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The true value of the sauna

In the course of my exchange semester, I had the unique opportunity to live and work in southwest Finland for 5 months. My internship at the Satakunta University of Applied Sciences (SAMK) in Pori, was filled with valuable working experience, new friendships – and a lot of time in the sauna.

by Stefan Keller, BA in Applied Languages

I arrived in Pori at the beginning of August – one week before the other exchange students. It was just about enough time to become familiar with my new environment – to get to know my colleagues, the university and the neighbourhood where I was living. After one week, when around 40 exchange students started to arrive, I had to pick them up, bring them to their apartments and show them around. Since I was living in the exact same neighbourhood, I had an important interface function between the students and the office, often being the first contact person. Getting the students started was a rewarding experience; however, my absolute highlights were the three big events I helped to plan and organise: Get Together Day, the International Dinner and the Christmas Dinner. At a later stage of my internship, we started to plan the next academic term – coordinating the exchange semester for outgoing Finnish students and for the new incomings. Other tasks involved updating information material and web content, maintaining social media channels, and even some translations.

I really loved my work, but what really stuck with me was the appreciation of a good sauna.

From the very beginning of my stay, I had first-hand experience of this. The small, shared apartment had all the necessities my flat-mate and I needed to live modestly. Surprisingly enough, there was a more than adequate sauna, to which we had free access on Tuesday evenings. We were even more excited when the housing company told us that for an additional 10 euros per month, we could have our own, private sauna slot. Consequently, we could have three sauna sessions per week. From this moment on, the sauna became a habit and an essential part of the friendship between my flat-mate and me.

Apart from the regular sauna with my flat-mate, I experienced some other sauna sessions, too. Once, a Finnish friend invited me to her Saturday evening session. To be invited by a Finnish friend or family to their private sauna is considered an honour, and one must have a good excuse to turn down the invitation! I was indeed honoured, and under no circumstances would I have turned down the invitation. That evening, I learned two important lessons: you must never deny a Finn’s wish for more steam, and a sauna can never be considered too hot.

This knowledge proved to be of value at a later stage. In late October, I joined my workmate for the public sauna at the city’s outdoor swimming pool. I was excited because this was the first time we had done something outside work. It turned out that this kind of sauna had nothing to do with the calm, relaxing and spa-like procedure I was used to. A huge, loud and powerful stove made sure that the smallest corner of the big room was provided with enough steam. As he constantly threw more water on the stove, the elderly man sitting next to me gently reminded me that “too hot” is a concept that does not exist in a Finnish sauna. After approximately ten minutes – there are no clocks in saunas – I felt more than ready to go out and have a dip in the 6-degree cold water. The very first moment was a bit of a shock but afterwards it felt so good, that we repeated the procedure two more times. And so, I developed a taste for the typical Finnish sauna experience.

You can find more blog posts about students’ adventures during their 5th semester with the ZHAW here.

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