Minun elämä Suomessa – My life in Finland

The story of my Finland-experience. By Rebecca Perl. 


My name is Rebecca, and I am an Erasmus-Student spending the Semester in Helsinki, Finland. I come from Austria, where I live and study in Vienna. Just recently, a friend asked me to write about my Finland-Experience – a request I gladly offered to meet! To do so though, I have to start a bit earlier than the day I finally arrived in Helsinki…

Sibelius Monument
Sibelius Monument

When I applied for Erasmus, I didn’t really care where I would end up, as long as it was in Scandinavia. For various reasons, mostly because of their immensely good education system, which I wanted to experience first hand. But also, because these countries wouldn’t be on my Top 10-list of holiday destinations – at least up till then, that is. So I applied for all available cities in a Scandinavian country (meaning in this case Helsinki, Oslo and Copenhagen), with no special preference for any of them. When I finally got the eMail confirming my place at the University of Helsinki, my emotional state started to switch rapidly between two very distinct emotional states: joy on the one hand – in my mind I was jumping around, screaming “yeeeeeeeesss!! I’m going to explore the wooooorld!”, dancing like crazy. And fear – not so much of being away for half a year, but rather because of the cold. I knew I would be going in January (since going for the summer-term would not have worked with my exams), and, being a person that likes to prepare and organize stuff, I had of course already acquired information on the mean temperature of a Finnish winter. And knowing this ridiculously low value, my brain was like “You’re gonna die! You’re gonna freeze to death!”

My Mom set my mind straight though. She reminded me of Christmas and that for this occasion I’d sure get enough warm clothes to survive even a Finnish winter. And so the matter was settled, the forms were filled, and some time later the suitcases were packed. Finally the big day arrived and my family waved me goodbye at the airport. It was actually only until the plane took off that it struck me: I wouldn’t come home for half a year now!

About six hours later (including the time-difference) I arrived on Helsingin Lentoasema. It was a quite stormy day, snow was being blown over the landing strips…when I saw a truck, with a container stacked to the top with a huge pile of snow all I could think was “wow. This pile of snow is probably more snow then we had at home over the whole winter…” But there was no time to linger with that thought, I had to get off the plane, find my suitcases, and then find a way to get to the address I should pick my keys up. Which was surprisingly easy, because the airport people were very friendly, they

even printed the bus-schedule for me… and another 45 Minutes later I got off the tram at Töölönlahden Puisto – and was stunned. I just happened to stumble into one of those magical moments, where everything is just perfect: behind me was the park…trees, seemingly centuries-old, dancing slowly in the wind. The lake in the distance, that was peeking through the spaces between the trunks. And the thick layer of snow that covered everything, muffling all noises, creating this almost surreal atmosphere…and as if this wasn’t already perfect enough, the sun broke through the clouds and covered everything in its golden light while perfect snowflakes (exactly like the ones Elsa creates in Frozen) rained from the sky.

And thus, my love for Helsinki was born.

Also, when I struggled through 30cm of snow with my two huge suitcases (retrospectively I wouldn’t have needed this much stuff, but well…) I realized that the stereotype of Finnish people being very similar to the “grumpy Viennese” (“wiener Grantler”) was not at all true! People helped me to cross the street, to get up/down stairs, to get on/off trams…one guy even carried one of my suitcases for a while.

Of course it still took me a while to find my new home – but because of all this help a lot shorter that it would have alone. Haha. That moment when I tried to open my door – and found out only after five minutes that locks in Finland open the other way than in Austria…

The next few months were bliss. I mean – the cold was COLD! I have had -15°C, even -17°C. But -25°C…that was really something else. Still, it was not as bad as I had expected it. Of course, I made the mistake once to join a city walking tour at that temperature with only one pair of socks (which was a really bad mistake), but other than that, even the two (for me) really cold weeks were bearable. I am actually quite proud to have survived this so well!

But university was great. I had the possibility to work with a real company. Counsel them. Which would have been close to impossible in Vienna. I had hours of SPSS-tutoring. I had a Professor, who made it how personal task to do everything possible to make his course as likeable as possible. I had a Professor from Italy, with whom I had discussions of whether architects have a right to say they could shape or even improve a city with their work – or if they could call it art. And altogether I had the feeling there was so much potential for flexibility, individuality in all courses…this was amazing to me.

But what made this experience most outstanding to me, were the people I met. The adventures I was allowed to experience. The things I was able to see. The most stunning of these being the Aurora Borealis. Which was actually an accident – but a happy one in this case! The story is this: together with some friends I joined an ESN-trip to Northern Lapland. Our hostel was close to Inari, so REALLY up north. And of course also in said night we went out, dressed up in skiing-underwear,

snow-pants, pullovers and winter-jackets to hunt the Northern Lights. In vain though. Slightly disappointed we went back home, to have a party with the other people we were sharing the common room. At one point some of us went out to have a cigarette – and all of a sudden we saw them: greenish ghost-lights in the sky! We just rushed in, took shoes, jackets and cameras, and ran out again, down to the lake, our shoes not properly closed, our jackets open. And then we were lucky enough, to witness the Aurora Borealis spanning the whole sky and dancing above it for 45 minutes. Well, Aurora even stayed longer, but because of our rushed departure we were pretty frozen already. Another one of these magical moments. Feeling so small compared to the miracle of nature. Pure perfection.

Another perfect moment – or rather a series of almost perfect moments – was Vappu and the beginning of spring. Because from on day to the other, the rain stopped. The clouds vanished. The grass was green. The trees and bushes and flowers bloomed. And everything was drenched by golden sunlight. And it was so warm! Warm enough to have picknicks. To have barbeques. To walk barefoot. To dip your feet into the ocean. After a (compared to what I’m used to) long winter, I was soaking the warmth and the sunlight. All of a sudden, everything seemed so pulsing with life.

This is what is happening at the very moment. The last two weeks were amazing. Only three more weeks to go. Naturally I am spending all my free time with my new found friends. I have met so many amazing people during the last few months. They are, what meant most to me in the last five months. And since I don’t know yet if an when I’ll see them again, I cherish every minute we can spent together. Of course, I am looking forward to seeing my friends and family again, there’s no doubt about that. But at the same time, I don’t want to leave. Yet. But who knows…maybe I’ll be back.

Picknick at Suomenlinna
Picknick at Suomenlinna