19 Sep

Camping, ceremonies and cultural collisions


International Study and Friendship Camp was arranged in Austria. Participants spoke 20 different languages. Photo: Yannika Rönnqvist and Sofia Sarkava


Annually for two weeks in mid-July, the Austrian Red Cross arranges an International Study and Friendship Camp in a small city of Langenlois in lower Austria. Around 50 young people from all over the world gather for the camp’s workshops and programs every year. Every participating country usually sends two delegates, aged between 16 and 23.


THIS YEAR Finland’s delegates were Yannika Rönnqvist, 16, from Vaasa and Sofia Sarkava, 21, currently studying in Kuopio. The camp was held in a boarding school owned by a local gardening school, with vast views of the surrounding town and fields of sunflowers and grapes. The lush vegetation was a testament to Austrian summer’s Finn-searing 30°C temperatures.

– I wanted to come to this camp because I wanted to meet new people and learn more about the International Red Cross. Because of my panic-disorder, it’s really hard for me sometimes to get out of the house, so these kinds of experiences help me to heal, Sarkava says.

– I have always been a person that likes to challenge myself and experience new things. So I saw this as a great opportunity to get to travel and meet new people from all around the world, Rönnqvist adds.

Even with 20 different languages spoken, cultural differences were surprisingly low-key. They were most evident when cooking: most participants were quite happy to taste their dishes with the same spoon they then used for stirring, that being something unthinkable for hygiene-conscious Finns.

There were also more somber moments.

– At the end of the first week, me and my Ukrainian roommate were chatting on her bed. We started to talk about salaries and price differences in different countries, and I asked her what the average monthly salary was in Ukraine. I would never have thought that it was so little. In that moment I think I realised how unfair our world is, Rönnqvist says.

Both Rönnqvist and Sarkava agree that one of the the climactic points of the camp was the Festival of the Nations, a closing ceremony of the camp where people from different countries showcase their nationalities.

– Performing is something I love, so this was perfect for me! I got a chance to dance and sing, and to meet even more awesome people! Sarkava tells.


Video credits: Yannika Rönnqvist and Sofia Sarkava, Music: We Are One by Vexento


What tips would you give for traveling?

Sarkava has an immediate answer.

– If you go to this camp, be open-minded. Remember to smile and enjoy. Live in the moment!

– Looking back, I realised that there was a lot of people that I didn’t really talk to that much. I regret that, although two weeks is too little time to get to know about 50 people. Don’t hesitate talking with everyone. You are only going to experience this once in a lifetime, Rönnqvist concludes.


Text: Tapio Pellinen

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