Listen to people who stop you at the Posting Wall! The only reason I am writing this is because I took 30 seconds out of one passing period to write down my email at one of the tables in Haven Hall. Just weeks ago, I had lost all hope of having an exciting summer, but now I am in Finland, where I will be interning for seven weeks! This is my first time abroad, so it is even more exciting. I had a different plan entirely for this summer, but I am happy to have seized the opportunity to intern at a refugee resettlement agency in Helsinki. I was attracted to this opportunity for many reasons, but I will list a few:
- I am passionate about the refugee crisis and have long wanted to become more involved. I have been able to do a little in Washtenaw County through working with the Michigan Refugee Assistance Program (MRAP) and Jewish Family Services, but here I have more time to devote to the cause.
- The refugee crisis is the perfect intersection of my two fields of study: sociology and Arabic. Though I am by no means fluent in Arabic yet, the little knowledge I have of the language can be utilized in conjunction with the sociological principles I have learned in many of my classes.
- My maternal grandparents came from Finnish families, and it’s been a dream of mine to get back to my roots!
The main takeaways I hope to gain from this internship are a better understanding of the problems facing refugees, ideas on how to fight the stigma surrounding refugees in the U.S. (especially the religiously-driven stigmas), and a crash course in Finnish culture.
I arrived in Helsinki last Monday afternoon, after 24 hours of traveling (during which I did not sleep at all). I thought I would be able to go directly to the place I was staying, shower, and take a nap, but I was whisked away to a four-hour training immediately after being picked up from the airport. There was a slight hiccup in finding a host family for me right away, so I stayed with students from Haaga-Helia University in their studio apartment for a week. They were gracious hosts, but I am happy to have moved in with a Finnish host two days ago. She has two adorable dogs, lives in a charming neighborhood, and has baked us multiple Finnish treats already. She is quite familiar with Michigan because she has family friends on the western side of the state, so I feel very comfortable here. Her home is a bit farther from the city center than the flat I was staying in previously, but the bus ride is nothing compared to the natural beauty of the neighborhood.
The most striking aspect of Helsinki is how many grocery stores there are. Where cities in the U.S. might have a liquor/party store, a 7/11, or a gas station on most corners, there are full-blown grocery stores on every corner of Helsinki, even in the city center! Whatever the opposite of a food desert is, Helsinki is it.
I know how to say one phrase in Finnish: En puhu Suomea (I don’t speak Finnish). It has come in handy many times. Luckily, many Finns speak English as well as Finnish. Apparently, I look Finnish!