When I told my friends in Canada that I would be moving to Finland to start a master's degree, I received a lot of funny reactions. People were worried that Finland might be a less developed nation that the quality of education would not be as good, and there was a fair amount of concern that the entire population of Finland is about the same as Toronto's metropolitan area.
This wasn't the first time that I had announced that I would be moving outside of Canada. However, when I was 11, I didn't yet have any definite plans in place but I knew that one day, something would fall into place and I would go. I met my Finnish boyfriend through mutual friends on a trip to Tallinn in 2012, and after 2-and-a-half years of an absurdly long distance relationship, I began a master's degree this September that is a perfect fit for my career goals. Finland was not on the original list of countries that I would consider moving to, but after a few trips here I decided that it was worth a try.
Helsinki is an amazing place to live. I love the separated bike lanes, the fact that there are parks everywhere, and you're never far from the water. Transit is efficient and reliable on occasions when walking is not possible, and the city feels coolly elegant but still welcoming. Those cobblestones, though.
To live in Finland is to experience a set of small miracles every day. I never anticipated that as a foreigner I would be treated well, but somehow everyone that I meet is friendly and helpful and has a sincere smile to share. I am always amazed at how well equipped people are to do their job, and that most seem happy to be at work. I was surprised that all of my questions about my travel card were answered when I went to the transit office. When I had confusion about courses at the university, I was directed to someone who could help me answer my question. When I need to know if an unlabelled food item in the school cafeteria contains an allergen, cafeteria workers have the answer. This is not the type of experience you would expect in most countries.
Finnish people are genuine in a way that I haven't seen in many other cultures. Many foreigners are uncomfortable with how quiet Finnish people are, but I think it's wonderful and misunderstood. Despite being a chatty person, I enjoy the fact that when I am interacting with others in Finland, I only have to speak the words that are necessary to complete the task at hand. Sometimes when I am doing "official things" I will make small talk, or someone will make a little joke and smile, but it's not mandatory to make a connection with everyone all the time and so when you do make a connection it is more meaningful. This attitude seems to extend to social situations, where I never feel the pressure to have extended polite conversations with someone if I don't connect with them.
My experiences speak to two values, which I believe I share with Finns: respectful and equal treatment of others, and empowering individuals to solve problems. What I feel in Finland is that I am actually welcome here, and that I am not particularly a nuisance. It's a wonderful place to live.