Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Helsinki: Small town girl in a big city

I’ve been here over two weeks and I still feel like I´m in some kind of dream that sooner or later I will wake up from. Finland is beautiful and such a peaceful, quiet place even though it’s a capitol city. There is such a great focus on recycling and the environment and it has done wonders on keeping the country so clean. It feels like I am on a vacation but now that I have had a week of classes I am reorienting my focus back to school and classes. 

Upon arriving, like I had predicted I spent a lot of time with my third cousin? Tarja and her husband Antti. Her grandma and mine were cousins so that is my best guess, but family is family. They have been extremely nice and welcoming. She tried to show me how to navigate around the city but as it may have sounded cliché I was still in shock at the size of the city that I was supposed to know my way around (most people say this isn’t big compared to some places though). And jet lag is a real thing; but I stayed up as late as I could and then slept for 14 hours, crazy. The next day Tarja and her husband took me to a café which they do every Sunday from 9 to 12 and I plan on making it a habit to join them. They have let me borrow so many things and I am so grateful because it is cold! I mean really cold. Cold enough that when I walked to class one day my snot froze in my nose! They have let me borrow a down-feather jacket though and some nice gloves until I get my care package from home.  

I also spent the Finnish holiday on January 6th at my cousin Ulla´s house. She is my mother’s age and lives in Espoo, which is a region of Helsinki. Her son picked me up because I am still new to public transportation and cannot read anything in Finnish so it can be difficult. The public transportation here is excellent though. Many people do not have cars because there are buses, metros, subways and trains. I currently walk to class and it takes me 20 to 30 minutes but I don’t mind and have found routes that keep me inside through the underground malls for a good bit of the walk.  

Another thing I should note about Helsinki, and Finland in general, is that it is expensive. Everything from food, clothes, home things and alcohol is more expensive. It is especially expensive for those of us outside the EU because 1 euro is about $1.40 America dollars. Luckily I had great orientation tutors who made it a point to show us where we could get what we needed cheaper. This also inspired a group of us who live in the exchange student housing of Domus Academica (which I found out is the best place to live and a major party spot) to go to Tallinn, Estonia this past weekend. 24 of us took a cruise ship two hours across the Baltic Sea to see the old historic town, which is their capitol, and stock up on cheaper goods. It seems to be a right of passage as an exchange student to take a boat to Tallinn and stock up on as much alcohol as you can carry. It was quite a sight to see so many people, mostly native Finns, with tote bags and pull-alongs to carry it back. This brings up this issue of Finland as a state controlling the price of alcohol, as well as many other things which is different from the American economy being controlled by the market. Just to give you an idea a beer here is normally 5 euros at a bar and 2.5 euros in a grocery store. That’s $7 and $3.5 for one drink! Now you can see why everyone goes to Estonia to stock up.

Before the trip to Estonia, and during it, I have been able to meet some amazing people from all over the world. I have met one other American but I don’t really see her. I spend a lot of time with a girl Maria, who like me is Finnish but doesn’t speak it. She speaks Swedish because she lives on the Island of Åland, which is owned by Finland but because of the historical Swedish ownership many places in Finland almost homogenically speak Swedish. It is the second national language. I also have had great conversations with a Political Science major from the Netherlands and have hung out a lot with a group of girls from Canada, a girl and guy from two different areas in the UK and eat lunch many times with a guy from Turkmenistan.
I am trying not to spend all of my time with exchange students but we have become a little family that looks after each other when we go out or need help daily. We have a common room called Ahalla in our building and it has become a gathering place that lets you meet all different people and cultures. To meet more Finnish natives I am enrolling as a language center assistant now in which I will tutor Finnish students trying to learn English for credit. I am hoping this improves my Finnish in return. I have also spent time with a Finn who invited me to get involved with their LGBQ organization. And today I applied for an internship with Finland Future Research Center so I’m praying something works out. I want to learn as much Finnish culture as I can.

I am off to meet more family this weekend. I will go to another part of Espoo to spend time with family on my grandpa’s side. I meet them at the airport when I arrived but we have still been using google translate to communicate so it will be a great day! 

Love from Helsinki <3

Here are some pictures, you can find me on facebook for more.


  1. Danie!

    This place looks so beautiful! I'm glad you are having such a good time! That is so crazy about the prices of everything and how expensive they are compared to here at home. The trip on the cruise ship sounded like it was a great experience though :) What is your favorite thing there so far?

    Love and miss you! And stay safe <3

    1. Hey!
      Ya the ship was really cool. My favorite thing so far was last weekend when I spent the evening at my second cousin Ulla's house, (although I call her my aunt because shes my mom's age) we made Chinese dumplings because her son is married to a Chinese girl. Then we compared music and listened to female Finnish singers she said I should start listening to. After that she left me borrow some clothes for an 80's party back at my apartment area. It was a wonderful evening. I miss you and the team, keep working hard!

      <3 Danie

  2. Daniel,
    I am glad you are having a good time! I was curious: How do you think things would be different if you didn't have the "comfort of family" with you? Of course, as you said, they aren't very closely related, but family is family and it must add some element of closeness that some students could struggle with if they found themselves in a foreign place without it (I know I would!) I hope you learn a lot about your roots while there!

    1. Hi Lindsey,

      Yes, I am very lucky to have them here. If I didn't have them I think I would have been completely lost when I got here. I have never been in a big city and even finding my way to my apartment would have been a challenge. They put me on my feet. Having the comfort of my family has not prevented all challenges though, I have still have had moments of struggle; but they are what is really going to make this time special. I will admit that at home I always have the comfort of someone always being there for me and I came here to push myself out of that.

      Before coming here I struggled with maps and now I am so much better! I wish anyone going to a place with no connections the best of luck because I am learning to be on my own but as you said can still fall back on my family, although I try not too. They are the link to my roots though, and so when I am with them I enjoy hearing stories of my grandparents and mom. I also really like hearing the language because when I am in my apartment I am surrounded by exchange students. I hope I answered your question, it was a very good one!

      Love from Helsinki,