“The two important things in life is to learn that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavor is taking the first step, making the first decision.” (How appropriate that I found this on an “I love Finland” Facebook page as I was getting ready to post my first journal entry).
I am so glad that I took that first step! Kittos to Rotary Florida district 6950 for helping make this dream come true. And also “Turku Aninkainen Club” in district 1410 for sponsoring me. In the short two months that I have been here so much has happened and time has flown by. My trip started out exciting, then I had a little hiccup, but now is even more amazing!
Leaving on August 4th I felt totally prepared, thanks to all hard work and planning that I did with the Rotary’s help. At the airport I shed a few unexpected tears as I said my good byes. But as soon as my family was out of site I was fine and could focus on finding the right terminal and starting this incredible adventure. After a brief layover at Chicago O’Hare airport, where I met 4 other Rotary exchange students, I boarded my final plane to Helsinki. It was a 9-hour flight in which I slept for most of it.
Around 3 am Florida time and 10 am Finland time I landed and met up with many other exchange students some really tired and some that were surprising full of energy. I was somewhere in between. Eventually buses picked up all 100 plus exchange students from all over the world and drove us to our Language and Culture camp in Karkku. We spent the week learning and having adventures not only about Finland but also some things about the students from the other countries that were there, which was really amazing to me. In the middle of the week we all took a trip to Tampere. It was such a wonderful city full of culture and history. On Saturday, at the end of camp, we said our goodbyes to the new friends that we had met and Hei to our new Host families. What a site, all of the Host moms and Dads and siblings all there to gather their new daughter or son. When mine found me, they gave me big hugs, even though I had read that Finnish people were not big Huggers. We loaded up my bags and traveled to my new home in Turku, Finland.
My new family consisted of a mom, dad, sister, and brother. My host brother was there only a week before he also had to leave for exchange in America. After one day of unpacking and getting used to my new surroundings I started school in Turku. As far as I can tell, I am the only Exchange student in my school. There are other Rotary exchange students in Turku, but they go to different schools. I quickly found that I loved my Art class and my English class the most. The people in my English class are so much fun! I have met some really amazing people at school. My Finnish is still a work in progress, but I started with speaking Finnish to my host mom and host Aunt’s dogs’. It feels like I am the dog whisperer here in Finland, haha. I love that I have free periods at school and that I can leave school with friends and go walk around town or have a smoothie (since I don’t drink coffee) and then return to finish classes. I have so much more freedom here and I am trusted to do more on my own. I even participated in a debate at school and found it refreshing.
Not everything the first day went perfectly. After school I was responsible for finding the right city bus to take me back home. Welllllllllll……… That didn’t happen haha- Big fail! I got on the wrong bus and it took me three more bus transfers to get me back to where I needed to be. Needless to say, I took the scenic route home that day and learned quickly how to correct my error.
In my free time I walk around near my house and take pictures of the rivers and churches and of course the wonderful Nature all around. My host family has been amazing and has helped me feel comfortable with all the changes. In the first few weeks they have taken me to see the Zoo in Helsinki, Old Turku where I got to see how they lived and made things in the past, and they even let me go to a concert in Lahti to see a famous Finnish rapper named Cheek.
After being in Finland for only 3 and a half weeks, I ended up with a surprise illness that basically stopped everything and kept me home from school for 2 and a half weeks. (The Hiccup) The worst part of being sick was feeling really weak and not being able to do many things for myself and the Pain. But after some great care from my Host parents, a lot of rest, and some antibiotics I was thankfully able to continue my unbelievable adventure here in Finland. I was really frustrated at the time, but I have also learned to appreciate my Exchange even more. I also learned during this time that I really like milk in my hot tea 😊 Kitos to my host Mom.
If you are considering going on exchange and happen to read my Journal, I would highly recommend Finland as one of your top 5 choices. You won’t be disappointed with the fascinating beauty of Nature here and the people and the places you will get a chance to visit. My favorite place so far has been my trip to Naantali visiting my host Aunt and family. The Fall has been amazing and the old town and the nature by the sea were incredible there. Turku’s Castle and the old churches are definitely places you have to visit. Rotary does a lot here to provide us with opportunities to go places and see new things, From a trip to Lapland and the Euro-Tour to great weekends in Pori and Fireworks after a Rotary dinner. One thing I do miss is strong flavors of some American snacks. For me I found that I missed Taki’s and really sour candy. (I received a care package from my family with those requests are more inside)
All in all, I am settling in and really enjoying my time here and I am ready for all that Finland and Exchange has to offer with an open mind.
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