Ten Months at Koli National Park and Nature Centre Ukko

Jump into the volunteering European Solidarity Corps Volunteering experience of Simon Le Cléach! Simon takes us through ten months at Koli National Park and Nature Centre Ukko.

First Months – Alone in the Winter Wonderland

My first four months in Koli were tricky, long, exhausting. Sure, I knew that it’s hard for everyone whom moves to another country. But trust me, when you live alone in the middle of nowhere with no one to talk with, the time doesn’t fly. I had to learn to enjoy my solitude. I thought, why feel bad – it was my choice to come here.

I lit fire in the fireplace of my beautiful yellow house almost every day and I enjoyed doing it. I cut firewood and carried it to my house, I cooked, watched movies, read books, did sports etc. To be short, I tried to keep myself busy and found ways to be relax.

I found my weekly ritual, one of the most amazing thing ever: sauna. My first one was three days after my arrival in Koli “savusauna” (a smoke sauna). This kind of sauna doesn’t have chimney which means that it’s the smoke which heats the room. It takes around six hours to heat it up. Once it’s hot, the smoke is moved out of the sauna, and just the burned wood is still here.

Afterwards I had a wooden sauna near to my place and I started to learn how to heat it up. It became my relaxing ritual. First you have to carry the firewood and the water, then fill up the water tank and make a fire. All of these steps take time, but once the sauna is ready, you can enjoy, it’s your reward.

I’ll remember the white wonderland forever, the amazing quietness, the gorgeous white and gleaming sceneries when the sun was shining in the blue sky. If I’d have to tell a memory about my first months, I would choose one evening of April while I was skiing on the frozen lake with three other friends. A cold evening with a splendid sky and tough snow on the ice. A unique memory since it was my first time to ski. At that time I couldn’t yet imagine how many marvelous people I would meet later.

From Spring to Summer – Koli’s Rhythm of the Seasons

Spring in Koli was very short. It seemed that the winter who didn’t want to leave. It was back all the time after having already gone. Despite that, little by little, the spring showed up, birds were back and sang, rivers started flowing again, the snow was melting, leaves grew, the peaceful winter quietness made way for the nature songs of Koli.

Eventually the spring was quickly overtaken by summer, “kesä” Finnish, and its “friendly” mosquitoes. However, the summer was still lovely, many new people arrived in Koli to work during the high season, a chance for me to finally make friends. A good memory was “juhannus”, the mid-summer celebration, when parties are organized.

After May, I started to be used to the place and I felt independent, happy and strong. At this time of the year, I was mostly working outside, carrying firewood into some woodsheds in the national park. Afterwards, the high season began and I had to take care of the cafeteria in the nature center, it was very hectic.

In June, I did a hiking over the national park by my own. 3 days, 35 km, 15 kg on the back. It doesn’t look that hard when you are used to hike but honestly it is the preparation, you have to anticipate, pack the stuff you may need. It was the first time alone for me, which meant I had to think about everything.

This hike was for me another proof that I am able to manage many things alone. It was long, hard but worth it. The trail Herajärven kierros goes along many places passing by old growth forest, young pine and birch forest, swamps, hills that offer gorgeous sceneries. On 13 June, it was my 24th anniversary and I was sleeping in a hammock on the beach nearby. I woke up at 3 a.m. to enjoy this nature beauty – the colors of the sunrise were fabulous and the scenery fantastic!

Ruska, Friends and Sauna – Always!

Summer ended quickly as well, the temperature dropped fast. Then the autumn came slowly, the ground was muddy, the weather rainy. However, it was probably the most enjoyable season for me concerning the colors. It was magnificent, full of in bright colors. Even though the nature was partly dying, it felt like it was more alive than ever. This period when the leaves colors change before they fall has a beautiful name in Finnish, ‘ruska’.

Those colorful days went so fast, I had many things to do and think and I wanted to enjoy my time fully before leaving. A few friends came to visit me, I was happy to be a guide and tell stories about Koli. Koli is a special place where some people have believed powerful spirits to exist in the past.

During my last months in Koli, I had a lot of friends and good people around me. I got along so well with my flatmate, which I had got in June, and my neighbor. We were a unique trio from France, Finland and Turkey. Three different universes, ways of living, thinking and doing. Yet our friendship was very powerful and rewarding. What is better than talking about your cultures, food etc. I have learned so much thanks to them. To go beyond cultural clichés, you have to get to know the person and let this person tell you what they think about how they live.

My last week in Koli taught me that Koli’s people are precious. I finally realized that I was appreciated and that the community thanks me for my work and my involvement. I feel I lived the Finnish culture deeply as a local, this experience gave me force and determination, and amazing friends that I’ll never forget.

I want to add a last sentence. The sauna is the best thing if you want to enjoy your solitude but it’s also the best thing if you want to make friends – never say no to a sauna!

Simon participated in the Eramus+ Volunteering – which has changed into European Solidarity Corps (ESC) Volunteering. Maailmanvaihto receives ESC volunteers for periods of 6–12 months. Would you be interested in participating? Read more and apply!