Finland is alive with a vibrant culture, outdoor activities, and lush landscapes. The country boasts an incredible unspoiled natural environment of immense forests, glacial lakes, and lush green meadows. More than 187,800 lakes and other bodies of water dominate Finland’s landscape, so it is often called the country of a thousand lakes. Spending time in the sauna is a national pastime. Finns love the outdoors and spend much of their time skiing, hiking, and even sailing.
Finns also have a brimming social life with hundreds of art festivals and a balanced mix of small-town life with modern cities. The nation’s capital, Helsinki, has no high-rise buildings, so it retains its 19th century small-town charm while being a fully modern city.
As an AFSer in Finland, you’ll live with a host family while speaking Finnish and attending a local high school.
Ninety-three percent of the population speaks Finnish, a language that has common roots with Estonian and Hungarian. Swedish is also an official language, and both are spoken in bilingual areas.
Although there is no language requirement for this program, AFS encourages you to learn as much Finnish and/or Swedish as possible before your departure.
Host Family & Community
Students are placed throughout Finland, though most AFSers will live with host families in small towns and rural areas. Be ready for anything: you could be placed anywhere between the northernmost village Utsjoki and southernmost town of Hanko.
Host families in Finland, like all AFS host families worldwide, are not paid. They open their homes to students in order to share their community and culture as well as to enrich their own family lives.
Finns tend to be shy and reserved at first and may even appear cold toward foreigners. As you get to know them, they show themselves to be warm, affectionate, gracious and open-minded. They maintain high ideals of loyalty and reliability, and they appreciate good manners, respect for others and punctuality. Common sense, no fuss, and making things work sums up how the Finns operate.
Family life is important to Finns. Though structures are diverse, many families are centred on the nuclear family. It is normal for both parents to work, and it is common for everybody to share the daily chores. You should plan on making your bed daily and keeping your room in order.
Many Finnish teenagers are brought up to be independent—they make decisions for themselves and are held accountable for their actions.
Most free time during the week is devoted to school work. On weekends, teenagers like to go to movies, discos and parties, and those with driver’s licenses like to go driving. Much of the time, young people go around in groups of girls and boys, meeting at popular places for socialising.
Most teens have a weekday curfew and a later one on weekends, and families expect to be informed of their children’s’ whereabouts and activities.
Meal times in Finland are less formal than in some other countries. At dinner time, if family members are on conflicting schedules, each person warms up his or her own food, perhaps in the microwave. On weekends, many families live a more communal life and often dine together.
Everyday food tends to be simple but nutritious. The Finnish diet is based on meat, fish, potatoes, pasta, bread and dairy products. Vegetables in the northern climate tend to be seasonal. Coffee is a favourite beverage, even among teenagers. Salads and smorgasbord are popular.
Vegetarians can be difficult to place and most families prefer to host a student with no dietary restrictions.
Most AFSers in Finland are placed in the first or second year of a public upper secondary school. Your classmates will be between 16 and 18 years old.
The school year is divided into five (sometimes six) terms from August to June, with breaks at Christmas and Easter, a one week sports vacation mid-winter, and the First of May celebration. You will study a few courses intensively each term, including Finnish and/or Swedish, math, science, psychology, art, music, history, and geography.
Orientations & Activities
In addition to the orientations that you will participate in domestically, you and your fellow AFSers will have several orientations while abroad.
These required orientations are intended to help you maximise your AFS experience, prevent culture shock and to gain knowledge, skills and a global understanding.
In addition to the orientations, many local chapters organise activities for students and host families throughout the year. These will vary from chapter to chapter but may include get-togethers or excursions to other cities or regions in Finland. Unlike the orientations, these activities are optional and are not included in tuition.