I volunteered in…
…for a year in the season 2018–19 a folk high school in Finland. The school was situated in a district called Joutseno of the city of Lappeenranta. In the folk high school students of different ages can study subjects such as art, Finnish, Japanese and Korean. There were some sixty students in the school and, to my calculations, ten or more teachers as well as some ten other staff members. I was the only volunteer. Besides volunteering at the school, I also lived in its student dormitory. The school is situated in the in a beautiful place in the countryside.
My tasks as a volunteer included…
…mainly teaching Chinese, which was the task I enjoyed the the most. In addition, I showed the Taiwanese culture for the students, did office work and supported the staff members also in other ways whenever they needed assistance. I joined classes as a student, too. This meant I also had homework just like the other students!
My normal day would start at nine at the office or at a Finnish class. Afterwards I would have lunch and then support the staff in classes in case someone needed my assistance or go back to the office. My workday would end around four in the afternoon. Tuesdays were different in the sense that I had my Chinese class in the evening.
A year felt…
…exciting in advance. I looked forward to it because a the volunteering abroad year felt like a big challenge and new life for me. I wondered how it will go! I was also nervous and afraid because it was my first time to go abroad alone as well as to live alone. Afterwards I feel the year gave me more courage.
Which kinds of new things became ordinary for you?
The Finnish weather, for instance. I remember that when I wore a dress in March, a student said to me that it seems I have gotten used to the weather – no longer feeling cold. I also learned to make a fire in the forest. It was nice to go to the forest with a friend and enjoy together time by the fire.
When familiarize oneself in with new things and trying to learn to understand them, it is important to get to know local people and try to make friends with them. One must also try oneself the local things as much as possible. What comes to me learning about life in Finland, I still did not learn Finnish more than a few sentences, for instance.
In your opinion, how does familiarizing oneself with life abroad as a volunteer advance understanding and peace among people?
It is important to respect each other and different kinds of things. Everyone has their own kind of thinking and background, and we should try to understand and be gentle towards each other. This way the world will be gentle, too. Many times there is no right or wrong answer.
I think intercultural learning through international volunteering requires courage, curiosity and knowledge about one’s own cultural background: You need the courage to try the new things, such as speaking to the local people. You also need to be curious to learn about different things and have knowledge about your own cultural background so that you can share it with others.
If you learn the local language, it is easier to build a bridge and connection with the local people. And you have a bridge with the local people, you will learn more easily about their culture and way of living. For me it felt challenging to learn Finnish, though.
Before I came to Finland, many people around me said that Finnish people are cold and keep a distance. After living in Finland for a year, I know this is not true. During my volunteering year I met many warm-hearted people who were willing to make friends with me. Some of them were shy or did not know English well, but they wanted to get to know me in any case. One should avoid generalizing and try challenge their stereotypes on people.
How is the volunteering experience present in your life nowadays?
I just returned from Finland to Taiwan. I feel that now after my volunteering year I am more gentle towards other people and cultures. I also believe that thanks to my experiences I will have in the future more courage to do everything what I want.
Chih Wen Lai
In the photo atop: “Whenever you meet any problem, just jump and cross it!” says Chich Wen.