It’s not only about the parties and the education: exchange student have come to find to adventures.
Walking through Jyväskylä, one hears a multitude of languages, from familiar French and German to obscure Asian and African dialects. The city is teeming with exchange students come to Finland for an educational adventure.
In 1992, Christopher McCandless left his home and journeyed into the Alaskan wilderness, a story made famous by the 2007 film Into the Wild. It is the tale of a young man seeking not only new adventures but a more authentic existence.
Young people relate to McCandless’s dissatisfaction with modern, consumer-driven society and the need to find greater meaning.
After many late night discussions, it is apparent that McCandless’s story is popular amongst exchange students. When asked why they came on exchange to Finland, students answered candidly.
Paulina Graczyk, Business Economics major, wanted to ”try something new” to ”find something exotic.”
”Travelling to a location like Spain or England seemed dull. Finland provided that special something.”
This sentiment is echoed by Albane Laclaviere who wanted the ”culture shock” of life in Finland. Much like McCandless, these students were looking to push the boundaries, to experience something different, learning valuable life lessons.
The extreme winter weather was itself an attraction for Business Economics major, Cindy Loison. There is something alluring about the north, drawing people to Finland from southern climes like South Africa and Argentina; perhaps it is that attraction which drove 22-year-old McCandless into Alaska.
Katriina Hyvönen, a PhD student in the department of psychology confirms that students from different cultures ”have new and refreshing perspectives.”
Hyvönen has never had problems with exchange students concerning issues of prejudice or racism. It never ceases to amaze that students can look beyond their differences allowing ‘conflicting’ cultures like Russian and Georgian students to develop friendships.
For example Mila Shu, an International Business major, came on exchange to ”live differently” and make international friends outside of Russia.
Finnish students too feel the need to expand their horizons. Jarkko Kekki, English major, says short holidays were not enough. Wanting to see people ”smiling in different languages” took him on exchange to far away New Zealand.
”Living abroad allows one to gain different kinds of perspectives on things”, Kekki says.
Many students expressed a love for travelling and the desire to travel to even more exotic locations around the world. Kekki prefers travelling by train but admits that hitchhiking is by far the most exciting way to get around.
Shu enjoys ”travelling by foot” as this affords her the opportunity to ”understand the country and people.”
Graczyk, Loison and Laclaviere expressed an interest in hitchhiking and the latest cheap travel ‘couchsurfing’ method but for a girl alone, this type of travelling can be scary and dangerous.
The internet has many forums dedicated to hitchhiking. A list of perils is always included. Although hitchhiking has is subculture of its own, one should be very aware of the dangers before embarking on foot in an unknown country.
In the 1990’s, McCandless travelled North America with only his thumb and a dream; the dangers for a lone boy hitchhiking were much less apparent then than today. Exchange students in Finland have the added opportunity of not only being in Finland but also of travelling to more exotic locations, such as northern Lapland, in organised tour groups where safety is not an issue. Perhaps going on exchange is the modern equivalent of a McCandless’s backpacking odyssey, minus the perils.
Despite the exchange student reputation for partying and disturbing the peace, these students have come to Finland to experience a new life. As McCandless said, ”it is the experiences, the memories, the great triumphant joy of living life to the fullest extent in which real meaning is found.”
Suzanne van Rooyen
Hitchwiki.org – a free guide for hitchhikers around the world.
girls.hitchbase.com – A DIY hitchhiking guide for girls
couchsurfing.org – travel around the world, from couch to couch