Moving to Finland on my own initially seemed slightly scary and daunting – add a global pandemic into the mix and I was looking at something slightly more anxiety inducing. All this considered I have to say - it has been the best decision of my life.
Moving and studying abroad is a breath of fresh air - it completely opens your eyes. It may sound silly, but it reminds you there is more to the world out there than your hometown (home country!) and university life. It is one thing to go abroad for a week on holiday - it is certainly a different experience to take the leap and know that this new place is what you will call home for the next year, you are forced to jump into the deep end of culture immersion (but in the best possible way).
Even if it was difficult at first to imagine leaving my home, the friendships, and memories I have made here so far have made it a most rewarding decision. Whilst strange to meet your fellow peers in masks (and then accidentally walk right past them as you only saw half their face before!) this pandemic has surprisingly added a few positive aspects to my Erasmus experience. Mainly the attitude I had when my exchange started; after being in lockdown for months in our home countries, my new friends and I approached this year with a certain mentality: to appreciate the good moments as much as we could and not take anything for granted. After all, whilst relatively stable up until that point, the situation in Finland was liable to change – a new lockdown could be imposed at any time. We took advantage of any opportunities that came our way and activities that were still open (following local guidelines of course). From renting a lakeside cabin and jumping between the sauna and icy water, to island hopping around the coast of Helsinki, hunting the northern lights, riding a sleigh pulled by huskies in the snowy hills of Lapland and visiting Santa’s village – I am not short of memories I will treasure forever.
Going on exchange makes it remarkably easy to meet likeminded individuals, you immediately have in common the interest in travel and experiencing new things. It also means that I not only learnt about Finnish culture but also about the culture of countries all over Europe, you are in the same boat as hundreds of other international students all taking part in this exchange together. If anything, the pandemic brought us closer - to know that we are experiencing these strange and unprecedented times together. In addition to this, you basically have guaranteed accommodation and tour guides in any major city in Europe with the people you meet during the exchange!
I can honestly say I will be leaving Finland a completely different person to the one that arrived here – the confidence, independence, and cultural knowledge I have gained from this opportunity is unmatched by any other. I can’t wait to see what the rest of my time here holds!