One of my favorite stories to tell when friends from back home ask me what the Finns are like is about going skating during first year. Myself and two friends went out for an evening of fun on the ice. Needless to say none of us was particularly skilled in the art of ice-gliding, so we did our best to avoid all the three-year-olds who were passing us by at what seemed like nausea-inducing speed.
A couple of pesky teenage brats thought they could have a bit of fun with the inept foreign girls so they kept cutting our path dangerously closely. So I went to the skating rental booth and asked the people who were in charge of maintenance for the rink whether they could do something about that. To which the person behind the desk looked at me, trying to be genuinely helpful, and said: “We could give you all free helmets…”
To the eye of the foreign observer, Finns seem like a very consensus-prone nation, fundamentally adverse to confrontations of any sort. This is a very useful feature if you`re trying to build a whole country from the ground in less than 70 years. Everyone pulling together is far more constructing than quarrelling. It is not the most conducive attitude to have if, however, your idea of a good pastime is disagreeing with people.
The Helsinki Debating Society was founded seven years ago by a Finnish girl who went on a trip to Oxford and realized our Uni was missing out on what she though was an amazing academic activity for its students. In the time that passed, debating has become a thriving sport among the international students, so much so that the Helsinki society, a place without the hundreds of years of debating tradition of its British counterparts or the absolutely lavishing funding of the Turkish societies, is rated as the top debating institution in continental Europe, only surpassed by the lands of debate itself: Britain and Ireland.
However, in spite of our numerous attempts, Finnish students seem reluctant to join our ranks. Maybe they find debating in English intimidating, which is an unfounded fear since most of us are not native English speakers. Maybe they find it strange that in debates, which are highly organised affairs where everyone takes their turn to speak with no interruptions and for a fixed amount of time, we don`t always support the side of the argument that we “believe” in.
Many times I found myself defending, at home and in international tournaments, a rollback in social services, tighter immigration laws or opposing gay rights. But that is precisely why I love debating. Having to defend the other side of the argument has helped me clarify the things I believe in, why I believe in them in the first place and has given me the tools to defend them better in the future. So for the more feisty ones of you, international and Finnish students alike, pay us a visit. Our arguing has built the best society in Europe in less than 7 years. Give it a try.
The writer is a Romanian degree student.
irina.subulica ( a t ) googlemail.com