Day 1: Arrival in Helsinki and Student Guided Walking Tour
On Sunday morning at 6:30am, my entire class (section A) and section B met up with our teachers at the airport, and flew to Helsinki together. After we landed, each of us were given a 6-day metro card, and we took the train into center city, and checked into our beautiful hotel Sokos Presidentti. For lunch, my class were taken to a popular Middle Eastern street food place Restaurant Levant Bulevardi, and I tried hummus for the first time!
After lunch, we started our student-led walking tour of center Helsinki – the group that I was in went first, and we led our class for a twenty-minute walk to Tove Jansson Park, named after the famous author Tove Jansson, who was an author, painter, and illustrator, and wrote many acclaimed works including the Moomin books. Each group prepared some fun facts before the trip and presented them at our assigned sights. Later on, we also visited Uspenski Cathedral and the Senate Square (where we all sang Happy Birthday to one of our classmates who had her birthday that day), and a few friends and I had Chinese food for dinner!
Day 2: Cultural Visit to Green Window Oy
We had a relaxed schedule the second day, where we had a free morning to catch up on sleep until the class met up at 11:45am. A bus took us to Green Window Oy, where last year’s class also went. After settling down our bags down in the main house so we could hike more lightly, we were taken to a gorgeous cabin in the woods that very much resembled Hagrid’s Hut in Harry Potter (but with pretty twinkling lights within and lots of tables and chairs). We were served bowls of delicious salmon soup (and veggie soup for vegetarians), and even got to hear some spontaneous karaoke from a few of our classmates afterwards 😉
The hike after lunch was lovely, where I expected little elves to spring up in the woods or the song Bella’s Lullaby to ring in the background at any moment. We had the option to experience traditional Finnish sauna and hot tub after the hike, and later returned to the main house for a very hygge dinner, where I found out that lingonberry jam is one of the most delicious jams I’ve tasted.
Day 3: Workshop on Froebel Ebeneser Fond and Kindergarten Museum & Academic Visit to Daycare Center
After breakfast (our hotel’s breakfast buffet was amazing by the way), we went to a kindergarten museum in central Helsinki, and after a short presentation given to us by the museum curators about the history of the museum, we were given free play time to put ourselves in a child-like creative mindset, and as I always enjoy the opportunity to be a 3-year-old again, had lots of fun building blocks and playing house.
After lunch, we had an optional visit to a daycare center an hour’s metro and bus ride away. Having only been in a Folkeskole (students from age 6-16) for my practicum back in Copenhagen, I was excited to see what a Finnish daycare center is like.
We were greeted by a few teachers (or as we say in Denmark, pedagogues) at the door, who led us to one of the big playrooms in the center, and had a Q&A session where we could ask our questions freely. From the session, I learned that Finnish daycare resembled Danish daycare in many ways, but Danish daycare has more free play time for the children, whereas in Finland children usually have a little bit more adult guidance.
We had the opportunity to walk around the daycare center a little bit in two groups guided by a few pedagogues, introducing the different areas to us and explaining that at the moment it was nap time, so a lot of children were sleeping, and later we also get to see children folding up their own blankets and helping classmates fold blankets when they woke up. I was surprised to learn from my US classmates that some of them didn’t have nap times in kindergarten, whereas my kindergarten in China also had nap time every day and the requirement that we needed to fold up our own blankets neatly.
Our evening was free after the daycare visit, and we walked around central Helsinki a little after dinner and got Boba!
Day 4: Rock Museum, the Parliament, Oodi Library, Löyly Helsinki
On Wednesday my class wrapped up the rest of our student guided walking tour by visiting the Rock Church (while a piano concert was in session!), the Parliament, and Oodi Library (which is definitely one of the most beautiful library I’ve been to). Having the rest of the afternoon free until we reconvene at Löyly Helsinki for sauna and dinner, I met up with a friend who happens to be studying abroad in Helsinki and walked around Stockmann, one of the most well-known malls in Helsinki with her and saw the famous Christmas window.
After visiting the National Library of Finland and Helsinki University Library (where my friend studies) as well, I boarded a tram near the university library that brought me straight to Löyly.
The first sound I heard as I stepped off the tram was the sound of the ocean, and I excitedly walked over to a path that overlooked the sea, snapped some photos of city lights not so far away shining over the waters, and took in the salty air that still thrills a girl who grew up in urban Beijing.
Löyly’s dining area ambiance was amazing – numerous candles glowed warmly on the tables, while we can catch a view of the dark blue ocean waves outside.
Our class and section B met up again at this lovely dinner, where we got to sit at several big tables together, chatting about our day and enjoying a delicious vegetarian meal.
Day 5: Visiting an Elementary School, Haltia Nature School and Nature Center, Night Hike & Dinner at Nuuksio National Park
Thursday was the longest but the most enjoyable day for me during this study tour – our class met up at 8am, and departed for an elementary school visit by bus. We were first greeted by a few teachers who led us in the teacher’s lounge for some warm beverages and snacks while a nice language teacher gave us a brief introduction of the school. Then we were separated into small groups of three and four, and were given a tour of the school by several 6th grade students and got to observe several classes in different grades. (My group’s student guide has younger twin siblings in one of the classes we visited, and it was adorable to see one of them coming over to hug our guide while on his way to ask his math teacher a question during individual work time!)
After the tour, we had the chance to have a Q&A session with two special education teachers who introduced to us a little about the work they do and special education in Finland, such as when there are new students whose mother languages are not Finnish, these teachers will sit down with them during tests and translate Finnish to a language they understand together.
We then took the bus to Haltia Nature School and Nature Center, where we had a delicious lunch buffet (with amazing hot chocolate!). We were later given a guided tour of the center, where we learned about the national parks in Finland, facts about water resources, saw various Finnish landscapes on a huge panorama wall… The exhibitions even had a bear’s den and human-sized bird nest for more authentic nature experiences!
After another short hike near the center, we rested for a bit and started our last optional activity of the day – a night hike in Nuuksio national park, where two guides met us. We were separated into groups of two, and each group had a flashlight to guide our way as well.
Walking at the very front next to one of our guides with my friend Maddy, I was happily immersed in the tranquility of the forest, and although this was my first time night hiking, felt completely at peace and excited to be able to explore nature in such a different light. Unfortunately, northern lights were not available to us yet at Helsinki, but the pure night sky, berries our guide showed us in the woods, and a lookout point that allowed us to see the city from afar felt enough.
The highlight of the night hike was a wonderful dinner at a cabin in the woods, where another guide prepared dinner ahead of time and met us there. Sitting outside of the cabin, I ate the most delicious sausages I’ve ever had, found a new favorite drink called glögg (we drank the non-alcoholic version), and shared laughs and stories with my classmates (we feel like a small family now).
Day 6: Optional Cultural Visit and Flying Back to Copenhagen
On the last day of the study tour (let’s stay just a little bit longer!!), we had optional cultural visit opportunities, and I chose to go to HAM (Helsinki Art Museum) with a few of my classmates who were also interested in the exhibitions. I had a great time looking at various cool artworks including a Tove Jansson exhibition that introduced her life and work.
After lunch, we gathered at the hotel with section B, and headed back to Helsinki.
As I sit in my cozy homestay today looking back on this week, I would like to give this study tour a solid 99.5/100, and am making plans in my head already to visit Helsinki again in the near future.