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Future Leaders 2018 -blogi
A Truly Remarkable Place (Claire)
There’s only one word to describe my experience thus far in the beautiful country of Finland – astonishing. Whether it’s getting lost wandering through it’s vast forests on my bicycle, swimming in lakes or paddleboarding, and roaming the market alone or with friends, I’ve had a fantastic experience every second I’ve been here.
In my first week, I stayed with a wonderful host family and was shown much of Helsinki as well as their Lutheran customs. Every morning since July 3 I’ve awoken with the sudden urge to run, and have kickstarted my days thus far with a few miles winding through tall pine and birch trees. Many times I biked into Helsinki from my house in Vantaa.
On July 4 I met up with my host sisters’ best friend, Sanna, and a Finnish friend of hers and together we enjoyed coffee by the train station. Finland really is coffee capital of the world. On a daily basis, I’ve been consuming no less than 3 cups a day.
Next, we took the tram over to Linnanmäki, an amusement park close to downtown Helsinki. I was intrigued by its’ proximity to the downtown area, riding one ride and seeing the cathedrals, the marketplace, Esplanadi park, and the Baltic Sea was breathtaking and very different from American theme parks – inconveniently located in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by hideous concrete parking lots.
Fearing the exceptionally high prices for an all day pass, we settled for the 8 euro one ride ticket. The next part is seemingly a blur, as we somehow decided to ride the scariest roller coaster of them all – titled “Ukko”, it looms above the others in a terrifying fashion, fitting as it’s the first thing you see when you walk through the gates of Linnanmäki.
All I remember is screams and terror, but once it was over I felt on top of the world. A sudden rush of energy sent me flying off my seat and jogging in circles as I gleefully gasped for breath. Looking over, I noticed Sanna was crying, but they were clearly tears of laughter!
She told me I had been screaming curses practically the entire ride (which I’ll leave unrepeated for your sake and mine) and she couldn’t help but double-over in laughter at my cowardice. Sanna’s response says something about Finnish character – often serious and anti-social with strangers but in reality many are very funny, charismatic people.
After the incident at Linnanmäki, we hit up a great Mediterranean restaurant, Fafa’s, for lunch. Although Finland is almost all white, there is some cultural influence in the Helsinki area mainly from Middle Eastern and West African countries.
In my second host family, I explored Lapland, the rural northern part of Finland. 11 hours drive from the city and the landscape completely changed. Rolling hills, spruce and birch trees, lakes, and reindeer as far as the eye can see. Our cabin was in the middle of the woods in a small town called Ylläs. It was peaceful and relaxing to be able to connect with nature for the week.
Many times we went for hikes around the mountains or rather, hills, as they are too small to be truly defined as mountains. The weather was fantastic, clear blue skies barely over 70 degrees Fahrenheit, with a little wind to cool us off.
We encountered many small lakes hidden in the crevices of mountains, but only my host mothers’ father was daring enough to jump in. I reached down and tested the icy cold waters, only to shake my head in shame. It’s hard to imagine their temperature in winter, if they were this cold in the summer! Much to my surprise, I’ve learned that many Finns have no fear and often break the ice to swim in the winter time.
A final great experience I had was taking some members of my host family out in a row boat. We did this on two occasions, once at my sisters’ camp and another on a beautiful lake in Lapland. As a rower, I’ve missed the splash of the waves against my face, blissfully looking across a sea of sparkle. This moment reminded me of my adventures on the Potomac River back in DC. But I have had little time to be homesick – my experience here has been fascinating and one I will never forget.
Text and pictures: Claire Wigglesworth