Some Experiences of International Youth Exchange

December is a time of stories, but it is also time to make plans for the upcoming year. In 2023, if everything goes as planned, we plan to carry out international project activities enhancing dialogue and youth activity in Kainuu. Meanwhile, we have collected three inspiring stories from young people who came once to Kainuu and still live here or otherwise created strong bonds to our region.    

Youth exchanges from Kainuu to abroad, as well as from other countries to Kainuu, are no novelty. There are plenty of destinations awaiting and different kinds of funding available for youth to make their exchange easier. We wanted to share some stories to encourage more and more Kainuu youth to spread their wings and make use of these opportunities. On the other hand, it might also be an eye-opener to some of our readers on the possibilities Kainuu has to offer to someone coming from abroad.

The first story we would like to share with you is the one of Linda Khan,  now a working mother living in Kainuu. Originally, she comes from Germany. After high school Linda was looking for an international experience and due to family holidays in the Nordics she had always felt drawn to the region. During an education fair in Berlin, she met a teacher from KAMK who advertised Kajaani and KAMK so well that Linda decided to apply. Good job, KAMK!

After her studies in Kajaani, Linda didn’t plan on returning to Kainuu, but went on to study her master’s degree in Sweden and to work in interesting tourism jobs in Germany. However, faith had some different plans and love ended up bringing Linda back. Currently, she works as a part time tourism teacher at KAMK and says she couldn’t be happier with a place choice to raise a family than in Kajaani.

Asking Linda about why she would recommend international activities for young people from Kainuu, she says that it is important to meet people from different backgrounds to get to know new perspectives and inspirations for the way you want yourself and your life to be. In other words, for your own personal growth. That is also why Linda wanted to study tourism – because it is an international industry enabling intercultural communication.

Not everyone eventually ends up staying, but still enjoy their experience. Emilie-Marie Hornus from Strasbourg in France, for example, came to Kainuu to stay with a local family and study for the academic year 2009-2010 in Paltamo high school. At the time, Emilie was 18 years old, so she attended the senior class, and came here with the support of AFS. Emilie didn’t actually choose to come to Kainuu but was appointed a host-family in Paltamo. It was her first time in any of the Nordic countries, so the experience was unique. She also visited Kajaani quite often, especially since her Finnish lessons were taking place there.

After the exchange year, Emilie returned to Strasbourg as planned, but she says that her love for Finland has not decreased, but quite the opposite. She feels really lucky to have had two marvellous host-families and friends in Kainuu and she tries to visit the region every now and then. Last time she came to Kajaani was last summer with her mom, to whom it was the first time in Finland. She loved it!

Emilie, too, can only recommend for the youth to travel the world as it broadens up your horizon and makes you step out of your comfort zone. She sees overcoming your fears as something wonderful that makes you grow as a person. Going on an exchange allows you to make long-lasting friendships and to discover the world.

Third story is about a Hungarian young lady, Réka Tolonen, who is currently living and working in Kajaani. Her very first interaction with international environment was when she joined the AFS programme. By sort of a sudden decision many years ago she decided to come to Finland for high school exchange and ended up living in Kainuu. She liked the spirit of Kainuu and enjoyed her first 10 months here very much. Therefore, she decided that one day she would come back. After some year she applied for studies at Kajaani University of Applied Sciences in 2013. Right after her graduation, she got a job and was able to stay for good.

The world is constantly changing, and Réka says it is important to be aware of the diversity around us and be able to cooperate in it. Workplaces are getting more and more international for many different reasons. It is important to learn about cultural awareness and culture sensitivity from a young age.  Being an exchange student and meeting other exchange students from all around the world provided Réka with many new perspectives already in her teenage years. After that experience she was continuously seeking international environments. She has also participated in several different kinds of Erasmus+ programs for youth or youth workers and got to learn about project management. “I strongly believe that these experiences taught me much more than I could tell.”- Réka said.

Réka’s tip to young people is to be active and brave, and to try different things – even if it sometimes feels like it will most likely not be your piece of cake.  You never know!