Gloomy sky, freezing weather, and depressed people were the images I had in mind of Finland before getting there. In reality, once I walked out of the terminal to the airport's arrival hall, which seemed like a café, I was surprised to see plenty of people sitting, chatting while having coffee, and enjoying the weather.
Usually when I arrive in my home country's airport, people are welcomed with security checks. But no, not in Finland: I was welcomed with this lovely, positive vibe. After I had picked up my luggage, I found my friend there waiting for me. He helped me with the luggage and as we were walking out of the airport, I said, "Wait, what about the luggage?"
He said, "What about the luggage?"
I said, "No security check?"
He laughed and said, "No, welcome to Finland."
I remember how I was looking at the trees, buildings, houses, and people who were walking their dogs from the taxi's window in fascination. My friend, who like me was an Egyptian studying at the University of Helsinki, reminded me to take off my shoes by the door when I arrived at my shared apartment student housing and when I visit any Finn's home. I must admit, in the beginning I forgot a couple of times. However, it has become a habit.
I arrived in August for an intensive Finnish course at the University of Helsinki, before starting my academic year as a master's degree student in Media and Global Communication. During this month, I had the opportunity to enjoy the lovely weather (it got scarily rainy, but still), witness how aggressive seagulls are in stealing people's ice cream, and learn some basic Finnish. The Finnish language is in many ways one of the most exquisite yet challenging languages I have encountered, especially in the way it sounds. I also had to furnish my empty student housing room, which I thought was strange. Here came the handy idea of the second hand shops that my friend told me about, where I found all basic pieces of furniture for a very low cost. This has made the idea of furnishing a room from being a total nightmare to a piece of cake.
When I started my academic year in September, I was very blessed to have made such great friends who come from different countries. We experienced many fun excursions together, like sauna, which was a big no-no to me, coming from a hot country. The thought of it was ridiculous to me until I tried it, and ever since, I have joined every sauna event my friends have planned. Seeing the snow for the very first time felt like a dream: its beauty left me speechless. I still have not fulfilled my dream of making a snowman but it looks like I'll have to postpone that until next winter – speaking of which, is it spring already? I expected winter to be colder, darker, and longer.
Finns are quite reserved, yet they have always responded when I needed help in any situation, whether on the street, at university, grocery shopping, or at the bank. Some would even kindly give me minutes of their time by using their phone's GPS to tell me which direction to take. For that reason, I do not feel like a stranger in this country, and indeed Finland feels like home to me. Helsinki is a unique capital city that does not have the same characteristics as other countries' popular crowded cities. It has a unique combination of city and town features, as well as a unique authenticity in its culture, people, and language.