A month of studying abroad in Helsinki, Finland and what a time it was! It went by incredibly fast and I made memories that will last a life time. I learned about a new culture and the way Finns live their daily life, saw many sights that broaden my international perspective, and learned new things that expanded my knowledge in the business aspect.

The Finnish culture is very different from American culture. Unlike Americans, Finns are very quiet and reserved people. When my group and I would go out to eat for lunch or dinner, we would be the loudest people in the restaurant. We would always get weird looks from the Finns, it was considered rude to them that we were overly talkative. We weren’t use to having to adjust our voices in restaurants since we never have to worry about that in America. Also, we learned that Finns don’t like to talk about their private life. One day during our lunch break at school, my friends and I were sitting with one of the Hanken students. We were having normal conversation and then we asked him if we could see a picture of his wife. He thought that was very strange that we were interested in his personal life, but that’s considered normal for us to ask those kinds of questions.

I saw many different sights during my time here, but one that stood out to me was the Helsinki cathedral. I’ve seen many cathedrals in different cities throughout my life, but this cathedral was very unique to me. It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions and I understand why now. It’s located in the center of Helsinki in the Senate Square and is surrounded by buildings. I thought the architecture was extraordinary; it had the twelve apostles on the roof and it was breathtaking. The cathedral is on a hill so it can be seen from sea. Another place we went to is an island called Suomenlinna. I thought it was interesting because it is a sea fortress, which was used to defend Sweden against the Russian Empire. It was used as an army base until World War II after Finland gained its independence. The island is now for used for tourism and local citizen purposes.

Not only did I learn about a new culture and see many sights, but I also learned about the Nordic Business Culture. It was fascinating to learn about the different ways the Nordic countries do business in comparison to the United States. Focusing specifically on Finland, I thought it was interesting how reserved the business people are. The employees do very little small talk; they keep their personal lives private and stick only to business matters. As in the US, it is normal to make friends in the business setting and go out to dinner with each other after work. I also thought it was interesting how the Finnish business culture have little management and everyone is involved in decision making. In the US, that is the complete opposite. We have little say and have a superior telling us what to do. Another topic that stood out to me is how honest and important a Finnish business person word is. For example, a contract is not necessary to make an agreement. They can simply have a verbal agreement and it is expected to be carried out. This would never happen in the US. All contracts are very specified in writing and can be over 20 pages long. Americans don’t care as much about honesty as Finns do; we are very competitive and will do anything to stay one step ahead of others.

I had the time of my life in Finland and will cherish the memories I made here for the rest of my life. I am thankful to have the opportunity to study abroad and broaden my international perspective.

Categories: 2016 Trip

Before I chose to do my study abroad experience in Helsinki, Finland, I didn’t know much about the country, let alone the city. When I told my peers I was going to study abroad in Finland, it seemed a bit odd to them. Most people choose more popular countries to study abroad in, like Spain or Germany, but I wanted to be different. I chose Helsinki because I’ve never been anywhere like it. I’ve done quite a bit of traveling in my life and I wanted a new perspective.

Based on my previous experiences in the Eastern and Southern countries of Europe, I drew up some of my own stereotypes about Finland. I’ve been to Bulgaria, a country in Eastern Europe, multiple times throughout my life. Based on my Bulgarian heritage, I know Bulgarians are very warm, welcoming, and friendly people. The weather was always hot and humid and almost everyone had dark brown or black hair. I’ve heard Finns are very reserved and they don’t enjoy having small talk with people they don’t know; this characteristic might come off as rude to some people. Since I heard they were more reserved, I automatically thought of everyone being introverts. For some reason when I thought of Finland, I pictured most people having bleached, blonde hair. Also, I knew Finland is up north so I figured it would be much colder than other European countries that I’ve been to.

Some of the southern countries I’ve been to are Spain and Italy, and when I went the weather was also incredibly hot. When I went to Spain, everything was very cheap and affordable. Since Finland is in the Nordic region, I had a feeling things were going to be more expensive. I had to prepare myself to spend more money that I normally would on everyday activities, like meals and shopping. And I also knew that Finland is popular for going to the North Pole to see “Santa’s Land”, so that automatically gave me the idea that Christmas is a big deal in Finland. I also thought it was going to be light during most of the day, but it would get dark for a few hours throughout the night. Another stereotype I had is that the Finns would be more quiet and less friendly than Texans. Texas is considered to be one of the nicest, most friendliest place in the United States and it would be hard to compete with that.

Some other random stereotypes I heard about the Finns is that they’re obsessed with saunas. Since I knew the weather is colder up there, this made sense to me. Saunas aren’t very popular in the United States so I was excited to see if this stereotype was true or not! Another stereotype I thought about Finland was is that they’re big into music. I knew the music artist, Aviccii is from Finland and I maybe thought those two relationships correlated with each other.

I never thought I would get the chance to go to Finland during my lifetime, so I never took the time to think about the country. When I found out I was going to be studying abroad there, I came up with the basic stereotypes and assumptions about the Finns and their culture based on my previous travels and internet usage. I’m excited and interested to see what Finland is really all about!

Categories: 2016 Trip, Uncategorized

The trip has ended, the group has left, and I am still in Helsinki typing this in a cafe as I wait for my family to join me in a city that I have come to truly love. I’m still in awe that this wonderful adventure has ended. Did we not just arrive yesterday nervous for the new city and the classes we were to take? I can’t imagine leaving, this place is basically home now. Our group spent our last night here on the beach watching the sunset. We threw the frisbee and laughed and sang, and stood in the Baltic sea for the last time. It sounds like a scene out of a movie, but it didn’t feel cliche at all, it felt like the perfect ending to an amazing adventure. We talked about all the things we did, all the things we didn’t do, and came to many realizations. This trip really impacted me, and I learned so much, not just about Nordic Business and International Business, but about myself and my peers as well. These are some things I will take away with from this trip (some more serious than others):

– Try new foods. Helsinki and the rest of the world were not created to accommodate me. There is no Chipotle or Cane’s, so I loved trying new foods. From horse steaks, to reindeer burgers, to blood sausages, to so many local cheeses and desserts, trying new foods in immersing yourself in the culture. I don’t get the opportunity to try new foods everyday back home so take advantage of the cuisine wherever you go – it just might surprise you!

– Beware of the cobblestone. The streets made of cobblestone can really hurt your feet if you are not wearing appropriate footwear. On one of the company visits, I wore flats and had blisters that are still hurting 2 weeks later! One cannot underestimate the necessity of good footwear.

– Get lost. It’s been a month here, and I am still getting lost and turned around. And usually it leads to me finding new parks, or pastry shops. Getting lost is how you explore a city, and with technology, maps, and helpful locals, you’ll always be able to find your way back home. One night, my friend Nick and I went biking and had no idea where we were headed. We explored the nature side of Helsinki and found some incredible views and greenery. It did start raining on us on the way home, but it sure makes for a great story!

– Always sing and dance. With so much live music around Helsinki and Tallinn, it is a must to dance. Coming from a culture that loves to sing and dance publicly, we always enjoyed those atmospheres around the city. At the Tapas festival on Helsinki Day, the DJ played “All my Exes Live in Texas” and our group two-stepped in front of everyone. Those memories will always have a special place in my heart, and I’m glad we put ourselves out there.

– Open-mindness. This one is probably the most important thing when traveling abroad, and just to live by in life in general. Keeping an open-mind to the culture, people, food, and even the classes that we take. Opening yourself up to new experiences can significantly improve your life. At first I was hesitant about some things, but as I opened my mind I allowed myself to love the people on this trip and learned to appreciate Helsinki and everything for what it truly was. Having a close-minded attitude is the greatest disservice a person can give them-self.

I’m not sure if this final blog was supposed to be what we learned in class, or on the trip, or just a memoir of our times, but I will tell you this – I loved it all. I had the best time experiencing the culture, trying the food, laughing at how much we stood out when we walked around, and really feeling like I made the most out of my time. Sure, I wish we had gone to the sauna more, or gotten to take a boat trip, or went back to the one place for macaroons, but I don’t have any regrets. Mays did me and the group a huge favor by allowing us to be the first group to travel to Helsinki, and for that I thank Mays and A&M. You gave me the experience of a lifetime, and I will always be grateful. So bye Helsinki, Finland – you will always have a special place in my heart, as will all of the people that made this trip so special. Kiitos, and gig ’em!

Categories: 2016 Trip, Uncategorized

Day 28 of my adventures abroad. It honestly breaks my heart to think that the month is almost over and this wonderful trip is coming to an end. I have learned so much over he course of the last month, not only for the courses I have taken, but also from the Nordic culture. Now that I reflect on this trip, I have narrowed down some unique things that I’ll miss. The first is drinking kahvi (coffee) four to five times a day. Although it is isn’t the world’s best cup of coffee, the warm, inexpensive coffee on chilly days will surely be missed. The second is the near permanent daylight. Ironically, this was one of my pet peeves when I got here. Over the past month I grew to really like light. I learned that in general it makes the Finns really happy. I’ll miss being in such close proximity to other countries. During my time here, I visited Estonia and Sweden. The visit to Estonia was part of the study abroad program,and it was by far one of the most best excursions of my life. The trip to Estonia consisted of a 2 hour ferry ride over the Baltic Sea. Walking through Old town Tallinn felt is like stepping into fairytale. The architecture was medieval with a touch of Russian influence, and most buildings were l vividly colored. Although they were still controlled by the Soviet Union post WWII era, Estonia will celebrate 100 years of independence in 2018 (A-A-A Whoop!), they declared themselves free in 1918 and were recognized as a nation shortly after. Interestingly, there was one quote I really appreciated from our brief history overview, which was that “Estonians sang their way to freedom.” To add to our unique visit, we took a tour of some of the major islands and got to see some Viking graves and a crater lake. Although our stay was rather brief, I really enjoyed our time in Estonia as a whole for being able to reserve so many aspects of its history so well. After returning to Finland we had a very quick turnaround and within two days we were in our way to Stockholm, Sweden to celebrate Midsummer. Stockholm is fairly similar to Helsinki in its architecture, but it is much more expansive. While we could get on foot our the city in Finland, navigating through Stockholm required public transportation or a lot of time and patience on foot. One of my favorite sights in Stockholm was getting to watch people, mainly Swedes, dance around the Maypole. So many girls were wearing brightly colored flower headbands and dresses. It seemed unreal, like things I only read about or saw on movies, but it was beautiful. I enjoyed touring the Royal Palace and getting to see all the rooms, halls, ballrooms and treasure chambers, which were intact. It was like walking back in time since everything was so well preserved. The last few days in Helsinki consisted of studying and taking tests. As I mentioned in my first blog, the Hanken students continued to display a very relaxed attitude towards school, which was polar opposite from the Mays students, who
endured a series of endless nights in preparation for he exams. While our fellow Finnish students were extremely kind and helpful, their approach towards school remained very foreign to us. Our main assignment for our Intro to Nordic Business Culture class consisted of writings a scholarly handbook about Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, and Danish culture, history, and business attitudes. Although the project prepared us for the test it was difficult and time consuming. It was interesting to see the Mays students gathered together in the school’s study lounges, spending countless hours on research, writing and studying, while the Hanken students sort of detached and did their own thing. In the end of all three of our classes, we convened and celebrated with a “Sitz” which is a traditional party that Finnish students celebrate after their examinations.
The “American” themed Sitz was put on by both Americans and Finns, and everyone was assigned roles (cooking, decorating, cleaning etc.). The party was very outgoing, often times rowdy, but interesting to say the least.
I’m so grateful for his once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m grateful for the sights I saw and the friends I made. I’m thankful that I got an entirely new perception of the world’s cultures and of different business approaches. This experience will stay with me forever.
Kittos and Gig ‘Em
Finland Forever

Categories: 2016 Trip

They Sang Themselves Free
However, today we took a ferry (more like small cruise ship) to the city of Tallin, Estonia where we will be the next few days. In my personal opinion, the beauty of Tallin is unlike anything I’ve seen so far on my trip. I’d like to start out by saying what I knew going into this mini trip-within-a-trip. I knew that Estonia is a very small country, that Tallin is the capital, and that it is home to one of the oldest and most well preserved medieval cities. BUT…that doesn’t begin to do this wonderful country justice. The title of this blog, “They Sang Themselves Free,” comes from what I learned about Estonia’s deep connection to music. They have been occupied throughout their history by many different countries (Germany, Sweden, the Soviet Union, etc) and often were oppressed and forced into silence. Therefore it was their love of song that bonded them as a country and gave them a patriotic outlet. They are said to have “sang themselves to freedom,” because when the Soviet Union took away their right to sing, they did so anyway in a powerful and defiant move of independence. In fact, they are one of the few countries who gained their independence with absolutely zero loss of life. Every 5 years they have a giant music choir event in which over 30,000 Estonian voices sing out to celebrate Summer, and (according to the tour guide) most of them will often admit that they only attend church for the acoustics and beautiful choirs. In regards to the Old Town portion of Tallin, the medieval area, it’s hard to put into words what it felt like to walk the ancient streets knowing that the buildings around me were there well before Columbus, “sailed the ocean blue.” Every church has a tall tale, every well a story, and every street a history lesson. There’s an apartment building with a sealed room where a butler supposedly witnessed the devils wedding, a well where they sacrificed street cats to the resident mermaid, headless monks who killed each other over a shared love interest, a mummified drunk in the basement of a church, the list goes on and on. The Old Town, in sum, is a living, breathing fairytale (complete with castles). I am so excited for the coming days as I learn more about this incredible city!

Estonia, Saaremaa Trip:
Day 2 of Tallin was equally as eventful as the first! After a two hour bus ride and a 30 minute ferry, we arrived to the Island of Saaremaa, Estonia’s largest island. Here we got to do an entire day’s worth of awesome stuff. Our first stop was to a 14th century medieval church. This was nothing over the top fancy or elaborate, but to think that it has been standing for so long, the same building with the same walls, is truly incredible. We learned that it was built, like many other churches from it’s time, to serve a dual purpose as church and fortress. If pagans were to attack the Christians, they had a place of safety and refuge. Surrounding the church were many viking graves, which date back before the church. In fact, the last time vikings were in Estonia was over 1,000 years ago!  The second stop was to a small farm with old windmills, where we tried traditional Estonian food. As with most nordic cuisine I’ve tried so far, this consisted of meat, potatoes, and veggies. Nothing over the top, but always very tasty. After getting to explore the windmills, we moved on to Kaali, a crater made from a meteorite. The significance of this crater comes mainly from the folklore that is embedded with it. One story as to how it came to be was that the son of the Sun came to earth to find himself a bride, and upon seeing the Estonian maidens, was so shocked by their beauty that he fell to the ground, thus causing the crater. Another theory is that a brother and sister who lived in a mansion decided to get married, and after many pleadings, convinced a priest to perform the unholy matrimony. However, upon saying their vows they were struck by a meteor. Legend says that if young lovers go to the lake in the crater on Midsummers eve, they can see the two hands of the siblings reaching towards each other from across the crater. If the hands ever touch-the world is said to be at it’s end. Myths and legends aside, the first written mention of the crater was dated to 300 years before Christ was born, where it was described as the place “where the sun goes to sleep.” I know I blabbed on about the crater for a long time, but I can’t get enough of all the cool stories the Estonians have surrounding many of their landmarks. After the meteor we went to a medieval castle. Although the inside of the castle was relatively simple, the castle grounds, with the hills, moat, and tall castle walls, were breathtaking. Again, I couldn’t help but be constantly reminded of the elaborate history each of the stops on our tours had. How many generations of people had lived and died in these places? How many stories unknown and forgotten? I’m constantly surrounded by such rich history and I’ve really enjoyed getting to learn about as much as I can along the way. Our tour ended with more driving around the island to see the pretty farmland, and we ended our day back in the Old Town of Tallin.

Stockholm Trip:
For our last free weekend on this side of the world, we decided to take a flight to Stockholm, Sweden: referred to as the capital of Scandinavia! Stockholm is by far the largest city we have visited on this trip, I had almost forgotten what it was like to be in a city where everything wasn’t within a 20 minute walk. The first day we ferried to an island where a traditional Midsummer’s Festival was under way. In some ways, Midsummer’s is like a Summer version of thanksgiving, just a time for families to come together and enjoy a nice meal or picnic. One cool tradition is that the women hand make flower crowns and wear them during the day. Our group didn’t realize that you had to make them yourself beforehand, so I just picked flowers around the island and stuck them in my braids. Later on in the evening to cool down from a long day of walking we went to an Ice Bar. Basically, this is a bar where everything is made of, you guessed it, ice. It was definitely one of the coolest and most beautiful thing’s I have done. The thick ice walls, benches, tables, and cups were so crystal clear and gorgeous that all I can say is that I HIGHLY recommend going to an Ice Bar in your future! Stockholm Day 2 we just walked and bussed around the city, taking in sights like parliament and Central Station. Our bus tickets even got us into one of Sweden’s oldest amusement parks (founded in 1883). We rode a swing ride that took us 400 feet in the air and was one of the most breathtaking views of the city I could ever imagine. Later that evening one of the guys in our group led us to a cliff he found that overlooked most of the city, and we quickly realized that apparently it is quite a popular spot, as soon we were joined by tons of Swedes looking to enjoy the midnight sunset. On our last day in Stockholm we went to the Swedish Royal Palace- and I decided where I would like to live out my days. The beautiful halls inside the palace and the treasury with the royal crown jewels were something straight out of a movie. Overall Stockholm was definitely a place to remember, although I couldn’t help but feel that I missed Helsinki, I guess there’s just something about the Fins that make it feel closer to home. 

Final Thoughts:
In one hour our group will be boarding a bus that will take us to the Helsinki airport, and just like that, the study abroad will be over.  The last of my days here were spent mainly walking around this beautiful city and getting occasionally mopey about the fact that I won’t be able to step our of my room and see Helsinki around me. As the days have sped by, I started compiling a mental list of some of the things will miss about my stay.
1. The Fins. In both class time and free time I have learned so much about a culture I previously knew close to nothing about. It didn’t matter if we butchered the pronunciation of a Finnish word or accidentally talked too loud in public, we were always treated with respect and kindness. I have enjoyed interacting with the people of Helsinki and I will really really miss them when I’m gone. After all, what will the people in our group do when we come back to America and nobody thinks coming from Texas is the coolest thing ever? (apart from Texans, of course)
2. “Kiitos”. Ashamed though I am to admit it, despite being here for a whole month this is one of the few Finnish words I have managed to pick up. On the plus side, I really think it says something about how sweet the people are that the one word I definitely had to know was, “thank you.” 
3. COFFEE! Prior to this trip I would consider myself as being a casual coffee drinker. Not anymore! I’m going to miss having coffee with breakfast, a mid morning coffee break, coffee with lunch, and afternoon coffee break, dinner with coffee, and then maybe coffee anywhere else we can squeeze it in. 
4. Daylight. What will I do when I come back to Texas and realize that daylight hours aren’t normally 20 hours? How i will I get everything done?
5. Berries. Seriously folks, there is nothing like strawberries from the Nordic region. The extended daylight while the plants grow means extended sweetness and I am ALL about that. 
6. Stockman and Kamppi. Walmart has got NOTHING on these places. Need something? Walk into either and I promise you’ll find it, no problem. 
7. The Open Market. Nothing like seagulls swooping down, coffee, and strolls on the seaside open market to help forget that we had class 8 hours a day. 
8. Pastries. This one speaks for itself, all I’ll add is, bravo Finland, bravo. 
9. The Buildings. I spent the last few days just trying to soak in the memory of being surrounded with so much history and beauty. I’ll really miss that. 
10. The Flying Finns. The name of our group message may be ridiculous, but the amount that I’ll miss seeing these guys everyday is even more ridiculous. Luckily I will see these weirdos back in College Station, but it will be weird not being the only Americans in the room anymore. 

As the trip wound down many of us in the group asked each other if we could go back in time and pick whether or not to come on this trip, knowing what we know now, would we still come. Not a single person said they’d change their decision. I can not express enough how fortunate I feel to have been able to come on this trip. The memories I have made with the other Aggies, the Fins, the Estonians, and the Swedes will never be forgotten. 

Thanks and Kiitos, Finland. 

Categories: 2016 Trip, Uncategorized

Throughout the trip I have been updating a blog on my online portfolio website, so for this blog I will be compiling some of my posts spanning across the days I was here.

Day 1:
 First day in Finland was a success! We took a tour of the city and quickly learned that everything from the city center to the woods is within a 20 minute walk. Everywhere we looked there were beautiful buildings, statues, or markets. Something also very new to this Houston native was the amount of nature connected to urban life in Helsinki. Just last week there was a moose found wandering in the City Center! I can’t wait to go island hopping and to explore the rest of this beautiful capital! 

Day 2:
Finland Day 2 was a success! In a spur of the moment turn of events we jumped on a bus for the 1 hour long trip to Porvoo, Finland. It turned out to be probably the oldest city I have ever been in, having been founded in 1346. The streets were made of uneven cobble stones, the buildings crumbling but livable, and the forests thick and beautiful. The red buildings behind me, we learned from a Finnish travel guide, were originally used as storage for when the town was a shipping port. After a few more hours of exploring the town and admiring the beautiful architecture, we somehow managed to catch a bus (although it was one that took a much longer scenic route home), and made it back to our Hostel in Finland. 

Day 3:
 Today my study abroad had our first class at the Hanken School of Economics (one of Finland’s top business schools). We met a few students who will be taking the remainder of the class with us, and learned about Finnish culture, history, and an introduction to business. For this blog post I thought I’d go over a few of the things we learned that I found interesting. One of the first things is that although Finland was settled long ago, it was under Swedish rule until 1809 and Russian rule from then until 1917, when the Fins declared independence. I found this very interesting because although the culture is much older than America, it’s independence is much more recent. So recent in fact that there are still families that feel a very strong and real sting from the loss of family members and the forced relocation from some of their homes. Finnish people often refer to themselves as “Forest People” because of their strong ties to the nature and forests of their native land. During WWII the Fins fought the Russians on cross country skis, yes, skis. This made maneuvering the snowy forests in the harsh Finnish Winters must easier. Following WWII Finland was deep in debt, however all production in the 1950’s went to paying it off, and they became the first country to be rid of wartime debts. Modern day Finland has an amazing standard of living complete with a thriving education system. (Fins don’t start elementary until the age of 7- and are 3rd in the world for quality of education!) 
Something else that is extremely apparent, especially after 3 days, is that Finnish people are on the whole VERY quiet. There’s not much small talk amongst strangers and my study abroad group has been the loudest group in most restaurants and buses that we have been on (and that’s using our inside voices). One lecturer from today’s class put it best when he said, “The difference between a Finnish extrovert and a Finnish introvert is that the introvert will look at his shoes when he talks to you, while the extrovert will look at your shoes.” On the plus side, we were assured by some Fins that they find it charming how Texans are so friendly and “smiley.”

Russian Business Class Day 1:
I know it has been a few days since posting, but as I have an entire month here and most waking hours were spent in a classroom, I didn’t think I had enough things to talk about. However, today in my class (Russian Business Culture) I got some pretty unsettling news. Before I go into what I learned, I thought I’d briefly list the credentials of my professor, so that you know where I got my information. Dr. Peter Zashev has a PhD in Russian Business culture, spent his undergraduate college years at St. Petersburg University, has taught Russian Business for multiple decades at both Finnish Universities as well as a Russian University, and currently owns and operates a consulting business in Russia(basically, he knows Russian business pretty well). Now that’s done, I am ashamedly going to admit that up until today, I understood very little about Russia. In my mind I had this image of a toddler who every so often got mad at us and made empty threats and then just disappeared from the mind. I knew that life in Russia was very different from life in the U.S., and I knew to a certain degree that relations between us and them have not been very good for a long time. However, I was shocked today to learn the degree to which the Russians feel this hatred. The propaganda given to the Russians is often focused on how “the Americans” are constantly thinking of ways to destroy Russia and how we all have a bloodlust for hurting Russians. While there may be some who feel this way, I would go so far as to say that most of us rarely mention Russians in normal or political discussions, and have very little desire to attack Russia any time in the near future. It is important to say that in no way am I advocating being afraid of Russians, but instead am just trying to say that we as Americans should try to understand the hate many Russians have for us. I think it is important to understand this because their continued belief in a mutual hate can only lead to a bad ending for all parties included. After talking it through further with both the Finnish students as well as my American classmates, we all agreed that it is insane how the attitude in America is about Russians versus how they think it is, and that it is so important that we are more aware of this difference. In summary, it is not Russia I am scared of, but instead the lack of knowledge that myself, my classmates, and the general public have when it comes to a country as large as Russia and how they perceive us. 

Suomenlinna Day Trip:
After suggestions from basically every Finnish citizen we’ve met so far, today we visited Suomenlinna, a sea fortress of the coast of Helsinki. It’s beautiful rock beaches and crumbling fortress walls make it a pretty cool sight, definitely worth the 7 euros. Although we didn’t get a chance to explore all the ins and outs of the fortress itself, we explored the shoreline and stumbled upon some interesting off-the-trail stuff. For example, the goose population in Helsinki is crazy big, (they are everywhere!) and we found the breeding grounds of the Helsinki geese. Everywhere we looked we saw nesting mothers, protective fathers, and newborn chicks, it was super cute! But apart from seeing the sights, something that I was reminded of is how well our study abroad group is getting along. We really are starting to get a feel for the city and rarely have to take note of where we are because we know the streets so well. It’s nice because it’s a benefit of spending more than a few days in a new place. Additionally, I am really having a great time with the people who are in the program with me. Everyone is so excited to explore the city and no one is clique-y or exclusive. Well that’s all for now- tomorrow we take on Helsinki Day!! (Helsinki’s 466th Birthday!)

Categories: 2016 Trip, Uncategorized

As I enter into my last week on my Nordic study abroad, I have in my mind two thoughts that are are somewhat contradictory in nature. On the one hand, my time in this region of the world has gone by quite quickly, with days continuing into one another despite the litany of different activities and adventures that I have been lucky enough participate in often spicing up our experience. However, on the other end of the spectrum, it feels like I have been here long enough for me to consider Helsinki my “home” in Europe, to where I know how to get around effectively, eat affordably, and experience the hidden secrets of Helsinki. Even as I am writing this blog post, I am sitting in a coffee shop situated by Seurassari Island, with each room containing a different look and a wonderfully authentic atmosphere. This has been one of my favorite aspects of staying in a city for such a long period of time, the fact that I am able to break apart from the hustle and bustle (if you can even call it that) of Helsinki and find escape and solitude in the forest that allows for constructive thought and reflection. This ability to find solitude in nature and beauty has become my favorite part about staying in Helsinki. For example, one day when I was feeling particularly lonely and depressed, Helsinki provided me resolve in the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. As I walked through the park towards the seafront, the vibrant colors of the setting sun present in both the sky and the water’s reflection allowed a feeling of hope and gratitude to sweep over me.
One thing about this trip that I did not realize was how much I would miss my family, my friends, and aspects of my life that were comfortable and familiar. However, this leads to one of the most interesting and long-term rewarding aspects of this study abroad for me. I initially saw this study abroad as a refreshing break from the stresses and fast paced lifestyle of the school year. However, throughout my time in Finland and surrounding areas I have realized that this was yet another way for me to grow in not only my knowledge of international business and culture but also in myself and my internal workings. I realized on this trip how much I valued structure and the idea of security in what am I doing, being abroad in a foreign land can be quite nerve racking, and I have found the best way of curbing these types of stresses is to establish a game plan and stick with it. I have also learned how much I value time for me to be alone and reflect on the experiences I have had here, both good and bad. I consider myself an extroverted person, and being around those I care about/seeing people joyous recharges me, but I often forget how much I value the times where I can just relax on my own, listen to a favorite song, and stare at the beauty surrounding me in my surroundings.
Alright, enough introspection, it is time to get to the exciting aspects of my trip, the weekend trips to wonderful foreign lands. Our first destination as a study abroad group was the wonderful hidden gem that is Talinn, Estonia. When we first arrived, we drove around and saw some of the seaside, which was nice enough. However, it was not until we arrived in the old town that the pure awe began to set in. Tallinn is the best preserved medieval town in the whole of Europe, and it is apparent the minute you set foot on the narrow streets that make up the old town. Small shops, coffee shops, restaurants, and artists selling their craft lined the streets, and cultivated an atmosphere that made me feel like I was in the middle ages to a degree. Seeing all of the old churches while witnessing this architecture that had been around for 7 centuries was very special. The islands we went to in Estonia were also lovely, with the picturesque windmills and medieval castle serving as highlights during our day out.
On our last full weekend abroad me and my 11 other fellow travellers found solace and retreat in beautiful Stockholm, Sweden. Stockholm initially came as a bit of a surprise because of how big it was compared to Helsinki. The walk to our hostel from the Central Bus station was twice as long as it took us to get about anywhere in Helsinki. Besides the longer travel times, Stockholm was an absolutely lovely city filled with an atmosphere that is just enchanting for the soul. From the narrow streets and picturesque cafés of Old Town, to the decadence and ornateness of the Grand Palace, Stockholm hardly even felt real at times. The city as a whole felt much more “European” than Helsinki because of its classical architecture and heavy use of canals. Whenever I heard Stockholm called “the Venice of the North”, I could see why. My favorite activity in Stockholm that I took partook in was a visit to the Alfred Nobel Museum. I found it invigorating to be in a room dedicated to the milestones we have made as a society throughout the last century. I also got to have the official ice cream that they have at the Awards Ceremony, which was fantastic! Overall, Stockholm was easily one of my favorite cities I have ever gone to in Europe, and I will absolutely come back and visit as well as Helsinki.
During my last week in Helsinki, I have spent a lot of time by myself. Biking in the woods, walking through the huge parks and alongside the beach, having coffee in a petite coffee shop by myself, I have been utilizing my last few days here to reflect on my experiences abroad and how I have grown (and studying too I suppose!). I have found a large majority of my love for this city has come from the natural beauty that is integrated into so much of the main central area and the outskirts of town. Just a 3 minute walk from the main market area is a huge beautiful park on a hill that overlooks the main port area, and about a 10 minute bike ride from there is a sprawling forest that is very easy to lose yourself in (both literally and figuratively). Before I came on this trip, I had this feeling that Helsinki would be a wonderful place to study abroad because of how relatively non-tourist oriented it is which would make it easier to immerse myself in the city and the many different ways you can find joy here. My suspicions were correct, and I consider myself truly lucky to have had the pleasure to spend a month here studying. I stand by the notion that Helsinki is a wonderful city that is deliberately designed to be wonderful for the people who live there. I will remember the phenomenal sights and experiences I have had throughout Helsinki, Lapland, Stockholm, and Estonia for the rest of my life, and I now have a sort of “second home” to come to whenever travelling to Europe in my future.

Categories: 2016 Trip, Uncategorized

In approximately 6 hours (yes it is way too early in the morning) we will load the bus with ourselves and our luggage and begin the 17 hour journey bringing us back to the United States, back to Texas, back home…

Am I really truly ready to leave? Has it already been an entire month? No and Yes. Yes, I am absolutely ready to go home, ready to see my family, ready to rest. But I have learned to love this city, I have come to call it home in many ways, and I will always cherish the time I did get to spend here. Spending an entire month in a foreign country seemed daunting at first, but now Colette and I joke about being natives. We’re more than familiar with the city streets, no longer needing a map on most of our adventures, and we’ve successfully navigated public transportation more than once (whoop).

Tomorrow morning I am leaving this country with a much greater understanding of other cultures, specifically Finnish, Swedish, and Russian cultures, and a small addiction to both pastries and coffee. It’s mind boggling to me that people can live so far apart geographically, and yet be so similar. Time and time again during this month I was reminded of the country I love by the way I saw Finnish people living, or through something I was taught in lecture. There are many ways in which we are different as well, many areas where both the United States and Finland would benefit from viewing the others’ perspective, however we are still very similar. We are people, friendly people, who live simple lives doing what we love. Our societal goals revolve somewhere around the neutral ground labeled “happiness,” and our days generally consist of different combinations of the same elements.

Traveling to nearby cities as well as Tallinn Estonia and Stockholm Sweden were definitely some of my favorite memories. I’ve walked more miles each day this month than I did probably all Spring semester, but the views, the memories, the time spent with my classmates was completely worth it. What an awesome opportunity, to go to another region of the world and explore for 30 days… it’s not an adventure I’ll easily forget. Oh and yes, class was honestly really fun for the vast majority of it all. It was more accelerated than what I’m used to, but that’s to be expected if you’re cramming 6 hours of credit into 4 short weeks. I am so thankful for this opportunity, so thankful for the memories, and so so excited to share what I’ve experienced while here in Helsinki Finland.

Categories: 2016 Trip, Uncategorized

I can honestly say that I didn’t know what to expect coming on this trip. I didn’t do any prior research on the people or the culture or really anything before boarding the plane and jumping into this adventure. So when I got here it’s hard to say whether this country has lived up to my expectations or not.

The first thing I can definitely say is that I was pleasantly surprised by how many blond-haired blue-eyed people live here. I’ve always been one of only a handful of such people, sprinkled throughout any social gathering, so to be in a country where most individuals fit this mold was incredibly exciting and shocking. I didn’t know a place like this existed, it’s like I’ve found “my people”! Another thing that surprised me (I guess their stereotypes about Americans really are true) is how fit the Finns are as a society. There are so many people either running or working out every hour of every day, it’s inspirational!

There are some things I’ve noticed, just in our first couple days here, that Finns do differently. First off, when you’re walking, it’s extremely rude to jaywalk. You must walk on the white strips that indicate a crosswalk. Slightly cutting corners between crosswalks is also not suggested. Each sidewalk also has a line down the middle… in general, the side of the sidewalk closest to the road is a bike lane, and the other side is for pedestrians. On some roads this is not the case, so there are always painted symbols to indicate which lane is which. Many a time, our group has mindlessly wandered into the bike lane rather than the walking lane, and an angry biker will ring their little bell as they pass. Also, at the crosswalks, instead of a traffic light with an orange hand for “stop” and a white walking silhouette for “go,” the Finns use a red person for “stop” and a green person for “go.” Even if there are no cars in sight AT ALL, it is the social norm that you wait for the green person to appear indicating that you may walk.

Smiling at strangers is also not suggested. In the US it’s common to greet a complete stranger with a smile and head-nod or wave as you are approaching them or as you pass. In Finland, if you smile at a stranger, they look at you as if you are quite odd for acknowledging their existence, and then they immediately look at the ground. The same goes for if you inquire as to how someone’s day is going. Saying “hello” is all fine and dandy, but as soon as you traverse farther than that into conversation, they will either not reply, be taken immensely off guard, or both! Most of the time, according to our Finnish friends, the people you are addressing will just become suspicious, assuming that you are only talking to them because you want something from them, not because you are actually interested in the answer they will give.

Now regarding conversation… I’m going to add some numerical values so that you can adequately understand what I’m attempting to describe. Assume the average American conversation is roughly 65 decibels. The average Finnish conversation is probably 40 decibels. It’s a little over half the normal volume level of an American conversation. Because of this, I have become increasingly more aware of the volume of our group as we walk the streets, because speaking above this volume is considered rude and disrespectful. It’s as if you are invading another person’s mental bubble with your voice, a bubble that is supposed to stay intact and sound free.
Not only is the volume level lower, everything else seems to be comparatively smaller. Classrooms, grocery stores, food, portions, coffee cups, etc. they are all considerable smaller than those in the US. I was talking about this with my professor, and we came to the potential conclusion that this is due to the fact that Finnish people are more content with that they have than Americans. They live pretty simply, only eating and doing what they need, never rushing from one thing to the next but rather taking time to sit and enjoy conversation… living in the here and now.

Lastly, individuals in the US, more recently than ever before, have become accustomed to “beating around the bush” in conversation in order to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings or saying anything that could be perceived as politically incorrect. Finnish people are not like this. They will tell you how it is and you will learn to accept it. It’s not the end of the world, it’s just the honest truth. And guess what… it’s actually refreshing!

My first impressions of this city and these people are more extensive than a short post can describe, but hopefully this allows you to glimpse a little of what I’ve already learned within the first couple days!

Categories: 2016 Trip

Our Nordic adventure is sadly coming to an end. I can’t believe it has been a month since we first arrived in Helsinki. It is a bittersweet moment as I am excited to see my family and friends, but I am also very sad to leave a place that has become my home over the past month. I am leaving this trip with so many priceless experiences and memories. Over the course of the past month we were able to travel to three different countries and learn about doing business in Russia and Nordic countries as well as about the international environment of business. I feel proud of myself for having navigated my way through public transport and city streets in Helsinki, a flight to Stockholm and everything in between. I have learned a lot about myself and also a lot about the Nordic people and countries.

Since my last blog post we had the opportunity to travel to both Estonia and Sweden in addition to continuing to explore Helsinki. In Tallinn, Estonia we were able to explore the Old Town, which is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe. We also visited Saaremaa island and its meteor craters, windmills and castles. Our next trip was to Stockholm, Sweden where we got to experience a traditional midsummer festival. The kids decorated the maypole with flowers and then it was raised up, followed by music and dancing. We also explored the city by foot and bus, getting to see the Royal Palace and Old Town specifically. After returning from Stockholm it felt like I was home once we landed in Helsinki. Helsinki has become so comfortable for me. We have been able to discover the tourist sites of the city, but also the unique parts of the city. As I write this blog I am currently sitting in a coffee shop in the woods across from Seurassari island, an island known for its old wooden houses. I feel that some of the best sights in the city are those that do not bring huge crowds of tourists, but that require a little more exploring to find. From amazing overlooks and beautiful buildings to cafes and delicious restaurants, Helsinki has definitely been treating us well while we are here. The Finnish people have developed a special place in my heart. From learning more about them in our Nordic business class to discovering more about them as we move around the city, I have found them to be wonderful. They have a love for the outdoors and live a slower paced lifestyle than Americans are used to. Sometimes we would walk through the city and notice that the same people would be enjoying a restaurant for multiple hours. They are polite, patient, friendly, welcoming and always happy to help when we don’t understand something. They have definitely made our trip that much better.

The classes we took while we were here have opened my eyes to how different business can be in different parts of the world and they have shown me that you need to understand other countries cultures in order to be a successful business person in the current time. I am so glad that I chose to study abroad in a Nordic country and I know that the memories I have made here will be with me for the rest of my life. While a part of me is excited to return home, I am also very sad to leave my new city. Like I said, Helsinki has started to feel like my home after only one month here. However, I have a feeling I will probably be making the trek back here at some point in my life! Kiitos Helsinki!

Categories: 2016 Trip, Uncategorized