As my flight soared over the wintry landscape of Finland, I was struck with a mixture of emotions. The sight of snow-covered pine trees was both majestic and eerie, making me wonder if my new life in this country would be as daunting as the icy terrain below. As a journalist, I had left behind a familiar world in India to embrace a new chapter in a land of sub-zero temperatures and limited daylight, aware about the struggles that international talents face in finding employment here.
The sayings about Finland's open and equal society have always sounded a bit cliché. But the victory in the "societal happiness" competition went beyond my understanding even after the first year spent in Finland. Yes, of course, people in Finland are open to talk, incredibly frank and direct in conversation. They acknowledge differences with great respect, but the happiest people in the world? With only a few hours of light in winter? With all the seriousness and distance in social relations?
Three years have passed since I arrived in Finland and it is a good time to sum up and reflect on my experiences here. Each person faces challenges and obstacles in a new environment because we are not used to changes as it causes stress and discomfort. I was not an exception though. I had lived in different countries prior to Finland. The term ”culture shock” was something familiar to me. At the same time, I cannot say that my adjustment in Finland was progressing fast and smoothly.
I've had a soft spot for Finland since I first heard its rock music. It seems wild to my English eyes, with its endless forests, dark Winters and enigmatic predators.
I've needed some time out recently, so - when my cousin introduced me to a church in Espoo, and they invited me over for five weeks - it was impossible to turn down. I worked there in exchange for a place to stay, daily essentials and time to reflect.
When I came to Finland, I had a ToDo list in my mind that I wanted to learn here. And one of them was riding a bicycle.
I used to ride one while growing up, with training wheels attached to it. Everyone thought that I would eventually find my balance and manage without that support. I did not. As in life, I should carry over the plan when I could not succeed. I did not try hard enough.
I am in Finland for the year working as a researcher at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies at the University of Helsinki. Last summer, back home in Canada, I downloaded an app so I could learn some basic Finnish phrases. It must have been a strange sight for my neighbors to see me gardening with my headphones on while pronouncing Finnish words and phrases out loud—especially since the language sounds so foreign.
JUST like other immigrants, I came to Finland with exciting dreams and great hopes. But unlike other immigrants, I arrived in Finland with a huge bucket-list of things to do that I was not able to do back in my country.
During my childhood or teens, I never had a chance to cycle.
I felt like I had fled a burning house when I boarded the plane to Helsinki. I left my job working for a county elections office preparing for the upcoming November presidential general election there, which looks more and more like it will result in disastrous conflict at the hands of Donald Trump, who will cling to power by any means possible. Once I connected to WiFi during a Frankfurt layover, a message from my mother popped up on my phone: “only 8 percent contained.”
When I first stepped out of the airport at Vanta I was greeted by a blast of chilly air accompanied by the sweet, unfamiliar scent of pine trees. It was the peak of winter and it was unlike anything I had experienced before, having come from a place where temperatures reach 35 degrees celsius even in winter. I had been warned, but Finland did not seem like the freezing, icy wasteland that people made it out to be. Even in the bleak, sunless landscape of late January, it seemed filled with hope and promise. That was two and a half years ago.
As summer brings a delightful fresh approach to Boston, people finally can find relief in the warmth of balmy weather after going through the harshest winter in the history. The weather is gently reminding me of my last summer in Lahti-Finland where I have been calling home for four years.