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2.8.2017 9.22

My Unique experience & Expatriate Living in Finland (Mikaylah)

Mikaylah on päässyt elämään kahden eri perheen arkea Tampereella ja Helsingissä. Hän kertoo, millaista elämä eri kaupungeissa on ollut sekä siitä, millaisia ajatuksia suomalainen kulttuuri on hänessä herättänyt.

-A Not-So Tale of Two Cities-

At first glance upon my arrival in Finland, I began to feel like I was back in some small part of Maryland and expected the way of life and living to be quite similar to my own in the United States. However, as I looked closer and immersed myself in the different aspects of the culture each day, I began to uncover the knicks and knacks of Finnish culture and soon realized what made their way of living so authentic and unique. But on a side note, I want this blog to tell you not only about the differences that I’ve began to realize here in Finland, but also about my unique experiences with my two different families, in two different cities and how it has shaped me to see culture differently and remain open minded along the way. So, I will divide this blog into sections, so I can fully get everything I want to share with you across.

Food & Lifestyle:

First I’ll begin with the food and lifestyle. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have been taken in by two families, so I not only have one experience to speak on, but two. My first family resided in Tampere, Finland and my second family resided in Helsinki, Finland, the capital area. While living with my adventurous and spirited family in Tampere, I began to see the Finnish way of life; or I at least have come to the conclusion that Finns tend to live very active and healthy lifestyles. Almost everyone in Tampere (and all of Finland) has a bicycle...even the elderly. My family and I would bike very often, walk often, and even go to the gym at least three times a week, which was said to be quite common among many Finns. I have also noticed that many of the foods tend to have less sugar and fats, compared to the American version of the dishes I have thus far eaten. Instead of having syrup on pancakes many Finns will spread jam on it because the taste of syrup is too sweet. Also, cinnamon buns and donuts are typically made without the icing and extra toppings, which is typically the opposite in America, when one would look to indulge something sweet. Soon, my host family explained to me that sweets are not very common or popular in Finland and that many Finns enjoy healthier sweets without the high sugar and well...the sweet part. Also, there are many cafes- so you might spot one at every corner. This also explains the coffee addiction that I’ve been hearing about and yes, it is true. Also, veganism is on the rise and growing. Although I am not vegan/vegetarian myself, there are many places to eat for those who are and there are several options to choose from.

The Great Outdoors:

Something that is quite special about the outdoors in Finland, is that nature is abound and growing, the air is fresher than anywhere else, the grass is green, the environment is clean and the possibilities are endless. But honestly, if you're someone who enjoys being in the outdoors often or just a nature guru, Finland is the place to be. Especially for city people looking to get away from it all and enjoy themselves. There are many beautiful national parks in the area and the green scene is plentiful.

Customs, customs, and more customs:

I know that many have said that Finnish people tend to be less affectionate, shy, and typically keep to themselves, and well, they’ve  got that right. But, what I have noticed is that many Finns are pretty friendly. Even though they may not come up to you to start a conversation, they don’t mind talking to those who do. In fact, it seems that they enjoy this type of interaction and when they run into those (Americans) who do, they are quite excited about it, because it seems like they need more of this type of friendliness in their lives. Also, another custom that is native to Finnish culture and Finland are the saunas and lakes. Almost everyone in Finland has a sauna and there are lakes everywhere. My first experience in a sauna was at my first host family's summer cottage in Lempäälä. At first my experience wasn't too great, because the heat became too much for me and my face would tend to burn after a few seconds of being in the sauna. But, for me, I have personally come to learn that it's best to go into a sauna after swimming or being in the cold. So, I would first swim and then go into the sauna, and this made my experience much more pleasurable and satisfying. My second experience in a sauna was in Tampere at the GOGO fitness gym where everyone took a naked shower and then went into the sauna, also naked. I also then experienced this in Helsinki at a public pool/sauna place and realized that nakedness is a typical sauna/Finnish custom. Finnish people do not see being naked as something that is odd or sexual, but rather just a naked body.

American Culture in Finland:

When I was coming to Finland, it took me forever to decide on what type of gift I wanted to bring with me from the U.S. to Finland. I wanted something that had value, was interesting and gave them a look into my culture. So after great thought, I decided to bring various fourth of July items that would tell them about American Independence and why we celebrate on the fourth every year. Upon bringing them American flags and other objects that I felt represented American culture and our independence; my family soon decided that they wanted to celebrate the fourth here in Finland. They called up a few of their relatives and close family members and friends and we threw ourselves a great fourth of July party. My family became very fascinated with the celebration and are even thinking about taking up celebrating this experience on their own, in the following years to come. I am glad that I was able to share with them some of my culture and even exchanged my own tradition with them that I hope they will continue on their
own in the future.

Rare Experience in Tampere:

During my two weeks in Tampere, the family that I was placed with were quite adventurous, spirited and outgoing. The dad was a both a racecar driver and a company owner and the mom was a paddleboard and pilates instructor. The mom recently had a rare surgery done on the bones around her temples and in recognition of the surgery going so well, she wanted to do something special for her accomplishment. So she decided that she would climb the tallest mountain with a group of her friends that participated in mountain and cross-country skiing. So she had monthly practices with her group, because the weather, air, and the setting would be very tough under the conditions. Luckily, I was around when she had a practice day and knowing me (someone who never passes up an adventure), she invited me to come along with her. The practice was at a swamp a few hours from Tampere, which was also where the Amazing race in 2013 was hosted in Finland. We met up with a group, of vikings and some of her friends from the group. The practice was intense, but nothing I couldn’t handle. We hiked in circles for about two hours around the swamp area, played swamp frisbee, and swam in the lake at the end. It was an experience that I will never forget.

The start of something new...in Helsinki:

After the two weeks that I spent in Tampere, I hopped on a train and went over to Helsinki, where I am now residing and will be for the remainder of my time here. At first glance my new host family seemed pretty outgoing and they are, but they were also more relaxed and didn’t have such a solid everyday routine/schedule as the first family did. They were also very active and fit, but not as much as my first family was. Helsinki had a really strong city feel and appeared to be more diverse, vibrant, and somewhat similar to the U.S. way of life; than what I experienced in Tampere.

Overall, I am really satisfied with my time here and the experiences that I have had up to this point in Finland. I hope that I will meet more Finnish people and continue to make more long lasting memories while I am here. I am also going to travel to Estonia in a few days and will probably engage in more culture and sightseeing. Finland has thus far, proved to be a quite spectacular place and I hope that I have enlightened you and perhaps inspired your next vacation spot.

Text: Mikaylah

Katso myös video:
Recognizing a personal development? Hajah Conde and Mikaylah Sayles


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