A LIFE IN A YEAR - in English

Hi everyone! It's me, Iida. I don't think I've ever made a blog post in English although I've been writing a blog the whole time I've been in the US - which is 9 and a half months today. It's crazy how fast the time has went by. So much has happened since I left Finland, yet I remember the day I left just like it was yesterday. Now that my year in Michigan is coming to an end, I want to talk a little bit about how I changed and what I learned during this year. And I'm writing in English because 1) it feels the most natural at the moment and 2) I think it's finally time to let my non-Finnish friends read my blog, too. 
There is so much I want to say that I feel like this text is going to be very messy. I'll try my best to keep it reasonable.

So, on August 23rd, 2017, I left my whole life behind and moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan for 10 months. I had tried not to have too many expectations for my exchange year, for exchange is something you can't really prepare for and whatever you expect it to be like, it's not going to be that way because everyone's year is different. So I tried to keep my mind open and not expect anything.

Moving alone to a place where no one knew me before was very liberating in a way. No one knew what I was like before, so I could do whatever I wanted without anyone knowing I was only "faking it until I would make it" (like wearing bright red lipstick to school on a totally normal day). No one could be like "what are you doing, this is not like you". I felt like I could do whatever I wanted, and it felt so good. I tried new things and experimented with my personal style a little.

Of course it was hard in the beginning when I didn't know anyone, I had zero friends, and I didn't know anything about anything. It was a bit of a shock to realize how different everything was. The houses, streets, school, food, the weather, language, literally everything was new and so very different from Finland. Adjusting to all of these differences was hard at first and the process took me a while. I had to accept that there is not only one right way to do things - the way I had lived my life in Finland was not the right way - it was just what I was used to. And suddenly getting dragged away from everything I knew was a bit of a shock (I guess they call it the culture shock). I told myself a million times a day this quote every exchange student knows: "It's not right, it's not wrong, it's just different." When I made more friends it all became easier, too. Eventually I learned to accept things like they were and I got used to them. And I learned to love some of them. Like, for example how nice and open people are here. In Finland people don't talk to strangers, and that's why I didn't really know how to do small talk when I first came here. But now I like chatting with people I don't even know and I'm so glad about that haha! Also, my American hometown Ann Arbor is really nice and very pretty, and I loved it from the first day I came here. I couldn't have wished for a better placement.

This whole year has been about getting out of my comfort zone and doing things I would have never done in Finland. It's amazing what a year in a different place can do to you. I think everybody should experience it at some point of their life - what it's like to be alone in a new place and not know anybody or anything about the things around you. It makes you see everything in a different light - your life back home, things you used to do in your free time because you might not be able to do them in your host country, people you used to spend time with, and most importantly yourself and your values. You (or at least I did) begin to question how things are back home, because you see how they are done differently in your host country. Also, being an exchange student in another country eventually gives you a ton of self-confidence and strength, when you realize you can handle things on your own without anyone's help, simply because it's the only option. No one's exchange year is as perfect as it looks like on their Instagram feed -  everyone has their battles. But when times get hard, that's when you grow. You'll get over it, and in the end, it feels pretty damned good to be able to say "I did it".

Living far away from home also made me appreciate everything I have in Finland a lot more. My family and friends who are always there to support me, home, the clean and beautiful nature that is very close where I live, the world’s best school system, Finnish food (oh how I miss it!), how peaceful and safe Finland is, the unique Finnish language that no one outside of Finland knows how to speak… There are so many things I  now that I have had to live almost 10 months without them. I had to travel far to see up close, I guess.

And, of course, my English got ten million times better. One of the main reasons I went on exchange in the first place was that I wanted to be fluent in two languages. My English was not even that bad in the beginning, but I was surprised how different and weird and awkward I sounded compared to Americans. Everything was hard in the beginning, but I picked up the language fast and now people often mistake me as an American, which I think is funny. I still do have an accent, but it's not very noticeable at all. Now I even think and have dreams in English sometimes. And the weirdest part is that my first language Finnish has gone worse this year - I mean, of course I can still speak it, but it feels very unnatural and I forget words and use weird phrasing. My friends always laugh at me when I call them. I feel like I could easily forget Finnish entirely if I stayed in the US for like 20 years and stopped keeping in touch with my Finnish people. (I'm not planning on doing that though, don't worry mom...) 

One of the greatest things about my exchange year is that I met so many new people with different backgrounds since Ann Arbor is very diverse. I made friends from not just the US but all over the world, since I got to know many other exchange students that are also spending their year in Ann Arbor or the area around it. Spending time and having conversations with people from different backgrounds has opened my eyes a lot. Many times I found myself hanging out with people I know I would have never talked to if I was in Finland. I got to hear so many stories from different cultures and know different ways of living, and I realized that the way I live life is not the only right one. All my international friends have taught me lots of things - one of the most important things being that you cannot judge people by one thing, because there is always many sides to every person. Also, prejudice is never a good thing, because you can never know who might become your friend. I’m really grateful to have met all my exchange student friends, because they’re going through the exact same thing I am, and they always know how I feel and they are always there to support me! 

I feel like this text is getting way too long, so it's time to wrap it up. Overall I think going on exchange was the best decision I have made in my life so far and I've learned from it more than I ever could have imagined. My exchange year was amazing and I sure will miss it a lot when I go back to Finland (only two weeks left!). It feels unreal how close the end of my exchange is and while I'm excited to go home and see my friends and family again, it will be very hard to leave this life I've built during the past 10 months. To be honest, I don't know how am I going to be able to just leave... like I said, it will be very very hard but I know I will carry these memories with me forever. And I'm also excited for the future! This is not the end, this is just the beginning. <3 

Thanks for reading this far, 
- Iida

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