When I started my studies at Lapland University of Applied Sciences in 2013, I already knew I wanted to experience an exchange period during my studies. My holiday trip to Canada during my first semester at Lapland UAS made this will even stronger – after my travel I felt a huge urge to go back and get to know Canada more thoroughly. Soon after this we had an information session about our possibilities of studying abroad, and that was the first time I heard about north2north. I was thrilled when I heard that we had partners in Canada, and after that I started working determinedly to try to make my dream come true. In the end I chose Lakehead University as my first option; a student from our school had been there a few years earlier, and it seemed like an interesting place to go to.

Emmi Nivala / Hiking at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park
Hiking at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

When I first arrived in Thunder Bay in September 2014, I was shocked by how oddly familiar and homely it felt to me. During my earlier visit in Canada I had only gotten a glimpse of the life in a big city, not in a smaller town like Thunder Bay which was almost the same size as my hometown Oulu. Somehow I had expected the culture shock to be bigger but I adapted surprisingly quickly. The climate and nature in Thunder Bay was very similar compared to what we have in Finland. Also, I'm pretty sure the fact that I made good friends right from the beginning played a part in my easy adjustment. Thunder Bay and the area around it is lovely, and it offers everything you need. I especially appreciated the kind people, gorgeous scenery and the great possibilities for outdoor activities.

I was born a northern girl, and I feel like the north is where I belong. Canada and Finland have more things in common than I could have ever imagined – in both good and bad. As I'm going to help and support people in my future career, it was really eye-opening to see that we struggle with the same issues in the Arctic even though geographically we live very far from each other. This made me even more interested in choosing a career path where I can try to help people who struggle with these same problems we face all around the Arctic.

As I study Social Services at my home institution, at Lakehead I took courses from Social Work and Psychology. The course selection was good, lessons were interesting and professors were friendly. That's also where I experienced the biggest differences during my exchange, in the way of studying: the amount of independent work was huge. During the first month it felt like I had to do double the work compared to others, because I read the material for the next lessons very carefully. Especially in the beginning I had to learn new vocabulary and do lots of translating. But in the end it was worth it - I was rewarded with developed sustainability and diligence, precious knowledge and good grades. I'm sure all of these factors will have a positive impact on my life, besides my advanced language skills and new perspectives in life. I think I could say I developed as a person – now I'm more independent, confident and open-minded.

Emmi Nivala / Hiking at the Mount McKay
Hiking at the Mount McKay

Canada will always be a part of me – I hadn't expected myself to leave the country having close friends from all around the world, and a newfound love for country music and hiking. That semester was the best fall of my life, and I wouldn't change a day. That's why I encourage everyone to go on an exchange: I promise it will be the one of the best decisions in your life, and you will gain priceless experiences that you couldn't get from anywhere else. Even though you have to work for the exchange process and the studies abroad, it's all worth it. These are times you will be recalling when you're old and gray – go and see the world while you can!