Five months. Almost one-half of my exchange has passed by, sooner than I could ever have imagined. While preparing for exchange, the length seemed never-ending, a year. Telling people about my future endeavors, they couldn’t believe I could leave home for a whole year; I couldn’t believe it myself. However after arriving, my first day became my first week, that soon becoming my first month, and in the blink of an eye, it’s been five months. I feel as if I’ve done more than I ever could have imagined, while simultaneously feeling as if I haven’t been doing enough. Exchange is filled with these contradictory feelings. As Perry (on exchange to Estonia) wrote in our group chat…
“I feel anything but at home. I feel I’m not myself anymore. Both for the better and for worse. I feel sick some days and I feel alone some days but it’s so addicting to feel new and different. It’s amazing. I feel like a grown-up. I feel like a child. I feel like I can’t do anything. I feel like nothing is holding me back. I know I could just go somewhere in this country on my own and be back by dinner, yet I don’t know what to do/feel confident enough. I feel like I’m in a dream, but one that I could get hurt in. I feel special, yet so insignificant. I feel like I need a hug but no, lost the desire for one…and plus that’s not the culture. I feel like I have friends, but they aren’t real friends. I feel so patriotic. I feel like I have no home. I feel cold and on my own. Yet, then I see true friends and feel like I’m not alone. I’ll always have you guys (exchangers) and I’m thankful for that. I feel like I could cry every day. I feel like I have no tears. I feel like I’m messing up everything. I know I’m messing up everything, yet I feel like it doesn’t matter. Yet, I know this is the most important year of my life. I just feel different. Simple as that.”
This quote sums up my emotions in totality. It’s the strangest feeling to love the give and take of exchange but it’s quite thrilling, and the good always overtakes the bad.
Besides all of that, I have begun to settle. Life here is becoming my life. I have a semi-regular weekly routine; school, dance, guitar, and Finnish lessons. Throughout the past few months, I’ve done so, so much!!! I’ve gone multiple times to Helsinki with exchange friends, as well as, my host family. I went to Pori for our district camp. I experienced my first Finnish snowfall. I went on a Rotary trip to Lapland, where I skied for my first time(!!!), walked across the Finnish-Swedish border, met, pet, and fed reindeer, met (the very, very real) Santa in Santa’s Village, and went on both husky and reindeer sleigh rides! I went on a trip to the beautiful Tallinn, Estonia with my host family! I met up with all of the exchange students in District 1410 for a district meeting in Salo. I performed in a dance show with my dance studio. I spent my first Christmas away from home with my Finnish family. Then last week, I rang in the New Year with Finnish friend s and my friend, Emma (an exchange student from California), at a little cottage in typical Finnish fashion, with sauna and negative degree weather. Throughout my normal week, I still am experiencing new things; whether it’s picking mushrooms with my mom or going somewhere new with friends.
Rotex always made settling seem like a bad part of exchange, because it’s no longer such a mystery anymore and while that’s true, I’ve found it quite nice to be able to know my way around town and be able to bike places without directions, to know how the train system works and be able to communicate with the ticket checker without needing English. It’s nice to have a favorite cafe in the city where the woman knows you, and to know where cities are when people refer to them. It’s refreshing not to be ((as)) confused in school and to know where my classrooms are. While I wish that new, mysterious feeling would stay prominent, settling makes it feel a bit more like home. Exchange isn’t meant to be a vacation or to feel like a tourist, but to live regularly among another culture so I’m glad it’s feeling more “normal” here.
I’ve been trying to keep track of the things that are now normal to me that hadn’t been before, however now that I’ve been here so long and they’re becoming normal to me I can’t help to overlook them. Things such as tap water rather than filtered water from the fridge, drinks with no ice, sparkling water, low diversity rates, incredible (well to me, not so much to locals) transportation, wool socks, a jacket on top of everything, just about every student taking their academics seriously, and so many more things. Oh and for me, not understanding has become pretty normal to me, although I’m hoping that will change soon.
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