My Journey to Becoming a Finn

The Erasmus+ project “Amazing Race” in Finland posed a special challenge for the students from Spain, Lithuania and Croatia: experiencing Finnish lifestyle, completing special tasks and getting a diploma of becoming Finns.

A Croat becoming a Finn
Photography: Erasmus Team

Finnish school and families as hosts

In January, 2020 I had the privilege to go to Finland for the last mobility of the Erasmus + project, “Amazing Race”. During my stay there I was hosted by a family in a village called Liedon Asemankulma (translated as “Lieto Station”), which is near a town called Lieto where the school called Liedon Lukio is. That school was the centre of the mobility whose purpose was for students from Lithuania, Spain, Finland and Croatia to come together and learn to cooperate in international environments and learn about emotional health. The activities included volunteering for seniors by hosting a sports class for them, cultural evenings, winter sports, and the Amazing Race itself. During the mobility there were a couple of optional tasks that we could do to receive a diploma saying that we became Finns, and I was determined to complete them all.

“Amazing Race” and becoming a Finn

The main task was a marathon-esque race that we “ran” in international teams and which lasted a couple hours, from daylight to night, Finnish days are really as short as they say. It was held in a camping place called Halssi which is on the western coast of Finland. The race consisted of several tasks that required teamwork and planning in order to be completed quickly, and some that needed guts for glory. Some examples of the tasks are a rope swing in which we needed to help each other stand on a platform that was definitely not big enough to fit five people, then making a bridge, flaming and eating salmon, which was delicious by the way, and a rope hunt that smart groups did during the day. My personal favourite task though, was the “Finnish baptism“. The description of the task went as follows: “Head to a sauna for ten minutes, go for a swim in the sea and then come back to the sauna for another ten minutes”. It’s much more fun and refreshing than it may seem at first, and apparently extremely healthy as well. It was an obligatory task for the Finn diploma. I even did it again after the race, to really savour the melting sensation of coming back into the sauna. I’d also like to stress how beautiful the forest we had the race in was. Nothing like what we have here in the middle of the continent. Everything is mossy and there’s really no grass, just moss and stone underneath.

The beauty of Finnish forests

Finnish saunas

Now, that’s enough about the tasks, what about the Finnish experience and lifestyle? What are some differences compared to the rest of the world? Well, first things first, the saunas. Every household has one. It’s very strange to not have a sauna in Finland. They usually use them for about an hour after dinner and it’s one of the most refreshing things I have ever experienced. Some days they even stay in the sauna for upwards of six hours! They switch between swimming in a cold pool and staying in hot rooms for the whole day. They usually do this for a holiday called Midsummer, as a celebration of the summer solstice. Heading outside to the cold to cool off and then heading back into the sauna really makes you not feel the cold wind after you are done. During our stay, there was a lot of wind, not a moment passed outside without the chilling breeze. Even now the wind in Croatia doesn’t bother me as much as it used to, so that must mean that the secret to not being cold are saunas.

Finnish cuisine

Their cuisine is mostly fish and, on special occasions, reindeer. However, most families eat quite “internationally” and mac n’ cheese isn’t unusual there. Their candy though, is a whole different type of candy. They have an unusual liking for mixing salt into black liquorish. It’s called “salmiakki” and most find it disgusting, and there are many other types of candy with a similar taste, as if they one day decided they didn’t have enough sugar and salt looked similar enough to be a suitable replacement.

Finnish cultural peculiarities

Another interesting characteristic is that most of everything is built out of wood. The entirety of Helsinki airport has wooden floors and very homey feeling because of it, which makes sense considering that most of Finland is covered in forests. And a final peculiarity, wool socks. They wear them a lot and all of us in the project got a pair of handmade ones. Amazingly warm, amazingly breathable. They use the socks to make shoes, that usually wouldn’t be warm in that weather, wearable. And those are the things that stuck out to me most. They aren’t nearly as unsociable as the stereotypes make them out to be, but they do love their personal space, they are indeed at least a meter apart when waiting for the bus.

My time in Finland was absolutely amazing and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have made some lifelong friends that I’ll never forget and had an experience that was as Finnish as it gets. Oh and, I did get the diploma.

Written by Viktor Štuhec

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