Helsinki has finally introduced herself properly, with beautiful snow and sub-zero temperatures. My first snow encounters in Boston and Seoul were memorable, though this was the first time I have witnessed it in such quantity and with such beauty, painting the streets white. Hailing from countries where winter arrived once every year my roommates must have thought I was a suaku, snapping photographs of snowflakes and prancing around patches of snow. With temperatures averaging between negative five and fifteen it has been the coldest since I arrived a few weeks ago, but gradual acclimatisation means it is all good.
Most will tell you that the chilly gusts of winds are probably the worst. And since covering the entire face is not an option one has to shuffle hurriedly to the next sheltered location.
The routine of school and study has not been quite as cool, after spending weeks traipsing from one new adventure to the other. That post-break inertia. It may be surprising to some, but pedagogies at the Aalto School of Business will not be unfamiliar to a business undergraduate from Singapore: a mix of lectures, tutorials, seminars; individual assignments and group projects, albeit with tighter deadlines; and I guess the quintessential sets of PowerPoint slides. On an exchange programme students are only expected to attain minimum passes on their modules, but doing poorly – I think – can feel like a slap to the face. Maybe skipping classes for little trips around the region is reasonable, but given the tight schedules courses are run on (in the beginning, at least) you want your learning to remain undisrupted.
So the past week was spent trying to get a work rhythm going, though we did make a short trip to Tallinn, Estonia. The charming city – especially the famed Old Town, a must-see for all visitors – was a sight to behold, especially when the roofs were covered magnificently in snow. Armed amateurishly with a tourist map and a Google-list of must-see places, we tried to make sense of the history and architecture of the many churches, cathedrals, town halls, fortresses, and buildings we saw. Most of the time we pranced around inches of snow (cue the obligatory snow-fights), and taking in the sights and sounds.
The winds of travel are strong, and this is my chance to see the world.
Affluent Singaporeans pride themselves for being avid global travellers, the red passport a symbol of their many journeys. I have been privileged to go around with my parents and school, but here my newfound counterparts here have done so far more extensively. The aforementioned roommates, one Dutch (who has been to Singapore) and the other a Chinese (who is going his masters in France), have covered the major cities in Europe. A Finnish representative (who delightfully enjoys Korean pop) from the student union is going to do an exchange programme in Korea, and has plans to travel around Asia in the summer.
While I have gotten used to much in Helsinki, the strong party and drinking culture in the universities is perhaps something that I cannot fully and will not embrace. In fact many (exchange) students headed to Tallinn with tonnes of empty luggage to load litres of alcohol, to fuel get-togethers, gatherings, and self-organised parties. This form of socialising – while popular and ubiquitous – is ultimately a personal choice, and is unfortunately not for me.
Very diplomatic, but I have had my fair share of tactlessness in the past week, so…
Lest I continue to revel in this self-indulgence, with my views on party-drinking-socialising and generally with the Finland Chapter, I have been talking to a few locals about Finland’s education system, the general culture, and also the student unions in the universities. I am in the midst of crafting questions and getting responses from them, so when that goes through I will stop boring everyone with my less-than-exciting encounters here, ha.
Check out The Finland Chapter, from start to finnish.