I had very little knowledge of Finland before arriving there. All I knew is that it was cold, really cold.
The second I got there I was greeted by this beautiful, slender, blonde girl named Mari who spoke English more properly than me. She was my tutor and luckily, she was one of the very few Finnish students with a car to carry me and my two oversized suitcases to my new student apartment.
The next day, I realized how quickly I needed to obtain a bicycle since it is the only way to travel as a student at the University of Jyvaskyla. The whole city is covered in bike paths, including one which goes around the large lake in the middle of the city.
Only a few weeks in Finland, and I was introduced to one of Finland’s oldest, most recognizable traditions, the sauna.
I was in love. Finnish sauna is a warm steamy room where you relax, maybe drink a beer, and raise the temperature by throwing water on the coals. Sauna is more than just warming up, it is an activity at which you bath, and steam and repeat as much as you please. Finns go to sauna at least once a week and many have them in their own homes. The best way to sauna is by the lake where you can use the waters to cool off. Even in the student apartments there was a sauna open every night for women and men respectively. Typically they are divided by gender since Finnish sauna is in the nude.
There are a multitude of reasons to study abroad in Finland. One is the Finnish people. I have never felt so welcome in a foreign country. Most of the younger generation of Finns speak english well, and the older generation is more than their cultural stereotype. (Surprise, Surprise). While the Finnish people are depicted as insocial loners, in actuality they may primarily keep to themselves but in company, they are incredibly friendly and accomodatig, even to strangers.
Finland is also blessed with a beautiful and luscious landscape. There are over 10,000 lakes in Finland and the entire country is covered in fir trees. In the winter, there are many opportunities for snow sports, I even learned how to ice skate here! Finland is also great for hiking and water sports. It is a very active country with many ways to interact with the outdoors. In the upper part of Finland, there is Lapland. This is a winter wonderland and the home of the native Sami people of Finland.
Helsinki, the capital of Finland. is a beautiful harbor city with cathedrals, islands, and museums. I was lucky to visit there twice, and both times it was miraculously sunny! It is a very small capital city but what it lacks in size it makes up for in charm. One of its best features is the market by the harbor where you can get goods from Lapland!
After spending four months in Finland, I learned that it is much more than a cold country. It is rich in agriculture, and full of beautiful towns and kind people. It has a unique history and culture which is often overlooked by more grandiose locations like London, St. Petersburg, and Paris. But no matter where I am, my time in Finland will always stay with me, and hopefully, someday, I can return there. Maybe then, I’ll even learn how to ski.