The morning after we returned to America, I was alone at my grandparents’ lake house in Montgomery, Texas. I sat by the water and watched the sunrise over Lake Conroe, and in very pretentious manner I pontificated about what I’ve learned over this last month. I suppose I like having such punctuation for distinct endings of things. As I sat and thought, however, the things I’d learned about Nordic business culture; about international trade environments; about the Russian business mindset; didn’t seem as significant as the things I’d learned about people in general just by interacting with them.

Now more than perhaps any other time in the last few decades, discussions about national individuality and the borders – both physical and cultural – dividing us are increasingly at the fore. Both our Nordic and Russian classes had this same focus of elucidating what makes each of those cultures distinct from that of America. Indeed some such distinctions do exist – and it’s better to be aware of them than not to – but the more I’ve talked to people from other cultures, I’ve been taken aback not by our differences but by our similarities. This, I think, is the true ideal of studying foreign cultures: learning, by understanding the things that divide us, the way to treat people at an irreducible, universal level. That’s why these discussions are so fascinating and so vitally important. By learning that our differences are not nearly so insurmountable as they may occasionally seem, we can approach understanding the most essential heart of humanity. I struggle to think of a more noble goal, or a more peremptory one.

Categories: 2017 Trip

It’s so hard to believe this month in Finland is over! From our last test, to our last cup of “kahvi”, to our last walk around the market square, this past week has been full of lasts as we say goodbye to Helsinki. When we first got here and saw all Helsinki had to offer, we said to ourselves, “Oh, we’re here a month, we don’t need to do everything at once”. And all of a sudden, that month is over. The beginning of this trip went by relatively slow, as I kept thinking to myself that I was here an entire month, and that seems like a long time. Then out of nowhere, the entire month flew by.

Thinking back over this past month, I think of where the time went. Mostly, it went to sitting in class with the Hanken students and walking around the city at night trying to find a place for dinner. But the afternoons were spent eating ice cream in parks, and the weekends full of exploring new cities. All these little things added up to make this experience abroad so incredible. This trip was also made so memorable by all the friends I’ve made through it. It was great getting to know new Aggie friends, but I also am leaving Helsinki with almost a dozen new Finnish friends, something I never thought I would say before finding this study abroad program.

When I first told people I was going to Finland, it was met with a confused look and a question about why Finland? It did seem like a random choice, especially when most students study abroad in Spain or Italy. But over the past month, I have fallen in love with Helsinki and Finland in general. Visiting this country has exposed me to all the Nordics, which before this trip, had never been on my radar before. Now I want to come back to see all the Scandinavian countries I missed while on this trip. This experience has also opened me up to visiting more low-profile and less popular countries, like Estonia. Before this, I didn’t even know Estonia was a country, but now I’m making a list of all the countries I want to visit that most people have never heard of.

While I’m glad to be back home, drinking sweet tea and eating Torchy’s, there’s a lot I’ll miss about Finland. Drinking coffee at all hours of the day will be hard to let go of, as well as having Fazer chocolate handed out free at any coffee shop. I won’t be able to buy ice cream from a stand on literally every street corner, and I won’t be constantly surrounded by beautiful architecture and the Baltic Sea. I’ll also need to readjust to this 95 degree weather and the fact that the sun won’t be up until 10:30 pm. This was such an amazing and educational experience for me, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The memories I’ve made here will last a lifetime, and I can’t wait to come back and visit Helsinki again. So until next time, kiitos and gig ‘em Finland!

Categories: 2017 Trip, Uncategorized

Our time in Finland has now come to a close. One bus ride, two flights, and a car drive later, and I am finally back in Texas. Our last week in Helsinki was filled with fun activities (and a few tests). For our last weekend, I took a ferry to Tallinn, Estonia with a few others in our group. We stayed in the old town, and had a very relaxing weekend. Because it was Midsummer weekend, most museums were closed, but we walked around and took lots of pictures of the beautiful little town.

The week was spent trying to revisit our favorite places in Helsinki, and trying to fit in any last experiences we hadn’t gotten to yet. We went back to our favorite burger place (Friends and BRGR), had ice cream from one of the many ice cream stands, went to our favorite coffee spots, and went back to the market square to buy souvenirs to bring home. As for new experiences, we took a boat ride over to Suomenlinna, a fortress on a small island right off the coast of Helsinki. We explored the tunnels under the fortress, found little houses that looked like Hobbit holes, and took a tour to learn about the history of the fortress and the island. A few of us also went kayaking on our last day. We kayaked around a bay, and got to see the president’s and prime minister’s houses, which we had driven by on our bus tour the first day.

Unfortunately, this is a study abroad, so we did have a couple tests to study for during our last week. We powered through the studying, and spent a lot of time in our favorite coffee shops eating dessert and reading over notes. Each morning before the test, we met in a coffee shop below our hotel to review together, and we made it through both tests unscathed.

On the last day, our Finnish classmate through a “sitz” for us. A sitz is a party where you eat, drink, sing, and play party games. The whole experience was something completely new to me, but it was a lot of fun! It really brought everyone out of their shell, and was a great way for us to end the trip. The songs and games were super fun, even though a lot of the songs were in Swedish or Finnish or Norwegian. The food was also wonderful; we had an appetizer and main course, then a freshly baked cinnamon bun for dessert. I’ve had many cinnamon buns at coffee shops, but this one was by far the best (it was fresh out of the oven)!

I was surprised at how similar the Finnish culture is to our own. We all had similar ambitions and attitudes to those of our Finnish counterparts. Some of the differences I’ve noticed are the different attitudes toward social welfare and alcohol. Finland has a social welfare system, so their culture is much more about the group, where America is much more individualistic. Also, the drinking age in Finland is a bit lower than America, and they have a much different attitude toward it. Alcohol is a part of their social culture from a young age, but in America, we have a very cautious and many times negative attitude towards alcohol.

I am so thankful for all the people that made this trip enjoyable, especially Dr. Panina, Johanna, and all of our friends at Hanken. I’m so glad our Finnish classmates were so willing to help us and invite us to do things while we were in Helsinki!  I’m so glad that I chose to study abroad in Finland, and I hope that someday I will have the chance to return. Kiitos!\

Categories: 2017 Trip, Uncategorized

This last week flew by due to the fact that it felt like we were all going non stop, with the tests and goodbye hangouts. We had our final two tests this past week and both Tuesday and Wednesday nights we spent cramming for them. They weren’t as hard as I thought they’d be, so that was a good ending point for my classes. On Wednesday it was one of the best weather days we had during our stay in Finland. We decided to go and visit the island fortress called Suomenlinna. We got some beautiful views by the ocean and of the fortress, on top of that we got to learn some facts about the history of Finland too. One thing I learned this week during the goodbye sitz that the Hanken students put on for us hours before we had to be on the flight the next day, was how much Finns are in to having fun and much like A&M care deeply about traditions. They had songs to sing that every student memorized and welcomed us to relax in the sauna. I realized coming to Finland that they had saunas, but never really knew how much they truly loved them. I’ve had many memories on this trip that I’ll forever remember and I received many friendships from my fellow classmates. This is my last blog and now it’s time for me to sign off, goodbye.

Categories: 2017 Trip, Uncategorized

Thirty days have come and gone. It is crazy how much you learn about a country and the people that you spend a month straight with. Week four was filled with studying and test taking but we also managed to go to a museum, Sommonila Island and partake in a sitz. It was a week filled with soaking up our last few days but also a week of reflection. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to come to Helsinki for a month and I’ve complied a list of a few things that I learned on our trip:

-Be open-minded: Keeping an open-mind to the culture, people, food, and even the classes (and professors) that we took was so important. Opening yourself up to new experiences can significantly improved my trip. At first I was hesitant, but as I opened my mind I allowed myself to get to know the people on this trip and learned to appreciate Helsinki more.

-Take as many weekend trips as possible: Going to Tallinn, Stockholm and Amsterdam were easily some of the most memorable moments happened on this trip. Getting out of Helsinki and exploring other cities have me a chance to compare cultures, experience new foods and learn about other places history.

-Don’t have every second planned: As someone who loves to know exactly how my day is going to be this was a big one. This trip taught me that having every second planned sometimes get more out of your day. Especially on our weekend trips there was a lot of wandering around and finding things that we didn’t originally have on our list of to-dos.

The memories made on this trip were plentiful as are the friends that I have made. As we head back to Texas I am saddened to think that we weather will be 30 degrees warmer and that the days are shorter (but so ready for queso!). Kiitos Finland!

Categories: 2017 Trip, Uncategorized

Midsummer is the celebration of the summer solstice in Nordic countries, mainly Finland and Sweden.  During the Midsummer weekend, many areas of the city shut down so that people can spend it outside and in the sun.  Because Helsinki would be very quiet that weekend, a group of five people and I decided to take a weekend trip to Tallinn, Estonia, to see the Old Town.

 

Tallinn looks exactly like a fairytale.  The first night, we went to a restaurant that served traditional Estonian food.  The restaurant was in the basement of a building and was decorated to have a cottage-like feel.  It was as if we had walked into someone’s house!  The next day, we explored the city and looked at the architecture there.  We saw St Olaf’s church, the Holy Spirit Church, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, and so many more.  With there being so many churches, you would think that they would start to blend together, but every single church was so unique and different!  On our last day, we shopped for souvenirs, had gelato, and said goodbye to the city.  It was such a memorable weekend!

 

The time we spent overseas in Finland, Sweden, and Estonia has been so educational and fun.  I am so thankful for the opportunity and for all the work put in by Dr. Panina and the Mays Study Abroad Department.  I hope to go back and see Helsinki again.  Kiitos!

Categories: 2017 Trip, Uncategorized

This is my last blog as the final week just wrapped up. A lot of goodbyes happened this week with even more “see ya later” conversations. It was an activity packed week that topped an activity packed month. And so week 4 began…

Tallinn, Estonia: a place I had not even heard of until I purchased my ferry ticket 2 days out. Only going because I didn’t want to be alone in a closed city during Midsummer, I didn’t have many expectations. Maybe some good food, and some quality time, I was packed and ready to go without a hotel room (thanks Bryan). Strolling through Old Town, it was clear how this place was almost out of a story book. The buildings were older than the USA, their were people playing violins and chellos almost on every street, and churches that were beautifully grandiose. The time spent there was relaxing as well as full of sights. Also we can’t forget that our little group went to every single souvenir shop in Tallinn, as well as spent hours upon hours at a local coffee shop with the cheapest coffee we had experienced. The weekend was amazing to have been able to enjoy a place that many haven’t ever heard of.

The final week was mostly spent at Wayne’s coffee shop next to our hotel. The Group studying was a must for these courses, mainly because none of us knew what to expect on the tests. Even though we were studying it once again didn’t feel stressful. We were in a different country just reviewing the material we needed to know, there was no cramming or tears from anyone. I haven’t gotten my grades back, but lets hope that there won’t be any tears when I see them!

This month was everything I expected and yet also not what I expected at all. I made friends, genuine friends that I can’t wait to grab coffee with in College Station. I learned more about Russia in three days than I had in twenty years. For my first trip abroad I traveled to three different countries all while being able to explore Helsinki in detail. I’ve learned life lessons as well as tips and tricks I can use for future trips abroad. I am thankful for the opportunity to experience culture of different countries as well as the different culture of the A&M students I had not met before. This place will always be a part of me, and a part of my story. It will sure be a happy chapter in my life.

Categories: 2017 Trip, Uncategorized

Thirty days, five countries, ten planes, and nearly two hundred miles traveled by foot. These numbers sum up the amazing month I just experienced. I have now been home for a little over two days, and while it’s great to be home, a part of me will miss the Nordics. Helsinki was the place I called home for the month of June. I traveled every weekend, and at the end of each weekend I felt like I was going “home”. I learned and experienced so much during my time abroad and I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to participate in such a wonderful program. Throughout my time abroad, I visited Estonia, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and of course, Finland. I was exposed to so many different cultures, languages, currencies, and landscapes. I developed new friendships as well, not only with Mays students, but also with people I met abroad. I visited islands, national theaters, churches, fortresses, and museums. I ate Swedish meatballs in Sweden, “muikku” and eel in Finland, dry-fish and “kleinur” in Iceland, and more. On top of all of these adventures, I also received six hours of college credit. I can’t think of any better way to earn college credit. In my final entry, I want to reflect a little on my final week in Helsinki, and say a few words about my transition back to America.

A lot of the last week was spent studying for my two remaining finals, International Business and Intro to Nordic Business Culture. So, although I spent a lot of time in coffee shops, I still managed to fit in a few last adventures. The class got to visit the Mannerheim Museum, I went to eat at a cool cave-themed buffet called “Caverna”, and we all got to hear a lecture from Tuuli Sotamaa, the most accomplished designer in Helsinki. Additionally, we visited a restaurant called Finnjavel and explored the Suomenlinna fortress. Our finals were on Wednesday and Thursday, and as soon as Thursday’s final was finished, we attended a wonderful farewell lunch. Here, the administration and professors said a few parting words and that was essentially the end of our trip. I spent the rest of my final day shopping for last minute souvenirs, packing, and walking the streets of Helsinki one last time. Our bus picked us up at 4:00am Friday morning, and we began our long journey home. It was truly an amazing trip.

As I mentioned earlier, I have been home for just over two days. The first “shock” I experienced was the weather in Houston. During our flight from Frankfurt to Houston, our pilot said, “The weather in Houston is great. It’s a comfortable 90 degrees”. I laughed to myself when I heard this. I basically started sweating instantly upon walking out of the airport. This will take some getting used too, especially after living in 55-65 degree weather for the past month. It was also odd to hear so much English again. I went to a steak restaurant Friday night (how much more American can you get), and obviously, everyone was speaking English. My brain was confused when it heard that much English all at once. I was used to hearing Finnish, Swedish, etc. When we walked up to the hostess to get a table, she said, “Hi” instead of “Moi”, and when we left, we heard “Thank you” instead of “Kiitos”. Finally, it was great to have large portion sizes and free refills again.

I can’t believe the program is already over, and that I’m writing my final blog entry back in America. I could not have anticipated all of the things that I got to experience during the past month. It was truly the trip of a lifetime. I would definitely encourage anyone thinking about participating in this program in the future to do it. My advice: travel on the weekends, seize every opportunity, and immerse yourself in, and appreciate all of the different cultures.

Categories: 2017 Trip, Uncategorized

What is study abroad? To me, study abroad is going kayaking with your new best friends in Helsinki on a beautiful summer day right after you finish your last final. When one decides to study abroad, I doubt that the first thought is “I want to go to study in the Nordic countries.” It was not my first idea either, but I can now confidently say that it was an excellent decision. I think if you ask most people what they got out of studying abroad, they’ll tell you: cultural exposure. While this is accurate, there is so much to that statement. Navigating new cities, overcoming language barriers, faithfully searching for cheap food, adapting, and getting to know the locals are just a few things that I have done.

When it comes to new people, we spent most of our time with Swedish-speaking Finns while studying at Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki, Finland. Finland has two official national languages: Finnish and Swedish. Thankfully though, most people can speak English pretty well. I found it most helpful to talk with the Hanken students in our class about what we learned in lectures. Everyone can have opinions and even study different nations, including professors. However, if someone tells you that design is extremely prevalent and important to Finns, it always helps to ask the locals how they feel. They can give you true insight that’s not taught in a course, and often times that is most valuable. Knowing this, especially as I leave Finland, I regret not spending more time with the Finns. There are some opportunities in and out of class to get to know them. But if I were to do it again I would create more opportunities to spend time with them. Finns are very intelligent as a whole and you can gain so much valuable knowledge just through every day conversations.

Pro-tip if you go on the Nordic Study Abroad trip: attend the “Sitz.” The Hanken students put it on every year for their exchange students. It didn’t seem like our idea of fun at first, but thankfully we went anyways. The students worked so hard on setting it up and getting other Finns to come too. It would have been rude not to go. It was a time to understand how other countries celebrate and be merry together. It will probably be your last opportunity to just be together as well. I cannot overstate how much you can learn from the Finns, and they typically enjoy learning about us too even if they are a reserved people.

I was told by two different respectable people on separate occasions in different countries that “people are all the same.” I wasn’t sure how to take this at first, given that I paid way too much money to go meet different people. As I process this statement, I now see the truth in it. For instance, I would argue that people as a whole appreciate nature. We have incredible sunsets in Texas and different ways to appreciate nature across the state. Every single Nordic country that I visited (Finland, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, and Iceland) very evidently valued nature. Norway has magnificent botanical gardens, Finland has endless parks randomly scattered throughout the city, and people just lay out in the sun in Sweden, everywhere. Nevertheless, people seem the same to me because we all value nature to some extent.

While I was staying with family friends in Iceland, I noticed that animals and music can bring anyone together. My brother and I met their extended family for the first time in 16 years, and when we ran out of things to talk about, they played some Icelandic music with us. They were sharing part of their culture with us, and it brought us together. They also had a big dog whose name I cannot spell, and everyone could pet the dog which opened up even more avenues for conversation. Many people that we saw in the Nordic cities had dogs, so I would say that the same thing holds true for many countries.

Even though there are endless differences between people and countries, we are all human and value many of the same things. I also learned to value the differences. As our Russian professor Peter told us, you can sit around and listen to someone teach you about cultures if you want. You can read about them too. However, the best way to truly learn about them is to go be with the people and experience it for yourself. Plus, if you do study abroad, you do life with new people for a significant amount of time and you can meet some wonderful Americans too. I highly encourage study abroad if you can make it happen financially.

 

Categories: 2017 Trip

Sitting in the lobby of the Hilton airport hotel with a receptionist desk awaiting visitors and key-cards instead of passcodes, I realize this is not the Omena hotel in Helsinki city center. Anxiously waiting to meet my family in Bergen, Norway for the next leg of this summer adventure, I realize that fourteen new Aggie friends have left and are headed back to Texas. Being able to hear my own thoughts for the first time all month, I realize how lame peace and quiet really is and don’t know how I ever did it before I came on this trip. It’s true, all the signs are showing that the Finland study abroad trip of Summer 2017 has come to an end, and I really can’t believe it.

 

I was completely hooked by Helsinki the day we got there, and spending the past month in this city was has been nothing short of the greatest experience of college yet. We met Finns, we met Swedes, we took trips to the east, west, and south, and we probably would have gone north, but everyone says it’d be too cold for us Texans. Every day was an adventure in the city regardless of the number of hours we spent in lecture. It was an experience to learn how I travel independently, without my family, and to be able to see the things that interest me most in each city. Throughout this past month in class and out exploring new cities, I have gained a new perspective on the Nordic countries and the people that have created such a rich culture in each place.

 

One of my favorite parts of the trip was getting to meet all the new people. Joining a program from Texas A&M, and specifically in Mays Business School, made the experience much more comfortable, but also gave me the opportunity to meet fourteen fellow Aggies that I otherwise wouldn’t have. Dr. Panina also played a huge role in my enthusiasm and outlook on this experience, as she was always there to laugh with us at the boys’ shenanigans on the tram to company visits or having our back when culture shock set in and we realized the final exam would be in the form of two timed essays. And finally, the Finns, and particularly the Swedish speaking Finns we all grew to love. Our peers at Hanken were incredibly welcoming from the beginning of the trip and continued to be throughout the whole trip. Whether we were asking for “cheap, but like really good” dinner suggestions, a game of hacky-sack, or celebrating the end of the program with the traditional “sitz” dinner, the Finns always came through. Although, if they do ever want to come visit Texas A&M, we’re going to have to convince them to be as loud as the Americans on this trip.

 

There will be so many things that I take away from this trip. I’m realizing as I am writing this how truly sad I am that this experience has ended. So, if I can offer any college student a piece of advice, say “yes” to the adventure of studying abroad, I promise you wont regret it.

 

Kittos and Gig’em!

Categories: 2017 Trip