January 9, 2014
I think that the question I am asked most frequently here is, “Why did you want to come here on exchange?” This question, although it seems quite simple, is really difficult to explain. There are so many great reasons to go on exchange, and every country has qualities that would make it an exciting and eye-opening experience for a student who wants to see the world. I could go on forever about why exchange is something everyone should do, and how utterly amazing it really is…but it’s really something that you have to decide for yourself. It’s challenging… any Rotarian will tell you this, any rotex, rebound, outbound will tell you the same thing. But you shouldn’t let that deter you, because you have to work hard for anything that is worth having. And exchange is definitely worth it, I’ve been here for about 4 months now, and despite any hardships I’ve had, it’s such a rewarding experience. You live a life that is exciting and new, you change and grow up, and it’s pretty amazing. You meet all of these wonderful people, and they become family. You get more than just your new host families, your fellow exchange students from your host and home countries, the new friends native to your host country, you become a part of so much more, these people are so special. Okay, I’m getting emotional, let’s carry on.
As for my own personal little voyage to Finland -
I’ll just give a little information about the flights: They were long… long... really, excruciatingly long. Those flights I mentioned? Yeah, they were pretty long. It could have been worse, but as much as I like flying, I was pretty tired by the time I got to Finland. To summarize my feelings ; JFK airport is very difficult to navigate because it is gigantic and confusing, flying over Iceland is cold, and French guys falling asleep on your shoulder does not make for a restful flight. But I made it, probably shaking like a leaf, not because of the cold (it wasn’t that bad) but because I was so nervous. I eventually got my bags, found my host parents, and had some embarrassing moments on the way home- yes we’ll just skip over those! I made it, that’s what matters.
Some random things I have noticed about Finland:
The nature~ everything is beautiful, really breath-takingly beautiful.
The coffee is amazing, and Finns drink a lot of it
Chocolate-flavored things are 1000 times better here than in America.
White cheese... I haven’t eaten a yellow cheese since I got here The bus system, I would say is one of the best and worst things. It’s great to have, and for the most part really great, but it is also not fun at all, and I have spent a lottt of time on them. On the down side, they aren’t completely reliable and they are ridiculously expensive.
Finland is also just in general, an incredibly expensive country. I save a lot of my money, but when I do spend it, my wallet cries a little. I try not to buy anything, because (for example) fast food restaurants are at least double the cost of American ones. Probably more, just to give you an idea of the price differences.
Everyone drinks tap water I haven’t seen anyone actually buy water unless it is carbonated.
That list could go on forever. There are so many differences between Finland and the USA. The weather really influences people here. It is so dark and cold here in the winter, and so warm and bright here in the summer, you really can feel the difference in how people act. Finnish people constantly surprise me, and I really never know what to expect when it comes to how social interactions will go. I guess because Finns can come across as a bit reserved, when they are bright and friendly with you, it makes it even more pleasant and you appreciate it more. Finnish people may not come up to you and start a conversation, but if you make the effort to get to know them, you won’t regret it.
Finnish is... one of the most difficult languages to learn, top 10 on most lists I’ve come across, but I work at it, and take Finnish lessons once a week. I understand a fair amount of what people say, much more than I can speak. In most cases, if I have something I want to say, I can say it using base Finnish words. It’s frustrating that I don’t have all of the endings mastered, but there are 13 cases, and hundreds of possible endings for one word… I try not to focus on how difficult it can be, but instead on how much progress I’ve made. I’ve heard that my pronunciation is good, and I’ve also taken Russian, French and I’m starting Swedish classes. Add that to the Spanish and Italian I’ve been picking up from my exchange student friends, when I open my mouth to speak, I fight the urge to speak in some strange mangled FinnSpanFrancglish language. I haven’t had any dream in Finnish or anything like that, but when I th ink in Finnish, or accidentally type to my American friends in Finnish, it makes me happy, and I know that if I keep working at it, it will keep getting better.
It’s important when you are on exchange to try to take things one step at a time, because when everything is outside of your comfort zone it can be stressful, and it really helps to just look at things piece by piece, to avoid worrying about useless things. At least, that’s how it is for me.
My time here… It has been the slowest and fastest 4 months of my life. I’ve done so many amazing things so far, and the saying time flies when you’re having fun really does apply. I went to Lapland at the beginning of December, and being in the Arctic Circle was incredible. We went on a reindeer sleigh ride, a husky sled ride, I made a snow sculpture (it didn’t quite turn out as planned but was still lovely) we went snowshoeing (although mine fell off) and I have to admit, I tried reindeer, and it was pretty good. I got to meet nearly all of the exchange students in Finland at the moment, and I love that you can meet people and only know them for a few days, but feel like you’ve been friends with them forever. Everyone was so nice and it really was one of the best weeks of my life.
Christmas was really nice, there wasn’t any snow, and it was pretty dark and rainy, but I spent time with my host family and they were really nice to me, especially my host grandparents, who despite not speaking any English, have already done a lot for me and made me feel welcome. Thank you, grandpa, for saving me multiple times from getting lost and very confused by waiting for the wrong bus. I still don’t know how you knew to come help me, but it was much appreciated. I digress, we celebrate Christmas here on Christmas Eve Day, we ate a giant dinner at my host grand parents’ house, and my host sister Emilia and I sang for them, it was properly embarrassing. I also sang at the Christmas celebration in English and Finnish. I was thinking about posting the video here, but I didn’t know if there would be any interest so I refrained. The whole winter break was really, so much fun. New Year’s Eve was the best I’ve ever had, I spent it in the ci ty and we watched the fireworks by a river, and even though it was really cold, and I was definitely not wearing the proper clothing (Erica, don’t wear dresses when you’re spending the whole night outside) it was still one of the best nights.
I think that’s all for now, thank you so much to Rotary, and my parents of course, for this opportunity, it’s definitely a challenge, but one that I have absolutely no regrets about taking. I wouldn't be here without you, so thank you. Until next time, moikka!
July 10, 2014
I've been trying to find the words this whole year that would adequately describe this experience. I'm in my final days of exchange here in Finland, and I still can't quite figure out how to put what I want to say into words. This year has been challenging. Talking to people, learning this language, adapting to the culture has been a tough thing to do. It was scary, getting off that plane, not knowing what to expect from one day to the next, from one house to another. And yet somehow, it all worked out so perfectly, and I know that the journey took me where I needed to go.
There are some things that have happened to me here, things I've done that I know would not and probably could not have happened to me anywhere else. I don't think any other country has a night club called Club Sauna Caliente (way to go on being multi lingual Finland!). There are so many quirky things that Finns do, and that happen in Finland that I have grown to love, and I know I'm going to miss them going home. Finland has become my home, and while of course I love my family and friends in Florida, I love my family and friends here too, and they mean the world to me.
I'm going to miss my 4 p.m. dark winter nights, and endless summer days, giant celebrations where tons of Finnish people come to the city centers, then later in those evenings when drunk people who ask you for 'tupakkaa' (cigarettes) actually leave you alone after you tell them no. Rooting for the best hockey team (TPS!!!) even if they might not.. be so.. good.. Even if they're the worst and you love them anyways! I will miss my times waiting at the bus stop, and just enjoying being alive, in such a beautiful place, however corny that might seem. It's good to appreciate the little things, and this experience has taught me to appreciate everything, and try not to take anything for granted.
It's easy to be sad about leaving, because truth be told, I really am. Speaking broken English and broken Finnish with people I care about, going on long drives, playing games together, going to festivals together, laying in the middle of the road at midnight (I'm not recommending this to anyone- be safe kids!). I love it all. I even love the tough times I had in the beginning because they made me stronger. I feel like I can take on anything and I think exchange is supposed to do that. Test your limits, and help you figure out what kind of person you are, and see how you hold up to the challenge. So- yes, it is sad to be leaving all this, but it has prepared me for whatever happens next, and I have to focus on appreciating that it happened, and not being sad that it's over.
I want to thank my host and sponsor Rotary clubs, I couldn't have done this without you, also just RYE Florida in general, you sent us out into the world with the right guides, and trusted that we would make you proud and represent you well. Thank you to my host families, for putting up with me. You all hold special places in my heart, and I can't thank you enough for taking me into your homes, and helping me through everything. To my friends, I love you crazy kids. I wish I had more time to spend with everyone, this year has been the longest and shortest of my life. I'll be sure to come back though, and see you all again.
Kiitos kaikille, kaikesta. Mä rakastan Suomea, ja mun tulee ikävä mutta, tuun pian takaisin.