Laura Stark-Arola, 32, first came to Finland as an exchange student when she was 18. Even the fact that her first location was Nastola, a small community of 14,000 inhabitants, did not prevent the California girl from becoming fascinated about Finland.
"Finland felt like home right from the beginning. Nastola was a close-knit community, unlike my home town in California. In Nastola, everybody was open. I was only the second exchange student in the history of the municipality, and everyone knew who I was. When I tried to speak Finnish, they did their best to encourage me."
The newcomer learnt Finnish from her host parents - who were originally Karelian resettlers from the area ceded to the Soviet Union and whose own children were already grown-ups - like a child learns it, naturally.
The exchange year left a feeling of longing. Stark-Arola returned to Finland as a Fulbright fellow to pursue her postgraduate studies after graduating as an MA from the University of California, Davis. The young researcher, whose original discipline was linguistic anthropology, had developed an interest in women's magic. She found her dissertation subject in the Finnish Literature Society folklore archives and her supervisor at the Department of Folkloristics in the University of Helsinki.
Stark-Arola depicts the Finnish Literature Society's folklore archives as "a treasure as wonderful as can be".
"Women have used magic everywhere. But elsewhere in Europe it hasn't been collected and archived to this extent."
The researcher encourages Finns to feel proud of their great, rich tradition. The rest of the world should recognise that richness and the immense value of the Finnish folklore archives.
Personally, Stark-Arola mediates the information through teaching Finnish folklore to foreign students at the University of Helsinki and translating Finnish researchers' texts into English. Moreover, she has translated many poems and incantations into English for her own dissertation.
In addition to folklore, Stark-Arola currently also teaches Women's Studies. One of her dreams is to continue her research on women's magic. But magic is not the only thing to keep her in Finland: there is also her engineer husband. The researcher was married two years ago, wearing a Finnish national costume.