17-year-old Alexandra Gäddnäs (left), a volunteer from Åland’s district of the Finnish Red Cross travelled together with Sini Heinolainen (right), a volunteer from Uusimaa district, to Austria for the friendship camp for two weeks in July. Now Alexandra shares with us what they experienced and what she learned about different cultures.
Destination: Langenlois, Austria in July 2015.
Purpose of the trip: We participated in the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movements’ International Youth Camp with a special focus on friendship. It was the 60th anniversary friendship camp organized by the Austrian Red Cross. We were 60 young people from 22 different countries.
Languages used: English, Finnish and Swedish. The participants spoke over fifteen different languages.
Weather: +27 to +42 degrees.
Living arrangements: We lived on a campus. Girls and boys lived separately and every room had its own bathroom. Everyone got a bed, a chair and some drawers. We used the whole school as our camp site, as there we had also the most of the activities.
Why you chose to go to this trip?
I wanted to do something different in the summer. The camp seemed an awesome opportunity to get to know cultures from all over the world.
What surprised you the most about the culture and cultural differences?
It wasn’t the differences, but the other way around. We came from very different backgrounds but on the camp we were all so alike. Everybody took care of each other and tried their best to be friendly and share their life stories to others. I learned that nationalities do not matter, because we aren’t that different actually. It was very easy to get new friends, because we were all the time together. Now I have dozens of new and close Facebook friends from the camp.
The camp was all about the people and the little happy moments they gave me.
What were the highlights of your experience?
I remember one night very clear. It was the night of the peace walk and we laid down in the grass next to a big bonfire and people were playing guitar and singing. The stars shined so bright, and it was one of those moments that made my camp. The camp was all about the people and the little happy moments that they gave me.
One day we did a trip to the old concentration camp. It was a very touching experience in overall.
How has the trip expanded your worldview?
At the time the camp started it was the last days of Ramadan, Islamic Holy month, and one of my best friends at the camp was a Muslim. It was my first time experiencing another religion practices so close. It helped me to understand other religions and what religion can mean in the everyday live.
I also got new ideas and tools to use in my volunteer activities in Finland, for example how to create campaigns against bullying.
If you could change one thing about your experience, what would it be?
I would have been more outgoing in the beginning, even though it is normal to be a bit shy when you don´t know people. Also, I would have tried to come up with more questions when we had a holocaust survivor with us one night. He had so much to share.
Did you have any ”I want my mommy/wifi/bed moments”?
When the heat had burned my poor Finnish skin, I really missed home; my own bed and my mother that always knows the right medication. But I quickly realized that at least 30% of all people on camp were paramedics and 100% were great at hugging.
Alexandra’s best travel tips:
You can’t drink too much water when it is hot. Try local food, because if you don´t, you will miss the half of the point of traveling. Remember to enjoy, enjoy every little moment and keep a diary to collect the little moments and capture them forever.
You too want to travel with the Finnish Red Cross?
Keep your eyes open on the Finnish Red Cross website and social media channels, and ask your local Red Cross officers if they know any youth trips coming. Then just do the application, don’t overthink it and just be you!
Text: Alexandra Gäddnäs