By: Philippa Hughes, Kallion Advisor

As a mixed-race American who is often asked, where are you really from? I sometimes tell people that I am Finnish. I let them wallow in confusion for a few minutes as they try to make sense of my non-Nordic looking Asian face before I tell them I am from the far north of Finland, a region formerly known as Lapland, where the Sami people live. None of this is true. 

I feel a strong affinity for the Finnish people that began with a Finnish roommate in college who used to invite me to all the Scandinavian Interest Club activities. I helped make Finnish meatballs (just like Swedish meatballs except made by Finns) every year for the University’s International Food Festival, watched Ingmar Bergman film marathons, and ended up in a yearbook picture with the Club hiking up Old Rag Mountain.

Many years later I visited Finland as a guest of the Finnish Ministry of Culture and spent ten days visiting a myriad of arts offerings, including opera, beat box, metal band, ballet, and visiting visual art studios. I met many artists and maintained a connection with them for years including curating an amazing Finnish performance art duo called Nutty Tarts into a performance art festival called SuperNova that I organized in the DMV. 

My connection with Finland goes way back! Which means I am always paying attention to what’s happening in Finland. 

As a book lover, I was thrilled when the Helsinki Central Library Oodi was named best public library of the year by the International Federation of Library Associations. In addition to being able to borrow one of its 100,000 books and having access to well over three million books through online services and book-sorting robots, the majority of space is dedicated to public and social amenities including a cinema, recording studios, a maker space, and areas for hosting exhibitions and events or simply relaxing with a book or playing with other children. The library as a holistic community space is the library of the future and with the opening of Oodi in 2019, the future has arrived. 

At a cost of 100 million dollars, the investment signifies Finland’s commitment to arts and culture as well as to education, community, and innovation.

This stunning building is situated across the street from the Finnish Parliament building, another signal of the importance of learning alongside politics. 

I swooned over the election of Prime Minister Sanna Marin the same year the library opened. She is an avowed feminist and environmentalist. At 34-years-old, she was among the youngest world leaders ever elected. She is composed and always well-prepared.

These cultural and political signals underscore my love of Finland, which is leading the global community toward the future with women guiding the way. Will the United States follow them into the future?

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