Why Finland?


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Europe » Finland
January 11th 2007
Published: February 24th 2007EDIT THIS ENTRY

I lost count on the times that I have been asked this question. I could almost sense when someone was about to ask it. People asked me, "Why choose to study in FINLAND?" so many times that my travelling partner Joel could not help himself but laugh everytime someone asked me that question. It was really absurd.

So one would think that after hearing such a question so often that I would have a perfect answer to return immediately. But I did not. Almost every time I was asked "Why Finland?", I would return the very same blank look they gave me and tell them confusingly, "I... don't... know!" And that is what I find so fascinating about this country... WHY the hell would you go there?! Swedes, who live right next door to Finland, didn't understand why I decided to study in Finland. Even Finns themselves were a bit mystified that I came all the way from Australia to study in Finland (I am not joking, this is the extent to which people were surprised at why I came to live in Finland... Finns themselves were baffled).

It is true, I cannot pinpoint the reason why I decided
Winter WonderlandWinter WonderlandWinter Wonderland

The is the view from my room's window... breathtaking! Best view in the student village, easily.
to come to a small town called Turku in south-western Finland to study for a year. All I know is that it was one of the best decisions of my life.

Forgotten Finland

Finland is a very unique country. It is a nation lost in the northern corner of Europe; tucked away from the world in the netherregions of the Arctic. It is a nation with little known international significance; you don't hear something about Finland or meet a Finn very often at all. Most of the people I have met know very little about Finland. Some of my friends, when I told them I was going to study there for a year, told me that they didn't even know where Finland was! Yet surprisingly there are many common things that are Finnish, no one knows it to be so. The sauna is a uniquely Finnish cultural trait ("sauna" is even a Finnish word), Nokia is a Finnish company, the Santa Claus Village is in Finland, F1 drivers Mikä Hakkinen and Kimi Raikkonen are Finnish, classical composer Jean Sibelius was Finnish, musical artists Darude, The Rasmus and Bomfunk MCs are Finnish. So now you do know something about Finland!

The language is known to be one of the most abstract and difficult languages in existence. E.g orange' is 'appelsini' in Finnish... that HAS to confuse people. It's grammar is the most complex that I have ever come across. The extreme cold weather is uncomparable to nearly all the world, except those other very few places that share such a high latitude. Finnish food is very simple, so simple that Finnish people don't really even eat it! It has little taste, and I have heard many the joke that the Finnish spices are salt and pepper. However one must try reindeer and Baltic salmon or herring when in Finland - succulent. The Finnish mentality is unique; centred around the love of quietness, serene nature, alcohol, sauna and ice hockey (a national obsession - 10 year old kids are so good that they regularly and easily beat me and my exchange student friends).

The Nature of Finland is also something truly special. Finland may not have the dramatic peaks of the Alps or the plunging fjords of Norway. But Finland is all about subtly and reflection. You cannot help but feel at peace when you stand on an island in the Turku Archipelago, looking over vast expanses of glistening water, dotted with many more hilly islands. The Sound of Silence. Literally it was just pure, utter Silence. Although sounding so simple, that moment just sticks in my mind - it is probably the only moment when I didn't hear a single sound, and all my other senses took over.

Forest covers almost all of the land mass of Finland. So if you want to escape the cosmopolitan modernity of Europe, take a RyanAir or Blue One flight to Finland and lose yourself amongst the pine trees. Lapland is a region of rolling hills in an exotic Arctic wilderness. The Lakes region is a place of wonder where you find untouched lakes that stretch as far as the eye can see, surrounded by hills and forest. Finland has nearly 200 000 lakes! And let us not also forget how dreamlike Finland becomes in Winter time, when the entire country and its forests, hills, cars and entire cities are blankted in white. Finland's nature is all about quiteness, serenity and reflection. It is a mirror of its people, as you will see below.

The People

As Joel said when he visited me in Turku, Finnish people are the strangest people ever met. Since he is an experienced traveller who has met many other peoples, emphasis is added. But really, what is even stranger than the strangeness of Finnish people is the fact that you cannot actually figure out what is strange about them!

If there is one thing that characterises Finnish people, it is silence. Despite being kind and friendly people, they are infamously known for their quietness and refinement. They do not speak unless it is worth speaking. Small talk is not something that exists in the Finnish mindset. However, their silence is not a rude silence but is a silence based on reflectment. A conversion with a Finn would often include silent gaps, where the silence is used to think about what the other has said more deeply. Conversations mean more because they occur less. Some non-conforming Finns heavily criticise this national trait, and consciously aim to be more outgoing (this especially the case with young Finns who have travelled around). But many Finns are just so quiet that you may not even notice them if there were only the two of you
Go You Good ThingGo You Good ThingGo You Good Thing

Bruno working his magic with two Finnish girls
in a room. Strange.

Another strange personality trait is their fear of embarrassment, apparently the biggest fear for Finns in general. It even goes as far for some few Finns that they would be reluctant to speak English with me; they seemed so insecure about their English that they feared that they would be embarrassed to screw up in front of a native speaker. Which is ridiculous since it I rarely met a Finn who could not speak perfect English! The embarrassment continues into all other walks of life, like the classroom, where Finns would sit timidly and quietly while the loud Westerners would debate and discuss.

Another strange contrast I found was conformity. Many Finns are non-conformist/rebellious. This is clearly exemplified by Finland's infamous reputation as a haven for heavy metal and death metal music. All around town centres, the Goths come out in droves! Black clothing and hair everywhere strikingly contrasting with the white-as-snow Finnish skin. But in contrast to that, Finland is one of the safest countries in the world. Finland is the least corrupt country in the world. Though consciously making the effort to be "rebellious" one might say, everyone is so law-abiding! At traffic lights, people would give me evil and disapproving looks when I ignored the Red Man and j-walked (no joke there).

Note: Finland's crime figures may convey that it is not one of the safest, but about 70% of crimes are caused under the influence of alcohol... and usually occur between family and friends - random crime is non-existent.

But despite these characteristics, Finns are pretty friendly. Many times a Finnish person would walk up to me and ask me where I came from, what I was doing there in Turku, and of course eventually they would also ask me "the cursed question". I.e. "Why Finland?". Finns were always very willing to help me when I was lost in and around the town in my first few months, they would invite me to parties despite not knowing me, offer me free beer/vodka, help me with the language (they know it is ridiculously difficult), teach me ice hockey at the local park. My tutor Eeva was an inhumanely busy young lady as President of the law students society, yet she always put the effort into meeting up with me inbetween her schedule regularly for coffee and lunch, and took me snowboarding. My friend Tim invited for me for a weekend in his country town home 5hrs north of Turku, a typically peaceful Finnish countryside weekend which I was very grateful for.

Underneath all the quietness and reservation, Finns are a very warm people, easy to get along with, intelligent, always interesting. Their love of nature is very admirable and they love nothing than being in the middle of the forest in their cottage. They are very environmentally conscious (Finland is widely regarded as the cleanest country in the world). And just quickly on things that Finland is Number 1 at, did I mention that Finland has the best school education system in the world? Well, they do.

Finns are strong believers in equality, liberties and freedoms (hence the prosperity of seemingly-outcasts like "Lordi" :P). This is shown by their welfarist State, which taxes its citizens to high heaven but gives them benefits to make the wealthy jealous. Finns also LOVE being naked. Yes you heard that right. Naked. A Finn would tell you that if they saw a naked person walk down the street, they would exclaim, "I didn't know there was a sauna around here". This
In Sokeri ("Sugar Club")In Sokeri ("Sugar Club")In Sokeri ("Sugar Club")

Finns partying in their Student Overalls. Things got a bit out of hand as some started to strip...
attitude stems from all the weekly hours spent in the sauna with family, where everyone is naked. Rock concerts are almost nude-fests, when the attendees get drunk enough to totally disregard their inhibitions and strut around naked to the music (the craziest festival is apparently Provinci Rock, but Turku's own Ruisrock holds it own madness-wise). Apparently socks are sometimes used. The university swimming pool actually reserves separate weekly time slots for men and for women, to allow for people who wanted to swim in the pool naked. Trust me this is just a weird country.

Another strange characteristic about Finns involes this sauna. Let me tell you, you have never been to a sauna unless you have been to a sauna in Finland. Heat takes on a whole new meaning! Their saunas get so hot you struggle to breathe. But it is confusing how Finns can comfortably spend hours in a sweltering 80-100ºC in a small wooden room every week, yet struggle to cope with a mere 30ºC just outside in the sun.

But not everything about them is rosy. Due to their love of silence, Finns can come across as quite cold and unwelcoming. Yet I think that this is just a facade - once you get comfortable with them, they open and you realise that they are actually very nice people. But if you're in a rush and don't have the weeks/months/years it takes to get to know a Finnish person, and you want to talk them a lot... chuck in some:

Alcohol

Finland is a totally different country when this is thrown into the question. Remember that Finnish Silence? Forget about it for now. Finns are notoriously known for their excessive drinking. As an Australian I also love to drink and sink a fair few every now and then. Finland is totally different. A Finn told me that the concept of "social drinking" does not really exist in Finland. They just get slaughtered... absolutley slaughtered... all the time! I sometimes exclaimed how I didn't understand why Finns drink so much, and they would reply that Finns don't understand why everyone else drinks so little!

In clubs it is common to see people staggering about cluelessly beer/vodka in hand, young or even old. Once we encountered a Finn, all by himself in the middle of an abandanoned street at 4am, standing in the
A Day In The LifeA Day In The LifeA Day In The Life

Yes, that reads "-19.2ºC"
same place screaming out for sex. Once on our way back to the Student Village, we saw someone sitting on the curb of a perfectly empty road, head in his hands, all by himself, at about 3am. One of my friends 100% summed up the scene by saying, "Only in Finland". I once went to an official Law Student's party where the goal of the night was to drink 20 shots of vodka, each shot being only 15 minutes apart... get the picture? At another law party on the wilderness island of Ruissalo off Turku, one of the infamous Party Ferries was going by the coast, and about 20 drunken law students stumbled to the shore, pulled down their pants and mooned the ferry... which is apparently a tradition! At Vappu, a madness-filled Finnish festival, I would often see people staggering through, throwing up in and urinating in the streets... I had never before seen so many drunk people in one place, not even on Australia Day on the Perth foreshore. We are talking about 20 000 people, all smashed. It was insane.

The Party Ferries are notorious for their drunken revellry. Imagine a 10hr ferry ride from Turku
Sea of Hats at VappuSea of Hats at VappuSea of Hats at Vappu

20 000 people ready to get inhumanely inebriated at Vappu; a Finnish festival.
to Stockholm on a Friday night, with 2000 Finns and a seemingly unlimited supply of duty free alcohol. Mayhem, pure mayhem. Of course not all of them party, but at least all of them buy alcohol. As soon as the duty free store opens, all hell breaks loose. On these ferries people young and old (yes, even old) actually bring small trolleys to stack multiple packs of alcohol. And after getting smashed in their rooms, people (those same young and old) stumble around the dance floor without any idea what they are doing or where they are or who they are. I personally saw someone throw up while running in the corridor... WHILE RUNNING! Try imagine that. On some corridors you can even smell the urine. A friend told me that he once saw a middle-aged man stumble around the ferry completely naked (remember they love to be naked). I tell you, these people have generally lost the plot.

Yep, weird country. WHY did I go live there?

Miscellaneous Memories

Because I cannot help but miss the things that make Finland unique, its interesting people being just one part of it. How beautiful it was to see
"You're Coming With Me""You're Coming With Me""You're Coming With Me"

Morgan found this Finnish guy "irresistable" :P Hehe
an entire town covered in snow; trees, cars, buildings, signs, streets... everything white. Nothing but snow everywhere from mid-December to late March!!! A winter wonderland indeed. Coming from sunburnt Australia, this was memorable in itself.

Another thing, sauna. At times I was going to the sauna twice a week, truly becoming Finnish :P. The tingling feeling of numbness one gets after going in the sauna and then jumping into a hole in the frozen sea (note: frozen sea) is something I will never forget and something I fondly miss. To just relax outside in -5ºC (relatively "warm") after just jumping in the freezing water... oh, the feeling! How many people do you know who have jumped in a hole in the ice? Did I also mentioned that I've walked on the ocean?

I became addicted to ice hockey, a sport with barely any exposure in Australia (see the video of me skillfully and elegantly going around two players :P). Being so cold, outdoor ice hockey at the local park in the open air was not only possible, but something I was doing AT LEAST three times a week (but despite my rapid progress I was still only good enough to play with kids... the future of Finnish ice hockey is very bright indeed). I loved this.

The calmly majestic countryside of Finland is something not found in many European countries anymore, as I mentioned before. These are some amongst other things you don't get to do in many countries around the world - things that make Finland so different, so unique and so special.

Things You Can Do In Finland

- Spend a weekend in a wilderness cottage, hiking (Turku Archipelago, the Lakes, Lapland)
- Sauna and ice hole swimming
- Visit Lapland in the Winter (reindeer, dog sledding, Sami people)
- Ice hockey
- Pori Jazz festival, World Wife Throwing Championships, World Air Guitar Championships, Ruisrock, Vappu, Midsummer Festival
- Cities: the cosmopolitan chic of Helsinki, the quaint wooden Old Town of Rauma, the castle-between-two-lakes in Savonlinna, Turku (yay!), the beautiful and secluded island of Aland
- Finnish delicacies (e.g. malmi, salmiakki, reindeer, karaliean pastries, Christmas food, Fazer chilli chocolate, Runebarg tart, even Wood Tar!) (I do not joke, Finns eat tar).
- Finnish alcohol (Koskenkorva, Salmiakki)
- Marry a Finnish girl (come on, you know you want to)

I haven't even done
Winter WonderlandWinter WonderlandWinter Wonderland

The pristine archipelago layered with snow
all these things myself. I have to leave something for me to do for when I return, right? First thing on the list is marrying a Finnish girl...

Why Finland

So you can see why I had such an awesome time here.

If you visit Finland, there will be no significant culture shock. This is not China or India. But what is interesting about Finland is that it seems like a Western country on the outside, but is actually quite different when you spend some time there and dig beneath the surface. Finland will look Western with its sleek modern architecture, cosmopolitan society and white-skinned inhabitants. But talk to the people, get to know their customs and culture and you will realise that this country is pretty different and pretty unique. It is one of the few remaining hidden secrets of Europe.

But a word of warning - to appreciate Finland you must spend time there. You cannot go to Finland for two days and spend it all in Helsinki after ferrying it over from Tallinn. Then you will be like everyone else who has "been to Finland". The people who only do this never speak
Krista and LeilaKrista and LeilaKrista and Leila

Two Finnish girls known for organising cool exchange student parties; this one a Beach Party in the middle of Winter.
highly of it (since Helsinki is not your Rome or Paris). Helsinki is not the only thing in Finland. Instead, come to Finland to experience the People, the Nature and the Winter. For me, it is worth it. How rewarding it was to meet a people totally different to those from my home, and to experience their exotic and abstract language. How rewarding it was see thousands of islands scattered amonst a pristine sea, or see rolling hills of white snow hosting statuesque pine trees cloaked in white. How rewarding it was to take part in a culture so subtly different to that in my home country, and to do things like jumping into a hole in a frozen sea. If you come to Finland for these things, it will take a small but special place in your heart.

So what will my answer be the next time someone asks me, "Why Finland?". Proudly, I will tell them "I don't know... but I'm so glad I did!"

Makea Elämä!


Additional photos below
Photos: 30, Displayed: 30


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Cobweb of WhiteCobweb of White
Cobweb of White

The snow infiltrates even the tiniest branches
Finnish Girls - Anni and her FriendsFinnish Girls - Anni and her Friends
Finnish Girls - Anni and her Friends

Finns are like natural linguists; they all speak AT LEAST three languages. The girl on the right goes four better; she speaks SEVEN... fluently! Finnish, Swedish, English, French, Spanish, German and Russian.


24th February 2007

Beatiful
Magnificent article!
From Blog: Why Finland?
26th February 2007

I know that girl!
Ha ha, Funny to reading a blog from an australian and to find an old school mate of mine in one of your pictures. Eeva was in the same high school with me. Funny. Im off to Sydney in two weeks. Yippee!
From Blog: Why Finland?
6th May 2008

International Significance
In the mineral processing industry, the company Outokumpu is very internationally significant.
From Blog: Why Finland?
30th May 2008

Wonderful story
As an Austrian who has not only been together with a beautiful Finnish girl for almost five years, I've also been working in Helsinki now for over two months. I've had similar experiences during my many stays in this wonderful country and I have to agree with you. Fins are crazy!!! CRAZY!!! Give them booze and all hell brakes loose. Literally. I've been a witness :-) But like you said yourself, these people are wonderfully kind after you spend some time with them. Not everything is golden but that goes for every country. However the biggest challenge (despite my countless short stays) - to survive the harsh Finnish winters with basically NO SUNLIGHT - lies still ahead of me. Thanks again for sharing your wonderful everyday occurrences . Good luck with finding your own Finnish girl - I certainly have.
From Blog: Why Finland?
20th December 2008

Feeling the same
Hey Justin, I think you very well expressed all the feelings that I have myself about Finland, Finnish people and Finnish culture. What I call "the Finnish soul". Me too, people all the time ask me, why Finland?, why do you like so much Finnish people?, and I also don't have a good answer for that questions, but the first think I usually think about is "I don't know...Finnish people are so unique (strange?), but so nice". Now, I'm really happy that I found a "Finnish connection" here in Paris :) Cheers!
From Blog: Why Finland?
25th February 2009

I loved it
Hi! I loved reading your article, I have never been to Finland, though I have a finnish friend who falls in your category of crazy =) I definitely have to go... It was very pleasant to read this
From Blog: Why Finland?
13th April 2009

Thanks
Hey, was reading through your Finland-memoirs, great fun, thanks! But it did make me sad that I couldn't spend more time with you that year (being "inhumanely busy":D. I have to correct, though, that I wasn't president of the whole law society, just a smaller branch and some major happenings). But I'm so glad you had fun and many great experiences! So now that I actually have a normal work rythm and VACATIONS (!), it would be great to see you in Australia sometime in 2010 when you get back there. Have fun in on-going travels! Be safe! Greets, Eeva
From Blog: Why Finland?
1st May 2009

My home country
Stumbled on your article and absolutely loved it. I left Tampere as a child in 58 and have not been back but your delightful description has truly inspired me/. The girls look just like my daughter. I must come back to my roots for a homecoming. Thank you
From Blog: Why Finland?
2nd July 2009

Why Finland? women, doh!
Why Finland? Obviously because of the women!! happy travels justin! im enjoyin perth for now! :-)
From Blog: Why Finland?
12th July 2009

nice one!
Truly luv the details..
From Blog: Why Finland?
4th October 2009

I guess this is a bit late, but I loved reading this! I am a hopeful to exchange to Finland next year and I'm just so excited! Like, Finland is just one of those countries that.. well, you aren't sure why you love it but you /just do/. And so I hope I end up loving Finland just as much if not more than I do now. Thanks for writing this!
From Blog: Why Finland?
14th January 2010

What an exceptional article!
I loved your article. I think this was the first time I ever read such an long articly here form the start to the end, every word. Agree on most of the things but hey, finns ain't that bad with alcohol, right? right? Oh, I need a drink.
From Blog: Why Finland?
21st January 2010

Awesome!!
Hey I read this and wanted to tell you that I've also become interested in Finland! I was a FES in Italy and meta Finnish girl who became one of my best friends! Awesome language as well!! Thanks!!~
From Blog: Why Finland?
11th February 2010

i m her
i like this contry because it have nice girls and snaw
From Blog: Why Finland?
9th May 2010

Yay :)
Always nice to read about someone liking finland :D come to Pohjanmaa next time :D
From Blog: Why Finland?
29th May 2010

did u visit hanko its a very beautiful place in the summer
From Blog: Why Finland?
6th June 2010

Great article. I loved it. Very informative. I've wanted to visit Finland ever since a Finnish exchange student moved into our neighborhood in 1979. I was 19, she was almost 17. I suddenly became very interested in Finland. Her name was Liisi. I think of her often. Thanks again for the excellent article. I'm going to read it again.
From Blog: Why Finland?
10th June 2010

Wow
Thank you so much for this text! I'm actually going to study in Jyväskylä for 4 years, starting this August and you just so sum up my reasons to do so. (Though not every single one applies to me - living in the German Alps, snow is not something that unusual actually for example ;D) I hope you don't mind me linking this page to my own blog - I'm having my share of "Why Finland?" questions here too ;) Anyway, thanks for a great read and greats from Bavaria!
From Blog: Why Finland?
20th June 2010

i am ianna from philippines, and i am planning to travel finland my first trip ever this july 16th. i just hope finnish embassy will give me visa or my dream vacation is torn apart!lol i am planning to go to sauna and butt naked that is so awesome and jump out the lake'
From Blog: Why Finland?
23rd June 2010

Thats... so true.
That was a great article, i gotta say. I'm from Turku myself, and it was much fun reading this. I noticed specially the hockey field in that picture. I go there every year! Maybe we met, who knows... Good to hear that we finnish girls have a good reputation ;)
From Blog: Why Finland?
4th July 2010

suomi
I love finland is very beautifil.
From Blog: Why Finland?
14th October 2010

yes i was in finland 2 8 days and was for me realy like (hell)i see it only racist femenism and sexism and 0 culture..finland is mental hospital lol
From Blog: Why Finland?
5th February 2011
Turun Tuomiokirkko

Great picture!
From Blog: Why Finland?
27th May 2011

Noonoonoo, got some parts wrong!
I don't agree we being quiet, it's very common amongst old people but the young are different! You should have spent more time partying in Helsinki, or attended an afterlarp sauna! That I could add to your list of things you can do in Finland, the community of larpers in Finland is significant and totally the strangest thing you've ever tried would be taking part in a Finnish larp.=)
From Blog: Why Finland?
2nd June 2011

:D
Hi:) Amazing text:) What you wrote is so true and exacly what I think. Last year I've been an exchange student in Joensuu but I also travelled around Finland a lot. That year was the best time of my life! I have amazing memories... people, sauna, ice-swimming, snow fights, biking to Uni in -28 degress, beautiful landscapes (and Lapland!), tasty glogi and horrible salmiakki and many other. I still miss EVERYTHING a lot! I also don't know why I decided go to Finland but that was the best decision ever! Greetings:)
From Blog: Why Finland?
21st July 2011

Amazing
Nice piece! couldn't agree more with your piece.I have been living in Lapland for the past two years and its a unique experience to live and experience Finland,amazing!
From Blog: Why Finland?
6th October 2011

World Wife Throwing Championships
Great story! But I think he mixed world wife carrying championships and rubber boot throwing :D
From Blog: Why Finland?
12th October 2011

Thank you!
Just stumbeled over this- read it all. And to the tones Aki Sirkesalo I just could not help to shed a tear of joy! I\'m born and lives in Sweden but with heritage from Finland. Was there 2 times this summer (unfortunally just a cruise and day trip in Helsinki each time ; ) Could not agree with you further! It\'s truly a great country and amazing people. We have quite a lot of finns here. Anyhow, fantastic blog and I wish you the best of luck!
From Blog: Why Finland?
4th January 2012

Thank you for your lovely review. I'm going to Finland in April and this blog made a lot of things clear to me, thank you.
From Blog: Why Finland?
12th January 2012

Your writing felt like personal compliment
It was so nice writing bout us and our country :) And true. You will never know Finland if you just see Helsinki, you have to go deeper. Just like finnish people. And yes, even when we hate the neighbours, we are WE when someone says something nice bout finland ;) Strange people we are.
From Blog: Why Finland?
6th May 2012

Rauma - a year on
Hei! My partner & I came to Rauma, Finland (from England) practically a year ago now, with my partners work, & we don't ever want to go home! (both mid to late 40's, but rock orientated, & totally young at heart!) Finland is a place you would never think of coming to, but once here, you don't want to leave... reminds me of cornwall, when I lived there in the 70's... but more honest... Bikes are left everywhere without chains, flower pots on doorstops - in the middle of town, christmas trees just left in the middle of the town square to be sold the next day... The people are especially friendly in the pubs here, & love to practice their english on you... to the extent that a year on, I think I have a finnish vocabulary I could count on two hands... which I am very ashamed to admit! We have about 4 different sets of visitors coming from britain in the next few months, & I'm hoping they all love it as much as we do... keeping my fingers crossed we're going to be here for quite some time yet!
From Blog: Why Finland?

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