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Harmony Wayner — Hawaii, Finland

Harmony Wayner

From the Arctic to the Hawaii and Back Again

Location: Hawaii, Finland

Program: NSE, ISEP

On August 24th, 2017, I stepped onto land after 24 days aboard the R/V Ocean Starr conducting research in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. The next day I was off to Hilo, Hawaii to start a semester of National Student Exchange program. As I arrived in my new apartment I could barely wrap my head around the changes and experiences that I just had. I found Hawai’i to be very different from the tourist’s picture perfect version. Even though my skin was tan I was eating a ton of fruit, listening to live reggae bands and spending most of my free time by or in the water, it wasn’t all just sunshine, rainbows, and aloha. Whenever there was a low moment, I tried to find gratitude in the everyday, searching for beauty, watching the sunset or picking guavas or starfruit on campus. I spent most days in classes with amazing labs traveling to the lava fields, national parks, tropical rainforests, and reefs of the big island for ecology and forestry, where I memorized the native Hawaiian, common and scientific names of species. I spent my free time biking to the farmers market, filling my bike rack with the rainbow of tropical fruits and eating fresh Thai food sitting at the beach before outrigger canoeing with the school. I found a great running scene on the big island and got to do a half marathon in a coffee plantation, and an ultra-relay where my team ran from the Hilo to the Kona side of the island. I participated in hula classes and a cultural immersion program with the exchange program, where we went on service trips to the community. I learned to scuba dive and surf and enjoyed spending most hours of the day outside when I was off from classes. Then in early October I received my acceptance package from ISEP to University of Turku in Finland, which I had little idea or preconceived notions of so I went into the next experience with an open mind.

After only 10 days back home in Alaska, I flew to Finland and had a hard goodbye with fellow exchange student, Aspen Daigle in SEATAC . My one piece of luggage had gotten lost during the four different connections. My first vision of this exchange was crying at the airport in Turku to my exchange tutor, completely possessionless and running on only four hours of sleep in 48 hours. I gave myself a slight pep talk to get out of bed the next morning and I found my way to the common kitchen and met one of my flatmates, Sophia from Biedlefled, Germany, who gave me a cord for Internet, which I used to locate my luggage. We bonded immediately. She became my best friend while abroad and the next day we were navigating the city, finding amazing cafes and chatting like we had known each other for a long time.

In Turku, I had a more typical study abroad experience which started off with a euphoric state of excitement as I arrived, which lasted about a month, followed by a wave of culture shock. In the weeks following, I traveled nonstop each weekend, exploring other parts of Finland by traveling to nearby cities, or with large groups of international students to Lapland, Estonia, and a 10 day trip through Russia visiting St. Petersburg, Novgorod, and Moscow. I enjoyed the Finnish student work/life balance with emphasis on time spent together, giving me more free time than ever before in my whole life, which I soon grew accustomed to. It was a nice pick me up mid-semester as Abby Nathlich, a fellow UAS student who was studying in Sweden, came to visit and we went to Copenhagen together in April. After the Vappu student celebration, which consisted of partying all throughout the city in our student overalls, my friends Sophia, Héloïse, and I flew to Norway and explored the country for two weeks. We stopped in Oslo, Bergen, then up to Bodø, and taking a ferry to the Lofoten Islands, then Tromsø. The Lofoten islands were the most beautiful places I have ever seen. They were above the Arctic Circle, with craggy peaks, clear blue water, and white sandy beaches. By then I was very homesick but also sad my exchange year was ending. I had been to the Arctic and Hawaii and back again. I found myself capping off the year just as it had begun, on a boat in the Arctic, but this time I was bound for my homeport to start the next adventure.