Bridge the Ocean Project Finland – “Do more of what makes you happy”; this is a magnet I have in my office and it reminds how fortunate we are to have this daily choice in our jobs and our lives. Participating in the Bridge the Ocean Project (BTO) was an opportunity to return to one of my happiest endeavours – travel and international learning. Furthermore, I was really curious about Finland, as this country are recognized as some of the happiest people in the world. What is it that makes these people so happy? Three things stood out for me: Attitude, Connection and Sauna (more on this shortly).
We have so many things to learn from this beautiful country! The project in Finland was an exciting learning opportunity offered through NSCC International. Coming out of the two year pandemic, it was obvious our entire group were seeing everything through a bit of a different lens – the reality of travelling again and meeting new people from around the world was celebrated each day. What a fantastic group we had – students from all around Nova Scotia, from New Brunswick (NBCC), from Denmark, Holland and different parts of Finland all came together. We spent two weeks getting to know each other, learning about our lives and work at ‘home’, and getting a glimpse into how things operate in Finland. Amazing.
We all participated in some structured learning by going to the local campus each day and experiencing parts of the BTO program – their history, parts of Finnish culture, their lifestyles, their nature and their food. Being able to share food is really an international language that everybody speaks! It brings us together. I saw many students make enduring connections with other students, as did the instructors.
What makes you happy? Attitude
The Finnish were incredibly kind, good people. Not necessarily ‘joyous’ or outwardly oozing happiness (I was looking for the ‘happy’ in the happiest people on the plant ranking for the past 5 years). What I saw was calmness, balance and grounding. There was a beautiful nature to the way they move through the day – never really a sense of urgency. In contrast, Canadians arrived looking for a good plan – where is the schedule? Let’s get started! Let’s gooo!
In Finland, it seemed like there was never a rush to move on to the next thing, to enjoy what’s happening here, and let the next thing, well, happen. No one ever really got worked up about anything, they had an attitude with a sense of calm that was endearing. The end result was still a day FULL of learning, experiences and activities. Take note Canadians: slow down, you’re moving too fast, gotta make the moment last. (yes, that’s my awesome, but clever song reference).
What makes you happy? Connection to Nature
What was extremely evident was that the people of Finland have a beautiful connection to the land and to nature. Finland recognize 8 different seasons (our ‘shoulder seasons’ are recognized as unique and are defined as stand alone seasons). It seems the people here have embraced the outdoors so much more than any population that I’ve ever experienced.
How can I be Canadian and say this? It seemed like Finland just celebrates nature a bit more, it it’s a thing everyone goes and connects with / enjoys all the time. No one even considered showing us how to collect berries in the woods, because, that’s like something everyone does all the time. Each season also has a food element in nature attached to it – foraging flowers & leaves, foraging berries and barks, hunting, ice fishing, tapping trees (birch tree sap is consumed as a health drink). There were trails upon trails upon trails (all with lighting) and not just hiking or snow shoeing, but there were separate lanes for walkers, for cyclists, and another lane for snowmobiles (a significant transportation method)! This was all completely separate from the actual road for the cars and the trucks.
Ok, so maybe it’s not that Canadians don’t embrace nature (eh! Ok, we do in our own way) – but maybe that we don’t have access to nature in the same way. Take note Canada! Having more trails, infrastructure to support us getting outside, could this make us even happier people?
What makes you happy? Sauna
Now let’s talk about sauna. Saunas are an underlying characteristic of this part of the world. Almost everyone has their own sauna. It is something that as a family you enjoy growing up, and it’s pretty much a daily ritual for most people to have a sauna. (Fun fact: there is a sauna in Burger King in Helsinki. Wow.).
Sauna: gives the opportunity to relax quietly in a one hundred degree room, letting the heat permeate your mind and body. It’s a type of meditation. There’s plenty of science behind the fact that meditation does wonderful things for your mind and your body. So, the fact that most people in Finland practice some form of meditation daily, surely ties into the fact that they make up one of the happiest people on the planet.
Whether it’s in a sauna, spending more time celebrating nature, or adopting a grounded attitude for the day – there was learning far beyond the classroom in this project. I’m not sure you could have created curriculum for that. Way to go team, what a fantastic outcome! This project made me happy(ier). Thank you NSCC!