Finland through the eyes of a 15-year-old exchange student: part 1

Finland through the eyes of a 15-year-old exchange student: part 1

Are you curious to know what does Finland look like through the eyes of a 15-year-old Australian girl? Abigail Barrett is currently on high school exchange in Naantali, Finland for a year, and in this series she shares her experiences with us.

Abigail Barrett jumping up while holding an Australian flag in Naantali, Finland.
Abigail Barrett started her exchange to Finland in August 2019.

Moi! G’day! My name is Abigail and I am a 15-year-old Australian currently on exchange in Finland. I come from Queanbeyan (near Canberra) and I am doing my exchange in Naantali, which is in south-west Finland. I have managed to survive the first two of my 10 months in this wonderful place, so I wanted to share my experiences with you.

I think the beginning would be an appropriate place to start so, how and why did I choose Finland, you may ask? Well when I first decided I wanted to go on exchange, I did my research and made an initial shortlist of countries. Finland was actually not on that list, funnily enough. My granddad actually gave me a map of Europe with a line drawn horizontally across the middle and told me, “Don’t go anywhere above this line, you’ll freeze!” Being the stubborn person that I am, that was clearly a message that I should be going to Northern Europe, so the list was transformed to Sweden, Norway, Denmark or Finland. If I am honest, I hardly knew anything about any of them except for IKEA, and the high living standards. I did more research on weather, culture and language, but most of that went out the window and I just picked mostly randomly. So, Finland it was.

When I first arrived and met my lovely host family, everything was so overwhelmingly different. You cannot be prepared for it. On that first day, I tried some Finnish food and candy (salmiakki is disgusting, do not let them trick you otherwise!) and went in the sauna which I was not very keen on the first time, although it has grown on me now! If you have never been in a sauna, like I had not before I came, I highly recommend it – the Finns have got the right idea! It is so relaxing and when you get out you feel like a baby, you are so soft. Even Finnish dogs go in the sauna. Anyway, enough about sauna. I have also learnt that in Finland, you love ice hockey or you are weird, so I have gone to a couple of games and I think it is pretty cool and a lot of fun to watch.

A couple of days ago it snowed for the first time this winter and while I was so excited, it was a normal event for the Finns. I am very much looking forward to more snow.

Finnish people are mostly very friendly, but also very shy. When I arrived, I only spoke very little Finnish, and people are very shy with their English (despite it being great in most cases), so that made it a little difficult to make new friends in the beginning. The Finnish social culture is also hugely different from Australia. For one thing, small talk does not exist, and silence is comfortable to them. In the streets, no one smiles at each other or says hello and while to us that would be rude, everyone is perfectly happy to stay in their own little bubble here.

To conclude, Finland is awesome, Finns are nice, and the country is beautiful. I have travelled to a couple of places in Finland and they have all been like this, which is amazing to me. Hope you enjoyed this little insight into my life!

Photos and text: Abigail Barrett