At the beginning of every Chinese class, Meri Rokkonen and her Finnish classmates would rise to greet the teacher, an oriental courtesy unfamiliar to a Western classroom.
"It is beautiful and elegant," said Meri, a Lapland University student in her 20s. The indescribable atmosphere would last till the end of the class, giving her an overwhelming sense of joy.
The teacher, Ma Yujing, a slim, middle-aged woman with a classic appeal, wanted her students to perform the ritual to understand a Chinese tradition of honoring the teacher and respecting the truth.
Ma, from China's Liaoning Normal University, arrived in Finnish Lapland which lies right on the Arctic Circle, three months ago, when the patch of land was locked in polar night. Yet, teaching three courses, two on mandarin and another on Chinese culture, she was too busy to feel blue.
Unlike universities in other countries, Lapland University grants Ma the freedom to design her own courses. "I would tell my students stories and origins of every Chinese character," Ma said. "They reflect the ancient wisdom of the Chinese people."
Lapland, a "mystical and magic" region with Aurora Borealis and arctic wildness, has been experiencing a Chinese craze due to the arrival of an increasing number of Chinese tourists, said Tran Que Nhu, a Chinese-born Vietnamese and another student of Ma.
According to statistics from Lapland's tourist bureau, Chinese is the most spoken language among tourists arriving in Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland and also the hometown of Santa Claus.
"I don't know since when almost every restaurant and shop in Lapland has signs written in Chinese," said Tran. As a student majoring in tourism, she saw great career opportunities in the boom of Chinese tourists and signed up for Ma's both courses.
Unlike Tran, Meri attended the course because she was attracted by the beauty of the Chinese calligraphy and was curious about the ancient civilization. "The more I learn Chinese, the more I am fascinated by its culture."
What is lucky for fans of China like Meri is that more and more Chinese music and movies have found its audience in Finland. "My favorite Chinese character is Hua Mulan," Meri said, referring to a legendary woman warrior from the Southern and Northern Dynasties in Chinese history.
As a matter of fact, cultural and people-to-people exchanges have always been a bright spot in bilateral cooperation since China and Finland established diplomatic relations in 1950.
The flourishing interaction between the Chinese and Finnish people is expected to receive a boost as Chinese President Xi Jinping pays a state visit to the Nordic country from Tuesday to Thursday. Finnish media hail it as the year's most significant visit.
"On streets or in the gym, many strangers approached me to ask questions about Chinese language and culture," said Ma. "It is rare for the Finnish people, who were known to be very reserved."