Northern Europe is a dream. Its countries are of course in my traveling bucket list. It shouldn’t be any wonder that I had my eyes on those countries for Lions Club International Youth Exchange this year. Due to conflicting date and other reasons, I could only apply to Sweden and Finland. Long story short, I was accepted to go to Finland in July. After a long flight to Schiphol (where I had window seat, fully hoping that the row would be empty and I could stretch my legs. Boy, I was wrong.) and a connecting flight with KLM, there I was in the northernmost capital city of the world, Helsinki!
If there is one country that is the exact opposite of Indonesia, in every way, it must be Finland. I had the wonderful chance to live with the Velling family. They are really wonderful, kind and fun people. Since they had to be somewhere else when I arrived, their kind neighbors, the Hakala, picked me up at the airport. I lived in Vantaa, a city just outside of Helsinki. Despite it being in a close proximity to the capital city, my host family’s home is very close to nature. I even spent my first day picking berries just few hundred meters of where we live. It was a really pleasant area to live in, I definitely miss the clear air and soothing nature just at my fingertips.
I didn’t get much culture shock, except for the food since I am used to super flavorful food. Luckily, Helsinki and its greater area is a melting pot so in dire need, I can get some Asian food albeit having to pay exorbitant price that would keep me fed for a week back in Indo. Other than that, I adapted pretty well to the food, evident by the amount of weight I gained. I, of course blame it on the Fazer chocolate.
I was also aware of Finland being so north, but I really didn’t expect the summer (not summer, it’s summbrrrrrr) to be that savage! I’m a tropical girl through and through despite the fact that I complain a lot about sunny weather in Jakarta. Before I went, I checked the weather forecast and it says around 25 degrees so I packed my clothes like I would do if I were to go to Bali. Bad decision, since the 25 degrees only stayed for the first 4 days I was there! I should have known better. By the end of my stay, it hit single-digit degree one night. In August. Welcome to Finland.
My favorite pastime in Finland are sauna and swimming in the lake also picnic at the park. The first time that I went sauna, it was at my Dutch friend’s host family’s lakehouse. It was really beautiful as it rained when we were in the lake. Ray of light shone through the trees and you can see the raindrops. Seeing huge rain from faraway. Enjoying the rainbow with sound of droplets hitting the water. It was a priceless experience. The sauna experience at the camp (yes, I’ll get to that later.) was also really nice. Finns definitely know how to enjoy their short, sweet summer.
My host family also took me to Tampere, to a theme park called Sarkanniemi. With the severe winter, the rides only see happy days 5 months of the year. We went by caravan and stayed overnight in it. It was my first time and I thought it was a really cool experience. Caravan is quite uncommon in Indonesia, so it’s quite nice to t. We also made some stops at lakes and beach along the way. With the same caravan, we also went to my host father’s farm at Ypaja and a medieval festival. Good time!
Helsinki itself is not a big capital city, it’s quite compact but it has everything you need (sans Sephora and cheap booze, which you can get at neighboring countries.) and you can actually walk it in one day if you’re ambitious. The highlight of Helsinki, at least for me, was nibbling on the most delicious smoked salmon I’ve ever had while sitting on Esplanadi Park, hanging out with Elina (one of my favorite Finns!) and going to Museum of Broken Relationships! Oh and I also ran at Helsinki Street Run for 17 kilometers. It was my first international run, and I really enjoyed it. I ran through neighborhoods that I haven’t been previously, quite fancy ones I might add, and the post-race snacks were solid. I think that it’s not a city that gives you a euphoria feeling, but it’s laid back, welcoming and homey. It warms up to you if you have the time to explore it. Not literally warm though, because again it’s Finland.
I didn’t do the exchange alone, technically. There were 28 other exchange participants from all over the world. We were together for the last week and it was a really fun week. A lot of us are a fan of sauna, so the tiny sauna that supposedly fit 7 got really crowded and ended up fitting 15 at one go. I got a room with Anicka from Czech Republic, which is a country I hold dear to my heart and apparently she has been to Indonesia so it’s only natural that we bonded over it and basically had a great time. We both ate a lot, but her being a model means that the food takes a toll more to my body than hers! Simply put, it’s not easy getting to know so many people in a week because when you just get to know each other, the week is up. Despite that, they were really great crowd, we surely had fun (or at least I did!) and made amazing memories in 7 short days.