Sara Khameis's mother is Finnish, and her father is a Jordanian. Sara has grown up in Amman, the capital of Jordan. She received a bachelor degree in biotechnology in Jordan and then applied for a Master's degree in Finland.
-I can speak some Finnish, but not enough. My research group has welcomed me, but it still feels that it is difficult to get Finnish friends. Maybe that's because I spend leisure time differently. I go to the movies and shopping. Sometimes I smoke argil (water pipe). However, in Finland, students almost always drink alcohol in their free time.
"I do not believe that drinking culture directly drives foreign students out of Finland, but socialization is much harder if you do not drink alcohol. In Finland, it is difficult to make friends, and if you do not have a family your social life is next to nothing. In the long run, it will affect your enjoyment", says Sara
- Generally speaking, students want to come to Finland for a high level of education, but it may not be enough to stay. Also, it is difficult to find a job especially for those from outside the EU and thus integrate into the Finnish society.
Does Sara feel Finnish at all? After all, Sarah's mother is Finnish.
"Of course, when I go to my grandma's house in Riihimäki. There are no foreigners, and I have to speak Finnish", she laughs.
Now Sara is sitting in a cozy kitchen and is drinking coffee. She is spending her holiday at her parents' home in Amman. The house is located in an area called Kursi. Sarah's mother is a Finn who has lived in Jordan for 25 years now. Their home is a mix of oriental style and Finnish practicality. The dining room for guests is as decorative as any Arab home. However, Finnish guests are best served in the kitchen and coffee is practically served in Muumin cups that can be washed in the dishwasher.
-I chose the University of Helsinki, because I feel most comfortable in an international environment, English and Arabic speaking Sara clarifies. She got in to the Genetics and molecular biosciences Master's program in Viikki.
A year ago, Sara planned to complete a master's degree and then return to Jordan. She writes her master's thesis on the genetics of uterine cancer. She also works at the Biomedicum Meilahti research group. Now, the 23-year-old researcher has been offered a job and a chance to work on a PhD.
-I like the working culture where everyone is equal. You can call professors with their first name, and the boss can cook coffee for others.
However, studying in Finland is different than in Jordan and Sara had to learn new ways of working. He had to learn how to write essays, to type, make presentations, and apply information. In Jordan, studying was merely memorising facts.
-In Jordan, students have to focus only on exams, and the world crashes if you don´t pass, on the other hand, the Jordanian style of studying has made me ambitious. I am willing to spend a lot of time to complete my studies.
It is evident that Sara enjoys Finland and that the academic career is of interest to her. However, somehow being between the two countries is chafing the young woman.
-In Jordan, I'm just a girl who is studying abroad. Relatives expect me to come back in a couple of years, get married and have children. They don´t remember that I'm half Finnish and that I have an excellent job at the University of Helsinki.
Moreover, Sara has nothing against fulfilling her relatives' expectations. Cultural differences are significant, and she would prefer to have a family in Jordan.
- I do not want to plan my life too much; I do one project at a time. If the "Prince Right" appears at the right time then I will see what happens, says Sara. However, she also knows that all women working in a university in Jordan aren´t married.
- In Jordan, an academic career requires perfection. There is no time for family, Sara describes.
An excellent example of the difference between researcher work in Finland and Jordan is that in Finland you can spend leisure time and not have to work at the weekends. In Finland, employees have holidays and parental benefits, so women also have the opportunity to set up a family and create a career.
Another example of the differences between countries is information sharing.
- My tutor in Helsinki has taught me very well. In Jordan, the competition is so fierce that teachers are almost afraid to share their knowledge with students.
Sara travels a lot between Finland and Jordan. From Jordan, she brings baklava, olive oil, fruit, fashion clothing, and zaatari which is kind of herb mix with thyme. When she flies from Finland to Jordan her suitcases are full of coffee, chocolate, and rye bread.
All kind of herbs are spreading odour around in Sara´s mother's garden. Butterflies are leaping over lavenders, big branches of the palm tree gives some shadow. It is the last moment to enjoy the sunshine. Her flight back to Finnish dark winter is leaving this evening.
LAURA PALOVUORI - HT