Helsinki and Finland have been good to me. And I am grateful.
My academic exchange semester at the Aalto University School of Business has concluded, and even though I still have three weeks abroad the rest of my time will be spent travelling in the Netherlands and around the Scandinavian region. I have been privileged to see the aurora borealis in Inari, Finland, to walk through history in Warsaw and Krakow, Poland, and to admire beautiful architecture in Saint Petersburg, Russia. I have toured the Finnish cities of Helsinki, Tampere, Turku, and Porvoo, but there remains much to see and experience. Coming back in the future is a must.
Sometimes it this privilege to travel – and convenience of travelling – which prevents us from asking ourselves why we actually do so. Some of us enjoy the old company, the new acquaintances. Some of us hunt for culinary delights. Some of us just want to be away from home, somewhere different. Maybe all of the above. I travel to remind myself of my insignificance and ignorance, and along the way learn more about my preferences: that old towns and cathedrals to my untrained eyes look the same, that not all museums are interesting, and that touring alone can be enjoyable (even if itinerary-planning is a pain in the ass).
Since I first arrived in Helsinki very little has changed around me. The routines have made everything more familiar, the excursions and language lessons have been useful, yet there will always be parts of Finnish culture and society which I will be blind to.
Doing the Finnish Model United Nations, interviewing students about their learning journeys, and finding out more about the universities – specifically, the reforms of the schools, the independent unions, as well as the examination system – were part of the plan. Beyond that I was thankful for the unexpected opportunities to explore the contents of the maternity package and to visit an elementary school in the region. I also wrote about the gambling industry, speeding tickets, and entrepreneurship, even if the insights were rather superficial.
I had time to reflect, to start all over again.
During this sojourn – and after, I would imagine – one of the most common questions is whether Singapore can do what Finland does. We could draw lessons, yet while doing so understand that mechanisms do not function in isolation, and there are elements of a system which cannot be conveniently replicated. We have an education system that works, and it could be enhanced as educators are granted more autonomy in the classroom, and greater emphasis on non-scholastic achievements for students. We might look at the many Finnish newspapers in envy, but the two countries do not share similar geographic characteristics.
And so after these five months, home beckons. Kiitos, Suomi.
Check out The Finland Chapter, from start to finnish.