I spent the fall of 2006 in Helsinki, enjoying the dwindling Nordic days and the cold temperatures. Although I was a full time student I managed to have an enjoyable final few months in Finland, spending time with friends, visiting museums, seeing ballets and operas, as well as biking and running. I attempted to soak up the wonderful arts, culture, and nature of my surroundings and felt like I managed to do just that.
Simultaneously I was going to five classes and writing and conducting research for my master’s thesis. The culminating event of my time in Helsinki was truly the completion of the thesis entitled: The Integration of Separated Minors in Finland: Perceptions of Professionals. In everyday terms, I studied asylum-seeking children who upon entering Finland have no primary caretakers; therefore, they are cared for by the Finnish government. They are a very important group of children that are often overlooked by governments but extremely vulnerable to abuse and neglect. I explored their integration into society through interviews with scholars, social workers, and lawyers.
I turned in the thesis on December 15, threw a wonderful farewell party, and left the following day to return to the U.S. In short, the exciting news is that I have completed my studies (for now) and am a proud Master of Social Science, magna cum laude in Development Studies from the University of Helsinki!
My transition home was wonderful because I was able to fulfill all the wishes I had while being away: seeing my family and my dog Annie, sharing in the company of friends, speaking English, and eating peanut butter and jelly, all of which I had not done in a year and a half!
With that said I have also been confronted with amazing culture shock. I have come to see the U.S. through a different lens and realize how chaotic our daily lives are, how consumed we have become with work and possessions and how little time we take to truly relish the beauty of our lives. So my quest is now to try and maintain some of those Finnish values of serenity and appreciation for a cup of coffee with a friend, a good run in the snow, a long dinner filled with great company and meaningful conversations, despite the hectic pace of life in America.
I am currently casting a wide net in search of a job around Washington, D.C., in the area of international development, which means that will likely end up working for a non-profit organization with a focus on research, policy or advocacy. While D.C. is the perfect city for this kind of work, the destination will most importantly enable me to be near my brother who is living and working in Virginia.
After an incredible year and a half of immense growth in Finland, I am truly excited about applying my newfound knowledge and life lessons to something meaningful for myself and the greater good of the world.