Kotipuoleen

So, I’m moving to Finland.  Not right this minute, I mean this summer.  I’d been working on a grant since last February, for a visiting researcher position with a team of cogs music people split between Helsinki and Jyväskylä.  I’ll be traveling between them, hopefully getting to work with both of them, and hopefully getting a complete experiment done.  My sponsor at Helsinki is a world-renowned researcher and is supporting me as an advisor, and she says I will probably be able to stay on as a doctoral student at the end of my grant.  I’m not entirely sure yet how long the grant will allow me to stay, but my proposal was for 8-10 months so I’m counting on at least six months, depending on what kind of housing I can afford.  After that, I’ll have to deal with the funding issue again for the doctorate, which is four years.  I kind of feel like I’d almost given up on this actually happening even though I’ve been wanting it so much for so long, but now the scary part sets in.  I have to figure out how to move to Finland.  And I want to keep in touch with everyone, so I figured the best way would be to start a blog.  I can share my crazy, frustrating, mundane, funny, educational adventures and whoever wants to keep up with me can do that, in handy blog form.  Hopefully I’ll get some pictures on here too.

That being said, I think it would make sense for me to begin by explaining my choice of blog title.  The URL is a word I have come to love the more I think about it.  Kotipuoleen is a Finnish compound word.  One of the most interesting things to me about the Finnish language is that it is a very conceptual language, with very few root words that are combined in different grammatical forms and in ways that give them new meanings.  Kotipuoleen is made of koti, which means “home,” and puoleen, which means “by half.”  It comes from a very beautiful traditional song called Kultaansa Ikavoiva, which sounds a fairly close translation to the Song of Solomon, about a woman listing the features of her lover (the kultani, which also means “golden” or “precious”) and ending each verse entreating him to return home.  She begins the lament by comparing him to a beautiful golden column or palace, but by the last verse she has fallen into begging him to “come, come at least halfway home.”

The word kotipuoleen also puts in mind a related word, kotoani, which means “(away) from home.”  That word comes to me from another beautiful song, sung by Ville Valo, called Kun minä kotoani läksin.  Like most Finnish songs, this one is also about lovers separated by space and time, but it focuses on the singer’s mixed feelings about leaving his homeland.  During the course of the song, he has flashes of memories from his past as he faces an unknown future.  This song is appropriately written in a blues form and definitely strikes home for me.

Together, these two words express how I feel about starting this adventure.  On the one hand, I have lived a year abroad so I sort of know what to expect.  I have visited Finland and I feel like I know Helsinki at least as well as any tourist, if not better.  I will be better prepared this time.  But unexpected things always happen, and even when things are going well, it’s a strange feeling to realize you are a bit of a nomad.  I’ve never felt entirely comfortable in the American Midwest, and as much as people like to get offended when I say that, it’s become increasingly clear to me. It has always seemed insane to me for people to expect that the country you are born in should be your favorite, simply because you were born there.  Statistically, it doesn’t add up.  I feel that it’s a lot like choosing a college; some are ranked better than others at certain things, and everyone has their favorites, but in the end it’s just about the chemistry and what works for you.  I don’t think I’ve found what works for me yet.  But hopefully by the end of my Finnish adventure, I’ll feel like I’ve at least gotten halfway home.

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2 Comments

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  1. I suppose it depends on how long you stay there, but according to The Economist, Finland is a better place to be born than many countries, including the US!

    http://www.economist.com/news/21566430-where-be-born-2013-lottery-life

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  2. Just found and read this blog post. I saw you wrote another about Finnish words having many meanings and that is the case also with ‘puoli’, which means half but also side (as in taking sides, or choosing sides in Finnish – valita puolensa). In ‘kotipuoleen’ it is in this meaning but as a whole translates more as ‘close to home’ or ‘home to us/to me’ with a concept of home including the surrounding area around the house. Much like ‘neighborhood’ but with no neighbours and much more affection. So returning to the village where you were born in would be ‘palata kotipuoleen’ although you might not live in the same house. It has an idea of having yourself, your loved ones, the house and the surrounding area (nature) all with you and feeling a deep peace that you yourself or someone else has returned. At least for me, and this is the meaning I’ve seen it used in. So, although your title for this one (halfway home) should actually translate to “puolimatkassa kotiin’ (puoli+matka+ssa koti+in), now that you are coming here for a second time you can say “palaan kotipuoleen” (assuming you feel Finland is a home to you). 🙂

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