Why Helsinki? - Introduction

Last fall, I studied abroad at the University of Helsinki in Finland through Candler's academic exchange program. At that time Helsinki was the best opportunity for me to study abroad because of low kiki-faculty-sign.jpgCovid-19 cases, the outstanding faculty of theology, course options, and the Helsinki Inequality Initiative, a strategic, multidisciplinary research initiative at the University of Helsinki that brings together scholars from different strands of the social sciences and humanities, posing interrelated questions of recognition, representation, and responsibility. This initiative cultivates scholar-activists and emerging leaders from Finland and beyond. I engaged with activists, scholars, theologians, critical thought leaders, and change agents during my time abroad; it quenched my intellectual curiosity and fueled my passion for justice.

Health and Safety Protocols, Hybrid Formats, and Connections 

There was a hybrid format option available to all students for courses. Some of my classes were offered in person with masks required, but the university was very adamant about Covid safety protocols. I received my third Covid-19 vaccine in Helsinki. #GetVaxxed! 

kiki-letter-professor.jpgAs for the course options, some of the courses I completed were: Spiritual Abuse in the Catholic Church, Introduction to Inequality Studies, and Historical and Contemporary Approaches to Religion, Conflict, and Dialogue. German Church historian Dr. Katharina Kunter taught Historical and Contemporary Approaches to Religion, Conflict, and Dialogue. We had various conversations about social justice, and I found out she was teaching a Religion and Human Rights course. She proposed that I come to be a guest lecturer for one of the classes. I accepted the opportunity. My lecture title was, "The Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Power of Protest." I lectured on the socio-political, religious, and legal impact of the Letter on activism today. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to interact with my colleagues and teach on a subject that I'm passionate about, faith-based justice work. Also, through that course, I was able to connect with Helga West, an Indigenous Saami theologian who writes about Saami people in Finland and topics around reconciliation, and the solidarity they've built with various indigenous peoples around the world. The most impactful experience was connecting with social ethicist Jaana Hallamaa. We walked 11 miles around the city of Helsinki and talked about various inequalities and how Helsinki was built. There are still real present and growing inequities for immigrant communities, which were some of the topics discussed in my courses and beyond.

Living in the City

Helsinki is a bilingual city, with signage and directions posted in Swedish and Finnish, but most of the population speaks English as well. The people are kind and are willing to help you help yourself. There is a Finnish term called sisu, which means "strength of will" and "perseverance." This term describes Finnish people and their culture. 

Transportation: As for transportation, it was very efficient and easy to use. Through the Helsinki Regional Support Authority (HSL) and my HSL card, I could travel as much as I needed on the tram, metro, ferry, and bus. There are significant discounts for students at the University of Helsinki, making it easy, accessible, and affordable to travel and explore the city.

Food: There are traditional Finnish dishes and sweets like lettu (Finnish pancakes or crepes), korvapuusti (cinnamon buns), Karelian pies, Fazer chocolate, and reindeer soup. I tried them all. Helsinki is an international city, so there were many food options available.

international-student-group.jpgCommunity: I lived among other exchange students from all over the world: Chile, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Gambia, Italy, Japan, Sweden, Amsterdam, Tanzania, South Africa, and different regions of Finland. Often they were studying in departments like the faculty of law, theology, and social science. I also connected with students from nearby universities like Aalto University, a multidisciplinary science and art community.

I visited Tallinn, Estonia, a two-hour ferry ride away from Helsinki, and stayed with some of my friends from undergrad. They gave me a tour of Estonia. That was a life-changing experience, and I learned about the people's resilience and the power of their history.

Global Baptist Community: BWA 

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship communications director Dr. Aaron Weaver, one of my professors in Baptist studies at Candler, connected me with Dr. Jari Portaankorva, the president of the Finnish Baptist Union in Helsinki. Dr. Jari and I attended a Salvation Army ecumenical gathering, and I attended his church. The simple reminder that the gospel cannot be contained is what I learned through my Finnish Baptist Church experience by communing with the people. I got a chance to learn about Dr. Jari’s interfaith work within community building. His dissertation is entitled, "Faith-based diplomacy and conflict resolution: Muslims and Christians building reconciliation." 

Dr. Jari also wrote an article about me and my time in Helsinki, which was featured in the Finnish Baptist magazine. [Ed. note: Read it with Google translate.]

Although I am the first Candler student to go to Helsinki, Finland, I hope this glimpse and testimonial will inspire other Candler students to study abroad in Helsinki. It is truly a wonderful place with joys of goodness. I hope to return soon.