Author: Halid Muratoski
Once, when I was a teenager I promised myself that I will go to the land of thousand lakes, the land where the sun never sets during summer days. It all started during high school days where I became a Finfanatic, lurking through the stories of the Kalevala – the national epic of Finland. Väinämöinen has been my hero and Illmatar my muse ever since.
Growing up in a remote village in Western Macedonia, I didn’t get to see the world much. It all started from Mladiinfo’s Facebook page, where I noticed a call for a volunteer in Finland, in the pearl of the North, Helsinki. HELSINGIN LYHYTAIKAISKOTI JA TYÖPAJA LYHTY RY was looking for a voluntary worker, via the European Voluntary Service, to work and assist a group of intellectually disabled men in their outdoor workshop for botany and gardening. Given the attractive location, Helsinki, many people applied for the position. I was thinking – I do not stand the chance, but then I decided to give it a go? Other than my own preference, I was drawn to this specific voluntary position because my own sister is handicapped. I live in a society where people with special needs are considered second-class citizens. People with special needs require love and attention as much as everybody else. I was good to go and ready to discover what this Nordic country does to aid these people.
Soon enough, I heard from my host organization that I was chosen for the voluntary position. Next thing I know, I’m on the flight to Helsinki. Flying over the welfare country, the land with the best education, one of countries with the biggest happiness index, the land with the cleanest food and water supplies, looking down on the city of Helsinki, wondering where is Helsinki?! Helsinki is not a typical capital. Don’t be surprised if you trip on a wild bunny or see a deer near the city centre! Helsinki is surrounded by vast forests.
Landing at the airport, I was picked up by my support person, Nina. I arrived in Vantaa, where she lived. First thing, I open the venetian blinds. Shocker! It was 11pm and it was still all shiny and bright. The following day I was introduced to my host. It was an unusual experience for me. Why would they open their doors for me, a foreigner? I highly recommend that you live with a host family, so you get to live with the true spirit of the country you reside in. My cultural shock started very soon. It went as far as I couldn’t turn on the shower or scan my bus ticket on the scanning machine in the public transportation! The price of goods, alimentation and beverage strike me as one of the highest in the EU. The living standard in Finland is high, there is hardly any gender or race discrimination, you can live freely not fearing of being judged for your views. It is one of the safest countries to be in. Finns are a proud nation and big patriots! Finland is the best country to live in, say this out loud, and you will be loved. Finns are a timid nation and small talk is out of the question. Honesty is one of the best traits of Finns. A promise is a promise. Time is of the essence, so do not be late or you will be scolded.
In Finland, there is lake around every corner! Finland is a land which changes through seasons, light in summer, but severely dark during winter. The darkness is hard to handle, even for Finns themselves. The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Finland is sauna! Every Finnish household has one. Relaxing and soothing, especially during winter times. Finns do not converse with strangers on the streets, but go naked in the sauna with them. It is rude to go in the sauna with undies. Drinking is part of Finnish culture. A shot of Finlandia or Koskenkorva hasn’t harmed anyone! Except for sauna, other typical Finnish things are: Nokia, Linux and Santa Claus. Every Finn will tell you that Santa Claus is from Finland, from Korvatunturi (Ear Mountain), Lapland.
Finish is one of the most difficult languages. Belonging to the Uralic branch of languages, just like Hungarian, it has nothing to do with Indo-European languages. It requires time and patience. In my case, I had to learn it fast, since it was the language of communication with the disabled clients. Apart from that, it was the main inspiration for J.R.R Tolkien’s constructed languages of Middle Earth. Finland is also the homeland of many famous rock & heavy metal bands.
Working with people with special needs is anything but easy. It is a challenge worth taking. It is a pure joy for me to see people with special needs using public transportation, going to public institution on their own, having a life on their own without the scorn of the society. Finland is a country that makes all that possible. The European Voluntary Service gave me the opportunity I never had. It gave me chance to live in the land of the thousand lakes. An experience I will cherish for all eternity.