My Oulu: From the tropical, volcanic heat to the face-freezing degrees of Oulu – Erasmus+ exchange students point out an abundance of cultural differences

“From the Tropics to the Arctic: Building Bridges with Erasmus+” exchange students Assya Cheong Yuen Zing, Méline Pecourt, Joakim Turpeinen, Noora Sarenius, Caroline Maraschin, Marius Fayolle and Cyril Françoise learning Finnish with their teacher Maria Beslic at Laanila High School in October 2022. Photo: Tiina Fredriksson


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The “fifty-degree more extreme” exchange experience got its nickname one year ago when the program’s fourth batch of high school students took off from Roland Garros Airport in St Denis, Reunion Island in +30C degrees and landed, in a kind of a shock, in Oulu Airport in the freezing cold of -25C degrees.

This fall’s Reunionese exchange students Assya, Caroline, Cyril, Marius and Méline, who studied at Laanila High School and Svenska Privatskolan i Uleåborg, had it easier; the coldest it got in Oulu during their stay was only -5C degrees. Still, having an eternal summer at home, not all of them had the right kind of clothing packed in their suitcases for Oulu.

Luckily, their Finnish host families, together with their friendly neighbors in Kempele, Oulu and Ylikiiminki, came to rescue and provided them with thick and warm coats for their one-month visit.

”I have worn the coat ever since, it feels so nice and keeps me so warm”, says Assya, who has also learned to train for her long distance running together with Oulun Pyrintö in the cool air outside Ouluhalli.

Joakim Turpeinen and Henrik Ollila together with their Reunionese brothers Marius Fayolle and Cyril Françoise meeting Santa Claus in Rovaniemi on 5th November 2022. Photo: Joulupukin Pajakylä

The students have immersed into the Finnish culture surprisingly well. They have been taking Finnish lessons twice a week, using the local buses, hiking in the wintery wilderness, going skating, sweating in sauna, going ice swimming, admiring the northern lights, cheering for Oulun Kärpät, building snowmen, meeting Santa, baking x-mas pastries, setting up costume parties, as well as enjoying cottage life and family time in quiet surroundings.

“It’s not rare that my host family asks me whether I am hungry even if we just ate something only one hour earlier.”

“The Finnish people seem to eat 24/7”, says Méline laughing out loud. “It’s not rare that my host family asks me whether I am hungry even if we just ate something only one hour earlier.”

Contrary to this, the host families comment on the amount of water their exchange students are drinking. “At first they carried their water bottles with them, now they drink close to one liter of water with their meals.”

The snowlady Fatima and Fanni Kokko together with her Reunionese sisters Caroline Maraschin and Méline Pecourt enjoying the first snow in Ylikiiminki on 6th November 2022. Photo: Méline Pecourt

The Reunionese students have learnt to appreciate many traditional Finnish flavors such as salmon, reindeer, grilled sausages, and hot dog soup among others, but some flavors have not been as successful.

“Why do Finns eat salmiakki and black liquorice ice cream in the first place?” asks Marius and can’t hide his astonishment. Cyril finds morning porridges and a glass of milk with every meal a very Finnish custom, too.

“It would take a longer time for me to get used to them”, he admits.

Noora Sarenius taking a selfie and teaching the Reunionese gang to skate the very first time in their lives.

“This experience was not only perfect, but it was quite incredible, too. We are all so very grateful to our wonderful host families for all their care and support. Good memories will remain engraved in our hearts”, says Cyril and wraps up the entire gang’s thoughts. “Kiitos!”

The students returned home on 16th November together with their Finnish host siblings Fanni Kokko, Henrik Ollila, Noora Sarenius and Joakim Turpeinen who, in their turn, will spend one month living in the French host families and studying in the French high school, Lycée Antoine St-Exupéry, Les Avirons, Reunion.

“The French school system is really strict, our Finnish sisters and brothers may find it difficult not to be able to talk, use phones, eat snacks, have longer breaks or even to go to a bathroom during the lessons which start as early as at 7:30 and end as late as at 16:30”, explains Caroline and looks at their Finnish siblings apologetically.

“I have learned to like the Finnish school system which is so much more permissive and technologically advanced. I think we will all miss the digital books we got to use in our English lessons at Laanila High School”, says Caroline.

“I have learned to like the Finnish school system which is so much more permissive and technologically advanced.”

The Finnish students are looking forward to the extreme change of weather.

“Upon our arrival it will be close to +30C degrees. It will be hot, but it’s better to sweat than to freeze!”, said Noora before departure, with a big smile on her face.

Tiina Fredriksson teaches English and Swedish at Laanila High School.