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Henry Michalak: Finland

What’s up y’all! My name is Henry Michalak, and I am a junior at Wofford College studying biology and environmental studies. This past fall I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Since I started my college experience, I have understood that studying abroad was an integral part of what I wanted out of my education. After many talks with the Wofford Study Abroad advisors I found DIS, an international program based in Copenhagen that offers multiple programs focused on clinical study. As a pre-med student, I felt this program was perfect for me! While exploring international health care differences was my main reason for studying in Copenhagen, the natural beauty of Scandinavia drew me in. Copenhagen provided the perfect homebase to explore the fantastic wonders that Europe’s wildness had to offer. As it so happens, this class led me to one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had!

I remember sitting on the bus, frustrated due to being locked out of Wofford’s registration program. I was face first in my laptop when I noticed a change in scenery that drew me back into reality. The cityscape of Helsinki had transformed into lush forests of evergreen pines, with lakes that seemed to reflect the sky off the crystal water. As we continued driving, we moved into the wilderness over gravel roads that seemed unfamiliar to the size of a bus. Nonetheless, we continued deeper into the forest towards what I can only describe as a haven in the heart of the wilderness. Our journey on the bus ended at the front steps of Green Window, a wilderness wellness retreat located in the heart of Nuuksio National Park. The small lodge was surrounded by dense boreal evergreens, glacial rock formations, and crystal lakes that stood the test of time.

We were soon greeted by a middle-aged man named Pekka who would be our guide during our afternoon in Nuuksio. After brief introductions, we set off down the path towards a cluster of pines. Here, Pekka asked us to find a tree we liked and hug it! Yes, hug it! After the initial shock of the request, and the accompanying laughs, we found our trees. We stood there, in silence, arms locked around trees double our lifetimes. It was then that Pekka explained that this wilderness had helped him heal from a serious motorcycle accident. He explained that he felt that his connection with the forest had brought him a newfound life, providing him with the energy to keep trying. I then understood the purpose of our tree hug.Pekka wanted to share with us his connection with mother earth. I stood in silence, listening to the wind whisper safety words as it danced through the leaves. As I listened, my body began to relax. I felt as though I was grounded in the present, gaining a sense of mental clarity that only mother nature could provide.

Shortly after we separated from our trees, we followed Pekka into the woods. As we wandered, I was entranced by the fantastic scenery in front of me. The lush forest formed a sea of green, dotted only by glacial formation as old as the earth. We continued onward until the woods opened, revealing a crystal lake carved by glaciers passing through thousands of years before. The granite formation surrounding the lake provides an ideal place to rest and think. We sat there, taking in what was before. The setting sun painted the sky with orange brush strokes, creating a glow that seemed to accent the dark greens of the trees. I couldn’t help but imagine me and my grandfather here, fishing in the icy water and laughing. There was an energy emanating from the wilderness that washed over me and my classmates, creating a sense of peace in the group.

As we began our slow hike back to the lodge, Pekka informed us that he would be going to look for mushrooms that would compliment the reindeer we would be having for dinner. Me and a few other of my classmates followed Pekka off the beaten path and into the mossy forest. Pekka informed us on the type of mushrooms they have in Finland, emphasizing that if we eat the wrong ones we would be spending the night on the toilet. Despite our efforts, we only found a few that were edible and made our way back to the group. As we reached the lodge, the sun was setting casting hughes of yellow and red across the Finish sky. It was amazing, truly a picture of beauty! After enjoying our reindeer dinner, which is really tasty by the way, we headed down to the saunas. Here, my friends and I told stories and drank beer until it was time to leave. As the bus pulled away, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would ever return to Green Window. I'm hoping one day I can bring friends and family back there, sharing the amazing experience I had there with them.

- Henry


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