Hi, and gree­tings from the mid­d­le of the sor­row ac­com­pa­nying the en­ding of the world's gre­a­test fa­bu­lous­ly! A lit­t­le over two weeks ago, I, along with Kii­sa Ke­mi­lä, Mil­ja­bel­la Sauk­ko­nen, An­ni Tör­mä, Min­na Kor­pierk­ki and Eve­lii­na Par­ta­nen, on our way to the Uni­ted Sta­tes of Ame­ri­ca. The trip was part of an exc­han­ge pro­ject, Tran­sat­lan­tic Clas­s­room, fun­ded by the Fin­nish Na­ti­o­nal Agen­cy for Edu­ca­ti­on and part­ly by the U.S. Em­bas­sy in Fin­land. The pro­ject aims to en­han­ce in­ter­na­ti­o­na­li­ty and com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on bet­ween yo­ung pe­op­le in Fin­land and the Uni­ted Sta­tes.

Our jour­ney be­gan at the break of dawn from our lo­cal air­port. Surp­ri­sing­ly, eve­ry­o­ne made it there wit­hout any sig­ni­fi­cant comp­li­ca­ti­ons. The trip was al­re­a­dy off to a bril­li­ant start. The flight to Hel­sin­ki felt like a fe­ver dream: were we le­a­ving to­day? It felt as if the past four months would have been con­den­sed in­to just a few short mi­nu­tes, right there and then. We first he­ard of this whole ex­pe­rien­ce on­ly a few days ago, right? Well, any­how, we were on our way to the Uni­ted Sta­tes of Ame­ri­ca, and that's what mat­te­red the most. Af­ter ar­ri­ving in a good old rai­ny Hel­sin­ki, we were off to Lon­don, where we con­nec­ted. Fin­nair had awar­ded or ran­dom­ly put a few of our group mem­bers in­to their new Pre­mium Eco­no­my- class. The se­ats were ado­rab­le, alt­hough they don't of­fer full ame­ni­ties on short-haul flights. We were spe­a­king from ex­pe­rien­ce here.

He­ath­row Air­port saw us run­ning to catch our flight to New York, as our bo­ar­ding pas­ses were a cau­se of a slight prob­lem. The airc­raft was comp­le­te­ly jam-pac­ked. There was no wa­ter in sight, and the pil­lows pro­vi­ded felt like a text­book. Eve­ryt­hing cal­med down on­ce the plane took off, and pret­zels were ser­ved. I must say, Bri­tish Air­wa­ys be­ats Fin­nair and Ame­ri­can Air­li­nes with their in-flight ser­vi­ce. Yo­urs ho­nest­ly had plan­ned to watch mo­vies and work on school du­ring the 8 hours of flight time. It quick­ly be­ca­me im­pos­sib­le, pos­sib­ly due to being too ex­ci­ted and hap­py that we were clo­ser to our fi­nal des­ti­na­ti­on. Let's just say mu­sic was con­su­med, and views abo­ve the clouds were ad­mi­red. None of us pro­bab­ly slept all that well. Soo­ner or la­ter, we were he­a­ding clo­ser to the Big Ap­p­le. Clou­dy New York wel­co­med us af­ter a brief circ­le in the air. Oh, if we had known what awai­ted us on the ground.

We were rus­hing to catch our fi­nal flight to Cle­ve­land when an air­port wor­ker told us that our flight had been can­cel­led. Al­most eve­ry ot­her flight had been as well. There was a he­a­vy storm, and the we­at­her con­di­ti­ons were un­sui­tab­le for avi­a­ti­on. On top of that, New York had seen the worst floo­ding in 80 ye­ars. Se­ri­ous­ly? This seems like just our luck. Af­ter a brief re­col­lec­ti­on, we ar­ri­ved at the bor­der cont­rol check­point. Eve­ryt­hing went re­la­ti­ve­ly smooth­ly, and our bags ar­ri­ved af­ter a short wait. It was then time to fi­gu­re out what we would do next. All kinds of op­ti­ons were pon­de­red. Long story short, af­ter ca­re­ful thought and con­si­de­ra­ti­on, the de­ci­si­on to rent a car was made. It was a stres­s­ful time for Min­na and Eve, who were res­pon­sib­le for dri­ving and kee­ping eve­ry­o­ne safe and sound. The four of us were laug­hing in the back­se­ats and ha­ving the time of our li­ves. Not on­ce did any of us have a clue of doubt or frust­ra­ti­on. So­me­how, we all knew that it would be okay.

I don't think we would've da­red to ex­pect a road trip on top of eve­ryt­hing el­se. But there we were, dri­ving from New York to Pen­n­syl­va­nia, where we would spend our first night in the U.S. Af­ter a much-nee­ded night's sleep, we quick­ly stop­ped in the ne­a­rest Star­bucks avai­lab­le. Ma­y­be Pre­si­dent Joe Bi­den al­so went there in his ear­lier ye­ars? This was his ho­me­town, you see. Af­ter in­dul­ging in our cof­fee and ot­her be­ve­ra­ges, we were on the road again. This time, we were on a mis­si­on to re­ach Ca­na­da. The views were mes­me­ri­sing, ran­ging from fo­rests to ri­vers and hil­ls al­most touc­hing the clouds. So­mew­he­re in bet­ween, we left our be­lo­ved ren­tal car that had ta­ken us so far. Be­fo­re we knew it, we loo­ked at Ni­ag­ra Fal­ls on the Ca­na­di­an side.

It was just like in the post­cards and na­tu­re do­cu­men­ta­ries. Well, un­til Ap­p­le­bee's char­ged us an ad­ded amount of 27 dol­lars on our fi­nal bill. We al­so sur­vi­ved pou­ti­ne and Sprite, which tas­ted so­met­hing close to chlo­ri­ne and were re­a­dy to go and see the fal­ls. One can­not desc­ri­be them; it's a na­tu­ral phe­no­me­non. Even just see­ing them, you feel tiny and po­wer­less com­pa­red to na­tu­re. What's al­so com­pel­ling is to see how well the fal­ls have been mo­ne­ti­sed. Right next to the wa­ter stood a city fil­led with co­lour­ful lights built so­le­ly for tou­rists. In Fin­land, these fal­ls would be sub­ject to ex­ces­si­ve acts of na­tu­re con­ser­va­ti­on, but eve­ryt­hing's dif­fe­rent ac­ross the pond.

Folks say that the fal­ls are bet­ter on the Ca­na­di­an side. We ought to see it our­sel­ves, of cour­se. I have to ag­ree – the Ca­na­di­ans had it bet­ter. But that said, our ex­pe­rien­ce on the U.S. side wasn't anyt­hing short of the day's prior. We took the Maid of the Mist - the clo­sest a per­son can phy­si­cal­ly get to the fal­ls. Sa­fe­ly, that is. The fer­ry ride is a core me­mo­ry we'll all re­mem­ber for the rest of our li­ves. See­ing the sun ref­lect through the wa­ter made one feel ali­ve.

Af­ter the fal­ls, it was time to head to Me­di­na. We were all inc­re­dib­ly thank­ful that we got to ex­pe­rien­ce yet anot­her count­ry and the fal­ls – wit­hout our road trip, it would've been much more un­li­ke­ly. As we drove along Lake Erie, our four stu­dents, An­ni, Kii­sa, Mil­ja­bel­la and me, ref­lec­ted on the past, pre­sent and fo­re­see­ab­le fu­tu­re. We sin­ce­re­ly apo­lo­gi­se to our dri­ver, who had to lis­ten to us gig­g­ling in Fin­nish for a good four hours. Each was pro­bab­ly ner­vous but most­ly ex­ci­ted about at­ten­ding an Ame­ri­can high school for a week. What would it be like? We re­ac­hed the par­king lot of Me­di­na High School at the peak of a be­au­ti­ful sun­set, and off we went with our host fa­mi­lies.

Wri­ting about our host fa­mi­lies or life in Me­di­na would take up about two no­vels worth of text, so to put it brief­ly, it was the most ama­zing week of my life – and I know the ot­hers would ag­ree as well. Right from the jump, eve­ry­o­ne was so lo­ve­ly, wel­co­ming and kind. You were the epi­to­me of ex­cel­lent hosts. A week isn't a long time, but we all got deep­ly im­mer­sed in the Ame­ri­can cul­tu­re. I can still hear count­ry mu­sic in my head when I lie down to sleep. You int­ro­du­ced us to yo­ur life so won­der­ful­ly and uni­qu­e­ly, and that's worth its weight in gold.

Af­ter an inc­re­dib­le week of school, mee­ting new pe­op­le and see­ing new pla­ces, it too quick­ly be­ca­me the time to say good­bye to Me­di­na, our lo­ve­ly hosts, and ot­her pe­op­le who made our vi­sit un­for­get­tab­le. It's not a fa­re­well, though. I'd love to vi­sit again – and so would the ot­hers. With a yel­low mi­ni­a­tu­re ver­si­on of an ico­nic school bus, we were drop­ped off at the lo­cal air­port in Cle­ve­land. It was time to head to New York City, with hope and a dream that the stor­my we­at­her wouldn't make a ca­meo. Af­ter de­li­ci­ous ba­gels and cake pops from Star­bucks, we sat in the smal­lest plane ever. It didn't mat­ter be­cau­se we were off to the most fan­tas­tic city in the world. I wasn't sure whet­her it should play Frank Si­nat­ra, Pa­lo­ma Faith or El­la Fitz­ge­rald when we lan­ded – there's just so much to NYC!

Af­ter a rat­her dis­com­bo­bu­la­ting in­ci­dent with our re­ser­ved car that would've left two from our group in the mid­d­le of Qu­eens, the de­ci­si­on was made to re­ach our ho­tel by the fa­mous NYC met­ro. Eve­ryt­hing went smooth­ly, and not even a sing­le rat was spot­ted near our pre­sen­ce! Clim­bing the stairs with he­a­vy suit­ca­ses in a rai­ny New York City wasn't all that ple­a­sant. Per­haps be­cau­se of the city, eve­ryt­hing still felt like a mo­vie. Our ho­tel stood in the he­art of the Fla­ti­ron Dist­rict, near the Chel­sea neigh­bour­hood. The Em­pi­re State Buil­ding could be seen from our ho­tel room – which we didn't even re­a­li­se at first. Min­na poin­ted out one of the world's most well-known land­marks from our win­dow. I didn't think it'd be that close! The Fla­ti­ron Buil­ding was al­so ne­ar­by; too bad it was un­der some he­a­vy const­ruc­ti­on. It's still fas­ci­na­ting, though! It's in­te­res­ting wal­king through ci­ties eve­ry­o­ne le­arns about from a text­book. Be­fo­re you even know it, Brook­lyn Brid­ge opens right un­der yo­ur ey­es. It's a sur­re­al fee­ling.

New York was a bit col­der than Me­di­na had been, but for us Fin­ns, the tem­pe­ra­tu­re was per­fect for us to stroll around and ex­pe­rien­ce cul­tu­re. We vi­si­ted Hall des Lu­miè­res, an im­mer­si­ve light and art ex­hi­bi­ti­on in the his­to­ric Emig­rant In­dust­ri­al Ser­vings Bank Buil­ding. It was be­au­ti­ful, fe­a­tu­ring the art of Marc Cha­gall and Va­si­lij Kan­dins­ky. Af­ter a touc­hing blend of mu­sic and co­lours, we he­a­ded to Bro­ad­way and saw Ha­mil­ton. What can I even say – it is the most fan­tas­tic of my life. There I sat, qui­et­ly sin­ging out Schu­y­ler Sis­ters to not dis­turb the ot­hers. Even on the first day, New York City sho­wed us so much of its be­au­ty.

On the se­cond day, we got to vi­sit Co­lum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty and at­tend a Swe­dish les­son held by Heli Sir­viö, a te­ac­her of Fin­nish and Swe­dish in one of the city's two Ivy Le­a­gue schools. It was com­pel­ling to see and hear how lan­gu­a­ges fa­mi­li­ar to us are being taught in one of the most well-re­cog­ni­sed uni­ver­si­ties in the world. The uni­ver­si­ty int­ro­du­ced us to some fan­tas­tic stu­dents who kind­ly sha­red per­so­nal sto­ries about their lan­gu­a­ge stu­dies. So many pe­op­le with dif­fe­rent backg­rounds gat­he­red to­get­her for small and comp­lex lan­gu­a­ges from the North. Sir­viö al­so told us a bit about the com­mu­ni­ty of Fin­ns li­ving ab­ro­ad in New York City. Ma­y­be one of us will be a part of that bunch so­me­day. The pos­si­bi­li­ties our school can give a stu­dent ho­ping to ex­pe­rien­ce the world are end­less.

Our last day in the city was exp­lo­ring the New York City Pub­lic Lib­ra­ry. A few te­ars were shed when vie­wing the ori­gi­nal ins­pi­ra­ti­ons for Win­nie the Pooh and all ot­her ani­mals from the sto­ries. It felt like a full-circ­le mo­ment. A nar­ra­tor read a chap­ter of the book, and it re­min­ded me of a quo­te from it: "How luc­ky I am to have so­met­hing that ma­kes sa­ying good­bye so hard."

I gu­ess I was al­re­a­dy fee­ling a bit blue about the trip en­ding, but at the same time, I was so for­tu­na­te and hap­py about all the me­mo­ries we had made that I strug­g­led to keep it all to­get­her at that very mo­ment. So­me­ti­mes, an aut­hor has a bet­ter way with words than one could think. Af­ter the lib­ra­ry, we he­a­ded to the Mu­seum of Mo­dern Art, which was al­so a fan­tas­tic ex­pe­rien­ce. It was much lar­ger than I had an­ti­ci­pa­ted, and dif­fe­rent art sty­les kept ap­pe­a­ring af­ter eve­ry cor­ner. You'd need ap­p­ro­xi­ma­te­ly four­teen weeks to exp­lo­re the en­ti­re mu­seum tho­rough­ly.

Soo­ner or la­ter, it was time to drive to the air­port. We got to see even more of New York from the com­fort of a car. Going and see­ing the sky­li­ne be­hind us touc­hed me in many ways. How luc­ky I had got­ten to be a part of this ex­pe­rien­ce. How luc­ky we all are that we go to the same school and can still share the me­mo­ries from this trip. It was al­re­a­dy dif­fi­cult enough to le­a­ve the pe­op­le of Me­di­na, so how would I sur­vi­ve wit­hout those who've sha­red this all with me?

I was quick­ly brought down to earth from my bit­ters­weet, ref­lec­ti­ve mo­ment at the air­port, pa­ying 17 dol­lars for snacks. And anot­her 10 dol­lars for Star­bucks. It was all worth it if you'd ask me. The plane qui­et­ly took off, and so had we left New York. Af­ter a de­cent night, we were in Hel­sin­ki on­ce again. One flight more, and we had ar­ri­ved back home. Bags, fi­nal hugs, and home we went.

This was our jour­ney, told as short­ly as pos­sib­le. There are so many pe­op­le to thank, so I'll try to keep it short: Thank you to those fun­ding the pro­ject: Fin­nish Na­ti­o­nal Agen­cy for Edu­ca­ti­on & the U.S. Em­bas­sy in Fin­land. Thank you to our hosts, te­ac­hers, new friends and eve­ry­o­ne in Me­di­na: you made our vi­sit ma­gi­cal. Thank you to Heli Sir­viö and eve­ry­o­ne el­se we met at Co­lum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty. And fi­nal­ly, I'd like to thank the pe­op­le I tra­vel­led with: thank you for being a part of these me­mo­ries that will last a li­fe­ti­me. I ado­red eve­ry sing­le se­cond of eve­ry sing­le day be­cau­se of you all.