Ten years ago I spent the best summer of my life in Finland, studying Finnish at the University of Helsinki. It was a summer when everything fit into place perfectly: the planets and stars must have been aligned since good fortune blessed me even before I left, as my airfare was paid for in a contest I had won, and my place of employment had so much money in its extracurricular budget that they paid for my courses. It was a time when my life was “right” and I was in a place where every waking moment I looked forward to a new day of learning and discovery.
Today is the tenth anniversary of the first concert I saw by Finnish group Värttinä. Värttinä changed my life, to put it succinctly. Their music, a combination of contemporary Finnish folk and rock, composed with their own lyrics as well as lyrics drawn from Finnish history, poems, the national epic the Kalevala and other Finnic traditions, was the main catalyst that drew me into the Finnish language.
I had taken an interest in the Finnish language years before I even knew about Värttinä, however the music of this group made me fall in love with the language. Värttinä made me want to study Finnish, and move to Finland in order to do it. Ten years after this summer of study, I have made dozens of Finnish friends, visited the country six times and have nurtured my passion for foreign languages.
My summer in Finland left me fearless. I no longer thought that I would have to wait until retirement in order to do these things. If I wanted to take time off work to study a language, then I would do it. If I wanted something, I had the power in me to get it. That was the most profound change in me since I got back from Finland in late August 2000. Since these Finnish courses I have embarked on a four-year program studying the Romansch language of Switzerland, and last year I started Breton, a minority language of France. There are many more languages I want to study, and I do plan to take courses some day in Basque, Corsican, Faroese and Georgian.
Värttinä in concert
Singers Kirsi Kähkönen and Riikka Väyrynen
Singer Susan Aho
The bottom photo, taken exactly ten years ago, is of Helsinki’s main train station. I love this building, which was designed by Eliel Saarinen.
Värttinän jäsenille, kiitoksia teidän suurelta ihailijalta Kanadasta