The journey to Finland started off with a frantic search for free wi-fi to access Google Maps to navigate my way from the airport near Helsinki, the capital, to the remote island of Seili, over 200 km away. This may not seem far but it was a feat due to two important factors: 1) September 1st marked the beginning of the off-season effectively reducing services on some bus routes and ferries and 2) many services such as restaurants, shops, ticket booths, are closed on Sundays. With adrenaline and some luck, I arrived safely on Seili a little past 5 in the afternoon.
The zooplankton identification course commenced bright and early on Monday morning, gradually picking up speed as I climb the steep learning curve. It was an amazing experience learning about these microscopic creatures but the most memorable experience was the evening the group spent enjoying the beach sauna. We all met up by the dormitories just before sunset and walked the scenic route which followed the shoreline to the sauna house located on a beach. I walked gingerly with the promise of post-sauna snacks of cider, sausage, and chocolate. When we arrived, the cabin looked very similar to a typical Canadian cottage, a quaint little log house with a chimney where the sauna room was connected to a large living room with a fireplace. However, the moment I walked into the sauna, I immediately understood how important sauna was to Finnish culture. All aspects of the facilities were impeccable, there is a tool for every need you could imagine: feet washing station to keep the interior dirt and mud-free, showers to cool off, towels to sit on the hot benches, baskets to keep clothes dry, ladles to pour water onto the furnace. I was the only non-Finn who partook in the sauna and put my swimsuit on , and to my surprise, was joined by the rest of the ladies, nude. They explained that amongst friends, it was completely normal to enjoy a sauna session with no swimsuit in Finland and that it was not a big deal to see each other naked. This expanded my worldview and forced myself to question why I am still self-conscious about my body while there existed this developed country where young and old alike enjoyed a cultural experience with absolutely zero judgment. This feeling of acceptance and well-being was reinforced further as we did the next logical thing following a steaming sauna: running to the shore for a cold dip into the Baltic Sea. 10/10 would do again.
Environmental Technician Fast-Track ’17
The flight to Finland was interesting. I had to make a stop over at Iceland and Norway. I chose to fly with Iceland Air. My flight didn’t leave Toronto on time. I was freaking out when it struck me that I might not make it in time to get on my transfer flight. There was a nice Canadian couple in their early 30s going to the UK to teach sitting beside me who assured me that everything will be okay. They had us go through security checks again. Iceland is the start of the Schengen Area.
Important lesson learned: REMOVE LAPTOPS FOR SEPARATE SCANNING
They ended up holding my transfer flight until I got on. Thank god. I was freaking out by then. I wasn’t sure what I would have to go through if I missed my plane. What would happen to my luggage? But everything worked out. I was the last person to get on the plane. I was sitting beside a Russian couple that didn’t speak English that well. There was plenty of time to get on to my final plane to Helsinki.
I ended up getting randomly selected for extra security check. I don’t like to be patted down but I accepted the fact that it was necessary for security reasons. The fellow was very helpful afterwards in directing me to where I needed to go for my final plane. The last plane to Helsinki, Finland was very small.
I had a very nice Swedish-speaking Fin in his mid 30s sitting beside me. We talked about a whole range of things from comparative politics and education policies to policies on immigration and integration of diversity. It was the most stimulating conversation I have had in a very long time. He was quite surprised when I told him I only think of myself as Canadian.
It was the first time I met a Swedish-speaking Finn. He felt they were more “open” and many ways better than the other Finns. As I met more Swedish-speaking Finns, I began to see that they saw themselves as more open and thus they were more open. The Chicken or the Egg?
I then asked around and found my way to the bus stop for inter-city travel. I got some help from a couple of Finnish students going to Turku. The just told me to follow them. I arrived in Turku a few hours later. I asked one of the Turku students to borrow their phone to call my tutors Pinja and Alice to pick me up and take me to my dorm. Tutors are students assigned to exchange students to help with the transition.
My initial impressions of Finland:
It is very similar to Canada. I was VERY DISAPPOINTED with the temperature. It was very warm in Finland. It was +5 degrees, which is a lot warmer than the -25 degrees in Toronto when I left and I was North of 60. So much for purchasing a Canada Goose jacket. The sun had already set at 3:30 PM which was very strange. Sunrise was at 9:30 AM.
Alice and Pinja were very nice. They got me to my place. Pinja had a car so that helped a lot. They gave me my keys and showed my around. We went to Hesburger (Finnish McDonalds) to get something to eat. We chatted for a bit and then Pinja dropped me off home. There was a tree at the dorm with shoes strung up on it. I thought it was vandalism, Pinja thought it was art.
That was my first day.
this last week i spent in Lapland, which is so far north in Finland i was technically in the arctic circle :). its a group trip planned by the ESN here in Turku and it included things like: snowboarding, husky farm and husky sledding, snowmobile rides, reindeer farm, a day at the spa and most interestingly..the northern lights. Aside from the nightly parties at the cottages we stayed in (which were amazing because the people i spent it with are some of the best people ive met here to date) we also had a few nights where we could see the northern lights light up the sky (photo attached) really a life changing trip and if ever in finland i recommend it to any and everyone.
Moi! from Finland. Much like Canada the weather here is quite cold (reaching -28 last week) and the snow is often and constant. The only difference is that the weather doesn’t stop anyone from going about their day. Both myself and the large group of friends i have made already (coming from other schools in Spain, Italy, Austria, France and even Fleming College) managed to go out on the town every week Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Being a student here you get perks and free entry to almost all clubs and pubs on those three days so partying is a huge part of our weekly lives. I even took a day to go hiking in the city of Ruissolo where we ended the day ice swimming and relaxing in the sauna (the water was 0.5 degrees celsius and the sauna was 104). However aside from all the fun im having here, i still have to go to school. The good news is i only have to go three days a week, the bad news is that its about 35 minutes by bus and 10 minutes walking, so my travel time exceeds the time im actually in a class. All in all this trip can only get better with numerous events and other trips (Poland, Russia, Lapland and Estonia) being arranged almost monthly for exchange students.