The Adventure Begins!

img_3515Friends, neighbors, countrymen, citizens of every land, welcome to this first installment of my travel blog!

If you don’t know me already…hi! My name is Jonah and I’m a university student from the US studying abroad in Helsinki, Finland. I have an exhaustive bio in the right sidebar or on the “About Me” page, so I won’t bore you here with all my personal details (but do check those out)!

Once again, I want to extend a very warm welcome to my blog, The Finn Journalist.

Yes, I think we have a question in the back? Ah, you’re wondering about the name. Shouldn’t it be the Finnish Journalist? No, wait, that wouldn’t make any sense either, since I’m not Finnish. The name is something of an inside joke that came about thanks to my co-anchor Dan Stewart on our last TV show of last semester:

My journey to the University of Helsinki (helsingin yliopisto) was a long one, in both a figurative and literal sense. Helsinki is approximately 5,000 miles away from where I live in central Missouri, representing an eight hour time difference.

I bade my family farewell around 11 a.m. on Jan. 4 as I stepped through the airport security. Although it was pretty tough at the time knowing that I wouldn’t be home until the summer, I was confident that I was doing the right thing, and I knew my family and friends would be cheering me on from across the pond. I continued through the airport on my own, stepping out of my comfort zone and into an adventure.

I was originally scheduled to fly from St. Louis to Newark (NJ), then from Newark to Stockholm, and finally from Stockholm to Helsinki. The weather had other ideas, with snowfall beginning to blanket the east coast and thick, grey clouds in every direction. Looking back, I was very lucky that the weather wasn’t as bad as it could have been. As it was, I had to be rerouted through Washington D.C. and Frankfurt, Germany, which meant tighter connections. Luckily, after a refreshing sprint through Washington-Dulles, I made it to my connecting flight right on time.

By the time I finally landed at the Helsinki airport (about 22 hours after my journey began) and collected my luggage, I was acutely aware that I was arriving much later than expected. I had a specific window of time during the day when I was supposed to pick up the keys to my apartment, and if I didn’t make it, I would have to find a hotel or a hostel until tomorrow. And although I had plenty of maps and printed directions at my disposal, navigating in a strange city – especially one where you can’t understand any road signs – is never an easy task. (Finland has two official languages, Finnish and Swedish, so most signs are written in both. Of course, that didn’t do me much good at that point.) Much to my relief, some kind Finns were happy to help me out, and a short bus ride later I was in line to pick up my keys from the housing office, with barely a minute to spare. The relief I felt when I finally opened the door to my room in the Domus Academica building was pretty much inexpressible.

After a glorious night of contented sleep, I was more than ready to explore my surroundings. I spent my first few days in Finland in full tourist mode, photographing and marveling at pretty much everything I encountered.

Religion is a huge part of the history and culture of Helsinki. I’ve visited many churches and religious places so far, both old and new. Finland’s population is about 80% Lutheran, but the diversity is still extraordinary. Here’s a small taste of what I’ve seen in terms of churches:

Helsinki is unlike any city I have ever been in. It’s clear to me why it’s one of the most livable cities in the world, according to statistics; despite the fact that it is pretty chilly, the people are helpful, there’s plenty of nice places to eat, shop, and enjoy the local culture, and it’s relatively easy to get around. On top of that, nearly everyone I’ve spoken to has spoken good English, which is great for me, but that didn’t stop me from enrolling in a Basic Swedish course to help me connect with the locals even more!

The public transport in Helsinki is outstanding. The green trams you see in the video below are my new favorite way to travel in the city, and are used by 200,000 travelerseach day. With a student travel card, you can hop on and off the trams as much as you like, and they’ll whisk you away to every corner of the city. In addition to the trams, there’s also the choice to take the subway (Metro) or hop on one of the many buses that barrel along Helsinki’s snow or slush-covered streets. You can always walk too, of course. I live relatively close to campus- about 20 minutes walk. Thanks to the public transport and the overall design of the city, the streets are bustling, but certainly not crowded.

It seems as though most Finns go about their business without much fuss, and are extremely unlikely to talk to or interact with strangers. From what I can tell, they are far from unfriendly- when spoken to every Finn I’ve encountered has been very warm and helpful- but they are definitely not an outgoing people.

The university itself is, from the little I have seen so far, beyond impressive. I think first I should clarify some things that you may not know. One, college in Finland is free, and if you get a scholarship, your housing and meals can also cost you nothing. Also, the overwhelming majority of textbooks for courses are available at the library, and therefore free. A student ID will not only get you 50% off on your rates for travel and public transport, but innumerable other discounts as well, all over the country. The University of Helsinki is ranked in the top 80 universities in the world. Need I go on?

print-logo

I think I will. The university itself is huge, serving about 35,000 students, and thus is spread out not only in multiple areas of Helsinki but also various locations all over Finland. The specific school I was accepted to to study journalism is called the Swedish School of Social Science, or Soc&kom (pr: “sossi-kohm”). I’m on the City Center Campus, which I think is definitely the one you want to be on. After all, there’s tons to do in the city, and the university buildings are intertwined with some of Helsinki’s biggest attractions. If I get bored in my class about political empowerment in Eastern Europe (unlikely), I can always admire the view of the famous cathedral, right outside the window.

WP_000042

After our orientation sessions for new international students, a group of new friends and I went out and experienced Helsinki’s Lux Festival, a festival of light-based art installations and shows to celebrate the university’s 375th anniversary. It included a fire dancing show on the steps of the cathedral.

The University of Helsinki is significantly older than the very country I left a few weeks ago. It was a strange thought, but one that made me all the more excited for what was to come. I was honored to be at the Lux Festival to celebrate this community that I had just recently become a part of.

I’ve already had my first week of classes, but that’s a story for next time! There’s plenty more I’m sure (or at least hoping) that you’re dying to know, all of which will be coming soon.

Thank you for supporting me throughout this journey! I couldn’t be happier to be here in Helsinki, and I couldn’t be more excited about what’s to come. See you next time! Näkemiin!