Olen Karlotta, olen saksasta ja mä olin suomessa yksi vuosi vaihtarilla.
On the second of August, I left my family, friends, Berlin and familiar environment behind to start completely new in a country that I only knew from stories, the internet and books.
When I arrived at the Helsinki airport, I met all the other exchange students that were also going to spend their year in Finland and we all were so nervous, excited and happy about finally being in Finland. Also, everything already seemed so finnish, the airplane basically landed in a forest, the airport was very small, there was the Finnish language everywhere and alepa.
Then about a week later of exploring the city, adapting to a strange family and eating new finnish food, school started. I was so afraid of going to school because even though my grades didn‘t count during the year, school is a great and important factor for an exchange year – this is where
most of your social life is taking place, where you learn the language because it‘s around you all the time and this is also the place where you learn about cultural differences.
To be honest, the first few weeks of school were hard. I didn‘t know how Finnish school works, the people weren‘t that open towards me as I expected them to be or they were just way too shy to speak English or have a normal conversation. But luckily, there were some people that came to me and helped when I had questions and that slowly started to become my friends.
Helsinki is the biggest city in Finland but as soon as you go five minutes north by train from the center, there‘s basically nothing anymore. There are just a lot of districts where there are just houses and supermarkets. That was quite strange for me because in Berlin there is everywhere more than just houses and supermarkets, there are always some small stores, kiosks, cafes and restaurants.
In general the German culture is not that different from the Finnish one because both are European and Western cultures. Luckily, because of that I didn‘t have a strong culture shock. It was just a up and down, and roller coaster in general. But there still are some small differences.
Finland is such a small country with a lot of quite strong traditions, especially when it comes to food. I thought that I might eat karjalanpiirakka once during the year but not that I could find them in every super market and that they‘re also so cheap.
What also surprised me was that there are basically no bakeries in Finland, also no drug stores that sell cosmetic and hygiene products and obviously, everything is so much more expensive. Also, when you go and eat out, you always get free water and ketchup, that‘s amazing.
It is quite hard to say what my highlight was because I had a lot of different experiences, I danced wanhat, I took dancing courses with a lot of weird university students, I spoke to strangers, trying so hard to make friends, I went to Koli, Savonlinna, Tampere and more places. But one of my favourite weeks was probably the Lapland trip with around 40 other exchange students; we took a bus to Pyhä and stayed there for a week, skiing, seeing northern lights, going to sauna and avanto, ice fishing, snowshoeing and so many more typical winter activities. Besides that, we had great weather, a lot of snow and exchange student power.
An exchange year is everything that you expected and nothing at the same time. You‘re living in a strange country and environment for a year, that isn‘t anything you can be prepared for. It is also hard, you have to struggle a lot especially in the beginning, and for some the struggle is so big that they have to go to their home countries again.
There is so much happening during this year, it‘s hard to put that into words, to understand it yourself and to explain it to your family and friends home. It is something they will never be able to fully understand. But if you want to go abroad, if you feel at least a little ready, inspired and motivated, you should go. It is something unforgettable.
As you can see, I could talk about my exchange year for ages (an annoying habit exchange students mainly have back in their home countries) and I want to encourage future exchange students or people who are considering becoming exchange students.
Everyone I met in Germany told me that I‘m insane that I want to learn Finnish, a language not close to any other languages I know, a language that no one else besides the 5.5 million Finns speak but I liked the sound of it and I saw it as a challenge. After ten months in Finland and almost six months of Finnish classes, I understand almost everything (depends a bit who‘s speaking) but speaking is still hard for me. But I can communicate easy things and my hands and feet are helping me too communicating.
Now, that I‘m leaving in less than one month, I feel strange. On one hand, I‘m a bit happy about seeing my family and friends again, on the other hand, I can‘t realise I‘m leaving everything that I built myself during this year behind. I also can‘t realise that my year is almost over, time has passed so fast and yet so slow. I‘m trying to prepare myself for the upcoming reverse culture shock in Germany but I know that it‘ll be hard to come back.
But I‘m so thankful for my loving and supporting friends and host family. And also for the strangers from school that became my friends, for the people that just talked to me or gave me a smile on the hallway and for the teachers translating and helping me. I will obviously never forget this year.
Kiitos kaikille ja kaikesta!