One of the greatest joys of studying abroad is being able to travel to the near countries surrounding your (already) foreign country. If you study in Europe you can take trains, ferries, and/or planes to go to the other numerous European Union countries. Same goes for studying anywhere in the world. It gives you a chance to expand your experience and compare even more places and learn even more about your very own culture and 'home-territory.'
Well I am having that very kind of experience, I chose to see a close friend in Helsinki, Finland. May I say first, the airplane tickets were next to nothing, a big selling point in my eyes! My friend is Turkish, and he has really shown his culture abroad in Finland by offering his home, his food, and his transportation. Something that I noticed about culture and social behaviors, is that no matter where you go, you will always be/show your roots from where you grew up. Its also amazing thinking about the people that want to completely and fully immerse themselves into a culture and try to change themselves. What these individuals don't know is that they will become more open-minded and diverse in thinking, but they will never fully change. Culture and behaviors are ingrained in people, and it could take 10's of years to chisel/change them, and yet still never fully.
Anyways, I left my house at 4:30AM to catch the Havas(an airport shuttle bus) at 5AM. My flight was at 7AM, so I arrived at the airport at 6AM with plenty of time to spare, given that the Izmir airport is fast and has a very organized layout. I arrived in Helsinki at 1PM after having a layover in Istanbul. My first thought, and you can laugh if you want, but I thought, "Why can't I land somewhere, where everyone speaks English." I feel sometimes like I will never be in a country where I can understand everyone.
Luckily though, Finnish people are one of the most intelligent individuals around the globe. They all know english, very well! From what I have learned from talking to friends and touring, Finnish people are safe, friendly, read A LOT, and know how to be prepared for snow! :P After walking around, I realized WOW, this place is creepily safe, for instance, I passed the "white house" of the Finnish president(woman), and there were no guards to be seen, anywhere! I asked my friend why there were no guards, I mean this is their president we are talking about, and he said 'this is Finland, its safe, there are no worries of that sort.'
Another fact that could cause this 'no worry' philosophy, is that in Finland there are no social classes. While walking around at a restaurant, a super market, an office building, a bus driver; they all make an average of 2,500 euros ($3,500) a month. There are no homeless, because the government will pay anyone without jobs or homes 900 euros until the individual can pick themselves back up.On top of this, universal healthcare, something America is currently aiming for, at least the progressive ones.
Helsinki has one of the best transportation systems in the E.U. which provides for reliable and fast moving between spots. In fact outside the house I'm living is next to a train station, so in the morning I can just walk out get on the train within 9 minutes and be off to my adventures. In comparison to Turkey, the traffic in Finland and America is much more quieter and planned. For instance, as a past experiment, I sat in a few cafes and counted the seconds between car horns; average being, 14-16 seconds. In Helsinki, like America, I hardly, if ever, hear car horns.
A few things I have seen was a huge "white church," it is absolutely gorgeous, and peaceful to sit inside. I also took note of Helsinki University, a university I was interested in when selecting a study abroad program. There was also the Russian Catholic church, built in 1854. It looks a little mysterious from the outside. It was also the first and only church in the world that doubled as a religious building and a lighthouse for the bay of Helsinki. I also found out that below the ground is like another city of shops, cafes, metros, and walking paths all over. This proves and shows how well and organized the city planning was carried out.
Over all I have enjoyed my first week here, I plan on writing more on this winter wonderland. In the mean time, I just bought tickets to travel to Estonia, where the architecture is lively and the population is 1.5 million. After a couple of days there, we will be in Finland on Sunday, and possibly think about going to Sweden! Oh the joys and wonders of discovering the new places in this place we call "Our World."