My name is Isabelle, I am 17, and I am an exchange student here in Finland for the 2023-2024 school year. I am from the United States, and from the state of Colorado, right in the middle. I like to draw and paint, write, collect things like bones, stuffed animals, and angel figurines. I also love music! I am a big fan of metal, punk, and goth music and subcultures.
Here, I am a long ways from home, so I have noticed many similarities and differences in the two weeks (so far) of my exchange. But first, let me tell you about where I’m from! I live in Parker, CO which is about an hour south of denver. I live on the prairie, and have a perfect view of the mountains from my house. At my house, we have a horse pasture and backyard where we keep horses and chickens respectively! We also have two dogs. Parker is considered a medium-size town with 60,000 people living there, but by Finnish town standards it is a lot bigger! It is a mostly suburban town where commercial neighborhoods are the most common. However, even though I say I live in Parker, I live 20 minutes away from the town itself! It is just the closest to my house and most convenient to tell people when they ask me where I live.
Most towns in America, if they aren’t a bustling city-center, don’t have public transportation that is reliable and consistent enough to travel well, so if you want to go anywhere, you have to drive. Most kids start driving at 15/16 so they can hang out with their friends and drive themselves to school or work. Having jobs at 16/17/18 is very common! At my school, there is about 1,800 students there, so much bigger than Leppävaara. We have long hallways, two floors, and lockers along most walls. Also, in the classrooms, the teachers only teach in one room all year, so they are usually decorated with posters, graphs, and maps relating to the topics the teacher teaches! Lunch at school is also not free, and is usually very unhealthy or unappetizing. My school is considered lucky to have pizza as an option everyday from a local pizza chain, but when they charge $3.00 a slice (not including other food like salads or fruit, or a drink), you don’t feel that lucky!
After school, I usually would go to hang out with my friends to explore, or go to the local skatepark to skateboard. I have my own car and a license, so I could go wherever I wanted! Here, though, I can’t drive being an exchange student and also not 18 yet. We don’t have so many places to just hangout and relax like there is in Finland besides malls, skateparks, and maybe parks. So, this means that seeing teenagers hang out in parking lots or in supermarkets is very common.
My friends and I were all very into punk culture, and were very involved with our local scene, so most weeks we would trek into Denver, the big city of Colorado, to catch shows and see our friends play in bands! We would also often go for walks in the woods at night, have picnics, and sew and craft together. I miss them a lot, and it’s been hard to connect with a new group of people here due to the language/culture barrier, but regardless, I’ve made some friends that have made the transition a lot easier!
Some of the differences I’ve noticed between America and Finland is that Finland is definitely a lot safer. Seeing women jogging in the woods alone and seeing young children walking and biking themselves to school is evidence enough of that! Parents in America would NEVER let their young children walk to school alone! Also, this may be just because I don’t speak Finnish, but it seems like the people here are generally a lot less judgemental of how you look. I see a lot more people fearlessly wearing colored hair, leather, and spikes here, which is lovely! I love fashion and makeup, especially those on the alternative side of things, so seeing them so often in public without ridicule is a treat! Food and snacks in markets are also a lot cheaper. The other day, I bought a container of juice, a candy bar, and a cup of yogurt for about three euros. In America, that would easily have been $8!
I’ve also noticed that in school here, the students are given a lot more trust, responsibility, and freedom. In American schools, class times are monitored, we have bells to signal the changing of class, only have five minutes in between classes, and cannot leave campus if you are an underclassman. Here, you are responsible completely for your breaks, what you do on them, and when you arrive. The students here are treated like responsible adults whereas American students are treated like everyone is a delinquent just waiting to be evil!!! While I can’t yet speak for Finnish school, bullying is also very common at American School. A lot of the kids who get targeted are kids that are LGBTQ, alternative, or generally look different from the majority of students. But with so many students, you can’t recognize and know everyone, so it is hard to report.
Overall, my stay in Finland so far has been lovely. I’ve absolutely loved the walkable cities, towns, and roads, the public transportation system, the nature, and the people! I’ve been welcomed warmly from everyone I’ve met, and am looking forward to learning more about life here.