Postcards from Finland III - More than kalsarikänni

Last year, Heist lead design researcher Naima won a scholarship to do her Masters at the EIT Digital Academy in Finland. Immersing herself in the culture, Naima has written to tell us of her life in Finland, from education to depressing winters.

This is Part III, the final of the series Postcards from Finland. Read Part I here, and Part II here.

Ever heard of a place where serious business meetings are held naked? Yes, I’m not kidding. In Finland, Sauna is considered a great way to nurture not only personal but also business relationships. And Sauna in Finland is as simple as that - traditionally naked.

Finns grow up with this as part of their national culture - there are roughly 2 million saunas in Finland, a country with a population of 5.3 million. Saunas are located in public spaces and private houses, in summer cottages and student accommodations. Portable Saunas can’t be missed at student parties and business events, which appear in every shape and size. My university’s skiing association has built a movable sauna inside a gondola, and the car workshop association even did one inside a car!

Sauna - a Finnish invention and a Finnish word - is not an occasional retreat but a lifestyle. Studying in Finland, Sauna has become part of my lifestyle too. I love the free sauna in the gym after my workout following by a refreshing plunge in the ice-cold sea where a hole and a ladder is kept in the frozen sea solely for this purpose.

We’ve all heard that winter here is dark, cold but beautiful, and it’s all true. Surrounding yourself with good company, Vitamin D pills, and lots of activity is essential to stay sane through the depressing winter.  Though it’s ~15 degrees in Southern Finland, you can still head out for some fun! Some examples include going to the Sauna, ice-skating, hiking through the beautiful national parks, freeing cars from snow and exploring new transportation methods for kids.

Uh-oh! The daily commute can take a bit longer with abundant snowfall.

Uh-oh! The daily commute can take a bit longer with abundant snowfall.

Sledges as a transportation method in the city.

Sledges as a transportation method in the city.

Cross-country skiing on the frozen sea is a Finnish favourite. I recently met two Finnish friends on the campus exchanging a “rope”. It turned out to be a life-saving tool in case the ice cracks and someone falls into the sea! The rope has two sharp tips which can be stuck in the ice and guarantees more grip than bare hands should someone fall through the ice crack. “But with this much snow on top of the ice it won’t really help anyway”, my friend said, gently smiling and shrugging. I spontaneously cancelled my plans to walk over the frozen sea to the island nearby.

A winter wonderland in Finland.