The big­gest surpri­se is when you don’t know what to expect

“Now that some time has pas­sed since the trip, I unders­tand even bet­ter how great an expe­rience the month in Reu­nion was! It was such a unique expe­rience that you did not even unders­tand it the­re.”

For high school stu­dents in Oulu, the­re are nume­rous oppor­tu­ni­ties to go to Euro­pe safe­ly. Most of our high schools have been coo­pe­ra­ting with Eras­mus+ for years, and through this coo­pe­ra­tion a subs­tan­tial num­ber of high school stu­dents and their teac­hers have moved around the EU.

The Artic Tro­pic coo­pe­ra­tion school of Svens­ka Pri­vats­ko­lan i Uleå­borg and Laa­ni­la High School is in the fart­hest cor­ner of the Euro­pean Union, on a small island in the Indian Ocean, Reu­nion. From the­re, it is 10,000 kilo­me­ters or an 11-hour flight to the country’s capi­tal, Paris. The tar­get high school on the tiny island, Lycée Les Avi­rons, a high school of 1200 stu­dents, is whe­re Aino Määt­tä, Armi Kos­ke­la, and Jamie Här­kö­nen from Laa­ni­la High School, and Alvar San­dell and Saa­na Vähä­sar­ja from Svens­ka Pri­vats­ko­lan tra­ve­led in mid-Octo­ber for a month-long exc­han­ge period. On the island, they were awai­ted by a host fami­ly and an exc­han­ge sibling, who will come to Oulu for an exc­han­ge in Janua­ry.

The exc­han­ges take place during the school year, and the­re­fo­re the young people stu­dy the stu­dies of their home high school inde­pen­dent­ly during the exc­han­ge. At Les Avi­rons High School, they par­tici­pa­ted in phy­sical educa­tion, English and French les­sons, and time was set asi­de for inde­pen­dent stu­dy during the school day. In addi­tion, the exc­han­ge inclu­ded acti­vi­ties rela­ted to the envi­ron­ment and sus­tai­nable deve­lop­ment, such as tree plan­ting, gar­de­ning, and gar­ba­ge col­lec­tion. Going to school meant ear­ly mor­nings and late after­noons, as the French school day starts at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m.

Aino Määt­tä and Saa­na Vähä­sar­ja enjo­ying the won­der­ful +26C warmth of the turquoi­se indian Ocean. The­re are sharks in the sea, so you can only swim in limi­ted areas. Pho­to: Tii­na Fredriks­son

Mobi­li­ty wit­hin Euro­pe has a geo­grap­hical, cul­tu­ral and abo­ve all social dimen­sions. Our young people tal­ked about Oulu and Fin­land, and especial­ly in con­nec­tion with the the­me of the exc­han­ge pro­ject, about our eco­lo­gical prac­tices to seve­ral school clas­ses at their exc­han­ge school. The Reu­nio­ne­se stu­dents coming to Oulu in Janua­ry will also bring infor­ma­tion from their home island to Laa­ni­la and Svens­ka Pri­vats­ko­lan. Our young people were able to get to know the natu­re of the volca­nic island, hike volca­noes, snor­kel and enjoy the sea with their host fami­lies.

Reu­nion is the crad­le of amazing landsca­pes, ser­pen­ti­ne roads, beau­ti­ful sun­sets, love­ly beac­hes, delicious Creo­le food and cool Creo­le music. It is a tro­pical island, but still a part of France: euros are used, the lan­gua­ge is French, and people often go to Paris after high school to stu­dy.

Eras­mus+ Team Oulu; Armi Kos­ke­la, Saa­na Vähä­sar­ja, Eva Åström, Alvar San­dell, Jamie Här­kö­nen, Aino Määt­tä, Johan­na Pete­ri and Tan­ja Lapin­lam­pi on a day trip in Paris, France, befo­re boar­ding the pla­ne to Reu­nion Island. Pho­to: Tii­na Fredriks­son

During exc­han­ge periods, the most impor­tant thing is to meet people and make new friends. We, the par­tici­pa­ting teac­hers, met the teac­hers of Lycée Les Avi­rons as col­lea­gues, and thanks to the long-stan­ding coo­pe­ra­tion, the plans progres­sed smooth­ly. Trust and unders­tan­ding move things forward. In the same way, brid­ges are built for young people: through an exc­han­ge fami­ly, they get to see ordi­na­ry life and beco­me part of the com­mu­ni­ty. “We beca­me real clo­se friends,” said one of the young exc­han­ge siblings.

Reu­nio­ne­se Eras­mus+ teac­hers Pasca­le Payet-Jugand and Simon Jugand pre­sen­ting their Fin­nish guests the unique circus val­ley area of the volca­nic island in Cilaos, Reu­nion Island. Pho­to: Tii­na Fredriks­son

I think the essence of Euro­pean­ness is in our encoun­ters with each other, and it says somet­hing about the time when I ended up tal­king about peace and com­mu­ni­ty with adults. I also chat­ted with a Dutch­man on the pla­ne, and we agreed on how impor­tant it is that we know each other. The man told me he was from an industrial area near the Ger­man bor­der. “Oh, the Ruhr area,” I asked. “Exact­ly! How can you know?,” he won­de­red.

The Fin­nish school sys­tem teac­hes us a lot about Euro­pe. But only when we know each other, we also real­ly know our con­ti­nent and then we have a network: an exc­han­ge sibling may be wai­ting on the other side of the glo­be.

“I’ve alrea­dy star­ted thin­king about whet­her I could do an interns­hip the­re in the futu­re.”

The ita­licized texts are quo­ted from a mes­sa­ge from a Laa­ni­la stu­dent who spent a month in Reu­nion last year.

Ori­gi­nal Fin­nish text: Tan­ja Lapin­lam­pi
Trans­la­tion: Tii­na Fredriks­son

Main pho­to: Eras­mus+ French/Finnish exc­han­ge stu­dent siblings Gai­ta­ne Cor­re, Armi Kos­ke­la, Aino Määt­tä, Rose Sou­vig­net, Gae­tan Cas­tell, Jamie Här­kö­nen, Saa­na Vähä­sar­ja, Alvar San­dell and Sac­ha Dubois having a farewell par­ty on L’Hermitage beach, Reu­nion Island. Howe­ver, the­re was no final good­bye then, but see you in Oulu.
Pho­to: Simon Jugand