On the train from Kuopio to Helsinki.
On the way to meeting the aircraft that will seal it: My departure from Finland.
Seven years have gone by since I first set foot on this fabulous corner of the world—and, yes, it feels like yesterday. It was February 21-25, 2009. I had wanted to meet this northern city, the university and research group, where I had plans to begin postgraduate studies. Kuopio was, obviously, in the middle of Winter and Mikko, the research group leader who later became my supervisor, thought to loan me ice skates. After all skating on a lake is certainly one way to enjoy Winter days. I had not used the skates but I did see, with a degree of surprise, parents skating on frozen lakes pushing baby trolleys. Secretely I reassured myself that they must know what they are doing.
I returned for the ICANNGA 2009 conference, April 23-25, hosted by the research group and largely managed by Karin. My first email exchange with Karin was late March 2009. Who knew back then that those first words around arranging hotel accommodation were the first seeds of a friendship that would later span two families. ICANNGA was pivotal for showing me the way to the bridges that so charmingly lead one over and through lake water and the rocks, trees, and houses of little and bigger islands to what is the most lovely residential neighborhood I know of. Yes, I am talking about Saaristokaupunki. Walking, jogging, biking—even driving, if you really have to—over those bridges is an incredible way to relax mind and body, especially during sunrise or sunset or with fog or anytime, really. ICANNGA is also memorable for its dinners, in particular the one at Koivumäen Kartano—the restaurant that eventually hosted my graduation dinner, too.
On July 22, 2009, I relocated to Kuopio.
It was Summer, warm with sunsets at 11 pm. Dramatically different to February; not better or worse, just different. August largely went on writing PelletSpatial and getting to know my new home. Back then I used to practice meditation and the small group I had joined were the first people I met in Kuopio, outside the university. In September I finally started my job at what was back then the University of Kuopio and is nowadays the University of Eastern Finland (UEF). My office was great; my desk even better. Next to the window and with a rather exquisite view throughout the year, including squirrels and mushrooms. Much about that space inspired calmness.
Work began and many of those who got to know me have argued that throughout the years it was work, and preparing salads, that characterized me most. The light shining through the office window became sort of iconic. Referring to me and that light, Hristo conceived the notion of “species behind window,” and “I saw you again on Saturday evening” was a frequent sentence of colleagues driving by over the weekend. I certainly have spent an astounding amount of hours in company of those walls. The first two years largely went on studies. One class followed the other. Also, I had to figure out what my postgraduate work could be. Throughout the years, I was involved in a range of projects. Mauno, my closest supervisor and discussion and travel companion, joined us in 2010. In Summer 2011, ideas for the postgraduate work began to take form. Implementation quickly followed. One paper triggered the next. This was largely thanks to Mauno who managed to obtain Academy of Finland funding for a project in which I could develop the dissertation. Eventually we published the required journal articles and with those I began to write the dissertation in Summer 2014. One year later the work was reviewed and ready for the press. The public examination was on November 27, 2015. A memorable day in itself. Since then, time largely went on preparing for today, and beyond.
It goes without saying that I truly enjoyed studying and working at UEF. Indeed, I loved some aspects. It may not be ranked top 100 but I surely had the pleasure to attend some of the most amazing classes of my academic career at this university. The computer science lectures back in Switzerland were, in comparison, pallid. Granted, it may be an unfair comparison. After all, windowless computer rooms just cannot compare with peatland and forest learning environments. But it is not just about forests and peatlands.
Surely it was not all frictionless. It took me frustratingly long to determine a viable topic for a postgraduate dissertation. Frustrating was mostly also the review process for journal articles. Some of the comments were appalling and review length on average far too long. I used to keep track of the average duration of revisions and the figure floated around 115 days. That’s almost 4 months. For a final decision, which may be a rejection following two revisions, you are looking at 6-9 months, and in some cases more than a year. For a postgraduate student who is required to get published 2-4 journal articles to obtain the degree such review times are frustrating to say the least. The one thing that I perhaps regret the most at this point is not to have learned Finnish.
But life in Kuopio was not just about getting postgraduate studies, projects, and classes done. Over the years I grew fond of my weekly bike trips to the swimming pool in Petonen. From Puijonlaakso, the location of my apartment over the past two years, it is a healthy 16 km in total. Leaving at 7-8 pm on Saturday evenings after a day of work at the office in either sunshine, rain, or snow with temperatures down to -10 or -15 degrees Celsius ranged from being pleasurable to challenging. Winters in Kuopio are long; it was thus mostly a challenge. Together with regular jogging, it was however always relaxing and a source of energy to “keep jogging” also on the dissertation path. One of the best aspects of Kuopio is arguably that Kuopio is a forest with some city rather than a city with some trees. Nature surrounds you. Outdoor activities are right there when you step out.
The days, weeks, months, and years were also filled with regular lunches and dinners. Great conversations and debates were exchanged over those tables and memorable dishes. The passion for cuisine cultivated by the likes of Thomas and Karin will remain in memory. The winners and losers kept turning during board and card game evenings. Our “lunch bunch,” gathering an eclectic bunch of postgraduates, postdocs, professors involved in research in physics, biology, biomedicine, environmental science are at least as iconic as the office light. Chairing the Doctoral Student Association was a fun experience as well. So was my comeback to playing the clarinet with Nuotin Vieressä.
Outside the office walls I met Fatemeh, delbaram. It was during Summer 2012 and, as strange as this may sound, I was in a pub! We fell in love and began our journey. After a year of lovely togetherness, we faced two years of distance during which Turkey was the most sensible destination without visa requirements for both of us. Today, we rejoin in Germany and we can do so while she pursues her postgraduate studies and I am scheduled to sign the contract for my first postdoc tomorrow. I feel incredibly lucky. The past two years were certainly demanding but it wasn’t just hardship. We had the opportunity to meet in Tehran, repeatedly, which allowed me to get to know her family and meet the land, culture, food, religion, art, traditions, history of her origin. We also got engaged. Shaping the ring with its rough diamond from Kaavi together with designer Hanna Korhonen over the better part of a year was surprisingly engaging.
While boarding in Helsinki I am left with only two words: Kiitos kaikille.