Introducing our intern: Saara’s first steps in Athens

Introducing our intern: Saara’s first steps in Athens

Intern Saara Leppänen at balcony the Embassy of Finland in Athens
Saara Leppänen at the Embassy of Finland in Athens (Photo: Jaana Oikarinen-Vasiloupoulos)

It is the First of May in the park of Ullanlinnanmäki, Helsinki. Thousands of people, especially students, have gathered with their picnic set-ups and cheerful appearances. Sun is shining and trees are getting green. Earlier we have agreed with the Deputy Head of Mission Sampo Saarinen that my internship in Athens would start right after the festivities. Fellow students keep asking if my pencils are sharpened and my shirts already ironed. As we follow the flow of white student caps and cheer with sparkling wine, I feel nervous.

Geographer practicing in the Diplomatic Service – regional phenomena on the focus

The beginning of my internship at the Embassy of Finland in Athens has been full of action. The first third of the internship has consisted of intensive days around the office, seminar visits and versatile leisure activities. As I expected, Greece has been blowing my mind away from day to day. Nervousness has become eagerness.

The Embassy of Finland in Athens is rather compact but for an intern it offers a wide vantage point for the Finnish Foreign Ministry and particularly for the EU-politics of Greece. My major at the University of Finland is geography of spatial policy and in addition, I’ve studied communications and societal change. The conjunctive element in my bachelor’s studies has been the aim for broad understanding of multi-layered regional issues.

Geography combined with societal sciences create a good base to understand the causes and effects behind regional phenomena where both environmental and societal issues entwine. Greece and Albania (Our embassy in Athens covers also Albania) are going through some of these challenging but enticing regional changes and therefore offer a comprehensive field to build my expertise. In the beginning of my internship I’ve been concentrating on EU-enlargement and the Security and Defence policies of the EU. The next challenge is to focus more on the migration processes around the Mediterranean.


The working itself has been intense but let’s not forget the leisure time! The interns from all around Europe form an active community in Athens. Local way of drinking too much espresso and having late night dinners in tavernas have caused us lack of sleep. Weekends are therefore made of reloading at beaches or exploring the islands around the Aegean Sea. We have quickly teamed up especially with other Nordic interns, since our embassies and work duties are very similar to each other. Athens has proved to be a highly fascinating and multi-dimensional city and I have a great fear that these three months will not be enough!

Moving forward with determination

Back in Helsinki on the First of May I was maybe feeling nervous in front of all the new challenges. Now, when the nervousness is gone and I have a good grip on the basics, it is time to focus on the rest of my internship with proper self-confidence. As my fellow students advised me, I will continue the well-started networking and building of my knowledge by keeping my pencils sharp and my shirts sleek.