“Elät Vain Hetken Verran.” Translation: “You Live For Just a Short Moment.”

Erica - Hamburg, New York
Entered on March 8, 2009
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: change, place
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I believe that one must take chances and allow the world to teach its lessons. I did not understand what was happening. It seemed like the past several months of filling out applications, going to interviews, and shaking hands had been done by another person and I was just a witness. I knew what was to come. In fact, I had spent the past month explaining, in intricate detail to my family and friends what exactly that was. However, as I stood in the airport, all I could feel was the pounding of my heart. It was like a clock ticking away the seconds of my life. I knew what was going to happen whether I wanted to believe it or not, and my dad, pacing around the way he does when he is nervous, was proof. In about five minutes, I would be leaving everything I knew to get on an airplane with just two suitcases and a book. I was going to live in Finland for an entire year as an exchange student.

I believe that one must open up and let others in. After a week of language camp, where I learned about my new home and how to learn my new language through the country’s music, I was picked up by my first host family and taken back to the town I would be living in for the next year. I was extremely excited for my first day of school where I would meet new friends and really begin my new life. However, I had not really understood what my counselor meant by the Finnish being “painfully shy” until my first class. No matter how hard I tried to talk to people and make friends, I could not find someone to talk to. By the time my third class began, I just wanted to go back to the United States where I had a lot of friends that I did not have to fight to talk to, but I tried one last time. I asked the girl in front of me what the teacher was saying, and I got a blank stare and an “I don’t know.” I had had it. I was done with Finland and all of its people, but then I heard the soft whisper that I would eventually realize was just one example of the kindheartedness of my new peers. She was translating for me. On that first day of school, I met seven people. Three of them are the best friends I have ever had.

I believe that one must learn exactly who he or she is and grow with life’s lessons. With my new friends and my new family, I started living my new life in Finland. I spent a lot of time learning interesting things, meeting sweet people, and trying to learn the difficult language. I was so busy sometimes that I could not stop to think of the life I had left behind. I was thankful for that because when those thoughts did catch up with me, my stomach would twist up in knots. I would think of my brother or a joke that I had with my best friends, and the tears would start to roll. As nice as this trip was, it was a trip. As hard as I tried to believe that it was, it was not my real life. I was still Erica George, the bright, friendly sixteen-year-old American girl I had always told myself I was. I was my father’s daughter, my brothers’ sister, and my friends’ confidante. I was whatever everyone wanted me to be. My life was Hamburg, New York. My life was the people who really loved me. I truly believed this, and for the next few months it was the cause of my agony in Finland.

I believe that one must test his or her limits. It may have just been the terrible Finnish weather getting to me, but every morning, I would wake up in a daze, hooking on the thought that I was one day closer to going home. I was constantly thinking about Hamburg and all I was missing. The Finnish are not a particularly touchy group of people, and I just wanted a warm hug from my mom. I could not fully find my way around, and I just wanted to walk down a street and be able to call it my own. I wanted to listen to a language I could truly understand. I had a permanent smile plastered to my face to make sure that everyone knew not only how gracious and sweet I was, but how gracious and sweet the United States was. Despite the facade, I just wanted to break down. I had been told over and over before I left that this was an opportunity of a lifetime, but as hard as I tried I could not see it that way. I would ask myself, “if this is supposed to be the best year of my life, why am I so stressed? What am I doing wrong?” Adding to my stress, I had finally become comfortable with my host family, and I suddenly had to move to a new one. Wherever I was, I felt unwelcome. I felt alone. I was alone. I had always been what others expected me to be, and now I only had to be what I was. I was a girl who could get through this trip. I would make it. I was capable. I was Erica George, the girl who was not defined by who loved her, but by what she loved and what she believed. My outlook on the trip was the same until I joined a group for school in which we would exchange with a school from Holland. They would be living with us at a camp around my birthday.

I believe that one must learn to see life for its beauty. On the night before my birthday, I was talking to my friends in our room at the camp, when one of them received a text message and quickly exited. She came back to the room to tell my other friends to come with her, making sure to speak Swedish, Finland’s second language, so I could not understand. A few minutes later, midnight on my birthday, I heard one of them call from outside of the door for me to come see something. When I walked into the hall, I was met by all of my friends at the door singing “Happy Birthday” to me in English. At that point, I realized that I was with people who loved me and who I loved. Finland had become my home.

I believe that one must live life to the fullest because time passes quickly. The best months of my life so far passed in what felt like a week, and pretty soon I was sitting in the airport with my two best friends talking about all of our good times and waiting once again for an airplane that would change my life. When we finally accepted that it was the time we had hoped would not come, we said our goodbyes, cried our tears, and made promises that we were sure we would keep.

I believe that one must find the most important things in his or her life and do whatever it takes to hold onto those things. The remainder of my time in Finland turned out to be the best of my life so far, and like all good things, passed in months that felt like weeks. Once again, I was sitting in the airport with people I loved, talking about all of our good times while waiting for an airplane that would change my life. I heard a familiar thumping in my chest counting down the seconds to what I did not want to end. I got on my plane, and tried to remember all of the good times I had had and all of the things I had learned. I learned to live my life for myself and take everything as an opportunity. Before I left, I had been living in a daze, unaware of the beautiful things in the world. I understand now that I only have so much time to see those things, and that it is not enough to just see them, but feel and love them as well. I believe that one must live life for its beauty and its pains and to learn from every minute of it. Finland was one beautiful tick in the clock of my life, and I cannot wait to see what the next move of the minute hand brings.