Back in 2003, I was 26, already working as a journalist while completing my last year at graduate school. It was the middle of the semester when I saw an announcement for young journalists on the message board at my university, calling for participants for a project in Finland. I was immediately intrigued and made sure to apply at once. I was especially interested in this area, since at the time I was researching the history of YLE, the Finnish national public broadcasting company, which was widely regarded as a success story among the public broadcasting companies in Europe. Based on my research, I put together my application material and handed it in. A couple of months later I found myself at the white imposing building of the Budapest Embassy of Finland, where Finnish diplomats congratulated me on my successful application; I was in!
I landed in the Finnish capital on an unusually hot August day in 2003. The same evening I was already conversing enthusiastically with young people of my age: young journalists coming from Canada, the USA, Portugal, Russia, Lithuania, France, Estonia, Poland, Czech Republic, Scotland etc… One thing led to another and soon I was plunging into the most intense month of my fledgling professional career. We were following a strict schedule: attending speeches and presentations given by the country’s movers and shakers; journalists, economists, political pundits. Visiting museums, getting to know Helsinki, visiting the country. An unforgettable tour to Lapland by plane. Since I was researching public broadcasting companies at the time, I was given the chance to spend a day with a legendary Finnish news anchor at YLE, to see his work routine, watch him prepare for the evening news, and then, watch him presenting the news on air, from the control room, live. Events and programs like these gave me such professional experience and feedback that I had never had before and that have proved to be immensely useful in my professional career ever since.
Most of the people in our group do not work as journalists anymore but almost all of us have found their vocations in the field of communication and PR and thus it is not an overstatement to say that this one month in Helsinki served as the first and most effective training for us in the beginning of our careers. As a PR expert, I have organised numerous press trips for journalists and I have to say that it is very hard to find such a diverse, well-organised international project providing that amount of professional experience. Usually, such programs are open to seasoned, experienced journalists and so it is an exceptionally rare opportunity for journalists at the beginning of their career to participate and I would like to encourage the young to do so.
That summer, apart from the unique professional skills, we, of course, all gained life experience, made friends and cherish precious memories to this day. Put together eighteen young, open-minded journalists in Helsinki from all around the world: the perfect recipe for a truly unforgettable event. Finland is a perfect place for such a cosmopolitan project; its hospitality, openness, infrastructure, and outstanding natural beauty all made our one-month-long stay a special time to remember.
The friendships we made ten years ago are still with us today. Some of those from the American continent did not travel back immediately after the project, but continued their journey around Europe, spending time with new friends they had met in Helsinki. Years later, when Budapest made headlines worldwide, my Portugal friend travelled to Hungary and stayed at my place to report his home country on the unfolding events. These friendships are still very much alive: we have met many times since and continue to keep in touch. And this summer, in the year of the ten-year anniversary, we chose to go back to the place where it all began, the city which will always have a special place in our hearts: Helsinki, Finland…
Gábor Ozoli, Hungary