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So, why Finland?

May 20, 2014

A lot of time has passed since I moved here and I no longer answer the question, “Why Finland?”

So why did I come here? If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll know that I had some exchange student friends from Finland when I was in university. I also have relatives here. I am not sure how the idea came about, but I decided I would save money to come here and visit after I was done school. I did lots of odd jobs and so on to get myself here and travel for the duration of the summer.

I was serious, yet some people were skeptical. When my mom realized I really was serious, she chipped in some funds and bought me a new camera for Christmas that year.

Remember this is pre-Internet boom time and easy access, so I made an effort to learn more about Finland and read books and looked stuff up in encyclopedias. My cousin Paula gave me a book that she had purchased when she came to visit Finland in the early 1990s. (She also travelled through Europe for a bit when she finished university.) I still haven’t read it, maybe I should to see if anything written there still holds true.

In my final year of university I took a course called “Aging in a Multicultural Society” and Sudbury, Ontario is home to hundreds and hundreds of people who had moved from other parts of the world. And I thought, Finland – why not? Sudbury has the Finnish Rest Home, which caters to elderly Finnish speakers. Our professor encouraged striking up a relationship with an elderly person who was from elsewhere and that led me to Liisa Honkaranta. If she was alive today, she would be 114 years old. I’ll have to tell you more about her some other time, but she predicted that I would come here and never leave. Obviously she knew something that I did not.

When I got here in 1997 to visit, I finally felt like I found a place where I really fit in and that I could truly be myself. It took some time to come to that realization, but it came. I came back in 1998 and I stayed, so this is still the place for me.

But 17 years ago yesterday I landed on these shores, jet lagged, confused, slightly culture-shocked and homesick! The near 24-hours of daylight in Kainuu was a shock to the system. What follows are some excerpts from the travel diary I kept that summer. It’s been a long time since I pulled them out, but they’re fun to read… I was such a greenhorn! 😀

May 18, 1997: (Toronto, Ontario, Terminal 2, Gate 105) – 9:25 p.m. We’re late in leaving… I guess that is to be expected. I have a window seat – but man is it cramped in here. I have to sit like this for 10 hours (I think that is what I heard). The flight attendants are all speaking German – it is so strange to hear people speaking another language. I think the feeling that I am leaving for 3 months is starting to sink in… I am going to be in another country! Across the ocean. WOW! This is COOL!

May 19, 1997: (9400m somewhere over Europe) The flight from Toronto was good, it wasn’t as cramped as I thought it would be. It was neat to see the coming of the night over Canada and the dawn of the day over the Atlantic! The land in Germany is beautiful from the air – I took a few pictures from the air – just so I can prove I was over Europe! It was sunny in Frankfurt when we landed. (The pilot just said we would be getting to Helsinki early and it is only 9C – I didn’t bring my clothes for nothing! The clouds we are flying over right now are covering the land – so I assume that it is raining in Finland… Yuck! Can’t get away from it.

(On the flight from TO to Frankfurt) The people I was sitting beside are archaeologists and are affiliated with the U of T [University of Toronto] and they were on their way to Damascus to do some work – they were quite nice.

The Frankfurt airport is ENORMOUS! I walked around a bit after I got off my flight. We had to be put on a bus and brought out to our plane for Helsinki – I even lucked out and got a whole row of seats to myself.

I don’t think the feeling of being out of Canada has quite sunk in yet – it will when I can’t watch an NHL hockey game, the soaps, trash TV or the news… We’ll see how it is in a few days.

May 23, 1997: (Kajaani) I have been here for four days and my body still has not settled into this time zone. I may have gotten three hours of sleep (if that!)… Today I am on my way to Veteli for about 10 days to visit my relatives… I was feeling very homesick the other day – so much I was crying. I am still pretty homesick, I am (in a way) looking forward to this trip being over. I miss my family and friends and everything that is familiar to me. I hope the next 2 and half months go by very fast. I guess I am not very adventurous! Ha ha!

May 26, 1997: (Veteli) … I have found my body clock again – even if it doesn’t get dark, I’m okay now. I have slept a few good nights since I have been here – hopefully there will be many more…

… I did some exploring around Veteli today… It’s a nice little place, but not much to do unless you spend time walking or riding a bike. I feel much better now that I am here – I don’t feel so homesick like I did in Kajaani. I mentioned it yesterday (“Minulla on koti ikävä.”) and I started to cry. M’s (my cousin) parents made me call home. Mom wasn’t there, but she did call back. We talked for about half an hour. Today I am not feeling so homesick, which is good.

May 30, 1997: (Veteli) … Despite the good time I am having, I am still really homesick. I talked to my mom last Sunday and cried the whole time… She said it was understandable and that she would have been really surprised if I wasn’t homesick.

The one thing I really miss is reading. The only thing I have been reading in English is my own handwriting and some travel brochures. I really miss reading and keeping up on current events.

June 1, 1997: … I have been quite homesick and because of that I had forgotten (until last night) to focus on the idea that this trip to Finland is an education in life for me…. It is giving me much more than I could get out of school. Just thinking of that idea has eased the homesickness somewhat – that I am glad for, I think I may make it thru the summer if I keep my focus on that idea…

I still remember this moment – it changed my life.

I’ll leave it here for now. Look for another installment of travel log entries soon.

I nearly took a tumble into a river in Veteli and got covered in mud, my host was very amused!

I nearly took a tumble into a river in Veteli and got covered in mud, my host was very amused!

10 Comments leave one →
  1. May 20, 2014 11:13 am

    Reblogged this on benbrilliant.

  2. May 20, 2014 1:02 pm

    It’s so touching to read this post. Those who start a new life at a new place may have the same experiences as you did. I was one of them too 🙂

  3. May 20, 2014 10:14 pm

    Haha, my parents had the same feelings- but the other way around! They moved from Finland to America in ’95, glad to hear someone took their place 😉
    Finland is such a beautiful country.

  4. May 21, 2014 7:48 am

    Rings very true! I wasn’t so homesick but the missing things to read definitely applies (reading online just not the same as reading a good book / Sunday papers!). Looking forward to part 2! – Chloe (3 years and counting in Finland)

  5. May 21, 2014 7:58 pm

    Really enjoyed reading this. I’ve been in Finland 3 weeks & have been very homesick. But have also had a turn around recently & feel more positive & balanced again! Good to feel normal reading your posts. You obviously got through it! ; )


  1. So why Finland? II (travel log entries continued) | Life in Finland (and beyond)

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