Here is the Essay I wrote for FUSYE YFU at the end of the summer:
Not That Different
Megan Yeo August 3, 2009
One of the first expectations people create before traveling to a new country is how different everything will be. From the food and people´s appearances, to the weather and the how buildings are made, we expect every last detail to shock and amaze us with its newness. I had similar expectations before I came to Finland. However, the biggest lesson this summer has taught me is how the world and the people in it are not that different after all.
At the beginning of my summer in Finland, I was told again and again not to expect anything, and to take whatever came my way with an open mind. While this is good advice, I believe that imagining how something could be before you see it is human nature. Like most travelers then, I expected that everything down to the last second would be different in Finland. It was a another continent and a unfamiliar culture after all. When I arrived, it became clear that this was not true. Not every minute was action packed, not every conversation was unforgettable. Not every morning dawned beautiful and sunny, and the days were not without boredom. Minutes passed like minutes anywhere else, and it rained just the same. Although I had some truly amazing and unique experiences during the summer, the concept of Finland and home are constantly jumping in my face. It´s just life, no matter where you´re living it. You can´t always decide how it is going to go, but you can decide how you are going deal with it. This is something I understand now.
Before I came, I imagined myself in Finland as if from a bird´s eye view, clearly showing me in the middle of a foreign country. When I arrived, I found that the view was not that different after all. I felt the same as I did back home. There was no thunderclap, no amazing realization about where I was and who I was. I had not changed at all, not the way I imagined. The feeling brings to mind one of my favorite quotes:`Wherever you go, there you are´.
At first look, Finland is a world apart from Stafford Springs Connecticut, USA. However, when I became accustomed to life in Finland I stopped thinking "Oh, this is so new and exciting!". I simply accepted things as normal and they ceased to amaze. Then I saw the similarities, the biggest of which is in the people themselves. Now I know that wherever you go, in whatever country and whatever culture, people do not differ that much. Their customs, their clothes, their food, their language and their ideas may differ. But when it comes down to it, we are all the same. We all love and laugh and hate and cry, eat and sleep and dream, no matter who we are.
Regardless of how unchanged I felt at the beginning of the summer, I have changed along with my new perspective, and learned many things about myself. I know now that people see me differently than I see myself and that I must be aware of how my communication appears to others. I learned that I am strong enough to handle a foreign culture, and that I have much more to learn and many areas I still need to strengthen. From this summer in Finland I can see my own country, family, friends and life from the outside. This new view has shown me how precious and special my home is. Now I understand how important it is to make ´home´a broader term. Now my home is not only a little town in the USA, but a place in Finland as well.
When people at home ask me what Finland is like, I will probably rattle off a list of praises: " It is a beautiful, clean country, the food is amazing, the people are lovely and very quiet, the nation is well run, in the summer it is still daylight at 11 pm, and I love it!"
But what I might not say to my family and friends, is how I don´t think Finland or any other country for that matter, is that different after all. I would not be able to fully explain to them how a country halfway across the world could be the same as home. Because most of them haven´t seen, like I have, how even though cultures in general differ greatly, the people who make up those cultures are incredibly and wonderfully similar. When you work it down to the essence that is human beings, you see that no matter where on the globe you point to, the people living there are all kin. With that realization I can comprehend what a small place the world is, small enough so that when I have stretched myself across the globe, home and Finland are not that different.