Travel Week Part II: Helsinki, Finland

The second part of our Study Tour is in Helsinki, Finland. We had some cold weather coming our way but also a lot of unique company visits. After the plane landed on Tuesday, we had time to get dinner on our own and explore a little bit.

On Wednesday, instead of visiting a company, we got together as a class to get an introduction to what we would be doing on Thursday afternoon. We got a little background on some start-up companies based in Helsinki then broke into small groups based on which company we were most interested in interviewing. My group is going to a company called Slush who main purpose is the facilitate meetings between the founders of start-up companies and investors.

After collaborating with our groups for a while, we got ready to go on a walking tour of Helsinki. The weather was cold so I wore lots of layers, but at least the sun was shinng. Our tour guide took us all around Helsinki and inside some seemingly random buildings like a library, a music performance building, and where the main newspaper is written. We also got to see the beautiful Helsinki Cathedral and the central marketplace.

Later that evening we got ready to go to the sauna in Espoo, Finland. The place is called Green Window Oy and DIS classes have been going here on their study tours for over a decade. When we got there, our host and the owner of Green Window, Pekka, was not at the house yet, so we all went down the pond to explore a little and the water was frozen over so we got to walk on it. When Pekka was back, we returned to the house and had dinner there. They made a mushroom soup with mushrooms from the forest for the first course. Then we had reindeer with mashed potatoes for the main course. The meat honestly wasn’t bad, but it was really bland and tasteless.

After dinner was over, the girls in the class got to go in the sauna first while the guys went to a cabin to talk with Pekka. For those who haven’t heard of the Finnish sauna experience, I will tell you a little bit about it. Traditionally, Finns go in to the sauna nude (with just a towel) no matter who they’re with but we could wear swimsuits if we wanted. We started in the sauna which was off the side of the dock. To warm it up, you throw a ladle of water on this hot rocks. Once you are hot and sweaty enough, you go down the dock and climb in to the water. The water is obviously freezing, but honestly once your body is in it doesn’t feel that bad. Then you climb back out and return to the sauna to get warm again. As soon as you feel ready, you do it all over again. The first time was kind of a shock, but after that it becomes easier and you are able to enjoy the experience. It felt amazing to splash the cold water on your face or just stand in the water for a few seconds while looking out at the forest behind you.

We had about 90 minutes to go back and forth between the sauna and the water. Then we showered and traded places with the boys. In the red cabin with Pekka, we got coffee (with some vodka…) and cinnamon rolls. Pekka spent the next 90 minutes talking to us about a variety of topics from the meaning of life to politics to love to climate change. We also got to learn a little about his life. He spends about 300 days every year in the forest for a minimum of four hours. It was incredible to be able to listen to Pekka speak about what he has learned and seen and experienced during his life.

If you want to read more about Green Window Oy, you can go to his website, and if you want to read about Finnish Sauna Etiquette, you can go here. If you have any questions about this experience, feel free to me send me a message through the contact page.

On Thursday, we had a company visit in the morning with Microsoft. The office building that they are in now used to belong to Nokia but Microsoft has since bought them. During our visit, we attended a presentation about Microsoft as a business in general and Microsoft in Finland. Andreas, our presenter, told use quite a bit about the business model and mission of Microsoft in Finland. After the presentation, we got a quick tour of the office space which is made up of collaborative spaces where teams can meet and open spaces for people to work. There are no assigned desks or areas for anyone. Employees are free to move around as much as they want and choose from many different rooms. For the final part of our visit, we returned to the conference room we were in to test out some virtual reality glasses and play a game on Jackbox.TV.

Later in the day, we traveled with our small groups to visit the start-up companies we chose on Wednesday. Once my group got to Slush, we talked with the COO and Head of Talent about where the business started and how it has evolved. The environment was super laid back and the office was one big open room. We took off our shoes right when we came in and walked over to some couches to have our conversation. It was really cool to hear about where their journey with Slush started, how they have valued their time with the company, and their goals for the big event in Helsinki which takes place later this year. Click here if you want to read more about Slush.

On Thursday evening, we had our last group dinner together at Salutorget which included three courses: some sort of grain salad, beef and cheesy potatoes, and a truffle with a cold purple pudding like substance (if you can’t tell, I actually have no idea what anything really was, but it was all delicious)!

Our last company visit for the week was with UPM Biofore which is a Finnish forest- based industry company focused on finding sustainable solutions that replace fossil-based materials. UPM operates in several business segments including biorefining, communication papers, energy, plywood, raflatac, specialty papers, and more. During our visit, we got a quick tour of the headquarters and an introduction to some of the every day products their materials are on. After the tour, an employee from the Strategy Department gave us a presentation about the different sectors of the business, their strategy, and what makes them unique as a company.

Following the UPM visit, our class had a group lunch at Skiffeer Viiskulma where we were served lots and LOTS of pizza. We had a few hours before we had to leave for the airport, so we time to ourselves to explore Helsinki. A few of us took a ferry ride to a nearby island called Suomenlinna. The sea fortress was built on the island in the mid-18th century when Finland was still a part of Sweden.

After taking the ferry back to the harbour, we had a little time left to go to Allas Sea Pool which has a sauna, an outdoor heated swimming pool, and a swimming basin with water directly from the Gulf of Finland which feeds into the Baltic Sea. We knew from out sauna experience a few days ago to sit in the sauna until we were really hot then head down to the heated pool. None of us wanted to jump in to the water from the sea that day…

At 18:00, we headed for the airport to catch our flight back to Copenhagen. When I arrived back at my homestay, I was greeted by (a very excited) Molly!

Travel Week is one of the aspects that makes DIS unique compared to other study abroad programs. I am so glad I was able to visit Riga & Helsinki (two places I probably wouldn’t have gone otherwise) to learn about various business that operate there and experience the culture as well!

Hej hej,

Carolyn

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