Exchange Students Speak
Finland for me was like opening a treasure box – full of new and wonderful experiences. Without even knowing, it brought a lot of changes to my life.The 3 months cannot be described in words. It was my first experience of being away from home.
Helsinki is really a beautiful city with greenery everywhere, good social security system, clean environment and humble people (Though the Finnish people were bit reserved and individualistic I found them helpful when I needed).
We had boarded our plane with immense excitement and fear for what was about to come. When we landed, it was cold, dark and snowing. We weren’t feeling very comfortable adding to which we came to know that we were accommodated into student apartments where we had to share our flat with three boys- an Albanian, an African and a Spanish. This for us was definitely a big deal.
As the time went by and as we started knowing about the social security system in Finland, all our fear and the feeling of being uncomfortable started to vanish. After that, staying alone in an apartment, walking in the streets in the middle of the night and travelling in public vehicles with complete strangers were not a big deal. Adding to that, we met our Nepalese friends who became a part of our life and who helped us a great deal in getting used to the Finnish system which otherwise would have been difficult if left to us alone.
Women in Finland had jobs and worked for themselves. They did not seek any assistance, not even when they had handful of bags to carry. They were confident enough to smoke in public and at the same time they had a huge sense of responsibility. All this told us that Finland was way forward in women issues and gender equality.
Education system in Finland was even great. Not only was the school education free, but also each student below age 16 got a stipend of 400 Euros per month. This, on the one hand provided children their rights to education and on the other hand made students feel responsible towards their country.
Every citizen in Finland was a responsible and a loyal citizen. People bought tickets to metros and buses even when there was no one to monitor which proved that the Finnish people were honest. They worked hard, paid high taxes and as such enjoyed many services from the government. The elderly people, more specifically, received old age benefits and having nothing to worry about, they walked in the street, hand in hand with satisfied faces.
It was surprising to see the old people collecting juice and beer cans which were sometimes left on the pavements. It left me wondering, during my first few days, as to why would anyone pick cans thrown by others but then later I came to know that there was a machine at the store which would pay you 50 cents for each can you insert into it. This approach of the government to keep the city clean and recycle cans left me amused.
DIAK as an institution provided very friendly learning environment. With students from all over the world, DIAK was rich in culture and education. The best part was meeting our Nepali brothers and sisters who became our family and a huge part of our lives, even in the foreign land. Though we met our personally assigned tutor only once, there were other tutors who played big roles in acquainting us with their Finnish cultures. Different activities organized by the DIAK students and the course itself were immense source of knowledge and heart thrilling experience.
Our practical sessions (field work) in DIAK consisted of us organizing the closing session of the HOPE (Holistic Partnership in Social Work and Health Care Education) Project along with Sami, our supervisor and coordinator of the same project which was a wonderful opportunity to meet new people and also get a closer look at the activities and achievements of the Project.
Apart from that, the beauty this city holds is simply amazing. One gets to experience this real beauty when the sun which usually stays hidden under the massive angry clouds finally starts uncovering itself and fills the city with its warmth melting away the cold icy snow along with people’s hearts. One gets to see the city in a new dimension once the sun is out and it is a big deal for the Finnish people since they hardly get to experience summer for more than a month. Once the sun was out, we visited The Fortress of Suomenlinna which is one of Finland’s most popular sights and only a very short distance with ferry crossing away from Helsinki. People mostly came here to see the sunset and we were one among them and the view was absolutely breathtaking.
Adding to our happiness, trips to Stockholm (Sweden) and Tallinn (Estonia) were also arranged by our Nepali friends. Stockholm was a beautiful city and very similar to Helsinki. The Royal Palace of Sweden was something to be remembered about Stockholm. Tallinn, on the other hand, was such an antique city with mesmerizing views. Also known for its preserved Old town, and museums, the beauty this city had to offer us was astonishing that we missed our cruise back to Helsinki.
Though we seldom got to see the sun, the beautiful people we met, however, were a reason for warmth in our cold, snowy weather of Helsinki. The saunas, walks by the beach, our Nepalese gatherings, endless attempts to speak some words of Finnish language, travels are the part of our memories which shall always be cherished in our hearts.
“Student Exchange is the opportunity to do and see things you could have never dreamt of. It is a journey of self-discovery and personal growth filled with unforgettable memories with new friends.”
I was ecstatic and excited but nervous at the same time about going on exchange program. But after having spent three wonderful months in Finland, now I can say that those were the best days of my life. I never expected to enjoy as much as I enjoyed as I thought I would get home sick in an abroad land.
As part of my course of study as an exchange student, I attended seven weeks of field placement nearby my residence and also took part in a group work with students of Diakonia University of Applied Sciences (Diak). I was able to do very well in both practical as well as academic activities with constant guidance of Mr. Sami Kivelä (professor of Diak and my supervisor) and support by Mrs.Mirja Päivinen and Sanna (field supervisors). Through this I got an exposure and also met many new people from diverse backgrounds and made few good friends as well. Besides my study, I also got an opportunity to take part in World Village Festival, Helsinki where we had a small workshop on ‘Dalit Solidarity Movement’ in which I got chance to represent vulnerability of Dalits all around the world. This was one of the greatest prospects of my exchange experience.
I feel so privileged to recall those spectacular moments and the times I had so much fun. I consider myself more than lucky to have seen so much of Finland. And not only that, my tutors took me to Sweden and Estonia by cruise, which was one of the most amazing experiences I ever had. My tutors became my closest friends and they took care of me throughout my entire stay as my family members. Because of them, I could go around and see so many places inside and outside Eastern Helsinki (where I lived).
The only challenge I ever had to face during my Finland stay was Language barrier, but by learning few important Finnish words and sentences, I undertook it with great ease. It was also not a big problem because most of the times I got to be with people with whom I could communicate easily in English and in Nepali as well. Thus, in a nutshell, this experience of my life has shaped part of my character and changed my view on life. All in all, it has been a very successful and a memorable part of my life with lots of learning. Hence, I believe, “what you get after three months in another country will last a lifetime”.
One day, I was called by Father Principal to his office, but I did not know why. With a heavy heart, I knocked at the door and entered the office and sat down. It was a personal interview, as I was a nominee for the international student exchange, 2015.
On the same day, a phone call came and Father Principal told me to get my passport ready as soon as possible. At first, I was blank and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I re-lived the phone call again and again in my mind until I became sure of it.
With the exams done, and everything packed up, we moved towards our new destination with an open heart and open mind. We boarded our life’s first plane with a lot of uncertainties as we knew nothing about what was coming up.
Talking about Pragati and me, we were totally unknown to each other, just a hi-hello friend. But who knew, the three months would make us beautiful friends? Today when I look back, I realize that without Pragati my Immersion Program would have been incomplete.
The first two weeks were uncomfortable and new to us as we were missing our home, but as the time went by, we adopted the place and got used to it.
Talking about our Finland family, we had six members; four brothers and the two of us. We met the first brother in our college, a happy going soul. We got in the same group and exchanged different information. We were invited to his house the following Saturday for lunch. At first we were scared but then secondly, we surely needed some outreach and our Nepali food as it had been long since we hadn’t eaten it. So, we had the lunch, which was beautiful and very yummy. We helped him with his assignments and visited him frequently.
During those visits, we met a person who loved to travel and was a beautiful person to talk to. Everything he did was in a hurry.
Likewise, in a programme where we worked as a paid volunteer, we met another brother. That day, we worked together and after that day, we became a family hard to live without. From that day we always used to come to our Rastila home and sleep in floors leaving our single beds.
Also we met a cool person, who was not in the same house, but was a very dear one. He was a handsome cook and a beautiful joker.
We got lots of love from the family as well as other Nepali brothers and sisters. We got so much love from all of them that both of us gained 10kgs of love in our body, until the time of our returning.
The memory and the experience was beautiful, something that can’t be replaced by a diamond or gold. The late night walk to the beach, the late night selfies in the silent road, the trip to Suomenlinna, Sweden, Tallin, and Porvo, the sauna, the home parties, the late night bus rides, the mall visits, the stay in Jarvenpaa, the metro rides, the train rides, the cruise shopping, the second hand shopping, the snows, the talks we did in Nepali as no one could know what we were talking about and more and more and more.
The college: DIAK was also very good. The teachers were friendly and the classmates too very helpful and caring. They gave us much love in three months of stay. I personally loved the teaching style of the college. Also it helped me to grow personally and professionally. During the class, I got to learn about the academic sectors and during the field work practice I learnt as to how a programme can be organized and about a lot of different settings in Finland.
Palpasa Shrestha and Sushmita Kunwar, our two exchange students at DIAK University Finland, share about their first few weeks in Helsinki
We started our course on 22nd August, Monday with 15 other Finnish and International Students. We will be doing Community, empowerment and participation (CEP) course for this semester worth of 30 Credits. Marianne Nylund is our responsible teacher for this semester and has been providing enormous amount of help and support to us. There are 4 courses within CEP but since we will not be doing our thesis here in Finland, we will be taking two theoretical courses and a practical placement.
Along with attending our regular classes we have also tried to explore the city of Helsinki on our own. Finnish and Swedish is the national language in Finland and most of the texts are in those two languages which make it a little difficult for us to find directions or shop in a grocery store. However, our flat mate Hannah has been guiding us time and again in case of such problems. On Saturday, Noora, our Finnish tutor invited us to her home town in Kirkkonummi so we could observe “Kirkkonummi Day” which is a small festival where all local people gather and open up small shops. Noora invited us to her home where we watched a movie before departing.
At the beginning of our second week, we went for a field visit which was specifically focused on Family Group Conference. The overall presentation shown during the field visit was remarkable. We learned the phases of the family conference and how the agency acts as a mediator between children and their parents. After the visit, all the students must make a learning diary about the field visit. As September 21st is approaching very soon, all the team members are working very hard for the Diak Learning Festival. Palpasa is in the media team whereas I am in the Feedback Team. It is very surprising that people here start to work a month before any event. This is something that can be used while we are conducting any future events in St. Xavier’s College. Teamwork and Effective planning will surely lead this event towards success.
During the second week, we also went to different places for a visit. To watch a perfect sunset, our flat mate took us to the Regatta Café which is very famous for its coffee and hot chocolate. After that, we went to watch Sibelius Monument which was made out of more than 600 steel pipes. This monument was dedicated to the famous Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. Next day, we went to visit the Helsinki City Museum. The Museum tells the history of the city through the favourite places and stories of the Helsinki residents.
We are having a wonderful time here in Helsinki. Meeting new people, learning about their culture and food is amusing at times. We are so grateful for the opportunity of being selected for this program and we promise to do our best to meet the expectations that have been set for us.
Palpasa and Sushmita
04 September 2016
School Day Learning Festival
School Day Learning Festival, which took place on September 21st, wasa means of recreation for all the students and at the same time, a platform to learn and experience the rich diversity around the globe. Themain idea of the event was that anyone can teach and anyone can learn.
An organizing team had come up with the idea so, the CEP students had to put the plan into action. Among different groups, I (Palpasa) was sorted into Media Team with three other students and Sushmita in the Feedback team. But, since the other students were not regular to class, I (Palpasa) had to take the lead for the group and collaborate with the Marketing team for the event. The event was a success although the number of participants was less than expected. More than 15 different classes were organized where approximately 70 people participated. It was a memorable experience to see students come up as teachers and share their skills to participants. As a member of the team, it was an opportunity to observe how differently people work in foreign countries. The whole process was an important learning opportunity for us.
As I (Sushmita) was in the feedback team, I got many opportunities to watch and even take part in most of the workshop. I took part in workshops like Salsa Dance, Clothing from Ghana, How to prepare Vegan food without Kitchen, Making postcards, Italian Language workshop and many more. As my main goal was to collect feedback from the participants, I informally got into conversation with many of the students. This was a new way of making connection with new people and people were friendly enough to share their opinions and fill up the questionnaires sheet.
– Mask Workshop– This workshop was a way of finding out who you really are. You are given to paint a blank mask with different colors and glitters. You can paint the mask according to your desire. The mask will thus reflect your thinking, your motives and the hidden self. I found this a very intellectual way to find out the hidden self. In addition, making all the participants to paint their own mask was fun and challenging at the same time.
– Clothing from Ghana Workshop: This workshop was totally new for me as it was related to Ghana and I was unaware about this country. The lady who took this workshop provided new and fresh insights about the clothing from Ghana. I realized that clothing not only represents their culture but it is a source of pride for them. The workshop not only provided the theoretical background but we as participants were given an opportunity to try the traditional clothes from Ghana. But almost all the participants were black people who made me realize that white people are not much interested in knowing about Ghana or being a part of their culture. This is just my assumption of course.
Overall, the Learning Festival turned out to be a remarkable event and our teachers were very impressed with the organizing team.
Palpasa and Sushmita from Helsinki, Finland
26 September 2016
From Helsinki, Finland:
It has been a week since we have joined our placement and by far, we having been learning and enjoying at the same time. Due to the language barrier and time allocated for our placement, it was difficult to find a placement that was suitable for us. Sami contacted the teacher of his daughter’s preschool for us to work in for few weeks and fortunately, they welcomed us.
Esikoulu Kaneli is a preschool for children under 7 years, the age when most Finnish children start in Grade 1. We have 20 boys and girls in our classroom with 3 other responsible teachers and assistants. Majority of the children are Finnish with a considerable number of Asian and African children. Parents usually drop them off around 8 am to 9 am and leave for work. They start their day in preschool with breakfast and indoor games. Everyday a new lesson is taught to students which necessarily does not include the use of book and copies. The teachers use a lot of game materials to educate children and the children seem to grasp it easily. A healthy meal is provided to the children, which energizes them for outdoor play. It was very surprising to see that no matter the weather, the children are always allowed to play outdoors. Since, it started snowing in the first week of our placement itself; we join the children in the snow and play along with them. Finnish education system believes that letting children play outdoors is more effective than classroom lectures and we think that it is true. Children as young as 6 year olds have amazing problem solving skills. They run around free in the playground and involve themselves in any games and if they come across any difficulties, they find ways to solve them.
Since, most of the children are not used to English language, it was very difficult for us to understand them and interact with them. But, as I mentioned about the problem solving skills, the children were eager to reduce the language barrier than we were and came up with so many alternatives. For the first few days, they kept on talking with us in Finnish, thinking we understand it but, later when they understood our problem with the language, they asked their teachers to translate it for us. Few children also learned Basic English words to interact with us and a few use their facial expressions and gestures. It is very easy for us to interact now and even the preschool teachers are amazed by the relationship established between the children and us in such a short time.
Yesterday, we gave a presentation to all the children from the pre-school about Nepal. It was a very challenging activity for us because the kids cannot understand English. We made a power point presentation about the basic facts that defines Nepal and included many pictures to make it interesting for the kids. Katja, our field supervisor translated as we started our presentation in English. Many kids were shocked when they saw how cows are worshipped in Nepal. Many things about Nepal caught their attention and therefore, they started asking questions about our country. Even though, we had a tough time giving the presentation to all the kids, it was a fine one.
Sushmita and Palpasa
Exchange Students at DIAK, Helsinki, Finland