Exploring Finland through a South student’s eyes

While most teenagers look forward to their senior year of making memories with friends, getting accepted to colleges and attending prom, Anna Gleason ’19 is ditching that ideal to spend 11 months immersing herself in the Finnish culture.

Through a program called Rotary Youth Exchange, she will graduate a year early to live abroad in Finland with three host families over the course of almost a full year. During that time, she will be able to learn a new language and culture. According to rotary.org, the youth exchange program allows students between the ages of 15 and 19 to experience what it is like to be a global citizen while living cost-free with host families.  

      “My brother called me one day… he was living in Thailand for a little while and he asked me if I ever thought about doing this (living abroad), and I did not stop thinking about it,” Gleason said. “It was always on my mind so I started looking into it.”

      Despite taking a different approach to living abroad, Gleason’s interest was piqued when her brother took a gap year after graduating to do humanitarian work in Thailand, Nepal and Argentina. Her newfound interest was also supported by her friends and family, such as her cousin Natalie Liening ’19.

“It’s going to be super cool, she gets to live with three different host families so it will be really cool to get to learn about the Finnish culture and the style of life over there,” Liening said.

According to the Health teacher, Nicole Westfall, Gleason is hardworking and mature, and a type of student who would flourish in a foreign country, such as Finland.

“She is mature, (and) responsible young girl, I think she will do great (in Finland),” Westfall said.

Gleason has always wanted to learn more about the world and its people and cultures, so missing her senior year at South going to help her do exactly that, according to Liening.

“I feel like whatever she does in Finland, all the experiences she has there will make up for whatever she misses here,” Liening said.