Getting to Know Joensuu

One of my favorite views of the river Pielisjoki that runs through town

From the moment we arrived here in Joensuu, we have hit the ground running. Between orientation at the university (which began the day after our arrival), meeting the people we will be working with, and getting to know what clothing to wear/what to bring each day when you don’t have a car, my brain has been on overload. But each day, I wake up early (most days several hours before the sun comes up), make a cup of coffee, and enjoy the time to reflect on all that has taken place.

After going through an orientation at the university all of last week, I was excited for the weekend to have a chance to walk and explore around Joensuu. I have tried to explain to my friends and family the planning it takes to head out of the house, as I think they’ve had a hard time realizing why I need to get ready 10 minutes before I need to leave. We are so accustomed to life with the convenience of a car, but I am enjoying living car-less for the next 6 months. While that means I walk at least 5km each day, it takes some planning on my part before I leave the house. My daily outfit (on days the wind is calm, and the temperature is above -4C/23F) consists of snow boots, warm socks, jeans, a long sleeved shirt, fleece, winter coat, a beanie and my warmest scarf. If it’s below -4C/23F, I may add a vest and some leggings to sustain the cold as I walk through town. I wouldn’t be complete without some headphones to listen to a podcast or some tunes on my walk, and of course, my pack. My backpack is a crucial part of my daily outfit, especially for picking up groceries on the way home.

Dressed and ready to explore!

From the moment I stepped out of my house that first Saturday in Joensuu, ready to explore for the day, I had a smile on my face. A smile because I am here. A smile because I am here in Finland getting an opportunity most educators do not have. A smile because I have the opportunity again to live abroad, something that has been gnawing at my heart for the last couple years. A smile because I know that this is the right place for me to be at this moment in time.

I’m sure there is another city sign somewhere…but for now this will have to do.

Joensuu is a city of about 75,000 people, and rarely has it felt crowded. It does not have a big city feel, and the city center is quite small, and there is a certain gentle yet vibrant ambience here. I put about 15km (9mi) on my feet over the course of the weekend, finding fun little streets and trails that make up the town. While my daily walk to the University takes me through the city center with many of the sites to see, it was nice to be able to walk around leisurely to see them in a different light- daylight! The short daytime hours have been quite an adjustment, but it forces you to enjoy the precious hours sunshine or not. Below are just a few of photos of my walk.

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Wandering is such a great way to get to know a city, to get the feel for it, and really be present in the moment. Sometimes it’s good just to get lost, and have to stop someone to ask for directions (yes, that happens to me frequently, as no matter how hard I try I am still directionally challenged). After taking the time to wander a bit this weekend, I have a better idea of the layout of the city. I also have my favorite place to walk: along the Pielisjoki river, which fortunately, is just out my door.

My musings:

  • Fresh air is so important, even when it’s below freezing temperatures. How often do we force ourselves to be good to our bodies by getting outside?
  • Gravel does not always provide the best traction…especially for bikes. Maybe I’ll ski to work instead?
  • Many kids here can cross country ski before they can walk.
  • Even though *some* shops are now open on Sundays (this was not the case when I lived in Germany 10 years ago), it is only for a short period of time, so plan appropriately!
  • A scarf is not so much an accessory item as it is a necessity to protect you from the wind and cold.

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