Nicole Burg

Finland

Hometown: Punta Gorda, Florida
School: Charlotte
Sponsor District: 6960
Sponsor Club: Punta Gorda
Host District: 1420
Host Club: Helsinki City West

 

My Bio


Hei, minun nimeni on Nicole! Hi, my name is Nicole, and this coming year I will be traveling to Finland to study abroad for my junior year of high school. I’m sixteen years old and I was born in Connecticut, but I’ve spent most of my life in Punta Gorda, Florida (a small town by the water in Charlotte County) where I live with my mother, father, an exchange student from the Czech Republic, a dog, and a cat. I decided to apply to be an exchange student after I saw a RYE presentation at my district’s RYLA event. The idea of traveling outside of my home country and experiencing not only incredible sights but also wonderful new cultures and ideas was a prospect that grabbed a hold of me and wouldn’t let go. Getting the news that I had been accepted was the biggest moment of my life and through this year, I hope to learn more about both myself and the world around me. At school, I am in the Advanced Placement program and I participate in many extra-curricular activities, namely marching band, book club, math club, after-school math tutoring, the academic bowl team, Tri-M Music Honor Society, and Charlotte High’s “Tarpon Leadership Academy.” In my free-time I enjoy reading, hanging out with friends, listening to music, and learning about new and interesting things happening around the world (mainly relating to scientific discoveries). I anticipate that this next year is going to challenge me more than anything I’ve ever done, but I’m planning to make every moment of it count and discover another piece of what this planet has to offer.


My exchange friends and I at the EEMA conference.

My exchange friends and I at the EEMA conference.

This is the view just a 5 minute walk from my backyard.

This is the view just a 5 minute walk from my backyard.

The exchange students of D1420 just before the Baltic Sea Rowing Race.

The exchange students of D1420 just before the Baltic Sea Rowing Race.

Helsinki from the highest cafe in the city.

Helsinki from the highest cafe in the city.

My first Autumn in almost 10 years.

My first Autumn in almost 10 years.

Winter has begun in the city!

Winter has begun in the city!

Halloween: my friends from school and I went as the Scooby-Doo Gang.

Halloween: my friends from school and I went as the Scooby-Doo Gang.

Taken from the island on which my family's summer cottage is.

Taken from the island on which my family's summer cottage is.

Joulutortut!

Joulutortut!

Look at us Lappish cuties!

Look at us Lappish cuties!

From Torrevieja, Spain

From Torrevieja, Spain

The bridge that divides Finland and Sweden in Muonio, Lapland.

The bridge that divides Finland and Sweden in Muonio, Lapland.

Santa's Village in Rovaniemi, Finland

Santa's Village in Rovaniemi, Finland

District 1420 Halloween party

District 1420 Halloween party

Journals: Nicole – Finland 2016-17

  • Nicole, outbound to Finland

    Read more about Nicole and all her blogs

    Happy New Year, everybody! I hope your holidays were filled with joy, love, and maybe even a bit of adventure; I know mine sure were! If you follow kaukokaipuu, then you will know that my last blog post left you at American Thanksgiving. It’s been a bit over a month since then, and four other holidays have come and gone. Let’s talk about that.

    Technically the first celebration of this most wonderful time of the year was Chanukah. Starting at sundown on Christmas Eve, this year’s Festival of Lights was particularly special for me because I was able to teach my host family about the holiday’s meanings, origins, and traditions. Finland as a country is over 70% Christian and less than 1% Jewish. Most likely for that reason, my host family and their friends really didn’t know anything about the holiday and were truly appreciative of me for sharing that part of my culture with them. Second up, and just as special, was Christmas. Unlike one would expect when one is on exchange in the home of Santa Claus himself, I did not actually spend Christmas in Finland. In fact, my host parents took me on a trip to the warm, sunny beaches of Costa Blanca, Spain. Needless to say, I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be getting the white Christmas I had always dreamed of, but (a bit unexpectedly) I quite quickly realized it was just the thing I needed to nip any blooming homesickness in the bud. Finland is beautiful, it’s my second home at this point, but you can’t argue that, for someone raised in Florida, the cold, dark winters feel like a truck slowly driving over you. A flash of sunlight on my paling skin and the ability to wear open-toed shoes effectively got me out of my rut in a matter of hours.

    At the end of December came (as it usually does) New Year’s. I can say hands down, without a doubt in my mind, that this New Year’s was the best I’ve ever had. 2017 is Finland’s centenary year of independence. I live in the capital. If you can’t put two and two together, I’ll tell you they went all out. I’m talking about Finnish scale Time Square New York. I’m talking about a three-hour long concert (which started with Darude-Sandstorm) celebrating all things Finnish followed by a 5-minute fireworks show representing the seasons and spirit of this amazing nation. Spending the night there with those who I consider to be some of my closest friends, was incredibly special to say the least. Before this year, I had never been out past 10pm on New Year’s. The goal here in Helsinki wasn’t to have some crazy party, but to see the moment when I could officially start to say that I haven’t seen Punta Gorda, Florida since last y ear. That’s a pretty special feeling, and it gives a better perspective to just how unbelievable life on exchange is…

    The last big event to catch everybody up on was my seventeenth birthday! Yep, on January 11th, I finally became the ever-revered dancing queen. At this age, I unlock an amazing new ability here in Finland: paying more for everything. Otherwise though, it’s not too special of an age. That’s okay though! What made this birthday special was the people I spent it with and the familiarity and friendship I felt with people I have known for a mere five months.

    From here, I thought I would speak on the continuing progress of my exchange. My language skills are improving every day, but my vocabulary remains the size of a child of five. The plus side is that I am now able to communicate everyday information to my host mom, cashiers, and general citizens! Every day here presents a new challenge, but also a chance to grow and find a new solution. These last few weeks brought the challenge of dealing with the departure of the Australian and Brazilian exchange students, who I had come to look up to and love. It was painful to say goodbye, but I know that they are all moving on to even better experiences in their home countries and that we will see each other again someday!

    That’s about all I have to say for this update! Please check back soon for a post regarding my recent host family change (what it’s like and my opinions on it as part of different exchange programs).

  • Nicole, outbound to Finland

    Read more about Nicole and all her blogs

    Hello, everyone! I have officially been in Finland for 3 months (and I’m just now writing my first blog post)! Here’s the thing, being an exchange student is crazy. I mean it. One second it was my first week in this amazing country, and the next—a quarter of my exchange was done. So before I get into describing some of my experiences, let me just say that that it’s not in any way my own willingness that has kept me from writing here. Only passage of time at a rate that would lead one to seriously question their sanity. Since that’s done, on with the good stuff!

    Let’s start with the start (that seems reasonable, right?): The first week in Finland is much different than in other RYE countries. For one, neither my host family nor host club greeted me at the airport. Now, you might be thinking ‘what? Did she have to walk home herself?’ and the answer to that question would be: no, I didn’t, in fact, I didn’t even see my house until a week after being in Finland. This is due to the RYE Finland bi-annual inbound camp (held once in the winter for Australians and Brazilians and once in the summer for everybody else). This camp is a great opportunity for all of the new exchange students to meet one another, as well as to get acquainted with Finnish culture, language, and [Rotary] rules. I could spend a whole blog writing about this, but, seeing as there are eleven other weeks to cover, I should move on. 

    Once camp was over, I was picked up by my host mom and driven home. This, right here, is when the real game begins. You do not know what being an exchange student is truly like until you sit in ebbing silence for two hours in a car with your new mom. Let’s be clear, this is not a bad experience. If, like myself, you have the courage to ignore awkwardness and go straight into discussing what makes your new host family tick, then, in those two hours, you will learn more than you think. In my case, we made a detour to my host grandmother’s house. She was so sweet, caring, and funny, but didn’t speak much English at all. I was forced to use what simple Finnish communication skills I had developed to tell her who I was and why I came to Finland, and to thank her for the coffee and hospitality. From this experience, I learned that success here wasn’t about being perfect, it was about actually trying (something that I haven’t learned about enough in America). Okay, so now we get to the continuing present—as in my general life here in Helsinki. My school days are absolutely incredible. I attend Ressun Lukio (whose name correctly translates to Snoopy’s School) which is known around the Southern Finnish region as being one of the best schools in the country. I cannot comment on how it stacks up against other Finnish schools (though I have a feeling they are all quite good), but from inside the walls, I can say that is has an atmosphere unlike I ever imagined a school could have. All of the students here have a hunger for knowledge that I just don’t see at my school in America, rules are virtually nonexistent, and I’m not kidding when I say that the students run everything besides the teaching.

    Being a student in this capital city is very freeing. In my town in Florida, public transportation is basically non-existent and students are expected to be home if they’re not at school. Here there are buses, trams, trains, and metros running 24/7, and parents trust their kids to use them responsibly. There is a common level of respect that most parents seem to have for their kids which creates quite a difference in how Finnish students spend their free time. For example, sports are generally not in schools in Finland. Yes, there are always gym classes and sports to be played, but not in the competitive way that many kids desire. Due to this, any kid who wishes to be involved in competitive sports must find a club outside of school, which often meets on various days in the evening. The high level of transportation in the city makes it an extremely doable task to go from one side of Helsinki to the other, but time limitations might prevent one from going home before all of this. In this situation, lukio students might just hang out in the school or city with friends for an hour before practice. The same idea applies to those in band or orchestral programs, or those with other evening engagements. It’s not about being able to do whatever one wants, it’s about the trust that one is just as level headed and logically thinking as the parent is (and, if not, the experience provides them with the chance to develop).

    Finally, let’s touch on some of the coolest things I’ve done since arriving. (1) I spent a weekend at a Finnish mökki (summer cottage) in the western archipelago region. During this trip, I was given the chance to explore a forest whilst picking berries (and eating them!) as well as come to have a greater understanding of the Finnish way of life (i.e. going to sauna). It’s amazing how quickly, after sitting at a dinner table joking and laughing with my extended host-family, I was able to feel at home in this foreign land. It is and will be one of my greatest memories from this year. (2) I participated in two, large-scale Rotary events—these being the EEMA conference and a Baltic Sea rowing race. I grouped these together because I am a large fan of the perennial “rule of three,” but they each deserve a full explanation. If you are not familiar, the EEMA (Europe, Eastern Mediterranean, and Africa) is an annual Rotary Youth Exchange conference, which is held in a different location each year. This year it was, obviously, held in Helsinki, and, given my position as an exchange student, I was invited to be a part of it. The whole event was not just a weekend of lectures, but also a chance to get a world-wide perspective on the RYE program. I listened to everything and thoroughly believe that my voice was heard as well. I am so thankful that this conference and my exchange aligned so perfectly. The rowing race is also an annual event, which is organized to support the preservation of the Baltic Sea herring (and its home in general). The exchange students in my district are always invited to compete as part of our own boat. Sadly, we came in last place this year, but we all had a great time (when we weren’t freezing our fingers off). (3) I visited Stockholm! Yes, this is Stockholm as in the capital of Sweden—as in not Finland, but hear me out. Before August 7th, I had never stepped foot in Europe, and, today, I hav e a completely different view of the world as a whole. My trip to this historic city was not one that I took as an American tourist, but one that I took as a Finnish tourist with my Finnish family. For hundreds of years, Finland was ruled by Sweden, and this trip gave my host family an amazing opportunity to really show me what that means—connecting the things I was learning about Sweden to the history of Finland. This to me was incredibly special.

    As I close this first journal entry, I wanted to implore anyone who is considering an exchange with Rotary to continue pursuing it! Exchange is one of the hardest, but best things one will ever have the opportunity to experience. I know this year will impact the rest of my life and I wish for as many kids in Florida to have the same amazing adventure.

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