Hi, I'm Sophie and 18 year old Western Australian girl, who on the 21st of January 2011 flew across the world. Leaving behind my easy life, my family, friends and most importantly my dog Sam, to live the life of a Finnish teenager as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange program.
It is hard to believe that something that seemed so far away has now become my life. I am experiencing new things and finding amazing people not only from Finland but from around the world. One of the best things about living abroad is meeting new people. Living in Perth I know that there are people out there living their lives, but I don't know anything about them or how they live so it is hard to wrap your head around it. And then you fly 12 935 km across the planet and find fantastic people, and you think we can be friends and get the opportunity to learn about them and their lives.
I absolutely love living in Finland, I have been welcomed into Lieksa by so many people and I am beginning to think of it as a second home. I was caught calling it my Finnish hometown the other day by another exchange student.
In the past 2 months I have seen and experienced so many things. I am learning about myself and the world and finding my independence. I have a massive support group behind me but I still need to do things of my own initiative, be aware of my surroundings. Sometimes it is hard having to do things without my Mum and Dad but I think I am managing well.
Being an exchange student is amazingly fun but at the same time it is a full time job and you need to constantly think about what is happening and how people may react. To keep me on track this year, I have 3 main goals, which I keep in mind every day, they are:
1) Learn the language; This year I will tackle Finnish and everyone keeps telling me how difficult it is. I am making slow progress but I understand more and more every day, it is speaking that I have trouble with.
2) Make friends. This is always hard in a foreign country as people already have their own lives and friends so you need to make the effort. One of the characteristics of Finnish people is that they are shy which doesn’t make my job easier
3) Try everything. An old exchange student once told me, if I you are unsure about something – a lifestyle choice - try it for two weeks, then you can decide if it is really not for you, or maybe you will find it is ok. People wouldn’t do something unless it wasn’t. With food or activities try it 3 times before you say “No I don’t like it”, you can’t make an opinion off something that happened once. This is a rule that I am living by, keeping an open mind and making sure my exchange brings a million new experiences. Keeping positive and trying new things also helps to assimilate you into your new way of life. If you keep saying no people will soon stop asking, caring and you will miss out on amazing opportunities. After all I wanted to come to Finland and living like the Finns is what it’s all about.
I will try and share stories of my experiences and things I find interesting about Finland on this blog and I hope you enjoy reading about them.