Nicole, outbound to Finland

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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).

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