For some reason, it never occurred to me to venture to the Nordic countries. I have been traveling in Europe well before my teenage years but not once did I think to visit Scandinavia. At least, I didn't think much about Finland in particular until I met a Finn in my senior year of college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Not only did I fall in love with him but I fell in love with the colorful way he described the Finnish way of life. I wanted to drink in the glorious archipelago summers, run along the sea wall in Helsinki, and roll in the snow after overheating in the infamous sauna. What was this paradise that I had never paid much attention to?
Fortunately, I didn't have to wait very long until I was boarding a plane from Chicago and making my way to Helsinki. I first arrived in December to spend Christmas in the winter wonderland. Was it dark, dreary, and bone-chillingly cold? Some days – but not nearly as intense as I had anticipated. I loved the streets adorned with glittery lights and cozy cafés. It felt safe, clean, and simply happy – a far cry from the jammed streets and shady alleyways of Chicago. Don't get me wrong, I adore my home city, but there is always something more charming about Europe in general, be it the antiquated buildings or the historical statues.
I had a ball visiting Lapland and seeing where Santa Claus originates from. We went dog sledding and snowmobiling, the cold stinging my face and numbing my teeth as I bit back tears. But it was beautiful. I stared out of our hotel window at night and relished the vast blanket of snow that engulfed every crevice of a once green land. It was soothing, still, and quiet. No screeching cars, no bustle, and no rush.
People laugh when they hear that I decided to move back after witnessing the dark days of Finland. Truth be told, some days it was melancholy to see the sky move from barely grey to cheerless black. But I wasn't deterred. I've suffered cold, long winters in Wisconsin; days where if you're outside for more than 10 minutes you risk frostbite. So there I was, boarding the plane back to Finland in late February. This time though, I wasn't just a visitor.
The reality is that I love Helsinki. I wish I had grown up here and had access to the laudable education system, endearing Finnish traditions, and tremendous quality of life. Finns are undoubtedly hard workers but they also hold family and life balance in high regard. I love to see fathers playing with their children in the park on a random Tuesday afternoon. I love that the city is jammed around 5:30 pm when people are rushing home from work to have dinner with their families. I love that most employees take a month of vacation in the summer to frolic in the countryside and soak up the sunshine. Comparing this with Chicago, I choose Finland. Like me, many foreigners might have known and thought little of Finland. At first, I sympathize and relate to them. But then I have to let them in on the secret; visit Finland and you will see a society working in perfect, placid harmony. It's a utopia, I tell them. One thing is certain – you will not be disappointed.