Brad, Outbound to Finland

This is my first journal entry. I have now been in Finland for about three months and I must say my exchange so far has been amazing for me. So many things have happened already and I have already seen change within myself. Now, I will give a summary of the past few months since I left.

I remember going to sleep the night before I left for my exchange was very hard. I was super nervous and I felt a little bit scared. Beforehand, I did not feel nervous at all as going on exchange did not feel like my reality. It was more of a dream to me. However, it was my reality. I had said my goodbyes and then made it through all of my flights and survived. Once I got to Helsinki I got on a bus with all of these other exchange students and headed to an orientation camp called Karkku.

Karkku was a week long camp that introduced all of the exchange students to Finland. My experience at Karkku was very nice. I met so many other kids who were also going on exchange in Finland. Many of which I have become very close friends with very fast. Karkku introduced me to Finnish culture and I enjoyed the experience. I was able to become comfortable with Finland before I really had to experience it. During this week some of my favorite highlights were sauna, and also going to a city called Tampere.

After my week at Karkku, I had to say goodbye to my new exchange student friends and say hello to my first host family. It was amazing meeting my host family for the first time and I immediately felt at home and comfortable. It is such an amazing feeling to meet people that you have been contacting for months. Soon after meeting my first host family, I had to begin school. Honestly, my first day of school was quite bad as I felt lonely. Within the next few days however, I was able to make friends and become comfortable with my school. School in Finland is so much different than in the United States. It is clean, and relaxed and kids are much more respectful and mature. It is very neat being able to compare and contrast school in Finland to the school in the United States.

As time has gone on, I have had mostly ups and a few downs. Exchange has made me the happiest I have ever been. It is strange when I ride my bike and I am able to think about my situation. I will look up and see a street sign in another language and it allows me to realize: "Wow... I am actually in another country." This happens everyday when I go outside. I am adjusted to Finland, and completely comfortable yet I still feel like this is all still so hard to believe. I have felt relaxed and have found more peace since I have been in Finland. For the first time ever, I can walk through forests and be comfortable and focus on the beauty. Over these past few months I have felt more curious and excited about things than ever. A teacher sent me a message alerting me that there were Northern Lights outside. I flew out of bed and stubbed my toe and was able to keep running just to experience this. I have been able to explore so much more and have felt so much more independent. I am able to explore different Finnish cities with other exchange students and see new things. Another thing I have found is that I have discovered more from myself. I have grown more interest in politics, the importance of languages, and the importance of having an education. I have learned to be relaxed in situations that I would typically not be comfortable in. I have learned how to speak to people in order to know what is happening instead of just awkwardly not knowing what to do. I have learned many things so far.

Learning Finnish has been quite tough. I study Finnish a lot outside of my one Finnish class I have each week. However, it is still so hard to speak. I have found myself understanding more and more everyday. It is hard to stay motivated in learning the language sometimes but I know I will benefit at some point from all of my studying. I believe my issue in learning is that I do not speak enough. I only listen, read, and write. I hope by my next journal I will be able to have basic conversations and understand most topics. My goal is not to speak perfect Finnish as I don't find this to be a realistic goal for just one year abroad. However, my ultimate goal is to be able to effectively communicate and understand nearly everything you would hear on a day to day basis.

Overall, my past three months in Finland have been outstanding. I have gained so much from my exchange already and it has only been three months. I believe my least favorite part of exchange is that I am now realizing how short a year really is. Three months has felt more like three weeks. It is tough to think about. In the end, I just want to thank Rotary for this amazing opportunity. My eyes have opened to new things and I feel like this exchange will help me find my own success in life and I believe exchange will help others find their own success's as well. Kiitos Rotary!

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