Friday, August 24, 2012

Home Sweet Haliskylä: Arriving in Finland (Part 1)

On August 21 I woke up at 4:00am and departed from the San Antonio International Airport at 7:05am. I had to say a very bittersweet goodbye to my parents; I will miss them a ton, but was excited for my time in Finland. I won't see my dad until December, but my mom is going to come visit in November!

Saying bye to mom (note the Texas luggage tag)
I arrived at Chicago O'Hare at about 9:30 and had a boring six-hour layover there until my 3:45pm departure to Helsinki. It was a good opportunity to chat with my girlfriend Savannah, my grandparents, my friend Brian, and my folks, though. 

Finnish flags at the international terminal in Chicago

I rode on a giant Boeing 767 from Chicago to Helsinki
The plane made the little AA jet behind it look like a paper airplane
My view for the next 8 and a half hours
I was so relieved when boarding finally began. Although the plane was big, the seating was still quite cramped. There was a row 3 seats across in the middle and a row on either side 2 seats across. The monitors were awesome because they showed where the plane was real-time on a map like a GPS and constantly updated the time in the Chicago and Helsinki, the plane's ETA, and its speed. I sat next to a very friendly couple on the plane; the husband was an American from the Chicago area and the wife was a native Finn who had lived in the US for awhile. They asked me questions about my trip, taught me Finnish words/phrases, told me what to see and do while I was there, explained some things about Finns, and told me about their son's experience in the Finnish military to maintain his dual citizenship. I was very grateful for the couple's company on that extremely long flight.

Unfortunately I didn't get much sleep (maybe two hours max), but the in-flight drinks, snacks, and meals were surprisingly good. As we eventually descended into an overcast Helsinki all I saw were lakes and trees everywhere. In fact, when I stepped off the plane I could actually smell the pine in the cool air. It was a refreshing smell after spending almost 9 hours in an airplane cabin.

Fresh off the plane
The famous and luxurious Finnair Lounge
Customs means business: I went through the red line to declare prescription meds
A small grocery store in the airport - it was so small and modern-looking
A Finnish taksi
After I got off the plane I followed the baggage claim signs to customs. The Finnish guys at customs were big guys and when they spoke English they sounded like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Once through customs I pulled out Euros from the ATM equivalent called Otto, went outside to the bus stop, and hopped on a bus to Turku. On the bus I marveled at the rolling hills covered in pine trees and the beautiful lakes they often surrounded. I also spent a great deal of time examining my Euros. The 5 Euro mark looks exactly like a piece of monopoly money, and the 2 Euro and 1 Euro coins look like Chuck E. Cheese tokens. Also, I couldn't get over how small the trucks in Finland are. They looked like toy trucks, and I kept expecting a kid's hand to reach down from the sky and snag one clean off the road. The biggest truck I saw during the 2-hour ride was maybe an 8-wheeler.

The bus stop. Every crosswalk in Finland has an accompanying sign and cars stop for you as soon as you look like you might cross the street
Below are just some of the pictures from my Helsinki to Turku bus ride:

Tiny truck and tall pines
A lake 
Pine trees...pine trees everywhere
A poliisi station (bet you can't guess what that is!)
That's it for Part 1. I will update again soon with Part 2 and pictures of my room, apartment complex, Supermarket, friends, the University, and the city of Turku. Thanks for reading!


  1. Awesome, Nathan. Way to capture the beginning of your big adventure.

  2. Nathan, I love the caption you wrote about the body of water you drove past. I was moved. Great information though and the pictures are really helpful for me. Proud of you!

  3. Can you elaborate about the Finnish guy joining the military to keep his dual-citizenship?

    Is military service required in Finland or was that a special situation?

    -Karl (it won't show my name for some reason)

    1. Yes! Military service is mandatory for all Finnish men. Depending on where in the military you serve you could spend anywhere from 6 months to a year enlisted. You don't have to serve in the armed forces, though. My tutor is going to do civilian service, instead.

      I think the case with the dual-citizenship is a special case because full Finnish citizens face 6 months of jail time for not enlisting - they don't risk losing their citizenship.

      Here's a potentially helpful link: