Zum Inhalt springen
Logo International Office Blog

International Office Blog

Happy days in the hap­pi­est country – Kiitos, Suomi!

An international staff week combined with an individual exchange at UAS Haaga-Helia provides Flurina Simeon Spagnolo an excellent opportunity to learn, exchange experiences and network. But what is behind all these number ones that Finland is known for? A short attempt of a proof of concept. 

In early May I took off with Finnair flight AY1512 with the objectives to network, exchange experiences and gain new inspiration for my work – both in the context of Haaga-Helia's International Staff Week 2023 on the topic of "Service Design" as well as through the additionally organised exchange with the communications department of the university of applied sciences based in Helsinki. The local temperature on this sunny afternoon was 5°C, accompanied by a brisk wind. By the end of my week in Helsinki, the temperature surpassed 20°C with endless hours of sunshine, but the sea breeze remained fresh.

So, did I manage to reach the goals I started out with? In short: yes! With around 40 participants from 17 countries, the challenge was to find enough time to catch up with everyone, hear what (work) life is like in their country and gather inspiration from the varied experiences everyone brought to this week. All this was topped by a very well-organised study week, with a combination of workshops and leisure items scheduled. Kiitos to the international team at Haaga-Helia and the group of students in charge of the food and leisure activities! A big kiitos also to Ari, my counterpart at Haaga-Helia, for investing two days of his work time for an in-depth exchange on how we manage communications in both our universities. He and his team, I’m sure we could have continued for days.

Participants of the Haaga-Helia International Staff Week 2023 together with local staff and students (Copyright: Haaga-Helia UAS)

Exploring the old town of Porvoo (Copyright: Haaga-Helia UAS)

So far so good. Obviously, a week is not enough time to experience all the perfection as well as downsides of a country, but it does allow for an insight into some of the “number ones” – Finland as a country topping many of the European and global statistics

#1 in happiness

For the sixth time in a row, Finland was deemed the happiest country in the world. Despite my first impression due to all the Kaurismäki movies I’d seen in the past, the Finns I had the chance to meet did seem to have a bright outlook on life for many reasons. I mean, this is the country where people receive a bonus when they return back to work after their summer break! Probably there are more reasons for this record, so continue reading for some other aspects, which might provide further explanation. Or is it all those liquorice combos – in ice cream, chocolate, …?!

Most of the Finns seem to feel like this smiling figure to the right, here in the style of National Romanticism.

#1 in higher education and training system in the world

Judging by the different Haaga-Helia campuses we visited and knowing that education is free even at university level, this record doesn’t come as a surprise. I was very impressed by the demonstrated accessibility throughout the Finnish education system. Definitely not a one-size-fits-all approach to education.

The Pasila campus of Haaga-Helia UAS includes numerous labs

The tourism and hospitality students at Haaga campus treated us to a yummy welcome dinner using mainly local and seasonal products

There’s even a ski lift located next to Porvoo campus, which surely makes for a great study-work-life balance!

#1 in coffee consumption

I guess so, coffee was indeed offered at all hours of the day in all culinary situations. But Finish filter coffee and I didn’t become besties. Nevertheless, I did have an excellent espresso at Oodi (check out the entry about literacy). And a country with a coffee culture can’t be a bad place!

Kahvi goes with everything, even the staple salmon on rye bread at Hakaniemen Kauppahalli.

#1 big European city to get around in

Albeit coming from a country with a very good public transportation system, I did enjoy the varied solutions offered in Helsinki. Take a bus, hop onto a tram, cross the city by metro to jump onto a boat to the islands belonging to the city – all with a single day ticket. I tried them all and they were punctual and clean. The only thing that made me slightly panicky at the beginning was the announcements in Finish followed by Swedish. I hadn’t realised, that places hat completely different names in each language. And as the announcements in Swedish seemed easier to understand, I tried to follow those. But “Pasila”, where one of the Haaga-Helia campus is located, was never announced – unsurprisingly, the Swedish name being “Böle”. I did end up getting there without any problems, thanks to the kind lady in the same compartment.

A city easy to travel in: by train, bus…


...the red metro...

..or boat. Not to forget exploring the city by foot or bicycle.

#1 in forests in Europe, water in the world and cleanest air in the world

Forests, water and clean air being a source of wellbeing and thus adding into the happiness factor makes sense to me. But besides the clean and thus tasty water, what really surprised me was that everyone seems to own a house either by a lake surrounded by forests or by the seaside. And as my stay coincided with the first warm days of the year, everyone started their boating season. Because yes, everyone seems to own a boat in Finland!

The archipelago Helsinki provides for high living quality.

With the pleasant weather, everyone seemed to be testing their boats for the summer season.

#1 in human wellbeing and human rights in the world

So, if all the good air and water haven’t made you happy yet, living in a stable country sure should. Although fortunately I didn’t have to try, the health care system is supposed to be very good. And for whatever reason, it doesn't surprise me that human rights are well protected in this Nordic country. One aspect that proves both in my point of view is the sauna. Every building seems to have one and the importance of the sauna for the Finns is underlined by the fact that UNESCO awarded intangible cultural heritage to the sauna in 2021. So, plunging into the cold Baltic Sea together with this international crowd after a couple of rounds in the students’ sauna seemed quite a sensible thing to do early May. Maybe the lonkera from the Olympics in 1952 helped a bit as well… Kippis!

The students of Haaga-Helia UAS have an own sauna at the Baltic Sea.

Cooling down happens rather quickly in the Baltic Sea even after the hot Finnish sauna experience.

Happy faces all around after the sauna programme organised by the students.

#1 literate country in the world

With the excellent results of the Pisa tests being well-known, a high score in literacy doesn’t really come as a surprise. And that despite the very complex grammar of the Finnish language! Surely, good infrastructure helps too. And Oodi, the Helsinki Central Library, is top notch as far as I can judge. On a sunny Sunday, people of all age groups could be seen reading, gaming, playing an instrument, 3D-printing, sewing, discussing, working, studying, drinking coffee (see further above), etc. I became a regular even just during my short stay – not only because of the excellent espresso, I’d like to emphasise. During the excellent guided city tour organised by Haaga-Helia, I learnt, that the name “Oodi” is a creation of the public. You cross out the “d” in the name and reading from right to left, you arrive at “00I”, which suits perfectly, as the library was opened for the 100th birthday of the modern Finnish nation.

Oodi, the Helsinki Central Library, is a spectacular building

The inside of the top floor at Oodi allows for all kinds of reading and studying options.

While on the rooftop of Oodi you can enjoy the best espresso in town while enjoying the view.

#1 in heavy metal bands per inhabitant in the world

My week in Helsinki happened to be during the Eurovision Song Contest and although Käärijä “only” came in second place, his “Cha Cha Cha” is part of my personal Helsinki 2023 playlist. For purists, he may not count as a metal artist, but “industrial metal” is good enough to me to fit into this category. And maybe the long and dark winters lie behind this love for metal? And yes, Finland also does non-metal, which was proven by the Pete Parkkonen gig I attended as well as all the songs my mate Jan back from the university days introduced to me during my stay.  

The Lantern Bearers at Helsinki Central Station donning the Käärijä look during the Eurovision Song Contest.

A country going “Cha cha cha”.

For those of you interested in the complete statistics, including further “number ones”, I can recommend the overview provided by Statistics Finland. So, with all these superlatives, have you already booked your trip to Finland? I for sure look back upon an inspiring week in Helsinki, both from an academic as well as a cultural perspective. It will not have been my last time. See you, Finland!

Flurina Simeon Spagnolo, Head of Communications, Rectorate

Number of comments 4

Flurina 06.07.2023

@Katri: Thank YOU and the team for a fantastic stay. I will let you know, when the next opportunity arises. And ofcourse it would be a pleasure to welcome you in Chur!

Flurina 06.07.2023

@Marcel: Thank you for the positive feedback. If you’ve never been to Finland, you should really plan a trip!

Katri 04.07.2023

Hi Flurina! Thank you for your lovely blog and warm words! It was great to have you here and welcome back any time!

Marcel 01.07.2023

Hi Flurina, well written and very informative. Thanks.