Hospitality & Service

Throughout Finland there are signs celebrating Finland’s 100th year as a nation. There are special days, like the opening of the Presidential Palace for free guided tours and later opening hours later for some museums. Suomi Finland 100 logo appear all throughout the cities in different places and on various signs. Both campaigns and events are featured with the significant colors of Finland blue and white. While in Finland during this year long celebration there were these signs around and this is also a welcoming extension to others visit Finland at this time. This celebration recognizes the step towards become their own country and the bloodshed that was partaken in the establishment of the state of Finland within its roots.


One of the Suomi Finland 100 campaigns


Sauna Experience

Across the country of Finland the recent count was 3.3 million saunas in total with a total population of Finland being 5.5 million people. Saunas hold this deep past and connection to Finnish peoples. A place for bathing and relaxing. In private and public saunas, heating up one seems to bring people together.

Typical for public saunas there is a women’s and men’s sides to the sauna or taking of turns. There are multiple of these public saunas across Finland, though Ravenportin is said to be the oldest running public sauna in Finland. This one in particular had a cooling off space outside, for people to chat with one another and get some fresh air away from the steam. After a sauna there is a growing custom, when inviting over a guest for a sauna afterwards to provide a light meal or coffee to the guest. A food that could be served at this meal is sausage or makkaraperunat put up on or above the stove to cook for after the sauna time is done.

Rujaportin sauna is a traditional public sauna placed in the Pispala region of Tampere. There we were welcomed by Veikko, Hannu, Salla, and Junne sitting down prior to the sajna to have coffee together. While at Rujaportin I felt comfortable and it had a welcoming atmosphere. Later on in the evening more people came to enjoy the sauna. Ginger ale was the perfect drink for sitting on one the wooden benches outside cooling off and chatting with the other sauna goers. In and out of the sauna

While at Haapsaari we were able partake in a savusuana, a smoke sauna where smoke enters while the sauna is being heated, this was heated up for about 8-10 hours and was ready in the evening at 8 pm on into the night. Many people from our group ended our days in the sauna, jumping into cool lake afterwards. A sauna perched next to the lake is the best of worlds and an ideal spot for this hot to cold practice.


Ruovesi Lake



Coffee and a cinnamon roll is the best combination for talking with others. Coffee is offered at many of the places we visited throughout Finland, this drink warms you though also welcomes you into a place. After and before activities there is this offering, along with conversation. Morning, noon, or late afternoon this ritual is practiced by Finnish people, though also shared with others. Fresh bakery seems to be an important part of coffee time.

While at the pesäpallo game that we were invited to, we had a dinner prior to the game and later during halftime sausages were served and coffee was prepared with cake to go along with it. With my cup and plate underneath I carried it to the table towards my new found friend, we became friends after attempts at a batting speed tracker before the game started. Others sat talking and enjoying one another’s company.

While in Marieham to a quaint café supplied with a variety of doughnuts and pastries. I got the classic sugar doughnut with no hole in the center. When the Paloheimo fellows and I met with friends of Hilary at their homes we were served coffee along with assortments of desserts. There was this true feeling of friendship behind the coffee and we were able to sit down together, talking to one another about things known and unknown to us. Our wonderful hosts would offer us another cup of coffee.


Cottage Life

In the 1960s there was a significant movement of people from the countryside to urban areas. Prior to the 1960s Finland was very much an agrarian society, though now this has changed in a sense to more technological development and innovative society. Even though a large part of the population lives in towns and cities, it turns out that many about 1 in 5 households own cabins. There is still this connection with nature and the countryside. A place where one can go to relax and spend time with family on the weekends or in the summertime. Heading out to Ruovesi, the vesi part meaning water, we got to experience for a few days what cabin life is about by the lake.

Finland the land of lakes. Throughout the country there are roughly 188,000 lakes covering the land, along lakes or the Baltic Sea are ideal locations for cabins or cottages to reside. There is the Lakeland of Finland is where a lot of these cottages rest and the region we visited while in Ruovesi.


Websites & Areas of Finland

Online promotion of the Finland is in full swing with the visit Finland website. Through pictures, videos, and descriptions it welcomes visitors to see what Finland is all about. One of the elements that it has  for promotional purposes is splitting up the country into different destinations areas that may peak an interest for the potential visitor. These regions mention includes Lakeland, Lapland, Archipelago, and Helsinki. All these mentioned have a different atmosphere and feel. While traveling around Finland our group was able to visit three of the four areas mentioned; Lakeland, Helsinki, and Archipelago.

The first being Helsinki which happens to be the capital city of Finland and is home to one-fifth of Finland’s population. Helsinki is full of life and history, though this city was not always the capital city within Finland. Turku was the capital city though as a result accessibility for the ruling Russian Empire at the time the capital city was changed to Helsinki in 1812, a coastal city closer to that of St Petersburg. From thence on Helsinki grew and is the number one city population wise in Finland. Architectural the city was composed by Russian architects that helped to build up to what the city to what it is today and the look for the city as a whole. A symbol of the city, the white pillars of the Helsinki Cathedral rests on the top of the steps facing towards the harbor and the cobblestone square below. In the city there are various attractions and events going on throughout the year. In the square next to the harbor there is a tori (market) that is in full swing during the summertime with various food vendors and handmade items. Our group, after a ride out to the Sea Fortress Suomenlinna got to look around Kauppatori and this is where I picked up some lunch from a burger stand- Tip: eat under one of the tents for coverage from the seagulls that like to fly overhead and swoop occasionally.

Lakeland region is perfect place for summer cottages to rest along one of the many lakes that are in this region.

Archipelago area is composed of multiple islands and is considered the coastal region that rests along the Baltic Sea connecting the islands together through waterways. Hopping the islands with bridges and ferry rides that make them accessible to the public. When traveling to the coast to head onto the first ferry ride for our weekend trip to the Åland Islands I felt the cool sea breeze and heard the gentle lolling of the ocean waves greeting the shoreline. Åland Islands an autonomous region of Finland, meaning that although the islands are technically apart of Finland they are able to make their own laws. The official language is Swedish and it has its own flag that is red, blue, and yellow feature a cross as the other Scandinavian countries. The Aland Islands and the other islands in the Baltic makeup the Archipelago, though also the coastline of Finland. A major city that rests on this coastline area is the city of Turku, in the harbor there are multiple cruise ships coming and going across the Baltic to foreign countries and other part of Finland.

Up to the north towards the Arctic Circle is the iconic Lapland, where Santa lives and the sun lingers longer in the summertime and shorter in the wintertime. During the winter downhill skiing on the slopes, cross country skiing through the snow covered pine trees, or riding on a dog sled across the wintery landscape are popular activities for tourists. Not only is there the beauty of Lapland though there is also the culture of the Sámi people living in this region. These once nomadic people lived off the land and survived alongside their main source of life, reindeer. Reindeer were used for food, clothing, and transportation in the harsh wintertime region. Often times the significant traditional dress is highlighted when talking about Lapland, a royal blue color for a base with red and yellow design detailing the outfit. Today there are still descents of the Sámi people that maintain this lifestyle of raising reindeer. During the summertime it is green and fresh with the forest floor fielding cloudberries. Cloudberries flourish under the endless summer sun and are one of the berries that are picked often. Similar to raspberries in shape and the taste is quite bitter, the color is light orange. After gathering a basket full of cloudberries, jams and pies could be made of these berries of the Arctic.


Otava, 2005. Portraying Finland: Facts and Insights. Otava Book Printing Ltd, Helsinki.

Suomen Suanaseura, 2002. Let’s Have A Sauna. Helsinki, Finland







Nature and Nurture

Because nature is something I enjoy and seek in my free time, and I am studying to become a nurse, I was assigned the topic of Nature and Nurture as my final blog for Paloheimo Fellows 2017. Hilary could not have picked a more appropriate final topic for me to discuss. Similarly, Nature versus Nurture has been the historical argument with regard to how people come to behave a certain way. Because I have become charmed with the social minded orientation of Finnish society, and now having spent time with Finns, observing their interpersonal interactions and how institutions care society as a whole, the classic argument of nature versus nurture (the importance of the interplay between them) will come into play in my final words, too.

There was so much I enjoyed about Finland’s nature, and while it was wonderful it was also just enough to whet my appetite with a thirst to return to Scandinavia and travel the back roads, experience unique ecosystems, see new plant, butterfly, bird and mammal species, feel the cool Lapland morning air, hear the crunch of lichen under my feet, and listen to the universally peaceful whisper of wind through the waving pine branches. This being said, much nature is similar to what I’ve experienced in North America, making it is easy to see the interconnectedness of the continents and oceans. Hancock, Michigan is home to many Finnish Americans and it is plain to see why they settled in the Copper Country. There are many lakes to fish on, similar weather patterns (though a bit more snow), vast forests for hunting and logging and, importantly, work: either in mines or farming, both of which have been important to the development of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Finns came to the UP not only for work, but because of the importance nature plays in their society and culture. To underscore this sentiment, as I write this blog, Finland has a delegation in the United Nations complex in New York City participating in the first ever UN Ocean Conference, the goal of which is to have countries voluntarily step forward with solutions to the decreasing quality of ocean waters and biodiversity ( Finland is focusing on working with Baltic countries to decrease the amount of pollutants, and ultimately eutrophication, that occurs in the Baltic Sea. We are all connected and hopefully through increased cooperation we can find solutions to not only environmental but social crises, as well.

Shoreline along the beautiful Baltic Sea

A country of 5.5 million people with the majority of the population concentrated in the southern region, there are vast open forest and lakes for hunting, harvesting timber and fishing ( But even in the cities there is room for nature. We spent significant time in Tampere, the third largest city in Finland. Much of the city is confined to a narrow isthmus between two lakes. The lakes are connected by a series of rapids which have been harnessed for centuries for industry. The lakeshore is lined with rowboats for recreation. On the western edge of the city a wonderful nature park, Pyynikki Ridge (the tallest glacial moraine in the world), has been conserved and has a network of hiking and biking trails that everyone can use. Indeed, I even witnessed a school field trip during which elementary school children were allowed to run around the forest trails and clamber over rocks, all the while unconsciously learning that nature is part of their society and they should not only be comfortable with it, but embrace it from time to time. There are no permits from the city required to enjoy Pynnikki Ridge; the only permit you need is the permission you give yourself to enjoy nature leisurely.

Children enjoying nature as part of their school day

Speaking of no permits required, Finland has a wonderful law called Everyman’s Rights, or Rights of Access. These rights include:

  • To move about in the country side on foot, skis or bicycle, other than in fields, meadows, planted areas or personal yards where damage to crops could occur
  • Camp overnight in a tent sufficiently far from dwellings or buildings
  • Pick wild berries, mushrooms or flowers provided they are not protected species
  • Travel on, swim in or wash in a lake, stream or river (Otava, 2005)

These rights reflect values I admire. Any member of society is free to use resources on private property as long as both the owner and the user are courteous to each other. And this courtesy goes above common courtesy. My interpretation is that it is a deeper, well-entrenched societal value that is a social contract of sorts–a contract of trust that glues society together. During our last weekend, camping at Haapasaari, I decided to test the Rights of Access out. Now, I certainly didn’t expect any problems from the homeowners, but I still had an apprehension that comes from the conditioning of living in a society of private property, chain link fences, and angry owners threatening to call the police. While walking the gravel trail from Haapasaari to Ruovesi, the nearby town, I decided to walk off trail towards the lake with the intention of, 1) looking for birds in a thick reedy section of the shoreline, and 2) enjoy walking in nature without the threat of interruption by personal eminent domain. The result is a very liberating feeling, knowing that I can enjoy nature uninterrupted and anyone else I may run across is also enjoying nature, minding their own business collecting berries or mushrooms and is not insulted by my presence. Rather, our simultaneous presence strengthens the bond of society, i.e., we can share the same space and respect each other’s rights.

And what did I see? A Willow Tit, so similar to our Black-Capped Chickadee, but a different species. Somewhere in time, perhaps millions of years ago, but probably more recently with a dispersal event, the birds separated into two populations and slowly became genetically distinct.


The same can be seen with the Eurasian Treecreeper, Tree Pipit, Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Fieldfare, Great-Spotted Woodpecker, White-Tailed Eagle and so many other species that have cousins in North America. But sometimes it’s also about what I didn’t see, such as a Capercaillie, and this is why I’d like to return. When planning my future trip back to Finland I’ll use eBird ( to help me plan the locations at which I stop. eBird is a website where anyone looking for avian wildlife can post their findings from anywhere in the world and the information is shared with other users, as well as used for scientific research.

When I think of people enjoying nature, I not only think of observing wildlife or hiking in the hills, but on a daily basis, enjoying the nature of simply being. An example of this that was obvious to me was the pace of life in Finland. Walking through downtown Helsinki is a very different experience than walking through Times Square, N.Y. What I noticed in Helsinki was that people walk slower. I frequently caught myself being impatient with the people in front of me because they weren’t walking an American pace. It’s not healthy to be rushing everywhere, just to finish a task to rush to the next. Finns take walking and daily life at a more natural pace, too. Of course, I should say this is a broad generalization; there are Americans who take it slowly and Finns who are in a rush, but these people are exceptions to the norm.

The Finns are in tune with cycles, for example, in the winter there is an extreme paucity of daylight. Indeed, in the north, there are several weeks during which the sun doesn’t rise! Conversely, in the summer, the length of day flips and in the north the sun circles overhead for 24 hours many weeks in a row and to the south you can grill with sufficient daylight until midnight, the sun dips below the horizon, and then rises again around 3am (as these Paloheimo Fellows experienced). When discussing my lack of sleep because of the long daylight hours our tour leader, Miiko, said that Finns don’t mind the excessive light because it makes up for the winter darkness.

Miiko grilling into the night!

In this conscientious way, the Finns nurture themselves. It can be seen in the enjoyment of the sauna, the traditional steam bath that sweats out the impurities, supporting students with a stipend so they can focus on school, agreeing that paying higher taxes is better for everyone in society and ultimately makes society stronger, providing school and healthcare as a basic right and even going so far to provide Wi-Fi free on the streets of most major cities and towns because most information necessary to be an active part of society, and the world in general, is available on the internet. Again, recent research shows that income inequality is positively correlated with health and societal problems ( When there is equality and nurturing of all members of society, life is better for everyone, not just the wealthy. This attitude was expressed saliently yet nonchalantly by a teacher we spoke with. I inquired about the attitude of society towards a person who is out of work. He simply replied we support them until they are working.

Similarly, we had the opportunity to visit the Mainio Center, where anyone who is immigrating to Finland can come to receive free advice. This can be a Syrian refugee or a retired Finnish American who is returning to the “old country”. The office is available to keep people engaged in society, not alienate them with bureaucracy or laws. Rather, it seems the laws in Finland are oriented towards keeping people aligned with society, even in the prisons, not isolating individuals which leads to social fragmentation.

The idea that school should be free to all members of society is wonderful. Get rid of the inability for some people to pay for school and everyone can, if they choose, advance to their fullest potential. Here in the United States we assuredly have many extremely intelligent people who, because of economics (poverty, need to work to support family, etc.), will never go to college. This absence hurts not only the individual but our society, too. Why wouldn’t we want the brightest minds working to their fullest potential?

The development of Finland’s school system coincided with, and even was an avenue for, social and national identity. Meinanader (2011) describes how following the Crimean War, in 1869 schools were regulated nationally and expanded to rural areas. In 1870 this became the avenue to teach Finnish as the national language and established many middle class people in socially influential positions. Finnish language glued society together, and the middle class leadership became very involved in civic organizations as well as government, so education and Finland developed together. And from visiting various educational institutions and talking with administrators and teachers, as well as students, there still appears to be a distinct continuum between school, students and how they will contribute to Finnish society. Finnish school structure is different than American schools and, from what I could observe, this alternative structure helped focus students earlier and has resulted in Finland having excellent educational results (

If I can use the analogy of societal framework for our genes and the morals a parent teaches their children for caring, I would like to suggest the idea that, similarly to the individual human being, it is not nature versus nurture that makes a person, and in this example Finnish society so inclusive and successful, but a combination of nature and nurture. Finland’s societal framework and the morals the citizens espouse have shaped society into a highly successful country.

Overall, the Paloheimo Fellowship provided an extremely memorable life experience that otherwise would be hard to duplicate. We traveled with people who know Finland intimately, either because they are citizens or have spent the better part of their careers studying various aspects of its history and culture. The experiences allowed me to critically juxtapose major facets of Finnish society with their analogue in the United States. I’ll admit that often the differences were stark and I didn’t always like what I learned and felt, but being aware of these differences and feelings is what may potentially prompt changes within. More simply, traveling and experiencing new cultures is a wonderful way to cultivate understanding and learn that there are alternative paths to success and happiness than what we think we know. My wish is that more people get the opportunity to experience cultures other than their own in a friendly, welcoming environment so that we can appreciate the differences and possibly nurture understanding and a better global society.



Meinander, Henrik, 2011. A History of Finland. Columbia University Press, New York.

Otava, 2005. Portraying Finland: Facts and Insights. Otava Book Printing Ltd, Helsinki.



Heritage can be thought of as something that is handed down from the past as a tradition or something that is transmitted by or acquired by a predecessor (Merriam Webster Dictionary). In this case I will refer specifically to Finnish heritage which I was able to see firsthand as I traveled to Finland and observed museums, social interactions, and day to day life.

Finnish Sauna

A well-known part of Finnish heritage is the sauna, which has been a part of Finland’s culture for about 2,000 years. In 1938 there were approximately 500,000 saunas in Finland and by 1990 the number grew astronomically to about 1.5 million ( There are about 5 million people living in Finland so this large amount of saunas represents just how valued the sauna is. It’s thought that some of the first saunas were pits dug into the side of a slope with heated rocks in one corner which later developed into a four walled room constructed of wood, an earth floor, and a chimney less stove. Today stoves or kiuas can be heated with wood, electricity, oil, or gas and are covered with a thick layer or stones. Water is ladled onto the rocks to create steam or loyly. The origins of the sauna were rural but also became popular in cities, it is common to find a sauna in a hotel, camping site, pool, and sports center as well as in the private homes or cottages of Finnish folks ( In fact it’s suggested that businesses where it would be appropriate to provide a sauna should do so to remain successful in Finland. Some Finnish boats and car ferries even provide guests with a sauna and there is talk of a train sauna. The only type of sauna that has decreased in numbers is the public sauna. While in Finland I was fortunate enough to visit and utilize Rajaportti which is the oldest public sauna in Tampere. The sauna was going to be taken down and replaced with parking spaces but community members worked with city officials to keep the sauna active.

In the past the sauna took on many more functions than it typically does today for instance people would use the space to cure meats, dry flax, and prepare malts. The sauna was also thought of as the poor man’s pharmacy and a place for folk healers to practice their art. Many women gave birth in saunas and then utilized it as a resting place for a few weeks afterwards. The dead were often prepared for their last journey within the sauna as well ( Not only are there many saunas in Finland, but Houghton, Michigan, which has a high population of Finnish Americans as well. Many families have their own saunas and it’s common to find them at hotels and sports centers as well.

Ruovesi Smoke Sauna (PC: Phil Locicero)


Finnish Foods

There are traditional foods in Finland many of which I got a chance to try. One of the most popular products in the Finnish food market is the oat. Its most common form is porridge which has been eaten by generations of Fins, especially on cool winter days. It’s also used in bread, and many companies are also incorporating the grain into dairy products. Oat grows particularly well in cooler climates and usually has a successful season in Finland which provides 13% of all the oats for the European Union. A combination of low pesticides and fertilizer, fresh water, and clean soil allow for high quality crops in Finland (

Finland also has a high volume of berries such as bilberries, cloudberries, lingonberries, and sea buckthorn. The extended light available during the summer months allows the berries to grow quickly, become more flavorful, and have increased nutrients. The bilberry is one of the most popular and is similar to a blueberry ( Many Finns enjoy exploring for the berries on the forest floors and are able to do so due to the no man’s land ideal referred to in a previous blog post. This ideal most commonly allows Finns to gather products produced by the Earth such as berries and mushrooms at any location whether they own the property or not.

Alcohol, specifically vodka is quite popular in Finland and the countries thousands of lakes, and fresh herbs and berries provide for unique pure tastes. Some alcohol producers have been picking local berries since about 1850 to infuse into their drinks ( I noticed while in Finland that the typical reserved shy Finnish person becomes much more outgoing when they are drinking. Most of the people who reach out and talk especially with strangers or make direct eye contact have had some liquid courage. (Of course this is not true for everyone). We talked multiple times on the trip about how difficult it may be for Finnish couples to get together when many males are so quiet and it seems (at least in stereotypes that are discussed) that alcohol helps with this process.

Most Finns also enjoy a variety of meats. Specifically in Tampere the blood sausage is quite popular. This item was served daily for breakfast at our hotel. In my opinion it is similar to meatloaf in regards to texture and taste. Fresh fish is also common as an abundance of lakes are present. I was also fortunate enough to try salmon at the Helsinki market. Often times fishing boats pull up to the market and food booths can get their fish from the boats to prepare and serve customers. The Finnish meat industry has an overall great reputation that is appreciated by restaurants and of course consumers. Animals are kept healthy with no hormones and minimal antibiotics. Cleanliness is strict and animals are typically treated quite humanely. Finland has never been involved in large scale commercialized farmer and instead, utilizes local farming families ( My body felt much lighter, more energized, and I was able to digest much more efficiently after each Finnish foods. We were abroad for 17 days and I did not get sick one time this includes even a stomach ache. As soon as we got back into the United States my first meal upset my stomach quite a bit and I instantly felt heavy. It’s been a slow process to ease back into culinary life in the States.

Finnish Festivals/Holidays

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are quite special in Finland, they are typically spent quietly at home with family. An example of a holiday custom at this time would be lighting candles at the graves of deceased loved ones. Social interactions with friends and relatives typically does not occur until December 26th also known as St. Stephen’s Day or Boxing Day ( December 6th is Independence Day in Finland which is typically celebrated with solemn ceremonies remembering soldiers who fought to protect Finnish Independence. In the evening the President hosts a reception with roughly 2,000 guests and it is popular throughout the nation to watch this gathering on television ( In February Shrove Tuesday is a festive occasion typically accompanied by outdoor sports such as sledding, skating, and cross country skiing. Many Finns eat pea soup, shrove buns, and Finnish oven-baked pancakes to celebrate this day. A shrove bun is an almond paste whipped cream filled sweet bun that is commonly found at bakeries around Shrovetide. On February 5th Runeberg’s cupcakes begin to line bakery shelves our home oven racks in honor of the famous Finnish poet, Johan Ludvig Runeberg’s birthday (1804 – 1877) as he took a great liking to these cakes ( During the summer season May Day is a festival day typically celebrated by students and workers which is consistent with a Northern Mardi Gras celebration. Mid-Summer or “the night of no night” is a rejoicing time when many Fins celebrate the start of the summer holiday and might move to a summer dwelling in the country side ( I posted a picture of a mid-summer pole in Åland on the blog which is decorated with fresh flowers and wreaths that create the look of a sail during this time. Folks may also dance around the base of the pole in celebration.




In Finland some of the common languages are Finnish, Swedish, English and Saami. About 5.6% of the population speaks Swedish, and about 8,000 people are native Saami speakers (  The Finnish language belongs to the Finno-Ugrian language group and to a small extent is spoke in Estonia and Sweden as well. Finns have a wide variety of languages in the school curriculums which helps individuals with communication. English is quite common among the business community and some companies use it as their house language. Individuals in Finland who are now about 50 were primarily taught German at their first foreign language but this is not as popular anymore. Instead French, Spanish, and Russian have grown quite popular for those learning new languages ( Being a part of the European Union also requires some Finns to learn European languages especially if they travel or will be pursing business operations. In the Åland Islands Swedish is the primary language which I experienced when traveling there. I discussed in one of my blogs about accidentally hitting the SOS button in the car we were driving and the person who answered was speaking Swedish to us over the car speakers. We also experienced Swedish language at the cottages we checked into in Åland where as in the main land of Finland Finnish was typically spoken first. Swedish is however jointly used in some parts of mainland Finland as many street signs and public institutions have Swedish on them. Many Swedish speaking Finns have a unique culture and it is suggested they are more influenced by Scandinavian traditions than the Finnish speaking majority (

Ferry Sign (Turku slang Finnish, Finnish, Swedish).


Gender equality is quite high in Finland, evidence of this can be seen in the high amount of females holding advanced positions in areas such as politics ( While in Finland we visited the city hall building of Tampere which at the time was run by a female mayor. Two of the three individuals we met with from the mayor’s office were also females who held positions of power. Many females hold positions in academics and business and the Evangelical-Lutheran church of Finland accepts the ordination of women as priests. Finns have become accustomed to politically correct language for example gender neutral terms such as chairperson replace traditionally masculine terms ( In fact the word hän has always been used to cover both genders. Finnish people typically have a strong national identity and often feel pleased when visitors are aware of important individuals or milestones relating to Finland. This strong national identity is likely related to Finnish history regarding honorable wartime achievements and successful athletes such as Paavo Nurmi whose statue we saw outside of the Olympic Stadium. The Finlandia University gym in Hancock Michigan is named after this famous runner. Today the national identity may be fueled more so by Finland’s advancements in the field of technology. For example, Finland is home to the Nokia cell phone.

My Own Heritage

I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to travel to Finland and experience the land of my ancestors. While there I first went through a stage where I realized differences between Finnish Americans and Finns and towards the end of the trip I started to realize similarities between myself and Finnish norms. My family is Finnish American and has always enjoyed discussions about Finland, saying phrases they know, and carrying out Finnish traditions such as taking a sauna. I have been immersed in a small part of Finnishness for all of my life and I really had no idea that Finnish Americans were really any different than Finns. I think living in America has changed Finnish Americans overtime from their original ancestors, for example I am reserved but still more social than most of the Finns I observed in Finland. I smile when I walk by a friendly-looking person on the street and look them in the eyes. If I am taking an elevator ride or get seated next to someone I often try to make conversation and this is not always so popular in Finland. Most Finnish Americans speak English and most do not know much Finnish at all.  The Finnish government is much different than that found in America and I got this overwhelming sense that many Finnish officials care a lot more about the wellbeing of their people than those in America do. I think this sets the tone for the people, I think Americans tend to be quite untrustworthy of the government and people in power compared to Finns. I also feel however that I am quite Finnish, as I mentioned before I am more social than the typical Finn but I am also quite reserved compared to the typical American. I do not enjoy discussing private matters such as politics or how much money I make at my job. I am very punctual and cannot stand to go against my word. Though it may sound like I am boasting about myself, I am not prideful in the sense where I think I am better than others and it has been pointed out to me a long the way that these are all quite Finnish attributes.


Vilppula Prison & Life by the Lake

When we first arrived at the Vilppula Prison by bus, the grounds were well kept and the buildings on the exteriors looked like school or city hall buildings. Most of the buildings matched, with the paint color a soft light yellow and an eggshell white color. We were led by one of the head gardeners one of the main buildings used for family visits. Upon ascending the stairs to the fourth floor, we sat down to learn about the open prison operations at Vippulla and Finland’s criminal justice system.

This particular prison is an open prison, meaning that the prisoners that reside there can live a life that is close to as normal as possible. Vilppula is setup in a way where prisoners are utilizing their skills, translating this into work. For work they start out with a pay around 4 euros per hour, this money in turn goes to pay for living expenses while at the prison and the rest is of revenue is taxed with the remainder for spending money. There are different types of jobs available to the prisoners such as carpentry and metalworking, they are put in an area that seems to fit best, though proper placement may take a while depending on the individual skills in that area. There are these jobs within the open prison, but there are also the options for prisoners to work outside of the prison though a person would need a car for the commute. At the moment there are some that hold jobs in Tampere.


With this type of prison there are certain rules to be kept, for example being in living quarters by 9 pm until 6 am and checking in with a phone. Also phone use is limited to certain hours a day with individual phones that are taken away at night. These phone bills are paid by the prisoners through a phone card.

Vilppula is an all-male open prison that was established in 1988, prior to becoming a prison the property was used as a training camp. Currently there are about 65 to 70 prisoners with 14 security officers. In Finland as a whole there are about 3,000 prisoners, 1,000 reside in the open prison system and 2,000 of the others reside in closed prison. Finland’s criminal justice system seems to be more and more moving towards the straight to the open prison system and the idea of restoration process of the individual.

On the weekends are when family visits occur, there is a specific building used for this purpose, the one that we had the presentation in. When there are big life events for their families, the prisoners request permission and are granted it if approved by an official of the open prison.


As a group after the presentation we ate lunch prepared by the staff and prisoners that consisted of beetroot steak, garden fresh potatoes, various salads, and our choice of breads. It was a good meal and then we toured around for a bit to look at the facilities where the prisoners work, we stopped by the wood shop, metal shop and greenhouse. Each place of work has a staff member/s to teach and aid the prisoner with development of the skill at hand, teaching the prisoners life skills is one of the main aims at Vilppula. We ended our session at the prison with a walk through of the greenhouse, this was full with fresh flowers hanging from the rafters and placed in row on wooden tables. It was beautiful to walk through and smell all the wonderful. In the middle of the two greenhouses there is an area for checking out, these flowers and vegetables (almost in season) are sold to the public who come to purchase products produced by the prisoners and staff.

We got back to the cabins in the afternoon, I decided to go on a walk on the same path that I took the other day with the bicycle. The plan was to check out the bookstore and drop by S Market to pick up a prepackaged rice pudding, called Risifruiti. Ruovesi is a small town composed of a small downtown area, residential areas nearby, and a harbor with a ferry that travels to Tampere around two times a week. Near the harbor is this loop that people will drive around to enjoy the harbor view and then continue on with their cruising, it was a beautiful day to go out for a drive. I checked out the bookstore and then used the crosswalk per usual to go across the street to S market. Inside I wandered around until I saw two of the criminal justice students there getting some ice cream, I followed suit with the ice cream part, picking up the chocolate toffee cone from the wide selection that is provided at nearly every grocery store and purchasing the other items as well. We walked together eating our ice cream and heading back to the cabins down the path by the lake.


Once again we got to experience the smoke sauna. The lake was cold as the other day was and there was wind that made it even colder when coming out of the water. From hot to cold is traditional, a lot of saunas in Finland rest next to a lake for this activity. Once a person gets hot from the sauna steam the cooling of the lake is relaxing and then happens in this order on repeat. Running off the dock before you get too chilled from the evening air is ideal and rushing out of the cold water because the lake has yet to get warmer (hopefully) later in the summer season.

Later this night I watched the sunset that was just as beautiful as the other night, featuring different colors and clouds. I went down by the lake and saw some fisherman on the dock bringing in their catch for the evening. Realizing in this moment and others that it is nice to go away from the business of life to nature and reflect. Honestly owning a cabin on the lake like most Finns, would be an ideal way to spend weekends and summers for my future. Bringing myself back to what living life is.

Farewell Finland, until we meet again.


Vilppula Open Prison, Walk the Walk

Does this look like a prison to you?

Looks more like an estate to me, but yes, it is a prison. An open prison, to be more exact. In Finland, the last two years of every convict’s sentence is spent in an open prison similar to Vilppula. If a sentence is less than two years, the prisoner spends their entire sentence in an open prison. Although there are no walls, bars, uniforms (on either guards or inmates), guns, handcuffs, etc., there are definite rules for the inmates to follow. The idea of an open prison is not unique to Finland. For example, in Denmark prisoners start in an open prison and if they violate the rules they are then sent to a closed prison for closer monitoring.

An open prison teaches a convict the responsibility of returning to society to be a productive member. This is another poignant example of how Finland works to integrate all members of the society together. On this eye-opening trip to Finland we’ve seen how school, including college, is free, levelling the playing field for all to have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential. Health care is free, allowing everyone to be as healthy as possible, regardless of socioeconomic status. And similarly, the idea of the open prison is to give prisoners the opportunity to rejoin society, not at the bottom without skills, savings and feeling like an outcast, but with a boost towards being a productive member of society. Along the way I asked a couple of people not working in the prison system what they thought of a prisoner joining their community, and the general feeling is that people make mistakes and should be given a second chance. And if society is going to give prisoners a second chance, it has to be a real second chance, not just talking the talk. Since most every prisoner will eventually be released, what kind of people do you want living in your neighborhood?

Prisoners work 9-5 with lunch and coffee breaks and are paid between 4 and 10 Euros an hour, depending on the job. Some prisoners work on the 52 hectare campus maintaining the buildings and grounds, working in the kitchen, wood or metal shop while others have jobs off campus and drive there every day, returning after their shift. Those driving off campus need to provide their own car, gas, insurance, etc. And the prisoners are responsible for managing their own money, including paying taxes, managing a bank account and purchasing food for the weekends. Meals are prepared by prisoners learning chef’s skills Monday through Friday, but weekends you’re on your own. We ate lunch in the prison, prepared by the chefs, and it was better quality than most meals you get when eating out.

Whole grain roll, home grown salad, beet burger and potato salad prison meal

Prisoners in the entire prison system, both open and closed, have the right to attend the birth of their children, funerals of parents or family members and other important pro-social and pro-family events. Prisoners don’t have to petition the warden to attend these events, it’s their right and a simple idea. If you want someone to come out of prison and be a prosocial member of society, don’t isolate them from life outside and their family by locking them up and throwing away the key. This is epitomized by the presence of apartments where families can come and spend the weekend with their inmate family member. One inmate we spoke briefly with has a young daughter who moved nearby so she could visit every weekend. Bonding is promoted by inclusiveness, especially with regard to a childbirth. A parent who doesn’t see his child for years will not bond and most likely will not be supportive emotionally, unfortunately contributing to the cycle of antisocial behavior.

When asked if there are any dangerous people in the prison, the guard who was giving us the tour said, “No, they are less dangerous than those in closed prisons.”  She also went on to say, “You can’t always think about what type of sentences they have. If you lock them up they are more dangerous today than they were yesterday. A prison system shows what kind of society you have. Everyone knows what it is like to feel like zero, it’s not our job to make them feel like zero.” In all of Finland there are about 3000 prisoners. One thousand are in open prisons and 2000 are in closed. There are about 80 inmates in Vilppula and 34 staff. An almost 1:2 staff to inmate ratio is high for United States standards but was considered normal, or even low, here in Finland. Staff would like additional employees rather than reductions in levels, which has been suggested by some politicians.

The prison offers many opportunities to learn a trade or skill as well as a college diploma. A diploma earned in prison will not denote this so future employers cannot discriminate against ex-convicts. The campus green houses are places where inmates can cultivate more than flowers and veggies. They are open to the public and people drive from miles around to purchase their annuals. The greenhouses are also an uplifting place to work with all the colors of the rainbow in the flowers. The convicts start with dirt and seeds, and grow plants which will adorn many a house and garden in Finland. The blue and white flowers, the colors of Finland’s flag, told this message.

In the metal shop the men can learn hands on skills that can earn a respectable job outside of prison. The facility has an excellent array of equipment, including everything needed to make knives or weapons. When asked if the prisoners are searched, the guard said that there is an atmosphere and expectation of trust that is promoted, so they don’t search prisoners. Of course, if there is a violation the prisoner is punished accordingly.

In the wood shop, the replication of a 130 year old chair is almost finished. Someone in town wanted a copy of their family’s old chair made in wood cut from their yard, and the inmates have fabricated it perfectly. Finland is only 100 years old, this chair has survived the test of time. I think Finland’s policies of integration and inclusiveness build a stronger, more cohesive society and hopefully will stand the tests of time, as well.


I feel like I’m slighting the inmates by referring to them as inmates because the system is working to integrate these men back into society. At the point of Vilppula they are in a transition and, if successful, will be reintroduced to society at large to be, hopefully, productive members. Vilppula and other open prisons give the men the opportunity to strengthen their relationships with family and society, manage money, address substance control and improve knowledge and professional skills. In juxtaposition, the United States’ culture is very label centric; once an inmate always an inmate. Inmates in the USA go from prison to being released to the street, often with no transition period. They may leave jail without a place to stay or any money in their pockets. Having a record of imprisonment will affect their ability to be hired. It’s no surprise that the USA has among the highest levels of recidivism and Finland is among the lowest. Many countries talk about wanting to rehabilitate prisoners and have them be prosocial members of society. Finland walks the walk.

Open Prison

5/26/17 Blog Post (Delay due to Wifi Connection)

Today is already our last full day in Finland! I woke up refreshed after a good sauna induced sleep. The cottage community kitchen cooks wonderful meals and this is where we ate breakfast. We then headed over to the Vilppula Prison for a tour. This experience was incredible… Vilppula is an open prison where the prisoners are not locked up in cells, and they can even leave the grounds. We would equate this with a work camp in the United States, however even serious offenders may be in open prisons sometimes initially and sometimes after serving some time in a closed prison first. Even though the open prison is more flexible with freedoms than a closed prison there are still rules to be followed which I will explain throughout this post.

There are roughly 3000 people in Finnish prisons which is about 15 times less than the American prison population. At Vilppula there are 90 inmates 10 of which were initially given life sentences, and 50 who are sexual offenders of some nature. 25 of the inmates are mostly off of prison grounds, for example they may work jobs off of the prison site. Our tour guides today said closed prisons will likely be completely gone in Finland and the open prison set up will take over. There is already an increase in the number of people who go directly to an open prison rather than closed. Out of the 3000 prisoners in Finland, 1000 are in an open prison while 2000 are in a closed.

Open prisons in Finland started after the civil war and were first set up as work camps at farms. The manager of Vilppula told us today that he feels it is not useful to have a prisoner sit in an enclosed cell all day as it likely will make them more dangerous than they were in the beginning and giving them the responsibilities of jobs for example can help them better prepare for reintegration into society. Finland does not have a death penalty and in 1980 Finnish prison workers stopped carrying guns. Guns may still be used when extreme cases occur, but it was suggested that’s its more dangerous to carry a gun in a prison and risk having it be stolen from you. The majority of people inside of Finnish prisons are older in age, and about half of them will return to a prison after their first incarceration. If individuals make a mistake in an open prison for example get into a fight they are typically given a second chance. If the behavior continues or is severe then the inmate can be sent back to a closed prison but additional time is not added for problematic incidents. When I heard the inmates were able to wander freely about the prison and leave the grounds I wondered how many people have tried to escape. The tour guides informed us that not many people try to leave the prison as they know they will lose so much by doing so. Most inmates do not receive lengthy sentences in Finland. Rapist are often given a 1-2 year term and we met someone today who is serving nine years which is considered to be extremely long.

Families can come to visit on the weekends and a separate building is in place for them to do so. Most of the buildings were put up between 1901-1905 and were developed by Hugo Lindberg. The prison was officially founded in 1988. The staff at the prison consist of a manger, assistant manager, security officers, secretaries, foremen, care personnel, and control personnel. The main goal of the staff is to prepare prisoners for life after prison. They try to do this by improving their knowledge, helping them create proper relationships and money handling skills, and lastly helping them with intoxication problems.

Every two weeks the prisoners are given about 200 Euros for their work in various areas, however they must pay their taxes, food, and living expenses with this amount. They are offered jobs working in the garden, forest, green house, or maintenance. As I mentioned briefly earlier they can also work outside of the prison. If you chose to work at the prison you have a typical work day. Inmates who are not feeling well are allowed to have the day off, however, if they just do not want to wake up they are given a drug test to ensure they are not intoxicated. Educational opportunities are also available in fields such as carpentry, machine/metal work, and catering. Most of the school courses are about 54 days long as they are expensive to run. During free time which is mainly the weekends and evenings inmates can exercise, partake in spiritual activities, take day trips to the library or swimming pool, participate in a guided craft, or chose their own activity such as fishing.

Rehabilitation teams promote specific goals and sentence plans for each prisoner. Probation freedom is based on this sentencing plan. A substance abuse counselor and doctor are on site once a week and a nurse in available at all times. A priest also stops by the prison to talk with inmates as well. On the weekends there is no food provided so the inmates receive 4-6 Euros a day to purchase something to eat. The same thing goes for a month in the summer when the kitchen staff is off of work. This helps to teach the inmates how to use their money wisely and prepares them for life outside. The prison gives inmates a simple phone with no camera or internet access that they can use to call out between certain hours in the evenings. They also take these phones with them when they leave the prison grounds as they have GPS chip trackers to let the staff know exactly where they are. They are also expected to call the prison to do a check in at certain times when they are off the premise. If the prisoners do need internet they have to fill out a request form stating why they need it and a guard will decide if their request will be granted.

We were able to see the living quarters for some of the inmates and they looked very similar to an apartment. One of the inmates let us look inside of his room which was decorated comfortably with wall hangings, curtains, and furniture. In open prisons each room has to be a certain size by law. The home we saw was meant for four people to share. The prisoner also talked with us a little bit about himself, and said he enjoyed open prison much more than closed. He did not tell us how he ended up in prison but one of the professors mentioned to get a life sentence he must have killed someone. We also toured the wood and metal shops which are incredibly nice with a significant amount of machinery. Customers will place orders for things and the prisoners make it for them. They also have a garden and flower shop which we saw as well. Customers were shopping inside the store and there was quite a selection. The workers get paid about 4.50 Euros an hour for their services in these departments.

Lastly, the prisoners are accounted for three times a day and after the last count they are no longer allowed to leave the premise. This entire system is much different from the prison system in the United States and so its going to take me a little while to digest and think about. Once we came back to the cottages I was able to have a conversation with Mikko about work life in Finland. He explained that is actually quite nerve racking to hire employees in Finland because the country itself is highly concerned with workers rights therefore it can be easy to get sued. He discussed a couple of instances when he had employees with questionable behaviors and how carefully he went about dealing with them to avoid future problems. I ended the evening with a sauna in our cottage. Before I got in I did go and check out the smoke sauna located in the park. A smoke sauna is lined with plaster walls that do not absorb steam like wood does therefore it is much warmer. The walls were pitch black from smoke and its easy to get stained skin from sitting on the benches and leaning back onto the walls. Tomorrow morning we will head to the Helsinki airport and start our journey home. It has been a wonderful experience to travel to Finland and observe, and socialize. I am glad we wrote blogs daily as it will serve as a great reference to the trip down the road. It also really helped me to reflect on exactly what I saw that day and its relevance.


5/25/2017 Blog Post (Delay due to Wifi Connection)

Dr. Richard Gee is the criminal justice professor for Finlandia University and the Paloheimos are traveling with his group of students. Last night after I had posted my blog for the day we went to one of Gee’s colleagues homes named Silver. This was our second visit to a Finnish home so it was interesting to notice the similarities. Silver’s wife prepared a wonderful formal coffee for all of us. She made homemade brownies, current juice, coconut cookies, and blueberry bars which were also accompanied by crackers and cream cheese spreads. So far both families we have visited have had superb hospitality skills. I personally am more used to a help your self-type of hosting, whereas everything in these scenarios was poured and handed to me. Both families are also involved in higher education and were interested to know about our schooling backgrounds and experiences in Finland for this class. It is common for people to take their shoes off before entering a Finnish home which we noticed and practiced. Another similarity I noticed was the use of beautiful dishware sets. Finland is known for its glass ware and what we saw in both homes displayed this well.

We left Tampere today and headed to Ruovesi for our weekend stay at the Haapasaari cottages. On our way we took a quick tour of the town which is home to about 4,400 people. It has a church, a few shops, a city hall, and numerous homes. Our bus tour guide mentioned that the town it going to be expanding in terms of shops within the next few years. Overall it is quite rural and small and reminds me of Hancock which is similar in this nature. All students are present for this trip including the Paloheimos, the United States criminal justice group, and the British criminal justice group. Mikko and his family also have joined us for the weekend which provides us all with a great opportunity to converse with the man who logistically arranged the majority of this wonderful trip for us. It has been interesting to share stories and listen to the experiences of the criminal justice groups as they visited multiple prisons throughout Estonia, Latvia, and Finland. We have also been able to share details of our venture to Aland and Turku with them. It helps both groups get an understanding for multiple aspects of Europe that they may not have been able to fit into their trip.

The cabins are comfortable yet rustic, and will provide for a great “Finnish cottage weekend on the lake”. Many fins own camps on the lake and enjoy spending time there to relax. This is also common in the Houghton/Hancock area as well. The cabins are mostly wood and ours has its own private sauna! We even get to overlook the beautiful lake. This afternoon my cabin mates and I rented out one of the cottage boats and headed out to try and catch a fish. The natural surroundings were so serene with birds chirping around us, horses grazing in their pasture, and the leaves budding on surrounding trees. It was a great opportunity to reflect on the pure natural beauty of Finland and realize how different life can be here than in the city. There really is no one else around, entertainment is your friends company, and activities in nature, and silence can be found just about anywhere. Theres something special about slowing down your surroundings and leaving the bustling city behind. You have space to think about things besides work, shopping, technology, and traffic. Mikko grilled ribs and sausages for us tonight and we all gathered together as a group for laughs and good times. I ended the night by taking a sauna with my roomates and settling in for the evening. Tomorrow we will take a trip to the Vispalla open prison and get a first hand view at what life is like there. I think it will be very interesting.