Hey teenager, if you want to go abroad – go!

If I could go back in time, I would advise the younger me to follow my passions more persistently. Luckily I have found my own path since then and they have led me to abroad as well. I wish every adolescent had guts to pack their bags, if it feels like the right decision for them.

Lack of encouragement

I never applied for a pupil exchange program when I went to high school even though I can remember scanning with great enthusiasm all the brochures of youth exchange organizations that were posted up on bulletin boards. Everything seemed so exiting and exotic in the pictures. I wanted to go to those places too and practice my language skills.

Instead I let following comments affect my reasoning.

“Would it not be unpleasant to fall behind of your class mates? After a year abroad you would be placed in another class with people younger than you.”

“Just finish the high school and go then.”

Ten years after these comments sound pretty stupid.

Photo: Anu Märkälä

The importance of international experience

An age gap of one year between you and your classmates won´t be a big deal. Actually, it is very valuable skill to get along with people of different ages and cultural backgrounds. So, why not start practicing it while in school?

One year “delay” in the schooling can at its best help an adolescent to figure out his or her plans for the future. That´s what happened to me when I left for Germany after high school. After having worked there one year as an Au Pair I came back home with fluent German skills and a clear objective to get accepted into the faculty of Social Sciences. I got very inspired by the many conversations that I had with the father of my host-family regarding differences between German and Finnish societies. I also voted for the first time in my life in the local municipal elections and listed to his enthusiastic analysis of the results. Somehow that spark never faded away…

Adapting to a new cultural environment and finding new local friends brings a whole lot of confidence. It also develops the much-wanted can-do-attitude, which often appears in job advertisements too. I can still remember how proud I was of myself when I opened a bank account in German or when I told my host family´s neighbor that I had cooked traditional German home food for lunch.

Looking for a summer job

For the above mentioned reasons an exchange year or some other sort of stay abroad will definitely benefit the young. They will grow up and gain skills and experiences that will help them to find a summer job. Ability to co-operate and endure stress is just an example of those skills. For what I have heard, the competition for summer jobs continues to be high.

Lastly, I would like to remind all adults that motivated young people are surprisingly competent and independent when encouraged!

Text and photos: Anu Märkälä

If your parents or friends don´t quite get your need for a foreign language immersion abroad, you better stick with your opinion and go anyway.

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