Jonathan Trinh, a student at Skyline High School in Oakland, writes us from Europe -Katy
“Why?” is the question that I’m most frequently bombarded with here. Reasons range from getting away from the city life and going on some sort of vacation on the other side of the planet. But the main reason for me to become an exchange student was to learn about how another, and probably the most different, peoples lived and actually experience that lifestyle for myself personally.
I have so many memories and time has seemed to elapse overnight. It’s been the fastest two months of my life — and sometimes the longest days, too, since the sun doesn’t set until very late during the summer. And after being away from my old home for so long, Finland has become some kind of a new home. Already I believe I’m accustomed the cultural nuances that stratify being American and Finnish.
I’ve toured historic locations and castles and Finland’s largest power plant; I’ve been to the famous amusement park in Helsinki; I’ve ran alongside a magestic river in Turku and the pristine countryside; I’ve taken part in the national favorite past-time, suana; I’ve endured life on the mosquito-infested lakeside at the summer cottage; I’ve been to (too many) pesapällo, the Finn’s version of baseball, games.
I live (soon to be “had lived”) in Kankaanpää, a small rural town of approximately thirteen thousand inhabitants - that’s a huge change from Oakland – in the southwest region of the country. I’ve been here for over six weeks with my host family and my stay will conclude shortly as I and the thirteen other scholarship recipients rejoin for our depature orientation in Helsinki.
In comparison to Oakland, many things here are a lot more homogenous. Initially I wasn’t acquainted with being surrounded by so many trees and blondes, flat – you have no idea – land, as well as the quaint, traquil, laid-back ambiance. Not many people speak English due to their reluctance around a native speaker, and if they did their ability was usually limited. Finns are generally shy and introverted, but the passiveness is really a part of their character. I was forewarned not to take their quiet and lack of emotion attitudes as rude, because it could definitely appear as such to anyone from America.
Despite being a people so polar to us, we do share large problems that I believe bind the world’s population. Firstly, global warming has had adverse effects on the environment. According to my host family, many small lakes have dried up leaving holes of dirt in the ground and winter’s haven’t been as cold (but it’s still significantly colder than what we’re accustomed to). Climate patterns seem to be random too. One day it will be bright and warm; another day it will be raining harder than what Oakland has ever seen.
The next issue is energy. Gasoline prices are ridiculous here, as the enviro-friendly nation has made traveling by car less of a main venue of getting around. If you convert liters and euros to gallons and dollars, then it would cost you $8 USD for a gallon of gas…
And then there’s underage drinking and smoking. With so many prominent media and cultural influences that convey the behaviors as commonplace and without negative connotations, teens are very likely to partake in the destructive cycle, which leads to many vehicle accidents.
You can read more here about specific topics and the many opportunities that Youth for Understanding, the exchange program, has provided me with, which include meeting the Finnish ambassador to the United States and the extreme nature of what is the summer cottage.