Whenever I tell my story of studying abroad I am always asked, “Why Finland?” After spending two months on the other side of the world, alone for the first time from my family, and placed with a host-family in the rural town of KankÃ¤Ã¤npÃ¤Ã¤ in western Finland, I find myself instead asking, “Why not?”
Growing up my whole life in the commercial, bustling cities of the Bay Area in California, I initially would never think of living surrounded by so many trees and lakes – even for two months. Before arriving at the airport in Helsinki, I knew I would be challenged by the unique, rare and difficult language of Finnish. I didn’t know my trip would entail learning about the nation’s rich culture, politics, education, and way of life. All together it was an experience I will never forget.
I quickly found myself in infatuation with the national hobby of suana, where one sits for an extended period of time in a very heated room and then jump into the clean, fresh water lake outside. I also immersed myself in the popular sport of pesÃ¤pallo, or the Finn’s version of baseball, which my host family obsessed over. It’s one of the things that I found to be more complicated than everything else – rare considering the Finn’s simple way of life. The highlight of the sport for me was when I assisted in a tournament match where I served as the scorekeeper. I didn’t need to understand Finnish to know what I was doing.
Even the worst experiences there opened my eyes to who I was, and who I’d become. Sure the mosquitos at the summer cottage in the middle of the forest afflicted allergic reactions upon me and the stench of farm life surrounding my rural home’s area was difficult to adapt to. And sure the traditional Finnish foods are too fishy for my taste buds. But I felt like a true Finn after a short period of time. I’d abandon the excessive lifestyle that provided comfort and luxury back home in the U.S. I traded that for a simple, quaint, and tranquil lifestyle that brought me more happiness and pleasure that I’d ever had. It’s no wonder why Finland is ranked as the world’s third most happy nation.
Finland isn’t better than the U.S., nor is it worse. It’s different – in a good way. Studying abroad there for two months made me feel like I’ve opened my eyes to a larger world. I take from my experience friends, memories, and another place I can call my home. I recommend anyone to visit Finland – “Suomi” in Finnish – even if it means enduring a nine hour transatlantic plane ride in coach.
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