Why I Choose to Come to Helsinki

There are two questions I get asked almost every time I meet someone new. The first is where I'm from (United States). The second is "why are you here??" It’s kind of annoying to answer it over and over again, but a very valid one. I come from San Francisco, did my undergrad in Los Angeles, lived in New York City for a little bit, and have ties to Paris and London. So why this small Northern city in a country that has one of the world’s hardest languages? I'm here in Helsinki to study, which then usually leads to asking what I'm studying (European and Nordic studies) and why I'm studying it. My answer can be broken down into four parts: the music, my educational path, the city itself, and the programme.  

Music:

I first became interested in Finland when HIM’s Venus Doom came out in 2007, when I was 12. I don’t know what it was about HIM, but I felt the need to research this band and learn more about the country they came from. My research led me to discover more Finnish bands such as Nightwish, Korpiklaani, and Within Temptation (yes, early teens me was very into heavy music). As I got older, I started listening to more bands/musicians that performed in Finnish, such as Happoradio, Olavi Uusivirta, and Jenni Vartiainen.   

My primary and secondary education:

I went to French immersion school from the ages of 4 to 18, and so I grew up learning about and appreciating the European Union. In my final year of high school, I took a political science class which focused primarily on EU governance, another factor that influenced my interest in wanting to apply to Europe so I could study European studies, as it’s not a field that’s really taught in the US. But since I ended up staying in the US, I couldn’t. I didn’t let that stop me from focusing on Europe whenever I could, and actually had the opportunity to speak twice at a conference focused on the EU aimed at undergraduate students in the US. I believe that staying in the US allowed me to really figure out that I was passionate about doing European studies, instead of it being a passing interest. In addition, the programmes I applied to in Europe were all business- or economics - related, and the more I progressed into my undergraduate studies, the more I realized that I was not very good at those subjects.  

Helsinki herself:

I visited Helsinki in December 2016 while I was doing a term abroad in Paris, and despite the cold and dark, phenomena that were very new to me, I fell in love. The forest and the coast are my favorite natural environments, so it’s so lovely to be in a city that has both. I love how walkable the city centre is and how pretty the buildings are. I also love how safe Helsinki is. I can walk around the city centre alone at 3 AM and not once feel like I’m in danger (though on my way home from my local train station I’ll walk on the lit street rather than take the faster but unlit route through the forest). There’s also this stereotype that Finns are cold, but everyone I met was super friendly and made me feel very welcome. In fact, some of them even thanked me for choosing to visit Helsinki!   

The European and Nordic Studies programme:

The programme itself is the last reason, but in my opinion the best. Out of all the programmes I was interested in applying to, Helsinki was the one that focused the most on social policy/politics. Other European studies programmes focused more on economics/business which, as I said earlier, are not subjects I’m particularly good at or interested in, even if the focus would be more on the politics involved. I first heard about the programme when I was in my senior year of high school: I had to write an essay for an internship about how I see the next ten years of my life going. I really wanted to go to Helsinki, so I looked into the English-language masters’ programmes, found the previous version of the programme (I’m in the second year of the reformed programme), and decided that this is what I wanted to study. Now that I'm a couple months into my first year, I can say with confidence that I made the right choice. My classmates are amazing, the courses are very insightful, and I truly feel like I belong.

I completely forgot about the essay but I found it again, almost exactly five years later, when I was helping my brother with his essay for the same internship. I smiled when I read it over, because so far, nearly everything has come true. Fingers crossed for the traineeship at the European Commission I also wrote about! (: