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Why haven’t you visited New Zealand?

I am here to prove you are missing out big time if you don’t have New Zealand as your next long-distance travel destination. Finns, forget about Thailand and Bali. NZ is the place to be – and Australia isn’t too bad of a place to stop over on the way either.

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“Never say goodbye, because saying goodbye means going away, and going away means forgetting” (Peter Pan)

First though let’s be honest. Yes, it’s expensive to get there – but I am, among so many others, a living proof you can do it even with a student budget (and a few years’ of work + saving live crazy of course).. Secondly, it takes a hell of a lot of time to get there so you wanna stay for at least a couple of weeks. Preferably longer, especially if you are such a cheap-ass stingy person like me and rather travel for 42 hours and change planes five times just to save 300e. (Note, that 300e later paid for my sky diving adventure in Australia, so I gotta say it was totally worth the physically and mentally exhausting 42 hours. One way that is.). But, if you don’t go, you’ll regret it – so start saving up for your next big adventure!

Anyway, the top three things you probably know about New Zealand so far are:

1. Amazing nature.

Thanks to movies such as The Lord of the Rings, The Last Samurai, Whale Rider etc. I am pretty sure you have a pretty good idea of what an exotic beauty, blue sea and emerald green scenery awaits. Beach holiday, hiking or culture – it’s all there.

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I went on a quiet stroll on this beach, somewhere near the Bay of Islands maybe, two weeks before leaving for good in 2014

2. Sheep.

There’s a lot of them – enough actually to be frozen and shipped across the globe just to be sold in pretty much most supermarkets here in Finland… And I think during some English lesson in high school I learned that there are ten times more sheep in that country than people- though the truth is actually closer to six. Anyway when you get to NZ majority of the sheep are actually down south and people up north, or that’s how it seemed anyway, so you as foreigner end up more or less confused with the sheep shagger etc. jokes Aussies had been telling you about the Kiwis.

3. Wine? Rugby?

The third one is a little more difficult to come up with. I’d guess you’ve tried some excellent NZ wine? Or maybe you know rugby and the goosebump-raising, crowd-silencing war dance “Haka” the All Blacks do prior to the big games. Wow. Just wow. Google it.

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Me, Laura and her two brothers on Mt Taranaki, 2009

Anyway, recently my friends asked for advice re the Working Holiday visa and general life in New Zealand as they are heading over there later this year. And as so many great memories have now flooded my mind completely drowning out the important university assignment stuff that ought to be a priority over this silly daydreaming about going back to my second home once more, I decided to write down some key things here. Just thinking about the time spent in NZ makes me smile..

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Four hours. One fish. Still smiling.

So the top 3 things I hope you don’t miss out during your trip down under are:

Surprise surprise,

1. Amazing nature.

Yup you’ve seen photos, but in reality it’s even better. I loved the long scenic drives down the coast; having the bright blue water on the right and green hills and bushes filled with odd-looking plants on the left, with snow-topped mountains in the distance. Or the evergreen rain forests, gorges, waterfalls, and so on – hiking is definitely one of the must-do’s of your trip.

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We were camping by this stunning river, somewhere near Taupo

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Found this on the door one morning..

Why not conquer a mountain while you are there, climb to the top of Mt Taranaki for example? Or explore the Waitomo Caves and see the fascinating glowworms? Maybe even check out some wine regions? And it’s nice to know that as oppose to Australia, everything in the good old NZ is NOT trying to kill you so can feel pretty safe with all the wildlife and spiders and such.

Most of the time.

But forget about the daytime beauty. It’s is night when the magic happens.

Imagine. The sky gets filled with stars, with Milky Way showing it’s gorgeous form right above you as you get surrounded by a strange silence, wrapped in a comforting pitch-black cocoon with the stars forming a sparkling map of past and future, a place where you feel alone and small and insignificant, and empowered and alive and the ruler of the world all at the same time for that one moment when you just let go of everything else and be amazed how good it feels to be there. To feel fully free of constraints. To feel alive.

Please Google “New Zealand night sky” and see what I am talking about!

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Please let me introduce: Graeme, aka world’s best host dad and the bbq master of the family

2. Food.

Now I do admit NZ does not have the stereotypical stuff like what pizza is to Italy, sushi to Japan or tortillas and salsa for Mexico. But what is has is a wonderful melting pot of fresh produce, world-class wines (that don’t cost a fortune!) and some of the best seafood and meat available! There’s just something cozy about the Sunday dinner of roast lamb and three veggies. Not to forget fish n chips, or Chinese takeaway or any other fast foods enjoyed on Fridays by the beach – if it tastes good, does it really matter where the original recipe came from?

Paua jewellery is gorgeous, but why not taste the actual seafood? Or whitebait omelette? Maybe go to Rotorua and try the traditional hangi? For dessert there are so many puddings to choose from – but boysenberry, hokey pokey or rocky road ice cream, Pavlova, and maybe also Jaffas and pineapple lumps are among the things you do wanna try out yourself. ❤ And I gotta say, the beer and wine selection is pretty good, pretty good indeed. And I heard in the last couple of years they have started to get some decent local ciders as well 😉 I wouldn’t recommend trying to try drink a Kiwi under a table though…

3. Culture.

It’s seriously a laid-back, chilled, an informal and relaxing life they enjoy there. Yet everything works, things get done, and at the end of the day you can hang out with friends and have a beer while waiting for the bbq to heat up. In summer time life is great and the beaches are filled with people, in winter it’s cold and wet and quiet, quite like everywhere else. But they don’t usually get totally covered in snow in winter which is nice, and most of the time don’t need to pay attention if there’s a + or – when talking about the outdoor temperature. Little happy moments of life aye. By the way, you can actually get sunburnt in winter – I learned it the hard way! Sissel my dear friend, that’s a warning for you.

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WOMAD 2009

Nevertheless, with culture I also want to emphasize the arts – have you seen the amazing detail of Maori tattoos and carvings for example? Or read about the history? Don’t forget the music and the great local bands (check out music festivals such as WOMAD), or the abundance of different culture and sporting events – you need to check out the atmosphere of a proper rugby game at least!

 

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NZ is home to some pretty decent street art

Moreover, there are also the crazy tourist attractions and the adrenaline-spiking stuff like bungee jumping, skydiving and hang gliding among many others.. That country knows how to keep the tourists from getting bored!

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Queenstown – home to every adrenaline sport you need

So all in all, if you go there on a tourist visa or stay longer and complete a working holiday, I assure you there’s plenty to see and experience. And their tourism services are world class and the locals are super nice! Even though during my three years there I had plenty of ups and downs, a true culture shock many times over, all in all it was an amazing experience thanks to all the truly spectacular people I met ❤ One day I’ll be back.

So what are you waiting for, why aren’t you booking your flights already?

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Chasing the bubbles at Back Beach, New Plymouth

 

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You can fall asleep on a motorcycle – The five things I learned while exploring Europe

I bet you are thinking “There is not way you can fall asleep on a motorcycle. You’d fall”

Mum is driving. Scotland. 2004.

Mum is driving. Scotland. 2004.

Well… Imagine a tired 13-year-old who has spent the whole day wearing black driving gear under the scorching hot sun of Italy, a child who has spent the last two hours singing out loud while being comfortably covered from the wind by their mum or dad who is driving. Sleep was definitely one of those things I had mastered; waking up when banging on my head to the driver’s back was a norm back then. Singing, well that is another thing.

Motorcycle travel was the highlight of my childhood.

The crew. Scotland. 2004.

The crew. Scotland. 2004.

From driving through the fog in the moors and mountains of Scotland to singing until I could no more on an endless drive in the Autobahn and the Alps. And getting lost when I pretended I knew where we were when it was my turn to navigate; I am not the best at admitting am wrong. Looking back, I don’t think I ever appreciated all that I experienced, nowhere near as much as I should have.

And that’s why I am writing this post now, to let you know of the five most important lessons that I, now almost 10 years later, still remember.

Scotland. 2014.

Scotland. 2004.

1.) Travelling with your family totally beats travelling alone. Even when your parents get to say “I told you so” when you get cheated in Venice.

Germany. 2003.

Germany. 2003.

I guess we were quite a sight back then, mum and dad on their motorcycles with two girls travelling behind them. What’s a better ice breaker than pulling up with two under 12-year-old hooligans to a loading dock of a cruise ship; me and my sister casually walking around carrying the driving gear amidst the truck drivers while mum and dad secured their bikes onto the ship. I can still remember the joke I told in Scotland, how the bunk bed was shaking when everyone was laughing hysterically. And the time when me and Jaana got totally cheated in Venice (losing 5e was not as worse as realizing the paper dolls we bought could actually not walk.. Dad’s “I told you so” was so deserved that day.). The day when my thumb got crushed between the fire door of a cruise ship on the second day of our trip, and having to wear dad’s gloves for a week. The feeling of running around in circles every time mum added moisturizer on my badly burned back in Italy.

Somewhere on the Alps. 2006.

Somewhere on the Alps. 2006.

And the time when I got angry over something in Switzerland, locked myself in the shower and sang Frederik’s “Tsingis Kahn & Rasputin” (oh my god, the song choices…) only to calm down and find out people down in the hostel reception had heard it all – well at least my family got to have a laugh!

2-4 weeks of intense travel with your family every summer for six years can to some sound like the start of a horror story; to us it was a marvellous mixture of “I hate you – I love you” roller-coaster of emotions and a true learning experience. I love my family.

2.)  It pays to learn the language beforehand. Though as proven by dad many times; when you don’t have a common language, speaking Finnish loud enough will usually get things done.

“When there’s a will, there’s a way” is true especially when talking about getting food. Oh there is not much I would not have done to get ice cream; not speaking the local language – or more than a few words of English – was no way near good enough a reason to stop me and my 8-year-old sister from getting ice cream in Slovenia. And the lack of common language never stopped mum and dad from asking for directions, or finding accommodation in little villages throughout France and Italy. And I cannot begin to explain how proud I felt when being able to somewhat understand directions and buy train tickets in a small Polish town using my pretty much non-existent Russian skills as a last resort.

The courage learned at a young age as been a real asset in life later on – who cares about grammar as long as you get your point across.

Italy. 2003.

Italy. 2003.

3.)  Try out new foods. Though potato and fish pizza sucks, and don’t drink the water meant for washing your hands in some Asian restaurant. 

I was really picky, can still remember some morning buffets at cruise ships when my diet consisted of 10 Carelian pastries (rye & rice) and an egg. Or the time when I tried to order a potato-fish-dill-mince-tomato pizza with just bolognese sauce in Latvia – ended up getting everything but that. And damn I still cannot stand the smell of salted peanuts and dried salami – the things my sister and dad loved to have for snack in small confined spaces we slept in. I think I got scarred for life.

But overall, being there to try the “real” Italian ice cram and pizza, the amazing baguettes and croissants in France, and breakfast cheese rolls in German hostels definitely tickled the taste buds of a young Finn used to a quite well non-varied diet by choice. My love and passion for food was born back then; a diet always fails if I am presented with pastries straight from the oven.

4.) People are nice. Talking to them is fun. Even the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club members were real nice and polite. 

I like to talk. To learn from people, to get inspired, and I have always been curious about my surroundings – pretty chatty overall. Even though because of the language barrier, the childhood trips mainly consisted of joking around with my sister and telling stupid stories in Finnish over the radio phones to entertain ourselves over the long drives, I think being exposed to a variety of people from different cultures and backgrounds has definitely helped shape the view I hold on foreigners and other cultures nowadays. Camping grounds and hostels are the best places to learn the art of small talk. And having a sister is a blessing when you are bored and there are no interesting people around.

On a train through Germany I think. 2006.

On a train through Germany I think. 2006.

I think a child does not discriminate unless being taught to do so, of course something different can be perceived as scary and avoidable as a first instinct, but encouraging your children to engage with others from an early age is one of the best lessons you can teach them. Both in your home country and abroad. Amidst all the terror and instability the world is experiencing right now, a non-judgmental and open approach is the key to achieving integration and cross-culture co-operation.

5.) And finally. Adventures and an adrenaline rush are amazingly addictive. From roller-coasters and 200 kmph Autobahn experiences to now being in love with skydiving and bungee jumps – this world we live in is full of cool stuff. Make the most of it.

Self-explanatory. Life life to the fullest – you will regret if you don’t. Don’t come up with excuses and postpone making your dreams a reality – with hard work everything is possible. That’s what my parents taught me, that’s the guideline that has got me where I am in life – start with small things and you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve.

I don’t have a motorcycle licence yet, but I will hopefully get to follow in my parents’ footsteps one day. Why stay at home, when there’s such a beautiful world out there.

Col Du Calibier - the Alps. 2006.

Col Du Calibier – the Alps. 2006.


I cannot thank my parents enough for saving like crazy so we could have that one holiday together over the summer when growing up – and for having enough faith in us girls by letting us have a part of the planning process as well. I am aware of how privileged childhood I had, and thus this post is both a big thank you to my amazing family, and at a same time an encouragement for anyone out there wondering if they should explore the world or show it to their children

– Do it. It is the best gift you can give.

The Alps. 2006.

Me admiring the serpentine roads at the Alps. 2006.


PS. My dad has written a travel journal in Finnish about all this. In case you need some practical tips re motorcycles and travelling with two kids, it might be helpful. It will be available in English also, one day in the future, when I find the time to translate it all… 🙂 Thanks mum and dad for the photos used on this post btw ❤

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Dublin, I miss you my darling

It is not that often that you go on a holiday, and walk out of the plane and feel like you arrived home.

Dublin. It is hard to say exactly what it is about the city that attracts, fascinates, compels me so strongly. The city is a bit run-down, old and dusty but has that cozy worn feel to it, like an old blanket with its colours having faded so long ago you can barely remember. There are short red brick houses lined up next to each other, stairs leading to the brightly-coloured doors in the suburbs and abundance of flowers bringing life to the otherwise quite modest surroundings. Everything you need is within a walking distance, the city is big and full of life yet the atmosphere is strangely relaxed, welcoming. Groups of people sit by the river sipping the gorgeous creations of the local breweries, the sun starts to slowly set as the office buildings release the weary workers from the day’s duties – people smile as they casually stroll past, it’s time to head off to the pub to socialize for a bit. I love and loved the atmosphere, the pub culture, the casual hanging out and chatting to strangers over a pint on a Monday evening. Monday. No one is out in Helsinki on a Monday.

Irish beef – y.u.m.m.y.!

I was lucky to have a dear friend having just moved to Dublin for there was someone familiar to spend the evenings with after exploring the city during the days. We would cook, chat, go on casual strolls around the neighbourhood and stop for a pint or two -or four- over the coming days with her wonderful friends.

As I was alone during the days, I would have one goal per day,

to go where I felt like, to follow the flow.

Day one: a book + beer + beautiful weather

The aim was to talk to strangers – much easier than I could ever have expected as people mistook me for a local thanks to my reddish hair and fair complexion. The aim was to get lost, to wander around the smallest of alleys, to stop to listen to the street musicians and watch the people going past. To smile ’till my jaw hurt, to absorb the international vibe to the fullest, to smile and politely nod when understanding nothing of the charming (and often drunk) Irish men who came to talk to me.

After three days of soup and sandwiches, I needed something else for lunch.

I admired countless pictures at photo exhibitions and corner galleries, black and white war images and portraits of the unknown heroes stirring some feelings deep within, I stopped by museums, admired the architecture. Shopped till I dropped – the vintage shops have some true gems in them, then grabbed some lunch and read a book in the park surrounded by tourists and locals enjoying their lunch breaks in the sun. I felt like I belonged, I felt comfortable even casually strolling through supermarkets for everything reminded of my beloved New Zealand – even got my friend hooked on hot cross buns and the sweet sultana scones. Heh, even the thought of that place makes me smile, now, two months after being back in Helsinki – yet another place in this world I call home.

It is crazy to admit I was in Dublin for only five days, but felt truly sad to leave. Maybe I’ll try suss out an internship there, or at least go for a longer visit and not miss out on the Whiskey Friday.

Dublin my darling, I will be back.

Thursday night – a pint, or four, and dancing ’till we could no more. Brilliant, the perfect ending to a wonderful holiday.

Ps. Isabel, thank you for letting me stay at your place. You are awesome ❤

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Risk & Reward in Life

“Hang gliding in Queenstown, 09”

How averse people are to risk is individual. Some are adrenaline junkies jumping off planes or gamble their money in hope for a better future, while others take it easy, chill n considerately float through life, slow and steady. I’m somewhere in the middle, it depends on the day.

I was first introduced to the concept of risk and reward during finance classes, you know the higher the risk the higher the reward etc., but with no money for financial investment I wanted to approach the topic from a wider perspective – how taking risks has pushed me into a life I once only dreamed of. And at 22 that’s quite a statement to make.

“Smiling with Stephanie before the 14 000ft skydive, Australia -14”

I’m guessing living by a quote “you only regret the things you didn’t do” sounds a bit cheesy, but I swear by it. If you’ve read any of my previous posts you might have noticed how passionate I am about travelling – all thanks to my parents and the encouraging home I grew up in. From an ever-so-annoying wild child to quiet and reserved teen to the open-minded young woman I am today, I couldn’t have experienced the things I have without being supported to taking risks one after another and hoping for a positive outcome. I’ve been lucky, it has paid off.

– take a risk, leave

– take a risk, trust

– take a risk, invest

Those are the three most important things that come into my mind when thinking of Risk & Reward in Life.

“Yard Swing @ The Spirit of Adventure -09”

By taking a risk and leaving, jumping into the unknown several times alone, I’ve learned so much about myself. I have opened up, been forced to learn the art of small talk, learned to read the map and the people around me to figure out who to trust – to look after myself. When you are thrown into a new culture, or even find yourself studying in a new city, you have to adapt to the culture & life around you – immerse yourself in it, become an active member for the best reward.

Trust it’s all going to be okay, take calculated risks to start with and then just go with the flow. I love planning, but don’t really think how all my crazy ideas fit together in the long run. If I like something, I change my life accordingly as soon as possible. If I decide something (realistic) I’ll get it done no matter what, work two jobs to get the money for the next adventure etc and then just head off to explore the world, oh mum has probably got a few grey hairs because of me and my crazy ideas! Stubborn, yes; Stupid, sometimes; Smiling, always! A positive attitude will get you far.

“Hitchiking with my friend Micke, NZ -14”

And not saying no unless the situation makes you scared and too uncomfortable has also proven a great guideline – it’s addictive not knowing what’s about to happen, the best stories start with a “yes let’s do it”. Trust people, be careful also but don’t let the risks to stop you from being young and having fun.

“My sailor’s passport after a summer job cooking on a small cruise ship, -14”

And last but not least take a risk, invest in future. Invest in yourself. I have had quite a few jobs and have done my best to leave a positive impact on people around me, and been allright at school to ensure there’s always a plan Z to fall back on if all else fails. I know I am super lucky to have a supportive family and good friends always there to help me out, but first I want to try out my wings and see how close to the sun I can get without falling.

I don’t think you can achieve your dreams without taking a risk every now and then, and am definitely one of those people with that small spark in them just waiting to burst into a huge flame when the right opportunity comes. Do you have the courage to dream big? If so, make small changes, see what comes up, invest in yourself through education AND experiences.

For me, higher risks have yielded the higher return. I can look back with not too many regrets, multiple mistakes were made for sure but regrets, well not so many. And most importantly because of the successful risk-taking of the past I can look into the future with a positive and trusting outlook – the past has been good so the future is simply going to be amazing.

“May Day Celebrations in Finland, the photo is thanks to ViktorVelinov Photography”

Cheers,

Laura

The Men. The Rules. The Sea. Whoah. – The Maldives

Hulhumale Beach

I first heard of the Maldives from my friends, the pictures they showed me just simply forced me to take a deep breath and stop to admire the incredible beauty being showcased. That’s what I’d always thought a paradise would look like. From the white sand beaches to turquoise water filled with colourful fish and magnificent coral reefs, I was expecting a relaxed holiday where my days would be spent chilling on a hammock sipping cocktails under the palm trees. Simply amazing, so in Feb 2014 I decided to stop there on my way home from backpacking in Thailand and nearby countries despite the not-so-student-friendly price level on the islands.

Well it didn’t go quite as planned.

I arrived pretty late in the evening, ended up on the wrong island to start with, and finally got to the hotel at 1am only to find out there had been a double booking. They gave me a room at another hotel, which was allgood, at least I got some sleep. In the morning there were no cars available, the solution? Let’s take this tiny foreigner with her 23kg backpack and other stuff to the right hotel by a scooter. Scooter. That was interesting.

The view from the hotel room wasn't too bad :)

The view from the hotel room wasn’t too bad 🙂

First day, my dream-come-true relaxing holiday was about to begin. The hotel was awesome, the sun was shining, perfect. “This is my first beach holiday, four days in these beautiful surroundings ought to be what is needed to clear my head and release all the stress from the drama that had happened previously”, I thought.

I could write a 2000 word story on what I did, what I saw. It was all very beautiful, but there are three main points that are vividly in my memory, the three things that weren’t quite what I had expected of my holiday in the Maldives.

The Men. The Rules. The Sea.

Firstly, The Men. Oh dear, I had gotten used to a lot of unwanted male attention in Malaysia and Sri Lanka but this was insane. You could not walk alone for too long without getting someone to follow you and politely, or sometimes not-so-politely, to come up and take a photo or ask for your number. The younger guys were nice and polite; it was fun chatting with them every now and then but the older the men got the creepier the conversation. Why ask your name when you can just go straight to 1) do you have a boyfriend 2) where are you from 3) how old are you. I wonder if I ever meet Michael the doctor or Steve the lawyer that I told so many stories about during those few days 😉 Btw never say you are dating a plummer etc, they WILL try explain why they are a better choice.

But seriously by the third day I was ready to throw a coconut at the next man who would try bother me when I was reading a book on the beach.

And no I was not wearing a bikini then, which brings me to the second point: The Rules.

It is important to follow the local rules and customs when you travel, to show respect. It was silly of me to not do enough background research. To let you know, unfortunately the sipping of the cocktails is not possible in the Maldives unless you go to the “honeymoon islands”, the resorts. It’s an Islamic country after all. Oh well, probably good not to drink anything for the gin & green tea drinks in Colombo had been pretty tasty earlier on.

I had not realized that the clothes I had bought with me weren’t suitable for the Hulhumale island, there was only one skirt and a couple of t-shirts to choose from. Despite the +29 lovely weather, you still needed to dress appropriately – fair enough. No bikinis allowed, shoulders and knees had to be fully covered at all times – even when swimming. And the rules were strictly enforced so if you even consider sunbathing in your swimsuits like the elderly British couple did for a few minutes, well they got yelled at and quickly returned to the hotel for more clothes.

Thirdly, The Sea. Snorkeling was The most incredible – and scary – thing I have ever done.  Here’s a copy of my Facebook update;

I got a little sunburnt - and have never had this many freckles before!

I got a little sunburnt – and have never had this many freckles before!

I love making people smile simply by walking past haha ohhh I’ve never been this sunburnt…! 😀 

Snorkeling was incredible, the turquoise water turned deep blue as I drifted past the edge of the coral reef, there were hundreds of fish everywhere – from tiny multicoloured aquarium fish to comical looking square head ones with eyes almost the size of my fist.Sweet lullaby of the lapping waves and the dance of the rays of sunlight on the corals just made it all surreally beautiful as the strong current pushed me within reach of two turtles. What a wonderful world we live in! [22.2.2014] 

Snorkeling trip, pretty nice aye

But at the same time, snorkeling there was also the scariest thing I’ve ever done, skydiving was nothing compared to that.

There were only three people there, me and the hotel owner were snorkeling and one guy was in charge of the boat. I jumped off the boat and by the time I was ready the currents had already taken me almost ten meters ahead. The water started turning turquoise as we reached the coral reef, there were hundreds of fish everywhere, two turtles, the colours and everything just breathtakingly beautiful. But it was quickly lost.

The turquoise faded. The coral reef fell sharply downwards, almost unexpectedly, as we reached the edge. The tropical fish were suddenly replaced with creatures much larger, much deeper below. The rays of sun could no longer reach the bottom, the navy blue turned into overpowering blackness. I tried to swim back to the colours, I gave it all I got. The current embraced be so tightly there was nothing I could do, there was a lump in my throat, I couldn’t fight it.

Do you know what it’s like feeling completely helpless? Not a pleasant feeling.

Luckily the boat picked us up maybe 40m later, off to another reef. And to check out the sand dunes, the two hour trip becoming something like 6 in the end. It was amazing seeing all the beauty under the surface, an adrenaline rush every time I jumped and let the currents guide me. It took me a long time to learn how to relax, float and breath calmly.

All in all, it was a wonderful and relaxing experience. I met some lovely people, and did enjoy my time there. If you wonder about travelling to the Maldives – do it. It is a paradise – and the food is yummy! But if I’m going back one day I’m taking a real husband to a resort island with me 😉

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Ten Reasons to go on an Exchange – you’ve already applied, haven’t you?

A student exchange. When I was fourteen the travel fever rose to the extremes and my Oxford-dream of intensive studies changed to sunbathing in Malta for a month. Don’t know if I learned much English, but it was fun anyway. A few years later it was time to step up the game and fly a bit further away from the nest – off to New Zealand and to an all-girls school for a year. School uniform, a new culture, an experience of a lifetime. That’s where it all started, a chain reaction, and soon I found myself looking for jobs abroad. Me, back then a 18-year-old naive little girl, all alone headed to the big world during the best age for some serious studying.

Not even once have I regretted.

You should definitely go on an exchange.

You grow as a person, you experience new things, you get to network. When meeting new people you absorb some of their life experience, start to see the bigger picture, maybe understand something new. You get inspired, might even get a gentle push to start following your dreams and become the entrepreneur you’ve always dreamed of. Or find the courage to follow a completely different career path, something you never thought was an option, to jump into the unknown with a smile.

Going on an exchange and working abroad encouraged me to change my career. Even ended up getting my favourite quote, my guideline in life, tattooed into my arm “vaikka juuret ovat maassa, siiville voit silti nousta” (Something along the lines of: even though the roots are in the ground, you can still rise onto your wings). Time for a new school, new stories. It’s still a year and a half before my next exchange, this time to Great Britain I hope. I smile when I think about that, Soon I’ll get to go.

Why don’t you go as well?

Where to go, and how?

University students have a lot more places to choose from than the shy sixteen year olds. The world has become a playground, jumping from an island to the next after employment opportunities or let’s say a 6 month exchange into Singapore is no longer rare. When you are wanting to go abroad, the easiest thing is to consult your school – take advantage of their partnership networks. They might even be able to help you out financially.

And if there’s a place you really want to go to but the school cannot help you with, check out Kilroy or other travel agencies who can help you out. Or be different like me (read annoying enough), plan and organize your own trip to the last detail and just ask for the principal’s approval… Getting that “Hmm okay, I guess you can do it” felt insanely good. Academically, you might fall a little behind if you go off by yourself – but experience-wise it’ll so be worth it.

When choosing the place, I’d think a little further than where to get the tastiest cocktails while chilling on a hammock. A couple of months checking out the best beaches and paradise islands sounds amazing, but challenging yourself in a prestige university or a traineeship in the fast-paced corporate world might prove more rewarding. Of course everyone has their own personality and goals, but I reckon for a fellow business student seeing the boom of Asia or the solid business hubs in Europe & the USA might offer some amazing career opportunities after graduation. Think on what will benefit you the most – there’ll be plenty of time for a beach holiday later on. Or even better, compromise, and head off to NZ – you can go surfing after work!

If you don’t go, you’ll miss out on so much.

Not everyone is adventurous, not everyone is interested in being international, so what – do what’s best for yourself. But if you have even a little flame burning inside you, a voice whispering stories of the wonders of the world and butterflies flapping their wings in your stomach every time you hear about someone else’s experiences then stop and think. What do you have to lose?

Opportunity cost, one of the first things I learned when Business School started last autumn. What do you need to let go of to get what you want, the price of your choice. If you don’t go, you won’t miss out on your life in Finland or wherever you are from. Your circle of friends will remain unchanged, the days rolling forward as always. A cup of coffee every morning, summer, autumn, winter, spring + maybe a deserved holiday? And again. The student parties and social relationships enlivening your weekdays, soon you will graduate and join the work force. Yay. You can execute your high school + university + work + retirement plan to the last detail. Travel when you are retired, having created a marvellous career, once the kids have moved out, when you have the time and money. When. If. Then. Just not yet.

But if you go now then.. Well I promise you’ll have fun. You are still young, isn’t now the best time to go, nothing is holding you down. When on an exchange you’ll meet new people, see new places. Oh and experience some setbacks and misfortunes and at times life in new culture sucks – that I promise as well. But you will grow as a person thanks to that.

The reason I encourage everyone to live in a new culture rather than just to travel there, is experiencing the normal everyday life. When you travel you’ll be enjoying a honeymoon; everything is new and beautiful like Instagram-photos, or dirty and dilapidated and shockingly exotic – depends on where you go. But you see everything from an outsider’s point of view, you taste the local cuisine, hear the music. You scratch the surface of the iceberg. But during the exchange you dive into the culture, dig a little deeper. Of course six months or even a year won’t let you experience, or understand, everything but nevertheless it’s a good start.

School will continue when you come back. The friends will not have vanished, and hey I doubt Finland has changed a lot. You’ll change, even a little. Might get a new perspective, maybe learn to appreciate your own culture in a new way, to genuinely cherish the free education. At least you’ll make friends. You’ll return happy and ready to get back to studies – overall, everything is pretty darn good over here. Or you come back, get a culture shock, want to improve everything and then filled with vigour find a way to lift Finland into a new economic boom while planning your new trip. Not bad.

And if nothing else, at least you don’t have to slouch in the snow slush for once.

I can’t wait for the snow to melt properly…