December 11, 2011

Exchange Student in Lappeenranta, Finland Pt.1: Finland? Sign me up!

I’ll cut to the chase here: STUDYING ABROAD WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!!! Ok ok I’ll start from the beginning. Next month will mark 5 years since I studied abroad in Finland, a semester that I truly will never forget. I’ve always had the travel bug ingrained in me from my travel-savvy parents who often took us for ski trips and to cute Mexican villages for holidays. They jetsetted off to Singapore, the Alps, Australia, with my dad’s business while leaving me and my twin sister (we’re the youngest of 8…and to say my family is awesome, is an understatement!) in the care of our older siblings. It wasn’t until 2005 that I was totally side-swiped with wanderlust: that year I spent 2 weeks in Costa Rica with a bungee jump that changed my life and months later I did a multi-country European summer abroad trip with my university…that was only the beginning of my quest to see the world. Before I had gone for a summer abroad (we were all Business students who visited TONS of huge corporations around France, UK, Germany, Switzerland…the travel bug REALLY starting itching after the summer) I didn’t think about going away for longer than a few weeks…well as soon as I set foot back on American soil, I wanted to travel and live abroad so bad that I felt like I could reach out and grab it. That was also the first summer I visited Amsterdam with my best friend Julia and friend Ross…and this was the trip where I thought to myself, I MUST get back to Amsterdam!!! Actually it was Ross who, when we were sitting on the beach in Nice with some newly found Scottish friends, told me ‘you only live once, Rach, let’s go for it!’ and on that note we drove hours into the French countryside to huge music festival at Pont du Gard—random, spontaneous and totally up my alley :). It was absolutely out-of-this-world amazing and I cried knowing that I had to return to the US the very next day…I wanted this adventure to continue eternally.

A year passed, I waited tables to save as much money for traveling as possible, concentrated on school and I jetsetted out to Europe again this time all by my lonesome and again had the time of my life. As soon as I got back to the US, I was knocking on the door at the Study Abroad office, more eager than ever to see EVERYTHING. One thing led to another and I was signed up and ready to go to for a semester abroad…drumroll please…AUSTRALIA!!!! After finishing up my paperwork for Australia in my study abroad advisor’s office, he says ‘well ya know…we DO have an exchange program in Finland if you’re interested, we could grant you immediate admission’…my first thought was ‘cold’…my second thought was ‘why the HECK would I go to Finland?!’…well he told me to think about it for 2 weeks and let him know. Tons of pros/cons lists later, I threw them all aside and decided to be a bit crazy…go for the less obvious choice…go for the choice my friends/family DIDN’T pick…and ultimately I wanted a totally unique experience, one that would take me out of my comfort zone and into a world entirely different from my So Cal lifestyle with beaches, sandals and plenty of sunshine. I went back to my advisor’s office and said: FINLAND? SIGN ME UP! And I was on my way…
From California...

...to Finland