Aino Somiska is a senior at Westwood High, and even though she is far from her home of Finland, she feels a sense of home in Westwood and at WHS.
Somiska described WHS as both what she expected and what she wanted out of her foreign exchange program when she signed up to attend school in America. While Aino did not get to choose where in the United States she would spend her year, she is happy in Westwood as she sits in the library, relaxing and doing homework with friends. She chose America out of other countries in Europe and the world because she wanted somewhere that spoke English. She candidly states that she was too afraid to go elsewhere where she did not know the language.
Somiska also described America and American high school as something that she has only seen in the movies since it is much different than high schools in Finland. She says her high school in Finland is much smaller with less of an influence on actually going to classes. She will have to repeat this year once she returns to Finland.
Somiska chose to participate in this exchange because it is something popular to do for people in Finland, similar to study abroad programs for college students in the US. She has friends staying in many different places across the country participating in similar programs.
Her host family, who has no other students attending WHS, lives in “The Maze,” the neighborhood across from WHS, and she says she feels like a basic American living in the suburbs.
Some of her favorite things about Westwood and WHS are the people. When she goes to take her host family’s dog for a walk, there is always someone outside, Somiska stated, and they wave at her and are friendly. At WHS, Somiska feels this same warmth, stating that no one has been rude to her or made her feel like an outsider. Despite her initial confusion finding her way around the building, she cited that students were willing to help and offer directions to her classes. Somiska was surprised by this fact. Senior Shannon Rooney is also shocked. Rooney stated, “It’s surprising to find out that [people from] foreign countries think we are nice. I feel like the stereotypical American is viewed as mean.”
Somiska even went to all the football games and says that there isn’t such an emphasis on high school sports in Finland. She is excited to play ice hockey in the winter and for the chorus concert because she thinks the chorus will put on a good show.
Somiska leaves with some questions for me to answer, including why does WHS not have an open campus and why do we eat chips in individual small bags with lunch?