Senior experiences new culture during summer abroad in Finland

Senior Sarah Clarke spent six weeks exploring Finland as part of the Summer Homestay Program with the American Field Service (AFS).

After hearing about the program through an email from college and career coordinator, Deborah Prochnow, Clarke knew she had to apply. “I knew I wanted to do something fun and important [over the summer],” says Clarke, “It all clicked in my head that this was what I needed to do.”

Her trip allowed her to travel outside the United States for the first time, and stay with a Finnish host family. She was able to explore Finland’s capital city of Helsinki, as well as the Tampere and Hyvinkää areas.

Though there were planned activities throughout her stay, her time was mostly spent freely seeing what the city has to offer. “We’d just explore the city, the food, the people. Pretty much everything you can think of doing while wandering around, we did,” says Clarke.

Her host family had hosted nine other students prior to herself. Living in another family’s home initially posed challenges for Clarke, but she soon adapted to her new way of life. “Living in another person’s house who I had never met or talked to was pretty scary,” says Clarke.

In order to deal with the challenges she faced as a host student, Clarke emphasized that communication is key. “For all host students, we make mistakes. You have to really communicate with your host family about rules… and how you can insert yourself into their day to day life,” says Clarke.

Besides the cross-cultural experience, Clarke expressed that a highlight of her trip abroad was making connections with other students. Two weeks into her stay, another student moved in with her and her host family. “We spent a lot of time together and we got to know each other very well,” says Clarke, “We are like sisters now.” Months after returning home, the two still meet up to see each other.

During the summer, Finland’s famous midnight sun can be seen. At night, the sun never goes down completely, instead shining all hours of the day. Clarke expressed that at first, it was difficult to adjust to the constant light, but she soon “Coming home, I forgot the sky actually got dark,” says Clarke, “I realized how much I like the dark and seeing stars.”

Clarke expressed that the new culture she was immersed in while living in Finland was noticeably different from America’s. “It was hard adjusting to that at times, but not as hard as adjusting when I came back to the US,” says Clarke.