An exchange story: Cara

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A while ago I asked some exchangers to share their stories with us.  Selene & Meliena already told theirs. Today it's Cara's turn.Your story on this blog? Send me your exchange story on: Themindofanexchange

 I was an exchange student in Finland from August 2013 till June 2014 with AFS. I come from Brussels, Belgium’s capital. Before I left, I was a true city girl, I had always lived in the center of the city; I didn’t have any true contact with nature, meaning that I didn’t appreciate it as I should have. I had no idea how to take care of a plant, but I was an expert at killing them. That all changed, although I only realized it when I came home from my year abroad. In Finland, I lived in a village close to a small town, Ylöjärvi, which had 20.000 inhabitants and where my school was. I was 20km away from Finland’s third biggest city, Tampere. Immediately my environment changed drastically.

The day I left to Finland, I wasn’t nervous or sad, I felt happy and excited and I couldn’t wait to leave. My host mother came to pick me up at the airport in Helsinki. For three hours, my host mom, Katja, and I sat in the car. Katja told me about the life I was gonna lead for the next months. When we arrived in Ylöjärvi, my host sisters ran out of the house holding a poster that said “Welcome to Finland Cara!”. I immediately felt comfortable and knew I had made the right decision. I spent the first evening telling things about my life in Belgium, my friends and my family.

In my first host family, I have two host sisters (Emilia and
and a dog (Veeti). Emilia and Milla are about the same
age as I am, which made it easier for us to connect, plus we all went to the same school. Quite quickly, we found activities that we could do together regularly such as going running and watching James Bond movies. For the first time in my life, I was now living with a dog. My host family had asked me if I wanted to walk Veeti and I immediately said yes. I thought it would be a good way to discover the area, and get some exercise. After a while, I realised that walking Veeti regularly wasn’t enough exercise so I decided to also go to the gym. Yes, AFS doesn’t only mean American Field Service but also Another Fat Student, at least in my case. But not every exchange student gains weight.

Anyway, in my second host family, I have three host brothers (Jaakko, Juhani and Oskari) and one host sister (Tea). My host siblings were all older than me; even though they didn’t live at home anymore I developed a friendship with all of them. Changing host family wasn’t so difficult for me because my new host mother, Birgitta, and my host brother Juhani are AFS volunteers, thus I already knew the family a little bit... My second host family introduced me to the concept of having a mökki, the Finnish word for “summer house”. Most Finns have a mökki, usually near one of Finland’s many many lakes. Mökkis don’t have any electricity nor running water. Phones often don’t work either. So a weekend there means going back to basics and relaxing. For me, it was wonderful! In fact, when I came back to Brussels, my birthday was coming up and I immediately asked my parents for a mökki. I am still very disappointed I didn’t receive one.

I have been back for a few months now, and as I have started university, my life has once more drastically changed, which I am happy about, but I still just want to be in Finland, the land of beautiful lakes, peaceful silence and the best people in the world. I am so grateful that I had the chance to have this experience and I recommend everybody to go on exchange, because it truly is the best year of your life.

Pictures and text by Cara

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