One of the most common questions Finns ask me is “why did you come to Finland?”
Other foreigners ask too, for that matter.
I like to think the question isn’t so much a subtle implication that I might wish to leave as a throbbing curiosity about what makes anyone move to Finland. Many would consider Finland a strange choice, especially given how often we hear how foreigners’ lives are a struggle here.
I first came here on Erasmus exchange in September 2004 to study – weirdly many think – Finnish politics and from then on I was hooked by Finland.
No one else from the University of Edinburgh was coming to Helsinki that autumn and I liked the idea of being something of a lone wolf. Edinburgh tutors looked at me weirdly, as if I was taking a backward step.
After the end of Erasmus I lived all over the world – including far less bleak and cold climes, like Brazil – but I loved Finland even after my initial Erasmus infatuation had passed and I was always looking for ways to come back because the country seemed to suit my values and outlook. Back then it seemed like an impossible and very unrealistic dream without knowing Finnish, but the country has changed dramatically since then.
I love Finland for its unfaltering commitment to the life part of a work-life balance (seen, for example through generous paternity provisions) and I enjoy living in Helsinki because of its diminutive capital city size.
Looking back, 21-year-old me would have been surprised to learn that one day I would ice-swim two or three times a week, head to the sauna like I was catching a bus and become a huge fan of an archipelago-inspired sport called swimrun, even travelling to our Nordic neighbours to take part.
I still remember my first sauna with a big mix of Finns and foreigners a month or so into my Erasmus experience in 2004.
It was strange and very special at once. At the start of autumn we travelled to a fellow student’s old country house – it felt modest despite being quite a grand place – and we caught fish and cooked it on an open fire, jumped into the lake, sang naked in the sauna and crawled around on a forest floor looking for mushrooms.
I remember thinking to myself that I’d never have imagined that collecting mushrooms would be be such a communal ‘thing’ and it was then that I started to realise what Finland was all about: taking pleasure in the simple things, slowing down, enjoying nature’s jewels and being grateful for your surroundings. What society so badly needs these days.
Essentially, it’s the feeling of being free to enjoy doing nothing without a drop of FOMO.