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.
I moved because my husband found a job here. I knew that finding a job myself would be difficult, so I immediately threw myself wholeheartedly into learning the language--a challenging task that I’m still pursuing today. Two things really struck me as I began the journey of setting up my life in a new country, waiting around in unfamiliar offices and standing in line for valuable documents that would grant access to essential services. One was the efficiency of the system, the sheer lack of unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape. The other was the sincere and genuine desire to help immigrants and expats integrate into Finnish culture.The government provides financial support, language classes and access to free healthcare? I asked. This was my first time living in a welfare state and needless to say, I was overcome.
There are many things I appreciate about Finland. Some of these will probably seem tiny and inconsequential to other people. Things like faucets with warm water, reliable electricity and functioning pedestrian crossings. These are things that I still don’t take for granted, even after two and half years, because they were simply not available in my home country of India. These are things that make me feel secure and content, like a safety net of privilege I only hope I deserve.
But these are only a miniscule part of the overall security that Finland offers. India is a patriarchy, and like all patriarchies it has never been a safe place for women. While I instinctually still cringe at the idea of walking alone on a dark, deserted street in the middle of the night, I know that in Finland I have the freedom to do so without fear. This idea is so liberating that it’s intoxicating. As the first country in the world to allow women into the parliament (and the third to allow women to vote), Finland prides itself on the strides it has made in women’s equality, and I feel proud to live in a country where equality is considered a way of life.
I love how people inherently trust each other here. How they can just leave valuable things like fancy bicycle pumps out in the street, never once thinking that someone might steal it. And no one steals it. It’s amazing that I can carelessly forget my phone in a public place and get it back within a day with almost no hassle. I will always remember that delightful moment when I lost one of my gloves on a walk and then discovered that some stranger had very considerately draped it across a nearby branch for me to find the next day. Finnish people are not known for being social, but they will go out of their way to help you if you need it. I have gotten lost in Helsinki on many occasions and every time, have found people ready and willing to help me find my way home. These are things that I believe set Finland apart. It’s not just the amenities, it’s these small but meaningful gestures that make it such a safe, pleasant and overall wonderful place to live.
Tahira Sequeira is a content writer/editor from India and has lived in Finland for two and a half years.