Urbaria Interns Reflect on First Week in Finland

Urbaria Interns, Brigid Zei and Lydia Zajichek, share their initial thoughts and reactions to Finland, Helsinki, and the University of Helsinki.
Lydia Zajichek: Initial Thoughts on Helsinki

First Week in Helsinki

My first week in Helsinki has been nothing short of captivating. When I first arrived, I had to navigate through the public transportation system, which was remarkably silent. This is a stark contrast for us Americans: we are known for being anything but quiet, and our public transportation is often far from pleasant or reliable. An American whisper would have seemed loud in this serene environment.

Helsinki is a ‘savvy’ city, where getting around typically consists of just a scan, tap, or app on your phone. Once I reached the central city, I was never more than a 10-minute walk from a shopping center. These centers greatly surprised me, as you can walk through them and practically end up on the other side of the city. Further, I learned the best way to spot a local is the Marimekko tote bag. The first question I was asked when I arrived was whether I knew about the Marimekko brand. Trust me when I say this: I quickly learned the cultural significance of those iconic floral designs. One thing’s for sure: I need one of those tote bags.

However, not everything is so serene in Helsinki. This week, I noticed that local birds are notorious for harassing people for food. I was warned to guard my food with my life if I chose to eat my snack or ice cream outside. Their persistence is simultaneously impressive and irritating, making an outdoor dining experience quite an adventure.

I gained an understanding that the “Helsinki Summer” is undoubtedly the best part of the year. The two months I will be here will consist of the longest days of sunlight, the best weather, and the happiest Finnish people will be all year. I love that when it gets over 20 degrees, people flock to the beach, parks, and terraces. I have been enjoying the sun by sitting in parks with a good book. I am very excited about having a Helsinki Summer.

About Me

My name is Lydia Zajichek. I am an incoming senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying Geography with a double major in Landscape and urban studies. I am a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. For the summer, I am interning as an urban studies researcher at the University of Helsinki’s Institute of Urban and Regional Studies.

Brigid Zei: Recap of First Week in Helsinki

Over the course of my first week in Helsinki, I have quickly fallen in love with the city. Upon arriving in Finland, I was initially struck by how late the sun sets. I took the train from the airport into the Helsinki city center, and even at 10 pm there was a glimpse of sunlight in the sky. My time in Helsinki has so far been very enjoyable. The weather has been amazing – sunny and warm temperatures every day. In my first few days in Helsinki I was able to get acquainted with the city center. Some of my favorite sights so far have been the Uspenski Cathedral, Kaivopuisto Park, Helsinki Cathedral, and Allas Sea Pool. I was also able to attend a walking tour of the eastern suburbs of Helsinki with the Urbaria team, which was a very educational experience, as I was able to learn more about the various neighborhoods of the city and explore areas that I may not have visited otherwise. Something I have noticed since living here is the varying bike infrastructure in the city. In some parts of the city there are very well defined and protected bike lanes, and in other parts there are no bike lanes. I also find that people are likely to ride their bikes on the regular pedestrian sidewalk, which can get a little chaotic in busier parts of the city. I also really enjoy the terrace culture in Helsinki. It’s a great way to relax after work, and to enjoy the long days in the company of others. 

In the coming weeks, I look forward to exploring the nature Helsinki has to offer. I visited Pihlajasaari Island, and it had amazing views of the surrounding islands, with lovely walking trails. I would also like to visit the surrounding islands, such as Suomenlinna, Vallisaari, and Lonna. Additionally, I plan to visit museums in Helsinki. I love learning about art and history, so the National Museum of Finland, Helsinki City Museum, and the Design Museum are at the top of my list. 


About Me: I am a fourth year student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States. I study Journalism and International Studies, with a concentration in Strategic Communication. I have previously completed a semester exchange program at Aarhus University in Aarhus, Denmark. This summer I am working as a Communications Intern for the University of Helsinki Urbaria.