I bid goodbye to my loved ones, and henceforth started my journey north towards Finland, a country often associated with northern lights, Santa Claus and extreme cold during winter. I was so elated last semester when I knew I was able to go Aalto University School of Business for my exchange programme , and before I knew it, the time had come for me to fly to Helsinki for my exchange. It was hard to go on separate ways with my loved ones back in Singapore, but I was determined to learn something new during this exchange, and hopefully return a much more matured person with a broader perspective of the world around me.
After 11 hours of flight, I finally landed in Helsinki, and before long, a sudden wave of coldness enveloped me, leaving me shivering in the cold late summer air. I looked at the temperature reading beside the clock in the airport, and it read ‘4C’. Not cool, not cool at all. Nevertheless, I was excited and nervous at the same time. It was the start of something new, and I was ready for it. My tutor from school, Aira, was kind enough to fetch me from the airport to my house. We walked towards her car, and that was when I got my first culture shock. I opened the door on the left of the car and realised I was sitting on the driver’s seat. After a few laughs, I went to the right side of the car, confused and amused at the same time. (Singapore’s driver seat is on the right of the car) And off we went, towards my new home in Kuvernöörintie, Helsinki.
The next few days were spent having orientations in school, welcome parties, and after parties. We also met some Finnish friends who had exchange in NTU a semester ago, and we whipped up some good Finnish food for them. Aaron came to visit me from London as well, and we explored Helsinki town together, and took some great photos of the city and its beautiful cathedrals and cobbled streets. It has a wonderful harbour, filled with boats and centuries-old looking wooden ships that looked so exotic.
We also visited Suomenlinna, a site that was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1991 as a special monument of military architecture. The military fortress was served in the defence of 3 different realms: Sweden, Russia and Finland. Suomenlinna consists of original structures, and looks authentic to a huge extent with walls surrounding the entire main island. I was overwhelmed by the nature taking over the man-made structures once again. There was a dry dock at the heart of the fortress, which was the state of art in 18th century technology. From a viewing point, we were able to catch a glimpse of the entire waterfront of Helsinki Harbour, while strong winds ruffled the clear waters of the sea, pushing waves across the shimmering surface.
The Helsinki Cathedral, which is the symbol of Helsinki, was altered by Ernst Lohrmann, where the 4 small domes emphasise the architectural connection to the cathedral’s model St Isaac’s Cathedral in St Petersburg. It looks pretty imposing from the ground level, because one has to climb many steps to get up to the entrance of the cathedral.
Stay tuned as I record my adventures around Europe during my one-semester stay in Finland for exchange!