Recently reaching the eight month mark of her exchange, junior Sarah Bishop reflects on some of the things she has experienced during her time in Finland. She will be returning to Midland at the end of June and is planning on resuming her studies as DHS. As every country is different not only in language and people but also in culture, each exchange experience a unique impact on the student.
One of the biggest factors in a study abroad program is deciding where to go.
“I was looking into alternative high school options with my parents when my history teacher said there was a Rotary Youth Exchange meeting happening the next week, so I attended the meeting at the Community Center with my mom,” Bishop said.
Bishop chose to venture to Finland due to a presentation given by an exchange student from Finland who was living in this district at the time.
A big part of partaking in an exchange program is the adjustment process. There are new schedules, a new language, new people and new social norms to adjust to.
“School for me changes every day,” Bishop said. “My earliest mornings are 8:30 but I often won’t have school until 10:30 for a few days during the week. I have five terms per year and then change classes after exams, so a typical school day is hard to categorize, but at whichever time I go I have somewhere between three to six classes.”
In contrast to the set-in-stone schedules at DHS, Bishop’s new schedule is one which was accompanied by a phase of adjustment.
The language barrier presented during a study abroad program can sometimes pose a problem. However-
“Finns are amazing with English, almost too good,” Bishop said. “After eight months I understand a lot of Finnish and it is not such a problem for me to communicate.”
Even though she can usually communicate through English if needed, Bishop takes Finnish lessons to further her knowledge of the language.
Although there is a lot of adjusting that needs to be done, once you’ve mastered your new life and figured out how to handle problems such as language barriers, adapting to a new family, and fitting in with the culture of the elected country there is a lot of fun to be had.
One of the best parts of a exchange program is that it allows the student to appreciate their home country more.
“[The program helps you understand] what the US is good at and [learn] to appreciate family,” Bishop said.
Bishop also appreciates the new perspective that her journey has given her.
“Sometimse the good deeds of our country and family can be overlooked when we think about all the bad, but living in another country away from all the familiarities can give you a different perspective,” Bishop said. “Understanding another culture can help you appreciate all the good things in your life. The new perspective presented can also help you find out how [you] can grow as a person.”
One of the hardest parts about partaking in an exchange program is remembering and missing parts of the student’s old life.
“[I miss] all of the familiarities,” Bishop said. “I miss hearing English all the time and knowing how to get around places. I miss my cats. Sometimes the things you miss the most are things you didn’t notice or appreciate before your departure. Missing things about your old life can make you grateful for the privileges you don’t always realize you have.”
Another benefit a study abroad program can have is improving a student’s mental strength.
“I feel like I can overcome a lot more,” Bishop said. “The first four or five months were the hardest in my opinion, but once you get used to everything it is amazing. You really are able to put yourself in a hard situation and stick it out until it turns your way. Even though things may be hard to deal with at first, the ability to overcome your problems improves your character. After everything you go through during an exchange, the problems you’ve had before seem smaller. Knowing that you have accomplished something as difficult as integrating yourself into a new family, culture, language and lifestyle is a huge confidence boost and prepares you for the difficulties to come later on in your life.”
Learning a new culture also gives a student a new perspective on life outside of the culture they are used to.
“I feel like I understand so much more about people in general and how to deal with different types of people no matter where they come from,” Bishop said. “Though many people may not realize it, being confined to one culture can skew the way you think. Allowing your mind to branch out and explore new ideas or ways of thinking will diversify and change your opinions in many areas.”
One of the best parts of partaking in a study abroad program for a student is being able to take their new knowledge with them when they leave. Bishop would like to keep her “positive attitude about all foreigners with no judgment or stereotypes” among all of the knowledge and memories she has gained during her year in Finland with her when she returns to the United States.