Life in Finland, much like anywhere else in the world, has recently been defined by the profoundly strange situation we all find ourselves in. Schools have been shut down, people are working from home, trying to deal with the disruption to their lives as best they can while protecting those at an elevated risk. Little by little, we begin to imagine life after lockdown. As we think about what life might look like when the worst of this is over, we have also had two face some hard truths about the way we have lived thus far.
It has come to the attention of the public, for example, that food security is an issue for many families and that free school lunches may be the only hot meal a child or young person gets all day, in a country that likes to think of such poverty as unimaginable within its borders. Many parents have found a whole new appreciation for teachers after homeschooling their children for the past few weeks.
Many of the essential workers keeping supermarket shelves stocked and public transport clean are young people. Those of us who have the luxury of working from home are now beginning to realise how much we depend on others to keep us going.
The impact of COVID-19 on the economy is also a source of uncertainty for many young people. Many will have heard stories of how their parents or grandparents lost everything in what is known in the country as the Great Depression of the 1990s. With people still struggling to pay off their debts from almost three decades ago, many young people are now wondering, if they, too, will struggle to find a job and have a career. Many seem to have come to the realisation that even though we all need to do our part, not everyone is equally affected.
Amid all the anxiety and uncertainty, however, the overriding message among young people seems to be one of solidarity and hope. There is no doubt that life will not be quite the same as before, but, if we so choose, we can do better. Be kinder.
This is why I would encourage anyone to have meaningful international experiences, be that at home or abroad. They make us see ourselves in others and help us come to terms with our fear of the unknown.
As the world struggles to deal with our collective fears and basic instincts, empathy is sure to be in great demand. Ultimately, we can only get through crises by listening to and trying to understand each other.