Out of the 26 or so years I’ve been around, vast majority has been spent in Finland, in the small town of Orimattila I was born in. I think it became apparent fairly early on that this town of approximately 20,000 people would not be able to offer me all I wanted to experience, and in 2001, when I was 17, I took off and traveled to Brazil as a Rotary Exchange student to live there, right outside of São Paulo for a year. I stayed in Brazilian families, went to a local high school, traveled from Rio de Janeiro to Pantanal to Amazonas to Bahia to Iguaçu Falls – and experienced some of the most memorable and defining moments of my life so far. I was hooked. World was too big to stay still.
Since then, missing people who are across the world from me and often longing to be somewhere else than where I am at has been a constant part of my life. Since Brazil I’ve said on several occasions and to several people, that once you have gone across the ocean once, there is no right shore anymore. Wherever I am, someone I love will always be far away. Wherever I go, I will always leave people and places I have come to love and care for. It is always hard. I never get used to it. Leaving, and arriving, and leaving again. But so is life right now, and in the end, I do love it. I can’t see myself staying still, not yet.
When I was getting my Bachelor’s Degree in Finland, I traveled to Kenya for a three-month internship. I went in the best company in the world, and shared this experience with two wonderful girls from Finland who I did not know going into this experience, and who then became my closest friends. In Kenya, I also met the man I’ve now spent the past 4 years with. This person, a goofy, dorky American, seemed to be exactly what I needed at that point in my life – and, he decided to stick around. After three months in Kenya, he followed me to Finland, stayed there for three months, and then kept coming back. Who would have thought that what originally was supposed to be a harmless three-month fling in Kenya would eventually turn into an international, across-the-world relationship, that would then turn into an engagement, that is now leading into our July wedding. Funny how life works out, isn’t it? People always tell me how romantic it is how we met – in Kenya, doing international development work, under the African sun and whatnot. Well. There has been plenty of romance in our lives, but I do have to admit that the beginning of our relationship involved an expat-bar with football on TV which was a big reason for my lovely fiance being there in the first place, substantial amounts of beer, and arm wrestling. We had fun. We laughed. And what was about fun and laughs turned into something neither one of us ever expected. Life truly is a box of chocolates.
After Kenya I still had about 1.5 years of school left in Finland. My American charmer kept coming back to Finland as often as he could, and we managed to travel together to the Philippines and India during the time I was still studying in Finland. Once I graduated, I started looking into possibilities to study abroad, in places such as UK (Sussex University), Costa Rica (Universidad para la Paz) and universities in the US. I ended up applying for a few, and in February was notified that I had been accepted to the New School University in New York, for a Masters in International Affairs graduate program. I fell off my chair. Right after that I went into hyperventilation. Right after that I tried to call Jake, who did not pick up (I think he was in a mosque in India and got some very bad looks when his phone rang) and after that called my mom. And the rest of the spring and all of summer after that was one big chaos of visa applications, full-time work as a social worker, moving arrangements, money head aches, panic, disbelief, frustration, joy, laughs, cry, being scared, losing faith, re-discovering faith, several expensive international phone calls ending with me yelling “I am not coming to New York, this is too much!” and as many expensive international phone calls with me starting with “I’m sorry..”. I think it was a good mental preparation for a life in New York – chaos is what New York is all about. But, mostly, in a good way.
So. Here I am, have been since August 2009. Me and my American geek have been living here, together in lovely Park Slope for over a year and a half now, and I am close to graduating, which is crazy. I just got here. I feel like just yesterday I wanted to hit anyone who told me “How can you not know how to get there – Manhattan is a grid, it’s so easy!” after being lost for the hundredth time in the city. Just yesterday I took the train downtown when trying to get from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Just yesterday I cursed at a restaurant when I realized that this stupid country does not include taxes in their menu prices. Just yesterday I was trying to figure out how to cash a check, since we have not had those in Finland since the 1980s. Just yesterday I had no idea how tall I was in feet, and just yesterday I was too scared to open my mouth in class for the fear of sounding stupid.
Turns out yesterday was actually almost two years ago. New York has become my home. The grid of Manhattan makes sense now, and I know when I am supposed to be going uptown and when to head downtown. I know how to cash my check now – even better, I know how to sign up for direct deposit! I’ve met some wonderful people, had some amazing experiences, learned so much in school and out of school, and now I am about to graduate. It’s scary as s*** – and at the same time so exciting. And, I also know that this adventure is nowhere near over.
This is who I am. A Finn from a town of 20,000 people, a traveler, a momma’s girl, a dreamer, now a graduate student, soon a Master of International Affairs, and a fiance of a wonderful American man. These experiences have made me who I am, and the people who’ve been a part of my life have left impressions that won’t fade. That is the best part. It’s like a tree growing – for each year, there is a permanent ring left as a reminder of that year. I feel like my life is filled with those rings, and I love that.
Oh, and by the way – I’m 5 feet 2 inches. Get with the metric system, America.