During my Christmas holiday break, I had the opportunity to visit various schools from my home state of North Carolina in USA. The idea behind the speeches were to present my experiences as an American who lives and studies abroad. And maybe a bit about our incredible Tampere University.
With the help of my former teacher, now Chief Secondary Officer of the Alamance-Burlington School System, Revonda Johnson, I was able to reconnect to the core of where my educational roots began. As I drove around the familiar streets, it was quite nostalgic to be back “home” — which that term in itself can be dubious. We’ll come back to this later. I visited four different high schools in Burlington, Graham, Haw River and Mebane and spoke to at least 200 students and staff. The presentation was about Finland, my personal story and Tampere University.
As I presented to the students, it was unfortunately not a shock to learn that they did not know much about Finland (no offense to anyone, promise!). So of course, I told them about the Angry Birds, Nokia, Santa Claus, Northern lights and the correct pronunciation of sauna. The students were in awe and asked many questions about the climate, people and language.
I shared my personal story of how I ended up in Finland. Long story short: I came for a job, decided to continue my studies and now I am staying for at least a little bit longer. During this part of the presentation, many questions were raised about traveling abroad. The costs, the fear, the distance between family and friends. My message to the students was that, if something scares and excites you at the same time — you should probably do it. Fear is only temporary and it inhibits you from doing the one thing that you need most to grow as a person. Going out of your comfort zone is the way to fulfill your potential. Plus, if you stay where you are, you will miss the great opportunities that await you up ahead.
The students were inspired to go study abroad and Finland is an interesting option, they said. The staff members were most impressed about the pedagogy implemented in the Finnish educational institutions. It is unlike what is practiced in the States. Both the staff and students were curious and interested in learning more about Finland and Tampere University.
As mentioned above, it was nice to be back “home”. What I have realized from my journey is that, home is certainly where the heart is. And my heart is big enough to have more than one country as my home. I genuinely appreciate the opportunity to have been able to inspire the students in North Carolina, sitting right where I was just a few years ago. Whatever you go through in life, remember where you came from and always give back to the ones who were there for you from the beginning. And on this last note, a comfort zone is a beautiful place — but nothing ever grows from there. So, go ahead. Take that step.