I arrived in Finland, in a village called Kärsämäki, in July of 2017. The second I got off the bus, after about 7 hours of travel from the capital Helsinki, I saw that it had nothing to do with a city. On the contrary, there were more trees than buildings. Good for me, I like nature, quiet villages, so I did not dislike it at all. It was summer, and it was sunny. It was 7 o’clock in the morning and it was already freezing. Had it been winter, I think I would not have survived.

Our coordinator came to pick us up and took us to the house that  would be our home during our stay in Finland. The truth is that the house was one of the best things of the village (huge building, without neighbours). The only bad thing is that it was about 20 minutes walking from the town, but it was perfect for exercising.

The first 3 months were pretty quick. As it was summer, they organized a lot of events in the town: there was an open art gallery, we helped in everything that was happening related to events and things like that, we also took care of the social networks of the cooperative, specifically Instagram and Facebook. We started classes of Finnish, and, although it is a very complicated language, they have words that look like ours in Catalan, thing that surprised me.

I was travelling whenever I could, because leaving aside the fact that I love to travel, to discover new places and new people, I felt that I needed to leave the town to get the energy to continue.

In September we started working in a centre for disabled  people in the town, where my partner Alberto made a mural on the wall with the silhouettes of all the users in the centre.

I made them a video to promote themselves on Youtube and get sponsors and more support for the centre. I was very satisfied when, despite not charging anything for making the video and the hours invested, the heads liked the video a lot and were very grateful to me. It’s always nice when somebody appreciates your effort.

In October I had, I would not say a little depression, but a very strong down moment. I did not feel like doing anything and I noticed that this town was suffocating me, but there were two things that kept me “afloat” as we say.

  1. My sister’s visit at the end of October. With my sister I had never had the kind of relationship where we explain everything to each other, but the week she was here she gave me a lot of energy. Family is family, after all.
  2. The other reason was visiting home in November, seeing the family, my friends, and noticing the warmth of your city. I think it is very important, if you are a volunteer for the first time, to make a trip to your home town to get strength from family and friends. But it is good to do it after 4-5 months of volunteering, because this is the moment when you really start to value the family, the things that you used to have in your city and that you don’t have anymore, the small details like going for a beer with friends on a terrace, etc.

December arrived, with snow, although it was not very cold yet, probably because of climate change. Artists began to arrive, after 6 months being home alone Alberto and me. Well, alone! A Spanish artist came for a month, and there was a Finnish professor who lived on the top floor, but we hardly saw him.

December could be summarized as the trip to Lapland, an impressive place, with very wild landscapes, where I could see wild deer in the forest and, although I was alone on my birthday, I spent it in Santa Claus village, and I was happy. It is a place that in Christmas times, is like magic.

Christmas dinner we had at home with the 2 artists that were here at that moment, Denise, a German girl and Sari, a Finnish woman, and with the husband of Sari and with 4 friends who came to visit Denise. So despite being far from home, I celebrated Christmas with good people and food, like at home!

By the end of the year, I went to a southern city, the largest in Finland, where there were other artists from different countries in Europe and where I enjoyed the end of the year with good company and a big party.

In January, the real cold arrived, about -10 was the daily norm. I made my last trip to Stockholm and I said goodbye to the people who helped me during my stay here in Finland and ended this stage of my life that I will never forget.

As for anecdotes, surely what struck me most was the weather. During the summer, I remember that one day we left the only bar in the town about 2-3 o’clock at night. It was sunny as if it was 10 o’clock in the morning!!

And in winter, I remember that one day I went to take a nap. I woke up at 3-4 and it was already dark, dark, and I looked at the clock, thinking… did I sleep until 8?

The truth is that the weather here is what struck me the most. In summer there are almost 3 hours of darkness, and in winter you almost do not see the sun because almost every day is cloudy and at 3 it is dark. In addition, the snow arrives around November and stays until April or so. They almost do not have summer, spring or autumn, the great majority of the year is winter.

I was also struck by the sky. There the sky is spectacular, it seems that you can touch it and you see very beautiful colors. And when there is snow the lights of the city are reflected in the snow and the sky becomes colourful..

And also, it struck me a lot that when I was traveling in the south of the country, (my town was in the middle of the country more or less), it seemed a totally different country. For example, in the south the sky was lighter, it got dark later, it was not so cold, there was almost no snow. The south is where all the larger cities are, and on the other hand the north, there is almost no population. Rovaniemi, which is the capital of Lapland, is a very small city, the amount of snow there is considerable, the air is much chillier, it becomes night earlier.

Finland is a country that is very large but has almost no population, as it has harsh climatic conditions, from half of the country to the north almost everything is forest and lakes, and to the south, it is where the largest cities of the country are concentrated. (Helsinki, Turku, Tampere…)

To conclude, it has been a very good experience on a personal level: I have lived many new experiences, I have left the comfort zone and lived in another country alone, traveling alone and meeting many different people along the way. Things that always make you grow as a person.

I am also very grateful to the people who have helped me during my stay here and whom I  have always had support from, above all I want to thank Ira, Riikka, Ithasia and Denise.

And in general, I recommend at 100% an experience like this. Maybe not in a town like this, so small, but to go to live abroad and spend very good times (and other not so good), to have to be alone, to realize that although you are far from home you will always have the support of your family (thanks to technology), to have the support of some local people, even if they don’t know you, and to live unique experiences you will always remember.

This is my Instagram where you can see some pictures of my experience in Finland: @Onelife_tato

Toni Duran