people who think we’re just trying to take a 2-year vacation. They’re suspicious that we’re grifters who just want to take their money and run off to Europe and live it up, woohoo! That’s why so far we’ve been working, saving, selling Katie’s artwork and my writing to raise the money, and turning down donations. How far should I reasonably have to go in order to justify the honest nature or our cause and justify my own existence for a $5 or $10 donation?

What happens is, the requirement for transparency runs wild. Katie and I post that we ordered a pizza and someone questions whether we should have eaten ramen again and saved that money for the trip. They feel they have the right to question every penny we spend because they generously threw a few bucks in our direction.

Matters of Trust – For You and Me

All of the above makes it sounds like I’m not a very trusting person, with a low view of humanity, who feels that people who would donate to the cause will turn out to be a huge pain in the rear end. I can see how what I’ve written can come across that way, and I don’t want to be that person. Yet, the people I’m worried about having to deal with are the people that either can’t be trusted or people that are suspicious that my wife and I can’t be trusted. It’s maddening. I know that there are tons of very nice, wonderful people out there who want to be kind and generous, and do the right thing because it’s the right thing. I think those people are the majority. But there are enough rotten apples out there to make a person a little but paranoid, and some common-sense measures to protect everyone’s interests don’t seem too extreme.


How to Pack the House (without losing your mind)

Flag No SleepIn the course of my life I have moved many times, but not like this. There’s always a certain amount of purging, using the move as an opportunity to get rid of things. It’s a perfect excuse to do some clutter-busting and meditate on modern materialism. I remember when I moved from Philadelphia to Albuquerque, and making the decision that as cool as they were to have, I really didn’t need that decades-long run of National Geographic magazines that I rarely looked at.

There’s often a space consideration, disposing of things so you can possibly fit into a slightly smaller truck in order to save money. When I bugged out of Tucson 5 years ago to come back to Albuquerque, I could only take as much as would fit in my little Ford Focus. I was in a hurry, so I didn’t always make the most practical decisions, but I at least had most of the essentials, and getting out was more important than what went out with me. The stuff that got left behind stayed with my ex-wife, so it wasn’t a situation where I had to worry about leaving a clean, empty house.

This time the move is to another country, and all we’re taking with us are three pieces of luggage each. One carry-on bag and two checked bags apiece. We can’t just abandon everything else. We need to leave this place in decent shape, in the hopes of getting at least some of the security deposit back. Rather than moving a whole house full of stuff, we have to deal with it.

Set Up a Staging Area

The first thing I did as set up a corner of the living room to use as a staging area. As things are “filtered out”, they go there. As I made more space, I expanded into a second staging area, which I’ll explain in a bit.

One Filter at a Time

To preserve my sanity, I came up with a very basic system. I would only deal with one “filter” at a time. When going through bookshelves, closets, and drawers, I only do one thing. I don’t try to sort into multiple categories at once. My top-level filters are:

Things definitely not going: I start here, pulling out the stuff that I can get rid of immediately. This is the low-hanging fruit, waiting to be plucked. Books I know I’m not keeping, clothes that I never wear, excess kitchen items, those sorts of possessions. The exception to this category are the things we’re not taking, but will be using in the meantime, like our bed.

This stuff doesn’t get sorted any further, it just gets pulled out and put in the staging area for later processing. I’m not worried about where it is going to go or what we’re going to do with it, I’m just concerned at this point with the fact that it’s not moving with us.

Things definitely going: These are items we know for sure we need, or precious items we don’t want to part with. This includes my laptop, important documents, clothes that I do wear regularly, and things like that. I start sorting and segregating this stuff into smaller staging areas as I identify them. For example, I’ve started a separate file with papers we know we’ll need, like birth certificates and copies of our marriage license, and I’ve got a separate drawer for clothes I’m certain I’m packing along.

Things we’re only keeping until the last minute: As mentioned before, the bed, my desk, my desk chair, and other furniture and appliances that aren’t being shipped but we intend to use until the last moment are a separate category. This is why sorting the stuff that’s going is important, so that the two don’t get confused. Clothes I’ll cheerfully still wear until we leave go in a separate drawer, books I’m going to try to read before we fly out sit on a separate shelf, and so on.

By filtering the “definites” out, this hopefully leaves us very little that we’ll have to deal with at the last minute. We can also start making plans now for these late departures, like the car, hopefully selling them to someone who can wait until the last day to pick it up, or making arrangements with a charity that will pick up donations on the day before we leave.

The undecided pile: This is always the hardest part, which is why it’s left until last. This is not the “I don’t know what to do with this” pile. This is the “I don’t know whether I want to bring this or not” pile. All of the “definites” have been dealt with, so we can actually move on to our first sub-filter.

There are two questions that I ask here. The first is whether the object is replaceable. As I’m writing this I’m drinking out of my favorite coffee mug, but it’s just a mug. I can get a mug in Finland. It doesn’t need to go. On the other hand, I’m looking at the ceramic elephant that my grandmother made. It’s just a flower pot, and I can get a flower pot in Finland, but it’s also the only thing of hers that I own. On that level it’s irreplaceable, so it goes.

The second question is how sentimental is your attachment to the item. Do you need to take all of the photo albums, or can you scan photos and make due with those? Is that memento of that vacation something you look at and handle regularly, or do you keep it displayed out of a sense of guilt or obligation? You know the types of things I’m talking about. Do you really value it, or does it sit on a shelf collecting dust, or in the back of the closet being ignored?

In the next installment, I’ll go over the sub-filters and rules for how to deal with that stuff that’s not going.

Our Last Trip to the Zoo

Last weekend we took a half-day and went to what’s probably our last trip to the zoo before we leave Albuquerque. I was moderately disappointed that my favorite exhibit (giraffes!) was closed for maintenance to the enclosure, but we had a great time, took a lot of pictures, and shot a lot of video!

Going early in the morning, and at this point of the year when the weather is still chilly has its advantages. The zoo is less crowded, and the animals are out and a lot more active. Below is a montage chronicling some of the highlights of our visit.

Student Housing in Finland

Flag_of_FinlandStudent housing isn’t handled by the university, at least in Jyväskylä. It’s all run by the Central Finland Student Housing Foundation (Keski-Suomen opiskelija-asuntosäätiö, or KOAS), a semi-governmental, non-profit organization that exists to make sure students have a place to live. They own and operate large apartment complexes that they refer to as villages, which seems an apt description based on photos that I’ve seen. Imagine a subdivision comprised entirely of high-rise apartment buildings, with thousands of residential units. That’s where we’re going to be living.

What will be in is a sort of suite. Well have a furnished private room, almost a studio apartment, but we’ll share kitchen and bathroom facilities with other people. It’s a little more private than being in a dorm, but I’m not necessarily enamored with the idea of having roommates. They will be other international students, and there’s a change we’ll be housed with another married couple, so I’m choosing to look at it as a chance to make friends and bond with fellow travelers.

We can move in as early as 1 August. There’s no pro rate, so we’re paying rent for the whole month regardless of when we get there. The drawback is that they won’t confirm a spot for us or send us a lease agreement until 1 July. That means that later this week I’ll be booking travel plans before I know for certain whether we have a spot.

I’m not worried about not having housing, though. If for some reason all of the 9,000 units they have reserved for students are booked up, they’ll help us find a place. In that case, there will be variables in terms of deposits and rent, furnished or unfurnished. I want this locked down so I can check it off my list and fracture my attention by a slightly smaller divisor. I also want to know how to budget, so I can factor in things we might need to acquire.

Call for Luggage Advice and Recommendations

Flag No SleepFor the big move to Finland, we’re only taking one piece of carry-on and two checked bags each. The carry-on has already been solved; Katie and I each have a Bag of Holding from ThinkGeek. We’ve booth been using them as our everyday bags, there’s plenty of room to add in the things we’ll want handy on the trip, and fully loaded they’ll still come in under the size and weight limits for carry-on.

We need new suitcases, though. We’d like to get four pieces that are the same, to make things simple and to make them easier to spot on the airport carousels. We’ve found a few tips, like getting carts that roll, and trying to find something with a hard shell. Those features make it less likely that the bags will be mishandled and the contents will be damaged. Because we’re not taking anything non-essential, we can’t afford for things to be lost or damaged.

I briefly considered getting some of those “vacuum bags”, the ones where you suck the excess air out in order to make more room for more stuff. I abandoned that idea for fear that the TSA would open them up for some reason, and then things wouldn’t fit back into the suitcase. I’ve considered putting locks on the suitcase, but again, I’m afraid the TSA would damage the bags to open them and inspect then, rather than inspecting them in our presence. Then I fear that the bags wouldn’t be closed properly, and things would fall out and be lost.

Yes, I’m more than a little paranoid.

So we’re looking for advice. Not just on good, affordable luggage that will get all of our stuff there safety, but on packing and travel tips to help us avoid problems along the way. Suggestions?




New Glasses for Katie

Flag_of_New_MexicoOne of the things we need to take care of before we leave is getting Katie new glasses. It’s been a while since she’s had an eye exam, and I’m pretty sure she needs a new prescription. When she’s taking her glasses off and squinting at things because she sees better that way, I’m thinking the glasses she has aren’t really working as designed.

Aside from the practical reason to get it done sooner rather than later — being able to see when her classes start — it’s also a lot cheaper to do it in the U.S. Some of our expat friends have told us that a decent pair of glasses can cost as much as $1000 US. When they make a trip home to the United States or Canada, that’s when they get a checkup and a new pair. I’m interested to learn why this is; Finland has a pretty good, affordable health care system, but that doesn’t extend to vision. Maybe Finns just have better eyesight. Funds allowing, I’d like to get her two pairs, so she has a spare. Wear one, and pack the other in her carry-on (if there’s room) or in one of the checked bags.

This is just one of the many little differences between the United States and Finland that I’ve been tracking and planning for. What things are better done here, and what will we be better off waiting to do until we’re there? What will we need there that will be cheaper and easier to get here and take with us? What will we want there that we can only get here? Think about all of the good and services and items that you use and touch and interact with every single day. Then think about what you’d do without it, or if getting a replacement was prohibitively expensive, or if you couldn’t get it at all? We deal with so many things, trying to question each one can drive you mad.

The Finns obviously survive. They have the things they need. They get along with the brands and the things they have. They’re doing quite well without some of the things Americans take for granted. That’s going to be a huge lesson to continually learn while we’re there. I’m looking forward to seeing the differences in customs, in foods, in entertainment, is consumer products.

But ultimately, Katie needs to be able to see, and if we can save a lot of money, we’ll do it the American way.