My name is Minna Markkanen. I am the only international participant in the ONA16 conference’s student newsroom this year. Of the 20 students, 19 are American – and then there’s me, a 22-year-old journalism student from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland.
Don’t be offended if we meet in Denver, and I seem subdued. It’s not you, it’s me. You see, we Finns would rather sit in silence that make small talk. A problem for a budding journalist, I realize.
You might wonder how I ended up here. The answer is simple: I saw a Twitter promo of the conference and decided it was interesting. I applied and got accepted. The next thing I know, I’m telling my family I will be flying to Denver for three days of hectic newsroom work, panels, workshops and more.
Finland is a small country in Northern Europe. We are located between Sweden and Russia, both of which once over ruled my people. Our native language is Finnish and it is spoken very differently compared to English. It is said to be one of the hardest languages to learn.
However, while bad at small talk, we Finns are very good at speaking English. I have always been good at it, and I have spent months and months abroad speaking nothing but English. Still, coming to the U.S. and communicating in a different language makes me nervous almost to the point of being physically ill.
I am afraid of not being professional, of being something less than my American colleagues – who by the way seem very nice – and I feel insecure about my own skills. I guess that is not something you should be when attending a conference with colleagues and potential future employers all around you?
While on the job, I’m afraid of asking people the same thing twice. I don’t want to seem stupid because I am not. Last fall, I spent five months at Georgia Southern University studying journalism and literature, and I covered news and feature stories in English – but I’m still not comfortable with it. I have the journalism experience, it just happens to all be in my native Finnish.
You see how these thoughts go round and round in my head? They have been spinning inside my brain from the moment I got accepted to be a part of the student newsroom. Some days thinking about the conference makes me excited and I want to go already, and others I just want to email my mentor and tell her I’m not coming after all.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned already, is that usually when I plan on doing something, it scares the heck out of me. After it is done, however, I feel amazing and wouldn’t give up the experience for anything.
I have set myself two goals during the conference. The first one is tackling small talk. The second one is overcoming my own fears. I feel I have to overcome the obstacles I have set up in my own mind.
You are invited to that journey with me, as I vlog my way through ONA16 and the process of coming to terms with my language skills. I’ll be posting blog reports on how I’m doing, in writing and video. You can also follow me on social media:
Nähdään taas pian! (I’ll see you again soon!)