December 12, 2011

Exchange Student in Lappeenranta, Finland Pt.4 – Time of my Life

The best thing about being an exchange student, especially for the first time, is that you don’t know what to expect, so I was always willing to grab every opportunity possible. During orientation I was SO excited to meet everyone I would call my friends, I became especially close to the Dutch exchange students and another American who was studying in Finland for a whole year. It was during orientation that I first caught sight of Christian and how handsome he was!! However, my mom was in town so right after orientation we hopped on the train to Helsinki to do some sightseeing and to spend our last days together before my semester started.  I had an amazing birthday with my mom in Helsinki but had to return to Lappeenranta pretty fast. Once I got to Lappeenranta, I was so excited to hear that all the international students I had met a week earlier were planning on giving me a proper birthday celebration…but I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I really wanted the Dutch boy, Christian, to be there. I knew he was Dutch (and I had just spent a few days in Amsterdam!), I knew he was single (and so was I!), I knew he had a twin brother (and I have a twin sister!) and I knew he was as handsome as could be…and to my surprise, he was one of the first to arrive at my last-minute birthday celebration. Actually most of the new foreign students I met on my first day showed up to help celebrate my birthday. I was on cloud nine…all of these exchange students were coming over to celebrate with me, practically a stranger! There were the Dutch boys (Christian, Bob and Michiel), Denis from France, Chris my only American buddy for the semester, Jenny, Kai and Andrea from Germany, Rita and Jurate from Lithuania, my roomie Adele from France too, Luca from Italy, Maria from Mexico, Dan from Canada, ofcourse the Finns—Henri, Jussi, Jarkko and Marta, a whole wolf pack of Spaniards and Poles and plenty of other students made sure I had a birthday I would never forget. I had always thought I would celebrate my 21st in Viva Las Vegas and there I was celebrating in a small Finnish town near the Russian border. We got to the city early and stayed until the morning hours and before I knew it, I woke up the day after my birthday to a snow-covered Finnish village and a smile on my face. I was in love in Lappeenranta and everything that I would experience in the 6 months that followed.

During my time in Finland, the travel possibilities were plenty—long weekend trips to Helsinki, Sweden, Estonia and St. Petersburg, Russia (and Amsterdam a few times, I think I visited Amsterdam 3-4 times in 6 months…obsessed much?). Something really cool we did was dogsledding and snowmobiling in the Arctic Circle in Northern Finland, that’s definitely worthy of a post all on its own! Once the snow melted, I had a long break from classes which allowed me to venture for a few weeks around Spain and Portugal to visit some friends and to bask in the sun with my aunt who lived in Loulé, Portugal. As an exchange student in Finland, I learned things about life that I would have never learned otherwise. Together with my newfound friends, we became a small family. We were foreigners from all over the world who came together to celebrate each other’s holidays and accomplishments, we studied together and partied together, we cooked for each other and looked after each other, and ultimately we came to know each other in the rawest form, away from what our home country’s had defined us as and we embraced it. We soon started to look beyond our nationalities and tight friendships formed. We traveled and experienced together, had ‘family-style’ dinners and many nights of laughter, welcomed each other into our hearts and looked forward to the day when we would meet again. We were far away from home and leaned on each other. And then that fateful day came where everyone started flying back to their own countries and one by one we said goodbye. We didn’t concentrate on the end but rather looked forward to the day when we would meet again (and we did meet many times actually!). And throughout that semester, me and Christian fell in love…intensely in love. Now nearly 5 years since I first set foot in Finland, I am so happy to say that I have seen many of my comrades who I had befriended in Finland since then and Christian and I are coming up on 5 years together. Was it easy? Not to be away from eachother, but when you know what you want and the universe is on your side, then everything seems effortless. My days in Finland are some of the most memorable I’ve experienced and little did I know that that was just the beginning of my life overseas.  (WARNING: sorting through 6 months of such memorable pics is difficult, even after cutting it down, I still have a lot of pics!!)

Have YOU studied abroad anywhere and had the time of your life?!

Happy Birthday to me!!
Me and Christian's first date :) a tour of the islands on Lake the dead of winter!!
 International Student potluck night
Drinking game: Germans vs Spanish!
The Dutchies! My closest buddies for the semester...
Hehe  me 'n is in the air :)
We threw a BBQ/party on an island on Lake Saimaa...only gave friends a map with an X to mark the spot! Yep....we got to walk over the frozen lake :) and everyone else joined too
End of semester student party--70's style!
Me and my Finnish tutor Jussi...he 'showed me the ropes' throughout the semester!
 Oh how I miss them!!! Our last weeks together
Snow has melted, lake has thawed...semester over, never to forget :)