This summer I went off to a volunteer international workcamp in Helsinki, Finland, through Volunteers for Peace.
It WAS a life changing event, in a good way. I had an amazing time. I thought I was going to go there and come back feeling very thankful for all I have here in the US, but it was the exact opposite.I saw how wonderful the world is out there and I came back to New York going, “What’s wrong with this country?”
But most of all I made some lifelong friends. There were about 23 volunteers from all over the world. Finland, France, Germany, Poland, Belgium, Madagascar, Czech Republic, Italy, Turkey, and one other girl from America, from Maryland.
I found myself hanging out with the Finns the most, for some reason. I just got along with them very well. We were just very similar. I still talk to three of the Finns, Pauli, Valtteri, and Maria, very often online. The internet is amazing! We made a Facebook group so everyone can stay in touch.
One thing that surprised me was their lack of ‘instant’ foods, which are so abundant here. They’ve never heard of Macaroni and Cheese before, or Ramen Noodles or frozen dinners. I sent a couple packages of Mac and Cheese to Maria and Valtteri when I got home, to show them true American culture! Haha! Valtteri replied “This is lazy people food.” I am going back to Finland next summer, to do another camp with Maria and Valtteri. There’s a big change that Pauli will be leading it, too, so I hope I see him as well! (Pauli was one of the leaders, meaning he oversaw the volunteers and was in charge along with about 5 other adults there. He was only 19 though and the rest of the leaders were in their 30s so he hung out with us more often than the leaders.)
It is true, however, that Scandanavians are a bit unemotional, especially the guys. Anna, one of the Finns, taught me how to say Good Night in Finnish (Hyvää yötä) and said “Say it to Pauli he will be so impressed!” So that night before we all went off to bed, I said, “Pauli, Hyvää yötä!” And he just nodded and said, “Yes.”
The Finnish sauna was really intense. They sauna every night there. They would make it get as hot as 120 C (250 F). I did it a lot, but Pauli and Valtteri would always make a ton of steam in the room when I would go in with them, I think to test me as an American how well I could handle a ‘real Finnish sauna’. On the third time of trying the sauna I passed out from the heat. (You try being in a 250 degree room for 15 minutes!) Valterri was so kind though, he sat with me for like 30 minutes making sure I was okay. “I just feel so damn bad. I have too much synth….symth…” “Sympathy.” “Right!”
The most fun was the language barriers. Because me and one other girl were the only ones completely fluent in English, they always came to us when they forgot how to say something. Lots of drawings and laughs as a result of this. The Finns would always get very embarassed when they said something wrong or couldn’t remember how to say something.They said they hated their accents but the Finns, by far, had the best english out of any of the others. The kid from Madagascar had the worst.
I learned a lot of Finnish while there, they would sometimes switch over to Finnish with eachother while I was hanging out with them, and then after like 5 minutes of talking in Finnish turn to me and say “Why are you being so quiet?” They would forget I couldn’t understand anything they were saying!