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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

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New York – my favourite photographs

I got to visit New York City back in summer 2013. I was there only for a few days on my way back from NZ but was amazed at how nice the city and the people were – sure it was crowded and sure it was busy and quite overwhelming at times but all in all NY has to be one of my favourite city holiday destinations of all time! People in LA were inspirational, but NY I don’t know, it just had this strange appeal, I want to go back.

It’s 4.30am back here in Finland and I cannot sleep so I started looking through some old photos.. Oh I cannot wait to travel again! Here’s a few of my favourite photos from NY:

"The cutest sign ever"

“The cutest sign ever”

“48h hop on hop off bus ticket turned out being a great idea! The tour guides were awesome – especially the elderly man who kept making fun of me. He wouldn’t believe I was there in the big city without parents – I’ve seriously never met anyone else with such an awesome sense of humour, the day was filled with the best unexpected stand up comedy ever. Perfect.”

"Reflections"

“Reflections”

"Travelling kinda sucks when you see super cute couples and remember you are alone"

“Travelling kinda sucks when you see super cute couples and remember you are there alone”

"With some people it doesn't matter how long you are apart, 'cos when you see again you can keep talking as if only weeks rather than years have passed."  I was super lucky to catch up with Rhea <3

“With some people it doesn’t matter how long you are apart, ‘cos when you see again you can keep talking as if only weeks rather than years have passed.”
I was super lucky to catch up with Rhea ❤

"Friends forever?"

“Friends forever?”

And I have to say the Times Square was pretty cool at night time. Crazy amount of tourists – and thus plenty of interesting stuff, it sure is the perfect place for entertainment.

"One of the many Naked Cowboys on Times Square"

“One of the many Naked Cowboys on Times Square”

“Next time, a world-famous musical is definitely on the DO-list”

"The place to be if you love something sweet"

“The place to be if you love something sweet”

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 😉

Student Life in Helsinki – “Hell yes”

As I don’t -yet- have the funds to travel as often I’d like, I figured making the most of living in Helsinki is the second best thing. Or to be honest at times life here is even better than abroad, because I’ve got good friends around.

Food and art festivals, flea market shopping, hanging out in the park. Girls’ nights out and dinner parties and movie dates, not to mention the countless student events.

It’s great to feel like I’ve finally found the place where I belong

A great aspect of the uni/polytechnic student life in Finland are the overalls! You put on those over-sized, patch-filled bright creations and you are free to do whatever. Mostly it´s something alcohol-related, bar hopping or picnics – but in wintertime why not join a couple of thousand other students and go sliding down a hill or have a snow fight and sip hot chocolate with a hint of mint liquor…

The best thing is that you are one of the group, you get to share some amazing times with fellow students and easily make lots of new friends. It’s even better than I had imagined.

"Metropolia - a great place to study and make friends"

“Metropolia – a great place to study and make friends”

I made risotto ❤

Being a student and living with a low budget doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t get to enjoy some amazing food. There are the Pop-up Restaurant Days, student discount meals, not to forget teaming up with mates and making a three course dinner together. I’ll be happy to eat bread and pesto for breakfast every day if that means getting to go out to a restaurant or cooking together with friends every now and then…

And last but not least, it’s fun to spice up the busy assignment-filled life of mine with some spontaneous “Let’s try”-ideas. And this can be anything. Yesterday we chose hair modelling with KC professionals – I can definitely recommend that!

"Afternoon coffee on the roof"

“Afternoon coffee on the roof”

All in all, life of a business student really isn’t that bad. Surely there is the stress over assignments, plenty to learn I admit, but in a supportive, encouraging and most of all fun environment it’s actually quite easy to get out of bed every morning.

And also,

Helsinki is a pretty awesome city I must admit!

Helsinki <3

Helsinki ❤


PS. Do check out ViktorVelinov Photography for some cool photos and updates from a fellow Metropolia student 🙂

A second family? – living in a host-family for a year

I remember standing in Auckland airport, waiting to board my third and final flight to New Plymouth. 2009, the exchange year was about to begin. I was happy, but really nervous because I didn’t know who would there to pick me up from the airport, with whom was I going to stay the year to follow.

I was the last Finn to get a host family from New Zealand that year, had almost given up on hope that I could travel with the other AFS students. A couple of nights before the visa application was due, I got a phone call from an elderly man late at night. He sounded kind, really lovely but with an accent so odd I missed half the stuff he said. The main point was that he was to be my host-dad. I did now sleep that night, couldn’t even hold still. It still brings a smile to my face just thinking about it.

Arriving to New Plymouth for the first time, 09

As I got the host family so late, there was no time to get in touch with them, to get a photo or anything. I got off the plane in New Plymouth and just stood there, hoping that someone would come.

That minute or two felt like ages. Finally one AFS volunteer waved at me, and with him was the man that had called me. Graeme, the man who has now over the years become something more of a second dad/granddad than a mere host for a year, and his granddaughter were there to pick me up. I couldn’t figure out half the stuff they were babbling on about, that kiwi accent was a bit of a challenge at first.

Front garden, 2009

I was told I’d be staying with him and his wife in Bell Block, a few kilometers away from New Plymouth (New Zealand), in a small house 5 min walk from the beach. Graeme was semi-retired and the wife was still working. The kids had moved out, but their son and the granddaughter were flatting across the road, and the youngest son would be home for the weekends. I would have to catch the school bus and the area was generally safe but I shouldn’t walk alone at night. Roger.

I met his wife, and the rest of the family that day. Heard the house rules, got familiar with the surroundings, made my room feel like home. Slept for ages to recover from the jet lag. I cannot really remember much from the first week or two… Everything was so new. And weird, like the light switches were the other way around, the meal times were different and not to mention driving on the left side. And oh dear the Internet was insanely slow and having a landline telephone was just plain strange (I didn’t know of anyone who’d have that back home).. It was all also amazingly exotic and wonderful and everyone seemed really nice and whoah the nature was gorgeous – I totally understand why some compare the start of the exchange as something resembling a honeymoon!

School started, I made some local friends my age and got used to catching the school bus daily. Slowly started to figure out the accent as well, though the text language, an essential part of the youth culture, with (m8, up2, brb etc) was still somewhat of a mystery. And I bet everyone thought I was an idiot for I didn’t get half the jokes the locals, especially my host-brother living across the road, were telling me…

Graeme took me to different AFS events, sightseeing, to meet the friends and extended family. We had lovely family dinners and I got to taste the Sunday roast lamb and the famous BBQ´s and passion fruit cheesecake. Yumm. The family had two dogs, for someone with previously only hamsters as pets that was quite cool! We also tried out lawn bowling and other strange kiwi activities and overall the everyday life became quite nice. Not amazing like what you would expect from the EF leaflets you see but nice and basic life, going to school on Monday felt just as bad as it did back home… Also, having the beach nearby was perfect, that’s the place I described at a previous post. Of course you get lonely, and start to miss home and everything familiar at times, but for me having the sea nearby helped tremendously for some reason. It’s the one place that seriously kept me sane when things weren’t going too well.

One might think it´s weird staying in a host-family with just an elderly couple, the kids having left home already. I disagree. I never got close to my host-mum unfortunately, but the siblings were wonderful even though they were a bit older than me and with Graeme we just built this strange connection with from the early stages. I never actually considered changing the family. He took me and one of his granddaughters on amazing road trips during school holidays, told me countless navy stories and made me feel like I was a part of the family. He wanted to meet all of my friends, set curfews and told me if I was to start dating, which I did, that he’d need to meet the guy asap. Basic dad-stuff aye – and I think despite being such a lovely person he really managed to scare my boyfriend when they met.

Roadtrip to Cape Reinga, 2009

Roadtrip to Cape Reinga, 2009

All in all, living in a host-family is such a major part of the exchange that I really appreciate the hard work all the AFS-volunteers go through when selecting the students and families. It’s not always a match made in heaven and strong personalities collide, at times one needs to change the families, but I’m happy of my placement. I couldn’t ask for a better experience. I learned so much that year, I grew as a person and am now much stronger thanks to all that. The great times were better than what I can describe, the bad times mixing in every now and then to make you appreciate the good little moments in life. Just the same as back home.

Now, 6 years later, I still feel happy when I think of my exchange year. So much has happened since, but that year was definitely the experience of a lifetime. I ended up going back to NZ to live there for another year and a half with my boyfriend of the time, but I kept in touch with the host-family and especially Graeme. He’s even friends with my parents, and is coming here on a holiday next summer with his wife. Can’t wait to get the chance to show him my country, all the wonders of the good-old Finland, to say thank you for everything he’s done for me. And maybe even let him scare the new boyfriend of mine… It´ll be fun.

The Best Host-Dad Ever. Another road trip, this time in 2014.