Finnish exchange student Emilia spoke with Diana Santelli, one of our Student Services Facilitator, and discussed her time abroad.
Q: Why did you choose Denver?
When I was discussing with my mother about which district to choose, she didn’t want me to pick a place that had natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes, so that meant no California or east coast. Colorado seemed like a good place because it is located so close to nature and has a lot of mountains, but still close to a big city. There are a lot of things to do here, new people to meet and good places to go shopping. Also, before I came, I heard that there are over 300 days of sunshine a year in Denver, which until now, has turned out to be true!
Q: Did you ever visit the US before studying abroad here?
In 2013, I went to Hawaii for two weeks with my mom. That was my first and only time prior to studying abroad.
Q: Vacationing in Hawaii and living in Denver for a year are very different experiences. Did you have any expectations towards your time in Colorado? If so, were they met?
I wasn’t expecting High School Musical, but I did think that Americans would be more outgoing and social. I still think Americans are more outgoing than Finnish people, but now I realize it’s a lot more mixed and of course people have different personalities everywhere. Since I was the only girl exchange student in my school, if I wanted to hang out with girls, I had to make an effort to find friends. I had to ask people to hang out or whether I could sit with them at lunch. One thing I really liked about my school is how diverse it is. In Finland, people are mostly white, so it has been a good experience to be in such a mixed community.
Q: What were some challenges for you studying at a high school in the US?
I’m used to having lots of essay tests in Finland, in the US they take a lot of multiple choice tests, which I think makes it a little easier. However, writing assignments only in English has been a challenge. I just finished writing a ten page paper on GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and I found that pretty tough researching and writing everything in English.
Q: Was it difficult to be surrounded by English all the time?
In the beginning, it was pretty hard always speaking English. Even though people would always say,”Your English is so good”, I was concerned that if I make a mistake, people will think I am stupid or something. I was afraid to talk in the beginning because I wanted to speak perfect English, but now, I feel confident and comfortable to make mistakes. If I don’t know the exact word, I use a few words to say what I need to.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your relationship with your host family.
At first, I was concerned about what I could and couldn’t say to my host family, but now I am really close with my host mother. I can be open and joke and say anything. With my host dad, I feel like we have interesting discussions about different places in the US and intelligent topics. Also, I have a great relationship with the other exchange students living in the home. In fact, one of the best parts of this year was the friendship I made with the Brazilian exchange student who was living with us during the first semester. She’s like a sister to me and we got really close. In fact, I am planning to visit her in Brazil in December later this year.
Q: What is some advice you would give to future students about building a good relationship with their host family?
I would say from the beginning if you have something to ask or you are disappointed about something, talk to them right away. If you don’t talk to them from the beginning, it won’t get fixed. For example, I wasn’t comfortable taking food from the cupboard on my own, but after talking about it with my host mom, I realized it is totally okay and everything was resolved easily.
Q: What is your best study abroad memory?
I think all the sports that I played have been the best memories I’ve had. This year I played volleyball, swimming and tennis for my school. It has been a great experience and I’ve enjoyed being around people who have similar interests to myself.
Q: Any goals or “study abroad bucket-list” items you want to accomplish before you head home next month?
It’s less than 24 days! I can’t believe it! There’s nothing crazy I want to do, I just want to enjoy my day to day life here as much as I can before going home.