Living in Finland as an Exchange Student

Spending a whole year in a foreign country can be a wonderful experience, but actually doing something like that requires courage. Exchange students have to get accustomed to a whole new culture and language while also going to school. Many of us could never do something like that, so that’s why I wanted to interview two people from our school who actually did it: William Bordonaro from Italy and Diane Marre from France.

Diane Marre enjoying the sights of Suomenlinna

I wanted to interview specifically these two because I already knew them on some level. I met William on our first day of school in August because we were in the same group. At first, I didn’t even realize that William was an exchange student because he spoke Finnish so well. I only realized it later while talking to him during our Swedish lesson, where he surprised me again with his Swedish speaking skills. I also found out that William speaks many different languages. He has studied Finnish and Swedish for a while now, which is part of the reason why he was chosen to come and study here in Finland. William also has relatives here, who he will be staying with for his exchange student year. I met Diane in my first French lesson. She definitely didn’t need to improve her French, but she happily helped us Finnish students to learn French. In return, we taught her Finnish, which is why during French lessons we ended up speaking a mix of French, English, and Finnish.

William Bordonaro in Italy.


Why come to Finland?

Even though William and Diane are different, they both have a passion for experiencing new cultures and languages. Both have dreamed about becoming exchange students and living in a foreign country since they were little. Neither of them really got to choose which country or school they would go to, they were both sent here. Finland and the Finnish language were already pretty familiar to William because of his Finnish roots. William was also very interested in Finland, which is why he was very happy when he was sent here.

To Diane, Finland is a bit more foreign, but she doesn’t let that hold her back. In the interview, Diane says: “ I didn’t get to choose the country or the school where I would go to, but I’ve really enjoyed myself here.”  I asked both of them which country they would rather go to if they had the choice. Both of them did come up with different places where they’d want to go, but they also said that they are very content here in Finland. William also said that he would gladly study in a Finnish university after his last high school year in Italy.

It’s good to come to Finland as an exchange student.
Diane in Suomenlinna with other exchange students.


What is it like being a foreigner in Finland?

Coming to Finland William didn’t really experience any culture shock since he has been to Finland multiple times already. There are still a lot of things in Finnish culture and society that are still new even to him. “Finnish society is so much more relaxed and trusting in many things. For example, people can freely walk in and out of a metro station, while in Italy you can’t get through the gate without showing a ticket”, William says. Since both of them come from the south they’ve obviously noticed the differences in the weather and nature. The cold weather has been an unpleasant surprise for both of them, which is why you can see them both wrapped in a scarf most of the time.

William in the middle posing with other students at the Helsinki’s
Regional Session 2019 of European Youth Parliament.

Both of them have also noticed, how differently people act here. “Many things that would be considered impolite in France are polite here, and vice versa”, Diane notes. For example, being very upfront isn’t really appreciated in France, but in Finland it’s almost encouraged. Diane and William also think that Finns tend to be kind of cold at first, but once you get to know them they are very friendly and trustworthy. William does say; “If a Finnish person says something, they really mean it.” Not touching others is also another thing about Finland that feels a bit strange to both. In France and Italy, it’s very common to greet people who you know by hugging them and giving them a kiss on the cheek, which is considered pretty inappropriate here in Finland. We don’t usually touch even our friends unless we are really close. Luckily, many people in Finland are more open when it comes to physical contact, which why, for example, greeting somebody by hugging them isn’t such a problem.


What is it like being an exchange student in Etelä-Tapiola upper secondary school?

The generally international atmosphere of Etis and IB have really helped William and Diane in feeling more comfortable in our school. Almost everybody from the teachers to the students speaks English, which is why there really is no language barrier. There are also a lot of people from different cultures here in Etis, which is why we don’t only represent Finnish culture in our school. William tells me: “I’ve met people from different parts of the world in our school. Most of the time even those who are Finnish are partly foreigners.” This is why there isn’t really any discrimination in our school, which helps foreign students adapt more easily. Both of them also think that having IB in Etis is very important because many IB students are also foreigners. Some of them don’t even speak Finnish themselves. Therefore many students from IB are in a pretty similar situation as William and Diane, which is why they support each other. That’s also why they’ve both gotten a lot of friends from IB. Students from the national side are also very international and open-minded, which is why becoming friends with them is also no problem. These are the reasons why William and Diane are really glad that they get to study here in Etis.

William goofing around in his costume
for the Etis Halloween show.

Writer: Elli Perttilä 19A

Photographers: Lolie Quesa, Hanna Aro, Suren Paravyan and Estella Niemi

 Briefly in English »


Etelä-Tapiolan lukio
Ahertajantie 5
02100 Espoo · Katso kartalla »

Vs. rehtori Juha Kivioja
043 825 8416

IB Coordinator David Crawford

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