Egyptian flutist Kholoud Sharara opened a new and important connection in Finnish-Egyptian cultural cooperation. She was the first Egyptian exchange student to be sent to Sibelius Academy. Kholoud’s student exchange was part of the North-South-South Programme governed by the Organisation for International Mobility and Cooperation (CIMO). The programme, that is funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, aims to develop and advance cooperation and capacity in both northern and southern higher education institutions.
Sibelius Academy has been in the programme since its beginning in 2004. It was recently confirmed, that the Academy – now part of the University of the Arts Helsinki – got funding for the years 2013 – 2015. Cairo Conservatory is one of the current partners of the University of the Arts.
Before embarking on her journey, Kholoud was given a book about Finland to help her familiarize herself with the far-away country. However, as the airplane hit Finnish soil, the reality before her was very different from what was depicted in the pages of her book: it had been mostly about Finland in the summer, not about the cold January weather. Despite the coldness of the climate during her exchange period, which lasted from January to April, Kholoud was very grateful for the unique and useful opportunity she had been given.
Once Kholoud had arrived at the airport in Helsinki-Vantaa, she still had to find her way to her new home in Etelä-Haaga. According to the instructions she had received, the airport bus was the easy option. However, it was late evening, and the temperature was too far below zero, to make waiting around at the bus stop remotely appealing. Luckily, a helpful stranger happened to hear Kholoud’s pondering, and she offered to give Kholoud a ride in her taxi. Kholoud said that for a moment she was weighing the risks of taking a taxi – especially with a complete stranger. That is when I realized, that Finland is a safe place, she laughed while being interviewed in Cairo.
Kholoud started playing the flute when she was nine. She is now considering becoming a flute teacher, though her first priority is finishing her master’s studies at Cairo Conservatory.
Studying at Sibelius Academy exceeded Kholoud’s expectations. It was hard work, but there was more variety in the studies than what Kholoud had expected. The courses included performing and concerts, and there was also a very useful course for a flutist, that focused on relaxation. The desire to always learn new things is a necessary quality in a musician, Kholoud highlighted.
Kholoud said she had been surprised by the liveliness of the music scene in Finland. There were large audiences at concerts, and they included both more experienced and younger music lovers.
The adventure of Kholoud’s first night in Finland was not over with the taxi ride: after two hours of walking she finally found the right building. Her wave of relief was quickly replaced with horror, when she saw, that the road to the front door was covered in piles of snow. I didn’t know, how to walk on that kind of snow, she exclaimed with laughter in her voice. Luckily that was one of the many things she would learn during her stay in Finland.
Text: Eveliina Karhu
Photos: Kholoud Sharara