Oulu University, Finland
Get a bike. Why? Its cheaper than the bus. The best place to find a good used bike is the local bulletin board. Euromarket, Prisma, and Tokmani are grocery stores that come to mind with boards. One problem, Its in Finnish, so look for key words like “mummonpyörä” which means “granny bike” or just “pyörä” meaning “bike“. And copy down the telephone number. It might be best to get your kummi student to help you translate (and call). The older crowd may have difficulty speaking English. Another option is the exchange list. However, you should really consider the first option. I only paid 40€ for a great granny bike. The exchange list will get you connected with other exchange students. Most messages posted are done by students about to leave and want to get rid of stuff. More often than not, used bikes are sold at a premium price ranging from 50€ - 100€. Keep in mind you can buy a new bike for 100€. The last and most expensive option is to go to second hand store. Used bikes are around 90€.
Get a bus pass. “Only if you don’t know how to ride a bike!” Buy the bus card from a fellow exchange student on the exchange list or buy one on the 3rd floor of Stockman in the “keskusta” meaning “city center”.
Go swimming. Oulu has two swimming halls. The larger one called “Raksilan uimahalli” is located in the city center. Buy yourself a pair of Speedos and go. Yes, speedos. You have to. No board shorts. No surfers in the swimming hall. Apparently it’s not good for pool maintenance when you wear more material when swimming. Board shorts have pockets, pockets have random things, random things pollute the pool. Swim laps, walk laps, aerobics, diving, massage pool, and… Sauna.
Go to the sauna. The Finnish Sauna tradition dates back over 2000 years ago and is heavily ingrained in Finnish culture. “Sauna culture” = naked. Would you wear your clothes in a bathtub? The sauna symbolizes birth, life, health, cleanliness, and good fortune. It’s the first room to be constructed when building a new home. It was often used for drying salmon, smoking meat, child birth, hygiene (source of warm water), virility, and prevention or treatment of the common cold. Sauna was considered magic and you mustn’t swear inside. Traditionally heated with wood, heavily insulated, generally heated to 70º - 80º C.
You’ll have no trouble finding a sauna in Oulu. Most are electric, which produce very dry heat. The best sauna to try if you get a chance is wood burning. The air isn’t nearly as dry. The sound of the wood crackling as you slowly boil in your own sweat is something to experience. Seriously, go with some friends and enjoy. When you think you’ve had enough, run out, grab your towel, and head outside. When its -15ºC outside you turn into a human steamer and it’s surprising how long you can stay outside in just a towel at that temperature. Repeat 2-3 more times.
Be careful, they love to try and steam out the amateurs! You have two options when more water is thrown on the rocks. I’ll talk about the less obvious one. Lean forward and lay with your chest touching your knees. Why? All the heat rises, so stay low. This trick will surely keep you in the competition longer than your friends. Even if it’s just you and the Finn left, the Finn still has one more trick up his sleeve. What could he/she have that you don’t? Sisu. No, I don’t mean the candy. Check Wikipedia for the definition. So, if you’ve been steamed out before try to stick it out next time. Otherwise, you can always take the water bucket and steam the place up yourself. Huom! If you throw the water, you can’t leave when it gets too hot.
Go ice-hole swimming. That’s right boys and girls! Run to the 0ºC water and jump in. It takes courage. Taking the plunge is best attempted immediately after a hot sauna. I tried it for the first time in Kilpisjarvi, Finland. Our sauna was just 20m away from the frozen lake. I actually went 3 times! It’s really not as crazy as it sounds. Again, I’d like to point out one thing. Having never jumped into an ice-hole before I just assumed that even though a small layer of ice only mm’s think covers the surface that you can just jump in. WRONG! I almost learned the hard way. Next to the entrance of our sauna was a heavy iron spear. Use something to break the thin layer up or else run the risk of severely cutting yourself with broken shards of ice. The University of Oulu’s ESN organizes ice-hole swimming just about every Sunday during the winter.
Go Ice skating. Pickup a pair of skates from the exchange list or second hand store. There is an ice rink next to the Normaalikoulu on Yliopistokatu, or you can try out the Linnanmaa Ice Rink at Kauppalinnankatu 6.