In 24 hours, I will be heading back home to Lebanon after three weeks in Finland, the land of Sisu, Saunas & freedom of expression, and I would be lying if I said I had enough.
Few months ago, I read a caption on the Foreign correspondent’s programme, It said: Get a chance to become a lifelong friend of Finland. I paused and wondered back then: What does this even mean? How can one build a lifelong friendship with a whole country?! And in three weeks??
The answer to my question became evident and clear during my stay: I met politicians, social innovators, entrepreneurs, teachers, professors, nurses, CEOs, ministers, journalists, business owners, tech gurus, Finnish citizens, families, kids, police officers, prison inmates and most importantly, 15 young correspondents from all over the globe. And within these wide circles and thin lines, I leave Finland knowing that at least one person will remember me.
I got to live like a true Finnish citizen, with all the challenges that come with: coming from a different society, having a different work and food schedule, sharing a room with a roommate for 3 weeks, walking and walking, figuring out public transportation and grocery shopping, and most importantly, understanding the imperfections of this country.
Yet, I found scattered pieces of me in Finland, and that, I did not expect: Sisu, the Finnish art of inner strength, I did not know that there was a name and description for the actions I try to take when I’m feeling down and incapable, turns out, when you push yourself out of that bubble and challenge yourself more, it’s called Sisu!
The freedom to oppose, to disagree even with a politician stroke me. We were allowed and even urged to discuss and ask questions and even disagree with people in power, we were treated as equals to ministers and that is something that I would not experience in my home country, sadly.
The nature, public transportation which is in complete coordination with google maps, making it hard for you to get lost even if you wanted.
Finland is also a country where women are encouraged to lead and journalists are committed to telling to truth.
A common language: English, many jogging spaces all around the city, an endless list of what looks like “a perfect life”.
Having said all that, Finland is not perfect, but to me, what was so perfect about it, is that it’s a country that allows you to touch base on it’s imperfections, it encourages you to discuss them, to questions them. It does not hold down your questions, and the best thing about asking those questions in Finland is that there’s no right or wrong question, there’s always a learning opportunity in each discussion.
I have been to other Nordic countries before, the experiences were very welcoming, and I always came back home with new lessons learned.
But the thing about Finland is that, it did not treat me as a tourist, it encouraged me to temporarily let go of my norms and values and routine, and experiment without any expectations, and for me, that was the most valuable lesson because I go back home with a new state of mind and perspective.
And mostly, Finland proved me wrong, you can indeed build a lifelong friendship with a whole country and even with individuals, in three weeks only, and I guess, in addition to Santa Clause and the Moomins, that’s the most magical thing about Finland!