Trainee report: Bioforce Program 2015, UPM R&D, Lappeenranta, Finland

UPM Biofore Trainee Program, Autumn 2015
UPM Lappeenranta Mill, Biochemicals Team

I applied to the UPM Biofore Trainee Program while I was studying abroad in France.When I learned that I was fortunate enough to get the trainee position and that I would be staying in Europe for another three months, I was ecstatic. What an amazing opportunity to learn about a completely different culture while also obtaining valuable materials science research experience. 

When I arrived in Finland, I took the train from the Helsinki airport to Lappeenranta. After a fifteen hour trip, I was happy to be greeted by my extremely friendly supervisor, who took me to the grocery store and briefly showed me around Lappeenranta before taking me to my apartment. I was sharing my apartment with a fellow intern, Sebastian, who was from Germany. While I had been hesitant at first to share an apartment with a man I did not know, I think this was very beneficial because it gave me someone with whom I could travel to work and we quickly became good friends.

My work at the UPM Lappeenranta mill area involved testing lignin-phenol-formaldehyde resins in novel ways and researching high pressure laminates. Everyone in the laboratories was extremely friendly and helped me in every way that they could, even when there was a slight language barrier. I had lots of questions and they were very accommodating. All of the people in the lignin team made sure I had everything I needed to pursue my research and I was able to perform many tests and learn quite a bit about resins and their properties through my tests. I also wrote a lab manual for one of the test devices used and held a demonstration for the laboratory technicians that would be using the new device. This gave me a lot of confidence and ultimately allowed me to become more comfortable working in laboratories.

There are quite a few differences in the cultures of Finland and the United States. The first one that stood out to me was the Finland summer holiday. While most people were back from the summer holiday when I arrived in Finland, they were on their holiday when I was attempting to get my residence permit. I found it astonishing that the majority of workers of such a large company were taking many weeks off at the same time. However, coming to Finland, I understand that taking advantage of the beautiful weather is important. I also was struck by the natural beauty of Finland. My apartment was very close to Lake Saimaa, and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to simply go and enjoy the gorgeous scenery whenever I wanted. 

I also appreciated the coffee breaks that were encouraged twice a day. I think it was a good opportunity to talk with friends and take a mental break from the work. Scheduled coffee breaks are not as encouraged in the United States, so this was a nice difference. 

The hours were also strikingly different. Leaving work at 16:00 would be very peculiar in the United States, but as the darkness settled in earlier and earlier, I quickly discerned why leaving from work at such an early time was preferred. This brings up another difference, the decreasing daylight hours. I still do not think I am fully adjusted to that, but it has allowed me to see Finland in a different light, literally.

The next difference I noticed may seem very minor, but it was quite a glaring difference to me. I have brown eyes, and these seemed very rare in Finland. Everyone I met had the most beautiful green or blue eyes. This was a very pleasant difference, because I enjoyed seeing such stunning features. 

My travels in Finland allowed me many first time experiences. I was able to go to the sauna for the first time, which was a very exciting experience. I even was able to go into the freezing lake water, which was exhilarating. I went to my first ice hockey game, because coming from the south of the United States, there is not a high emphasis put on hockey. I was fascinated by the sport, and believe that I will continue to watch it. I was able to travel to Savonlinna, Helsinki, Tampere, Kotka, and Lapland. All of these experiences further emphasized the beauty of Finland. I felt completely safe in Finland, which was reassuring and pleasant. I ate more fish than I have ever eaten in my life, and even had reindeer meat, which I loved. I learned so much about Finnish culture, and am forever grateful for this experience.

Overall, my time in Finland has been a period of my life that I will never forget. The valuable experiences I have had both in and outside of work have greatly enriched my life and provided me with further knowledge about my field of study. The Biofore Trainee Program is an excellent opportunity and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wishes to learn more about a new culture while also working for an impressive company.



Marie Henshaw