The Diary of a (Mature) Student Learning Disability Nurse Abroad: Week 1.

Well, that’s my first week in Finland completed, and what a week it has been. I am still struggling a little with the time difference, and I’m not yet fully acclimatised, but I will get there. On a positive note, I feel as though I have really settled in to Finnish life; I am really enjoying the placement, I am managing to build relationships with all of the students I am supporting, and I have made friends with many of the nurses and members of staff. The food is not too bad either :-)

My second home for the next eight weeks will be the ‘Lehtimaen Opisto which is a residential college for up to 150 people with learning disabilities. They offer a wide range of training which includes daily living skills; vocational training; computer literacy; academic skills; languages; arts and crafts; cookery; horticulture; and woodwork. They have nurses, physiotherapists and teachers working with a team of support staff to deliver the training, and a range of other specialists who deliver specific activities and therapies. The Opisto is an amazing place – it has it’s own fully accessible swimming pool and sauna, it has stables, indoor and outdoor horse riding facilities, a gym and places for various therapies (physiotherapy, sensory activities, horse therapy, small animal therapy, and music therapy – to name but a few).

The biggest personal issue for me is trying to explain Brexit to everybody! Everybody is massively interested, and they are all very surprised when I explain that just like everybody else in the UK – I have absolutely no idea what is going on. I just change the subject to the Eurovision Song Contest, and everybody forgets Brexit – for a short time at least 😉


My first day on placement – to say I’m nervous is an understatement! 

The walk to work took about 40 minutes but it was beautiful! Snow and pine trees all of the way! I did hear some strange animal noises in the woods which I have been informed were most likely from a moose. I arrived at 0845 and was given a tour of the Opisto (college) by my guide – I was very impressed. We spoke about all of the services that they offered, and one thing that really made me think ‘WOW’ was the residential family classes that they offer during the summer. These classes are fully funded by the government and they involve all members of a family, working alongside other families to learn about specific conditions, coping strategies, daily living skills and issues specific to their individual families – I love this idea!

At 1000 I was introduced to some of the students I would be working with. They range from 16-20 years old and they were all very interested to have a strange Englishman in their midst. I spent the day getting to know everybody, looking through photos, attending lessons and building relationships. Most of this was by way of facial expressions, playing charades and the universal language of ‘thumbs up’ and ‘high fives’ – everybody was smiling though which I took to be a good sign! One of the students can speak very good English and has taken it upon himself to be my Finnish tutor – we have decided to set a goal of two words a day (I can’t get away from SMART targets!!!).

One thing that really strikes me about the Opisto is the volume of people that attend and just how huge the place is! This doesn’t make me uncomfortable at all, in fact it makes me feel the total opposite. The atmosphere is very relaxed, and everybody seems to be happy and thriving. It makes me think that this would probably not be possible in the UK as people would start banding the word ‘institutionalisation’ around; the Opisto is a million miles away from that. It seemto me that there is more choice and inclusion here than anywhere I have ever experienced before, which is only possible because of the size of the place, the facilities and the ‘can do’ attitude.



Today I visited Seinajoki University to enrol and complete healthchecks. The University was very impressive, and I was given a guided tour. I was VERY pleased to be allocated a University email address as I now have access to their online library. For some reason I am not able to access The University of Wolverhampton’s catalogue from over here and I had hit a bit of a wall with assignments – this means I have no excuse not to keep up academically – just don’t tell any of my lecturers!



What a fantastic day! It started with a very cold walk to work (-16) but the 3km soon warmed me up. I really started to feel like part of the team today – people were laughing and joking with me and I was involved with all of the daily activities (reading, shopping, domestic tasks, computer skills and physiotherapy sessions). Most importantly, I am also building a really good relationship with the students and we are having no problem at all communicating. Honestly, who needs words?

My thoughts of the day:

 The care/ training that the students receive here is enabling rather than disabling. What somebody can do, is focused upon more than what somebody cannot do.
 The approach is very much ‘how can we?’ rather than ‘why can’t we?’ For example – walking frames on skis! How fantastic are they??



Another early shift and another good one. The one stand-out moment for me was watching one of the students play computer games during the afternoon. The student in question is unable to use his arms or legs so controls his computer with his chin and his forehead. All this student has spoken about since I arrived was computer games (his English is very good) and I didn’t really realise the importance until I watched him play. 

What must it actually be like to be in a wheelchair or confined to a bed all day every day? Watching people walking around or carrying out tasks independently – I really can’t begin to imagine how this must feel. . .

Just watching his face change while he was playing his games really got to me. I could see that it gave him a real sense of freedom – for a while at least he was running and jumping, he was climbing trees and collecting things. It really did make me look at things from a completely different perspective.

Upon returning from work I had my interview for the Student Nursing Times Awards which was all a bit surreal. Obviously, I couldn’t fly back just for the interview, so it was conducted via a conference call and luckily there were no issues with my phone reception! It wasn’t really what I expected and it was very difficult to work out how the interview went as I couldn’t see anybody’s reaction to what I was saying, but I answered honestly and openly and feel I did as well as I could under the circumstances. I was actually quite enjoying the chat by the end of it and could have probably carried on nattering for further half an hour!



Well, I have made it through the week. It was interesting today watching some of the students go home for the weekend. Parents and taxis arrived, family dogs walked around the building, and everybody was singing and happy. One of the students was leaving for good however, and returning home permanently – he was telling me about the party that they had held for him the night before and he was very obviously sorry to be leaving his fellow students and the staff. This spoke volumes to me and highlighted just how much that he had enjoyed his time at the Opisto.

I can really relate to that – I am really enjoying my time too!


Anyway, until next week – Nakemiin, and thanks for reading 🙂

Ian. . . .




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1 thought on “The Diary of a (Mature) Student Learning Disability Nurse Abroad: Week 1.

  1. You’re doing a fantastic job son xxx


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