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MCCC Study Abroad Student Melissa Neumeyer
Right at Home in Finland


West Windsor, N.J. - There is a phrase that Mercer County Community College Entertainment Technology student Melissa Neumeyer is unlikely to forget. In her three-week Study Abroad experience in Finland this summer, she found herself often repeating "Anteeksi," the Finnish word for "Pardon me?"

Navigating a new country and a strange language proved challenging at times, but Neumeyer says she rapidly developed great friendships that helped her get the most from her trip. Especially helpful was her home stay host, Helena. "All the stress of my 14-hour journey dissolved when I saw Helena at the airport," she recalls.

Neumeyer's host treated her like one of the family, helping her plan her itinerary and giving her tips on navigating the trains and metro system. "Helena really launched me. We went places together and she also let me go off on my own," she says.

Neumeyer's experience was one of total cultural immersion. While her initial motivation for traveling to Finland was its rock music, she notes that "the more I learned about the country, the more I fell in love." She toured numerous sights, including museums and historic squares and fortresses. In a country where children learn English almost as early as they learn Finnish, she was able to engage in discussions of music, politics, economics, and the government's generous approach to funding higher education. She enjoyed their delicioius food, and she gradually got used to sunset at midnight and sunrise at 3 a.m.

There was time for relaxation as well. "I used Helena's indoor 'sauna,' which is typical of Finnish households. Neumeyer also went to the summer cottage of new friends she met on the train, where she enjoyed an outdoor sauna set back in the woods. "Most people escape to their summer cabins and saunas on the lake for their 'holiday' -- what we call vacation. They celebrate the midsummer festival of 'Juhannus' to enjoy the short time they have in warm temperatures and sunlight."

Neumeyer says she felt very safe everywhere she went, as incidents of crime and homelessness are extremely rare.

Neumeyer notes proudly that her Finnish language skills improved dramatically, something she began preparing for well in advance of her trip by studying Finnish. As a parting gift, one of her new friends gave her some Finnish children's books to help her continue to study the language.

"This trip has given me more interest in learning the languages of the entire Scandinavian region, including Swedish, Norwegian and Russian. Perhaps this will benefit me in future job prospects," Neumeyer says. "My desire and ability to quickly pick up languages is great to have."

In conjunction with MCCC's Study Abroad Coordinator Andrea Lynch, Neumeyer organized her trip through the National Registration Center for Study Abroad. She earned college credit as part of Mercer's Independent Study Abroad course, which included a presentation upon her return.

Neumeyer poses in front of "Baltic Daughter," a sculpture located near the harbor in Helsinki.
Neumeyer got a glimpse of Sweden, the home of her ancestors, on a cruise to Stockholm.
Neumeyer points out highlights of her trip to Study Abroad Coordinator Andrea Lynch.

first venture beyond U.S. borders proved an eye-opening, life-changing experience for Neumeyer. "The trip taught me better people skills, the ability to adapt to new surroundings, and to accept and welcome differences in culture. I have learned to take initiative, to place myself in situations where I might not have been comfortable before, to learn things at a quicker pace and observe better.

"I think the hardest part of the trip was having to say goodbye," she continues. "I felt I left part of me behind. I must keep in touch as often as possible…These people took me in and showed me what it was like to be Finnish, but most of all they made me feel home."

Since her return, Neumeyer remarks that her world view is significantly broadened. "I have come back with the knowledge that there is so much more out there. A home is where you make it, and one place in the world I truly felt at home was in Finland." Neumeyer is hoping to return to the region next summer.

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