This week was a big change of pace when compared to last week. We had our Russian business culture class for three days and I’ll tell ya we learned a lot. Peter was our Bulgarian professor and he was by far one of the best professors I’ve ever had. Anyone who can lecture for 7 hours and keep the whole class interested and not falling asleep, is in my opinion a legend. Many of my stereotypes about Russians proved to be true while then again I learned many things about Russians, Swedes and Finns I would’ve never known without Peter’s class. Learning the history of the Russians was very helpful in understanding why the Russians act the way they do, for example Peter pointed out how in almost every war Russia had they would send soldiers to their deaths until the battles were won. This showed gave a little background as to why they value effectiveness or efficiency. Vodka drinking etiquette was a very interesting lesson that we took very careful notes on so we could practice properly for our future endeavors with Russians. Russian business culture wasn’t the only awesome part of this week, we traveled to Stockholm for the weekend and received a warm welcome by fantastic weather. I think the main thing I noticed in Sweden was how diverse the people in Stockholm were, Helsinki being only white people and going to a very diverse city was a interesting change of pace. Everyone seemed very nice but like Finland everyone seems to hang out with friends and get very drunk on the weekends, at least in the city. Overall week 2 was fun and jam packed with cultural experiences. This is Brian signing off, stay tuned next week with episode 3.

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During our second week, I have had the opportunity to spend more time with the other Finns.  I’ve been having such a great time learning about their culture, but I have never felt more American!  While the differences between our cultures can be subtle, they are starting to stand out.  To start, Finns do not hold doors for others when going into buildings.  Because of how I was raised, I always check to see if someone is behind me so that I can hold the door for them.  Finns do not look.  And if they know someone is behind them, they still let the door drop.  I have heard that this situation could be motivated by the need to treat both genders equally; they do not want to send a message that I am incapable of opening a door by myself since I am a girl.  Because of this idea, I try to not take this “rude” behavior to heart.  At the same time, I hope that they are not offended when I hold the door for them.  Additionally, Finnish presenters are extremely soft spoken.  When sitting through a lecture in Mays, lecturers always project their voice so that everyone can hear them and they pride themselves on their energy throughout their presentation.  Finnish presenters, on the other hand, almost seem shy.  (I can see where the stereotype of Finns being reserved and quiet comes from!)  I’m sure I come off as a typical, loud American to the other students.  But at least they can hear me!

Tomorrow, we’re heading off to Stockholm!  Since we’ve been hearing about Swedish stereotypes, I’m super excited to meet new people and see the sights!

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We hit the ground running the first week in Helsinki. And we haven’t slowed down even a bit the second week. This past week we traded in lazy, sunny park afternoons for enriching lectures all about Russia. Most of our time this week was spent in the classroom, but even then the days were flying by thanks to an enthusiastic lecturer and fun night activities. Last week I felt like I got a hold of life in Helsinki, Finland, and now this week, I could settle in and focus on all of the life that was still going on around me.

 

Our course at Hanken School of Economics is split into half Nordic Business Culture and half Russian Business Culture. The second part of the Hanken course intrigued me from the very beginning when I first learned about the study abroad trip to Finland. For the past six months, I have imagined what I would be learning and how informed I would be with current political topics relating to Russia. The professor for Russian Business Culture, Peter, has experience doing business all over Europe and a larger than life personality. Peter was a guy with great energy who made the class very exciting (one of his methods was talking about himself in third person, hence the title of this blog). Safe to say all of my expectations for this course have been far exceeded.

 

Looking over and reflecting on my notes from each lecture, I realized how much I have learned about conducting business in Russia and how that compares to doing business with other Nordic countries. The class began with a thorough explanation of Russian history starting with Imperial Russia, going through Catherine the Great’s era, all the way to Putin’s rule today. Although I had learned a brief idea of this history in high school, having this background provided gave me a much better knowledge moving forward to business today. Peter emphasized how Russians act in a way in their culture and in their business based on the history they have been through. I learned what life under socialism was really like during the Soviet rule and how that affected the mentality of people. Russians had no reason to make decisions, no responsibilities, and were perfectly comfortable as long as someone else could do it for them. We also got to see how Russians overcame that period and eventually transitioned into very successful, powerful business people today.

 

Peter walked us through the character of a modern Russian. As I learned about how Russians treat friends with the utmost loyalty, live on both sides of extreme, and how they celebrate holidays, I began to see connections in how they conduct business. One of the points to be successful doing business in Russia was to appreciate the Russian culture and adapt to it when you are there. Peter set us up for success by portraying the Russian character in that culture setting. He also set us up to really succeed with light-hearted tips and lists like how to learn the Russian language and how to keep up with the big bosses at the dinner table. Even though I don’t plan to see myself there anytime soon, I will be ready!

 

Finally, as we’re wrapping up the lecture and my thoughts of reflection, we ‘re learning how the Russians view Americans and our country. We learned about the several versions of propaganda that can be used to paint a picture of the U.S. in a way we don’t see ourselves. I found this focus by the Russians on American culture to be very interesting because I do not often find myself thinking of Russia culture as an American. With the knowledge I have gained from this class, I feel like I will be able to stay more informed about current U.S. and Russian relations as well as the business culture in Russia.

 

Now off to Sweden to put all the knowledge from Nordic Business Culture to the test!

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We are halfway through our time here in Finland. This week was more school than anything else (8 hours a day!) but I’ve learned so much in the past seven days. Our class this week has been on Russian Business Culture and is taught by a hilarious Bulgarian. He has a great way of explaining through the use of retelling his personal experiences of doing business in Russia. Peter does a great job of explaining cultural norms through history and showing how past events make a person act in a certain way decades later. Even though the class is eight hours a day it seems to go by fast when there is constant laughing. Peter has an interesting background; he was born in Bulgaria, did his undergrad at St. Petersburg University before coming to Haken for his PHD. He now does business in both Finland and Russia while also teaching in both countries as well. In our class we have a French exchange student in addition to the other Finnish and Swedish students so its been interesting to get so many different views on the business culture.

While we aren’t in class, we have been out enjoying the beautiful June weather; we spent one “night” at the beach playing hacky sack people watching. Its crazy to me that so many people would be out at 10:30 p.m. on a weekday. Maybe its because the sun is still out by then but staying out that late everyday while having to be up at 7:30 a.m. for work must be tiring. Another day we spent just walking around the city and exploring a part we haven’t been to yet. Helsinki is a small enough city that you can walk everywhere you need to and over the past two weeks we’ve explored a radius of about 1.5 miles from our hotel. This week we have been trying to try new food places and reach out of our comfort zone. Many of the cafes close around 6 and we don’t normally go to dinner till around 7:30 there are quite a few places that we haven’t had the chance to try yet.

This weekend we went to Stockholm, Sweden as a group and it was such a great trip! We went on a walking tour of the old town, visited the royal palace and vas museum in addition to exploring the town on our own. I thought that Stockholm had more diverse food options then we do here in Helsinki so it was great to get the chance to try new things (like Swedish meatballs!!). Next weekend we I go to Amsterdam for midsummer and I am so excited to explore a new city one last time!! But before then we have to make it through our first final exam of the trip!

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During my second week in this wonderful city we took a Russian Business Culture class which was so incredibly entertaining and interesting. Our professor taught us the history of Russia (which I never knew) and then related it back to the culture of the business world and why they are the way that they are. He then gave us tangible examples about how to interact with people we meet if we do business with Russians. This class overall was amazing and I really enjoyed it.

In other news, it rained a lot during the week so we didn’t get the chance to really explore Helsinki. We did go to the supermarket and buy sandwich materials so that we could make ourselves lunch everyday so we would be able to save money to do fun things on the weekend- like Stockholm!!

Friday we left for Stockholm and I was so incredibly excited! I don’t travel to other countries much (actually Finland was my first “across the pond” experience) so I was pumped to see everything Sweden had to offer! Let me just tell you, Stockholm deserved more than just 3 days!! It was so beautiful and historical and worth all the time we sat in the airport. On Friday we just walked around the city and got lost (which is the best way to learn a city in my opinion). Saturday morning we woke up for a tour with our guide Gustav. We walked all around Old Town and I learned so much. Stockholm is beautiful. We then went to the Palace where the current King and Queen of Sweden reside and took a tour of the castle and walked the ever-expansive King’s Garden. Amazing! Then we came back for dinner and went to an icehotel where everything was made of ice! We wore large parkas and our glasses were made of ice-seriously an experience I will always remember. It has been so fun to travel these countries with friends by my side!

Well thats about it for this week 🙂 It’s been a great one (despite the Helsinki rain lol)!

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It’s hard to believe that we are hallway through this trip! I am loving Helsinki, but I’m also glad that I have been able to travel a bit outside the city and see different parts of Finland and Sweden. Last weekend, I travelled to Porvoo and Turku, two cities right outside of Helsinki.

Porvoo is very small, and has a completely different vibe from Helsinki. The Old Town is quaint and quiet; the main activity happening in the square with a small market and two violinists playing by the former city hall. We walked through the shops and museums, then stopped by a little café to sit and avoid the rain. I enjoyed the simplicity of Porvoo, even though there weren’t as many activities as one might find in a larger city. In the afternoon, we took a hike down a few trails we found outside Old Town Porvoo. From the top of the hills, we found a wonderful view overlooking Old Town. On another trail, we found the remains of an ancient castle: a dry moat and pits that used to be storage cellars.

Turku was completely different from Porvoo, and much more like Helsinki. The city was much bigger and had a less relaxed atmosphere than Porvoo, so we had to walk a lot to reach the things we wanted to see. We started at an arts and history museum, which had excavated ruins from the old city that lies below Turku. Then, we walked over to the Turku Cathedral. It was beautiful, and very large. After the cathedral, we made our longest trek across town to the medieval castle. We took a guided tour to learn about how the castle came about and what life was like for the people who lived there. The castle tour was definitely my favorite part of the weekend. There were a lot of interesting stories of the medieval times and the castle’s history. For example, when the castle was first built, it was on an island. As the glaciers began to melt, the land rose (because it was no longer weighted down by the ice) until the island was connected to the mainland.

Class was very different this week. We had three days to complete our Russian Business Culture portion of the classes, so we went for very long, intense days. However, our professor, Peter, was extremely entertaining and a wonderful teacher! He balanced lecture with class discussions and small group activities, which kept me engaged, even when I was tired. I came into this class knowing nearly nothing about Russia’s history or culture, and now I really feel like I have a good basic grasp on the business culture, and how the country’s history has impacted the people today. Not only did we learn a lot about the Russian culture, but I also learned about the Finnish and Swedish culture, and how people view the United States. This week has been extremely educational (and exhausting), and I will miss Peter and the Russian Business Culture class! His teaching style was fun and engaging, and I know I will carry forward the things he taught us.

This week was about the small adventures; trips to small towns, and small excursions after a long day of class. I’m excited for more of these small adventures, and a few big ones as well.

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A successful second week here in Finland! This past week was probably one of the most educational experiences I’ve ever had. The majority of the classroom focus this week was on Russian business culture. Our professor had lived in Bulgaria, Russia, Finland, and Estonia, so it was very interesting to hear his point of view on Russia, given he has lived there but has also been an outsider. What made this week so educational was the fact that our professor, Peter, did not strictly teach us Russian business culture, but also threw in some general Russian culture. In full disclosure, I knew next to nothing about Russia before this trip. Because I was a blank slate, I was ready to absorb everything I could. He took us through a very brief overview of Russian history, and then used that history to help explain why Russia is the way it is today. He then went on to give some practical tips on how to do business with Russians and what to expect. All of this was made exponentially better by his personal anecdotes and stories from his experience as a Russian businessman. These stories made his tips seem even more applicable. All of this material was covered over the course of 3 days, and for 7 hours at a time. As a result, I have never had a period with this much learning concentrated into this small amount of time. Despite the long days, I loved this week of learning with Peter.

The other helpful thing about Russian business was that Peter would compare it to Finland and the other Nordics, so we it was if we got a two for one. Because the Nordics were brought into our discussion, we were at the same time learning what business was like in the Nordics. Peter was also very good at interacting with the class, so we were able to compare the insights of the Mays students with the Finnish students and see what the differences were.

In addition to just learning in the class setting, we’ve gotten closer to our Finnish classmates, so I’ve begun to learn more from them about their culture in more than just the stereotypes we’ve been told. At lunch, we sit with our new Finnish friends and the majority of the time is spent with us just asking them questions about anything we can think of. I learned about the importance of their major holidays, and was filled in on some traditions of midsummer. These are the kinds of things we just can’t learn in the classroom, so I’m so grateful for the opportunity to learn from our classmates.

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Wow, it is only week two. I think the concept of time has become obsolete for this entire trip. This week has been filled to the brim with adventures as well as a couple times of napping. Both have made this yet another special week and are contributing to me enjoying my time here.

Last Saturday a small group of us concurred going to a small town outside of Helsinki called Porvoo. After the hour long bus ride we arrived to one of the nicest little towns I have ever visited. Consisting of small shops that were all locally owned, “old town” was not more than 3 blocks but was enough nonetheless. In the middle of town square sat the oldest City Hall building in Finland. Going through it was a great way to learn the history of not only this small town but of Finnish people of the past centuries also. Right out side of this building were two violinist who played the entire day, which was nice to listen to while we napped for an hour at a cafe nearby!

From there the week got better. I have officially established a routine of going to school and setting my time up to enjoy as much of Helsinki as possible. The definite best part of school so far was the three days of Russian business culture. Not only was the subject already plenty interesting the professor was enthusiastic about the material and was able to supply a great deal of knowledge to us. Peter was able to discuss the culture of Russia with jokes and classroom participation. This made for great conversations between the students of Hanken as well as the Mays students. Not only this but he also related the Russians to almost the rest of the world in his examples so while we were learning about their culture we also were learning about how the rest of the world worked as well. This class was for 8 hours of the day, and I may not have been in class that long since high school, it did not feel that long. The lectures flowed and the conversation was something I will look back on for a long time. Don’t worry though, every day after class I took at least a twenty minute nap. You have to rest up to be able to keep pace with Peter.

As week two ends the main thing that I can reflect on is how far we have come. Getting lost the first night of arrival trying to find dinner to locating a cheap and amazing meal within minutes of our hotel is one our greatest accomplishments. Not only that but we are able to walk around the majority of city center with out even needing to map it out before hand. Also we are continuing our relationships with the local students at Hanken by hanging out with them often and having them show us around to their favorite spots. My personal favorite night was when a small group of us ate together and then went to the beach to play with a hacky sack, it was the moment we realized that we were not just tourists but almost residents of Helsinki. Not to mention being able to stay out late with no fear of dwindling sunlight was a plus!

Week two was a great combination of adventure, studies, and local pleasures. I cannot wait for this next week to learn more about Nordic Business, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t also excited for a little shorter school day. If we keep growing in our local knowledge, I might just have to call myself an English speaking Finn!

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While completely immersing yourself in another culture is an adventure that broadens your perspectives, it also makes you appreciate the one and only: America. Just two weeks in the Nordic countries has given me a renewed love for my own country, and appreciation for the others. The easiest difference to spot between them is our use of facial expressions. I have been told that I smile a lot, and I trace this to genuine joy as well as American customs. Smiling, even at strangers, is our way of being polite (especially in the south). In Finland and Russia, people don’t usually smile. They do laugh at my jokes in Finland, and if I smile first then I will typically receive a smile in return. Finns are happy people, but a smile doesn’t mean as much as it does back home. Although I didn’t visit Russia, our professor told us that you really shouldn’t smile at someone unless you know them and have a concrete reason to do so. Otherwise, they will take smiling as a rude gesture.

Another major difference is high vs. low context cultures. Finland is like America in that we have pretty low-context cultures, meaning most of us cut straight to the point as a generality. However, Sweden is the exact opposite. Several sources have said so, and having visited Stockholm for the weekend confirmed for me that the Swedes have a high-context culture. They prefer to take their time thinking over things and discussing them with one another before reaching any sort of conclusion. I respect their way of doing life, but it is different from the way that many Americans do business.

To reveal my American pride, I am beyond grateful for individualism and personal responsibility. If you’re American, you understand that many of us do most things by ourselves and get upset if the government intervenes too much. With our history and this ideology in mind, many can agree that we like to make our own decisions because we believe that we know what is best for ourselves. This is the very nature of democracy and capitalism. Nordic countries are not like this; in fact, Russia is a prime example. It was difficult to learn about how much the Russians don’t think for themselves because their government has already decided virtually everything for them. There is no room for growth or independency in a place like that.

Finland is not quite this extreme, but the state’s hand is still very present in daily life. Taxes are rather high, but education and healthcare are free. There is some economic competition, but not nearly as much as America.

On a similar note, Sweden is a welfare state too. A local Swede gave me his own key insight as to why a welfare state doesn’t work perfectly. He said, “People who are not successful envy those who are successful.” Take a moment to think about that in the context of a welfare state.

My preference for our government and its values cannot undermine the importance of knowing and understanding other cultures, especially for the sake of business (and loving people for who they are). Regardless of where I visit, the history, values, and insight from locals of each country never fail to intrigue me.

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This last week has marked a sharp uptake in the pace of things – both academically and outside the classroom. As I write this my roommate and I sit in the modest comfort of our Omena Hotel room, trying to shake off the jet lag from the weekend class trip to Stockholm and bring discernible insights to the blur since last Sunday. My brain has the sort of dull feeling that comes when a full night’s sleep has begun to feel a distant memory, but I can rest easy—metaphorically if not literally—in the knowledge that this exhaustion is the epitome of “good tired.”

Due to the compressed nature of our curriculum and the inconsistent availability of some key educators contributing to it, this week we had to cram all the material for our course on Russian business culture into three days. This amounted to about six classroom hours every day this week, along with a company visit, a tour of the Hanken business lab, and a fascinating guest lecture from Dr. Peter Watt. My own morning chipper-ness (or lack thereof) notwithstanding, the benefit of this rigorous schedule has been one touted by language-learners and memory scientists alike: immersion. I haven’t really gotten many chances to relax and drop out of gear this week, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Maybe training those mental muscles and learning to stay at task longer will be among the most valuable—if unintended—benefits of this trip. Maybe keeping multiple breakneck trains of thought going at once will reveal entirely new understanding into the connections between them. We’ll see. In any event, I’m going to bed as soon as I’m done writing.

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