maanantai 19. elokuuta 2013

A year ago

It was today, exactly a year ago, that I left my home and started the best year of my life. It wasn't always a bed of roses, it wasn't easy, but without a doubt it was the richest, the most experience-filled and the most beautiful year of my life.

I've been back home for 49 days now. It was definitely more difficult to come back home than it was to leave. The hardest part was leaving everything, a new home, a second life. When I left Finland a year ago, I knew everything would be the same when I'd come back and the people would still be there. Then, leaving Belgium, it wasn't the same at all. A big part of the closest people to me were exchange students from the USA, Norway, Switzerland, Ecuador, Moldovia, Estonia, Mexico etc, And I know we will never be together in the same way again, as a group, going through the same experience. But even so, I'm happy that despite the distance these people are friends for a lifetime.

I also left behind my belgian family and friends. On my last night at home, they gave me a key to the house to take back with me (I had had one before as well), as a symbol of being welcome whenever I wanted to come back, of having a second home. I'm trying my best to keep in contact with all my friends too, and with some of them I feel like we've only become closer after I came back. I can talk to them about anything, and it makes me happy to know they're waiting for me to visit and they'll always be there for me, even from another country.

The hardest thing about coming home was returning to reality. Life in the middle of Europe is a lot different from life in the middle of Lapland. I still had a month of the holidays left, but all my friends were working or abroad on holiday. I didn't know what to fill my days with. It was okay whenever I kept myself busy but the moments alone at the house were frustrating, thinking about how lucky I used to be being able to call a friend and catch a train to Brussels.

It's easier now, school has started, my days are scheduled and I'm back in the routine. Still, it's hard to adapt myself back to the nordic mentality. The mindset is completely different here, and not always in a good way. I've learned to appreciate my friends here more than ever, the way they understand me and are there for me no matter what. And as is said, you also kind of learn to see who actually is your friend, the people who stay there, to whom you still mean the same, despite not having talked or seen each other for ages.

Before people go on exchange they're always told not to "leave one foot behind", to really try to be mentally present in their host country. I think doing that is more difficult now that I'm actually back. I really feel like having my two feet in different countries, and I guess I'm driving my friends crazy with talking on and on about Belgium..

I know that it's no use regretting, and I know I enjoyed my year to the fullest, but still now that every day there feels so special when looking back, I feel like I wasted days at home, being sick or unsocial in some other way. Then again it's a process, and it's not possible to go through it being happy and at your best every day, just as it's not possible during a normal year either. In my memories I will cherish every moment, every dinner with my family, every conversation, every school day, every hangover. I would do anything for just one night with everyone again, but knowing I have a place to go back to makes it all better.

I've been thinking about what to do when I finish school here, and at the moment I have several options in Belgium, we'll see what the future brings. I'm lucky to be able to visit for two weeks already in october, I'm counting days (50 left!) I know I can never go back to being an exchange student, but as they say, when one door closes, another one opens, and this experience certainly opened a lot of them.

Mon coeur reste en Belgique.

tiistai 25. kesäkuuta 2013

There is someone i want to talk about

There is someone, who I want to say a few words about. I met this person in the very beginning of my exchange, and right from the start she came across as honest, sympathetic and sincere. She was never aiming to be the center of attention, she wasn't the loudest one, but it was so easy talking with her, she made everyone smile.

After a few months we started spending more time together and got closer. It was easy to be myself with her and I could tell her things that I have never told anyone else, and we could spend hours talking about a subject that would seem completely meaningless for anyone else. Every day we spent together was nothing but perfect. 

This person is honestly the most polite and thoughtful person I've ever met. She always knows the right thing to do. She never lets her friends down. She's determined, hard-working, she's doing so many things but still never seems to be in a hurry. She's intelligent in every way you can be, passionate, interested in so many things and makes others interested too. She's modest, when she's wrong she wants to know what was right. Even when she's tired to death, she carries on smiling, and even when she's on a bad mood, she sees the good in others. She doesn't judge anyone unjustifiably, and she's not afraid to compliment others, but does so only when it's well deserved. She always means what she says.

She's inspiring, she's a role model, but she never takes credit of the way she is or the good she does, I don't think she realizes it herself. Knowing her has changed me and the way I see a lot of things.

I will miss the train rides, the conversations, the cafés, the cities we saw together, the parties, the hangovers, both the happy and the sad moments with her.

I wan't you to know how much I respect you, how much I appreciate you, and how grateful I am to have gotten to know you. I've learned so much from you, and I trust you a hundred percent. You bring out the best of me. I hope with all my heart that I've been able to be even nearly as good of a friend to you than you have been to me. It breaks my heart to know that we won't be able to meet again until months from now. I know you joke about your dream to rule your own city one day, but knowing you, I wouldn't be surprised if you did.

"So much of me,
is made of what I learned from you.
You'll be with me,
Like a handprint on my heart.
And now whatever way our stories end,
I know you have re-written mine."
- Stephen Schwartz

saying goodbyes

“I was trying to feel some kind of good-bye. I mean I’ve left schools and places I didn’t even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I don’t care if it’s a sad good-bye or a bad good-bye, but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it. If you don’t you feel even worse.” 
― J.D Sadlinger, The catcher in the rye

I have two more nights left in Belgium before the youth seminar in Berlin that will end my exchange year. I  have to say goodbye to all of my friends and my family, all the people that have become my network of trust and support. For some of them I can say au revoir, knowing that we'll meet again already during this year, but for some of them, I don't know when, if ever, I'll see them again, and that makes the goodbyes even harder to understand. How do you say goodbye to someone forever? I still haven't had the shock of leaving, and I feel like I'm floating all the time, like I'm in a dream. 

I don't have regrets but I feel like the time went by too fast to do enough, to spend enough time with the people I love. But I guess there would never enough time. 

“This is a long goodbye, yet not time enough. I have no aptitude for this. I cannot learn this. I would hold on, and hold on, until my hands clutch at emptiness.” 

― Juliet Marillier, Son of the shadows

maanantai 10. kesäkuuta 2013

An open letter to future exchange students

Dear future exchange students,

You might come across my letter, when you are just planning your exchange, when you are desperately   searching the internet for information about your future host country, or when you just got your host family and you're so excited you can't stop reading exchange blogs. I want to give you some advice, that I wish someone had told me before my own year (even tho I turned out just great without it, and so will you).

First of all, before you leave, make your parents (and friends) understand not to contact you too much during the beginning of your year. During the first months, if you know everything that's going on back home, you will feel like you're devided between two countries. That feeling is the last thing you want, when trying to be wholly present in your host country, to get your life going there. Also, don't leave your school grades and courses messy and your grades bad, just because, well, you won't have to worry about them until after a whole year. That time will eventually come, and it's much less stressful to come back when you know you don't have to stress about school. The most important of all is, though, if you're in a relationship, to think whether you want to go through your exchange year dating someone who's far away. If you're not 100% sure, if you're not completely, without a question in love and want to spend your life with this person, don't do it. It's not going to be easy, and I say this with experience. It will make your year so much harder and so much more stressful.

Don't stress too much about the language. If you don't speak your host language at all in the beginning, it will without a doubt be the most difficult thing during your exchange and you will be often frustrated by it. But spending your last weeks at home trying to memorize grammar and vocabulary won't change a thing. You'll learn the same amount in a week in your host country, than you would in a year in school. Instead of panicking about the language, enjoy your time with friends and family before heading towards the best experience of your life.

Then, when packing for your exchange, only take clothes that you actually love wearing. It's a real pain in the ass to carry all that extra stuff with you, especially if you change families during the year. Also, you will probably buy a lot of clothes there too, when you adapt to the weather and the way local people dress. Don't take a blowdryer or a straightener with you. Don't take all the makeup you own, and don't even think about bringing a calculator or other school stuff. Remember to bring the flag of your country, you'll need it. Then, when you're all ready to go, throw a goodbye party to see all your friends for the last time, and off you go.

When you get there, at first you will probably notice all these strange things about your host family. No matter how nice they are, they might have little things that bug you. A specific order in which to fill up the washing machine, you might have to wipe the shower doors after every shower you take. The food they eat might be super healthy or super unhealthy. The key to cope with all of this is simply to talk with them. I know some people (including myself) can hardly introduce themselves in their new host language when they arrive, but you have to try. Use the translators in the internet, or ask if there's a neighbor or a friend who speaks english, and who could translate some things you want to ask. Talking with the family might not be as simple as it sounds but try to keep the conversation going, ask them about their lives and the habits in the family, be interested and don't judge. Don't say weird, say different. Understand that the situation is new and stressful for them too. Try to be happy and smiling and if you can't, be honest and tell your family the reason for you're bad mood, if you're homesick, or whatever the reason is. If you don't, they will think it's their fault. Talking about anything also builds trust between you and your hosts, and that's one of the most important things. Also, volunteer to help as much as you can, and attend the family life. Try to go to sleep and get up more or less the same time as they do, even if only to have breakfast together. These little things make a huge difference.

When you start to know your country, the people and the customs, make yourself a list of all the things you want to do during your exchange. All the places you want to visit and experiences you want to have. Then, start doing those things immediately. The time goes by faster than you could ever imagine and you want to make the most of every day.

When getting new friends, try to go everywhere you're invited, even when it doesn't really sound like a lot of fun. Depending a lot on the country, there might be a lot of exchange students living close to you. Many people might tell you not to spend too much time with them, since you will most likely be talking in english and not your host language, but as long as you try to make local friends as well, you shouldn't feel bad about spending time with other exchangers as well. It's a richness to get to know people from around the world. For this, I have to say, I can't think of a better country than Belgium. The other students form a network of people who you can rely on, who've had the same experiences and difficulties than you. I'm extremely lucky to be a part of this amazing family.

Most people have a relatively strict budget to use during their exchange. To use your money wisely, use it on experiences, not on material things. Don't feel guilty if you spent a lot of money on a trip to the sea with your friends, but do so, if you spent the same amount for new clothes. Hold on to your budget. "Travel is the only thing you buy, that makes you richer".

Your mood will most likely go up and down in the strangest ways during the first months, when everything is new and exciting. But the best part starts only after about half a year, when your life there is settled. That is when you feel like you belong in the family and in the country, you understand the language and with the language you understand the people and the whole culture. You have routines and even though you realize everything can't be perfect you still love it.

One important thing left, documenting your exchange. This is the year of which you will want to remember every single moment, every single day. Take pictures and write it down, not only what you do, but how you feel. You will treasure these memories for the rest of your life and you'll be grateful to have something to go back to later, whether it's a journal, a photo album or a box of random things like train tickets and little items from your exchange.

This will be the best, the hardest, the fullest, the most extraordinary year of your life. Enjoy every single moment of it. Let yourself go, let yourself grow and change, let the world in.

tiistai 28. toukokuuta 2013

31 days in Belgium

My Belgium is bright green and brick red. It's the color of cobblestone streets and the old stone houses.
It smells like rain, antique furniture and warm waffles from the street stand.

Today I have exactly a month of my exchange left. 31 days. I'm so happy and sad and afraid. All emotions flowing at the same time. Being excited to come home and devastated to leave at the same time makes me calm for some reason, and thinking about leaving doesn't make me sad, just sort of melancholic.

I love this country in all it's weirdness, in all it's beauty and all it's ugliness. I love to feel like I belong here, and I'm afraid to feel like I belong here. I know this country almost like I know home. The thought of going back is scary and relieving at the same time.

I've learned a lot during this year. I'm more determined, I know better what's important to me. I'm more tolerant. But I think I won't face the biggest changes before actually going home to the middle of everything.

I've made friends for a lifetime, and met so many others who will forever stay in my mind, from whom I've learned a lot, and who have changed me. It's a sad thought that in 30 days everyone will go back home to their lives and god knows when we'll see each other again.

I think one of the most important things to all humans is to have a place to call home, and now I'm privileged to have two. I have two homes, two families. I know I can always come back and I will be taken as a family member, and I couldn't be more grateful for that.

I still have time to finish the list in my head of things I want to do before leaving. My last weeks here will be full of everything amazing, so the little time I have left surely won't go to waste.

I find myself thinking about home more often than before, planning things that I want to do first when I get there, trips that I want to make with friends during the summer. I'm not homesick though, I just tend to live in the future, and that annoys me. A mexican exchange student that I know wrote to facebook: I hope there was a way of knowing you're in the good old days before they're already behind you.

perjantai 17. toukokuuta 2013


I've had the most amazing time these weeks. I was in Amsterdam for a few days, and queensday there was something I've never seen before. Millions of people on the streets celebrating the last queensday before crowning the new king. everyone was dressed up in orange, of course, and the canals were full of party boats. It was something everyone should experience once in their lives, and I'm sure that won't the only time for me.

A week after Amsterdam, my parents came to visit me for a few days. I was really exited to show my new country to them, and even in such a little time we did a lot of things, and they got to know my family. It was such a great few days, and seeing my parents wasn't strange at all, as I had first thought it would be. My two families got along better than well with each other and we started planning for the belgian one to come visit Finland as well. 

Last weekend we had a re-entry with Yfu in Mons. Michelle and Sofie spent friday night at my place since we had to take the train to Mons really early in the morning. It was just perfect seeing everyone together, but the athmosphere was sad at the same time, because we knew it was the last time for all of us to be together. The time we spent actually doing activities as groups to deal with going back home was not more than a few hours, and after that we all went out together. The next day we signed flags for each other, made plans for the remaining time and talked about how strange, heartbreaking and wrong it feels that all this will soon be over. Later we had a big barbecue in an old castle with the families, the stuff of yfu and a few students that will leave for exchange this fall.

Now I've spent a few days with Greg. He's leaving Belgium early, on monday or tuesday, and I want to make the best of his last days here with him. He's become one of my best friends here and it won't be the same when he's gone. 


The highest spot of Belgium
Fathers and daughters

Oh dad we're so much alike (in the outlet of a chocolate factory)

An american cemetery

Queensday spirit

Us as queens of holland

perjantai 3. toukokuuta 2013

Toinen koti.

Vaihtovuoden alussa jouduin tilanteeseen jossa mun piti löytää uusi perhe. Tai siis YFU:nhan se oli tarkoitus löytää, mutta kuulemma siihen menisi vähintään kuukausi. Pari yötä vietin ranskan rajalla Valerian hostperheessä, jossa perheen vieraanvaraisuus ja aitous iski syvälle, tunsin olevani lähempänä niitä ihmisiä kahdessa päivässä, kuin ensimmäistä perhettäni koko siellä viettämäni kuukauden aikana. Yfu:lta soitettiin ja sanottiin että yksi mun koulun opettajista oli soittanut ja kertonut voivansa ottaa mut siksi aikaa, että pysyvä perhe löytyisi. En ikinä unohda niitä kahta viikkoa, jotka vietin siinä perheessä. Näin paikkoja kaupungin ulkopuolella, kun perhe vei mut saksaan, vaeltamaan, ja esitteli muutenkin paikkoja. Näin perheen vanhemmissa samoja piirteitä joita näen omissa vanhemmissani ja tunsin heti oloni tervetulleeksi. Tässä perheessä oli (on) kolme lasta: Elisa, joka on mun kanssa samalla luokalla ja vuoden vanhempi, Jean joka on mua reilun vuoden nuorempi ja maailman ihanin Nathan, 8v. Tässä perheessä syötiin joka päivä yhdessä pitkään, käytiin pitkiä keskusteluja ja katsottiin leffoja. Viikonloppuaamuisin leipomosta haettiin kasa tuoretta leipää ja leivoksia, ja brunssi syötiin aina yhdessä.

Kahden viikon jälkeen sain tietää että muuttaisin toisen luokkakaverin luo samaan kaupunkiin. Aluksi olin turhautunut, koska istuin niin hyvin väliaikaiseen perheeseen, enkä halunnut enempää alun kaltaisia ikäviä yllätyksiä. Pakkasin tavarat ja kun saavuin uuteen kotiin, mut otettiin lämmöllä vastaan. Parin päivän jälkeen ymmärsin kuinka onnekas olin. YFU ei ollut löytänyt uutta perhettä, vaan Sophie (hostsisko) oli kertonut mun tilanteesta äidilleen ja joka oli itse ottanut yhteyttä yfu:un kertoakseen että voivat ottaa mut tänne. Sain Sophien huoneen, Sophie itse muutti sohvalle siihen asti että toimistohuoneeseen ostettiin uusi sänky ja siitä tehtiin makuuhuone.

Tässä perheessä jokainen saa olla oma itsensä. Meitä asuu täällä seitsemän: Äiti, kaksi siskoa (18 ja 20), veli (22), 89-vuotias mummo, Christian (Luxembourgilainen vuokralla asuva opiskelija) ja minä. Tässä talossa on asunut ihmisiä ympäri maailmaa, ja perhe rakastaa matkustamista. Äiti on muunmuassa työskennellyt vuosia Sveitsissä sairaanhoitajana. Mummo on ihan oma lukunsa. Iästä huolimatta mummo on päästään terävä, eikä koskaan unohda mitään. Talon päällikkönä mummolla on aina kysyttävää, sanottavaa, ja tehtäviä muille. Nuorempana mummo on esimerkiksi asunut vuosikymmenen kongossa, käynyt 5 kertaa australiassa ja ajanut yksin pyörällä täältä ruotsiin asti. Talo on täynnä valokuva-albumeita reissuista. Matkustelun mummo on lopettanut vasta kaksi vuotta sitten kunnon huononemisen vuoksi.

Täällä olen oppinut viettämään aikaa kotona ja rentoutumaan. Mun ei ole missään vaiheessa tarvinut miettiä, puhunkohan ruokapöydässä tarpeeksi tai pitäisiköhän tehdä enemmän kotitöitä. Täällä kaikki sanovat mitä ajattelevat ja tunnelma on lämmin ja rehellinen.

Äiti on töissä psykiatrisella klinikalla, ja hostisä on sosiaalityöntekijä. Vanhemmat on siis eronneet jo 17 vuotta sitten, mutta isä asuu sadan metrin päässä ja on paljon mukana perheen elämässä. Kaksi vanhinta sisarusta asuu osan ajasta isän luona, ja joka toinen viikonloppu syödään siellä. Tiphaine (20v) opiskelee Liegessä esikoulun opettajaksi, harrastaa laulamista, ja on siinä älyttömän hyvä. Pierre-pol (22v) opiskelee Liegessä lääketiedettä. Sophie aikoo lukion jälkeen opiskella sairaanhoitajaksi. Sophie on myös suunnitellut lähtevänsä vaihtoon lukion jälkeen, ja saattaa olla, että saan Sophien meille Suomeen puoleksi vuodeksi.

Eteisessä on pieni taulu, joka kertoo paljon talossa asuvista ihmisistä. Taulussa lukee: "Qui que tu sois, entre, ici on t'aime". Kuka tahansa oletkin, tule sisään, täällä sinua rakastetaan.