Make Finland your second home by spending a semester living with a host family and attending a local Finnish high school. With more than 187,800 lakes, Finland is bliss for a lover of the outdoors. There are miles and miles of unspoiled forests, glacial lakes, and lush green meadows. Spending time in the sauna is a national pastime, and the Finns also love to ski and sail. Helsinki has retained its quaintness as it has no high-rises, but still functions as a modern capital city. You'll have the opportunity to explore the city while spending relaxing weekends with your family throughout the semester.
You could be placed throughout Finland, though will most likely live with host family in a small town or rural area. Be ready for anything: you could be placed anywhere between the northernmost village Utsjoki and southernmost town of Hanko.
Check out the Host Community Map to view where previous AFS-Finland students have been placed.
Most Finns enjoy small town life while taking advantage of their capital city. Over the course of the year there will be hundreds of festivals, ranging from art to music to theater to food. In the warm months, the sun barely goes down at night, and in the cold months, you'll get cozy near a fireplace and get to know family.
Host families in Finland, like all AFS host families worldwide, are not paid. They open their homes to students in order to share their community and culture as well as to enrich their own family lives.
Finns tend to be shy and reserved at first and may even appear cold toward foreigners. As you get to know them, they show themselves to be warm, affectionate, gracious and open-minded. Common sense, no fuss, and making things work sums up how the Finns operate.
Family life is important to Finns. Though structures are diverse, many families are centered on the nuclear family. As a teenager in Finland, you'll likely enjoy a good deal of independence. Most free time during the week is devoted to school work. On weekends, most young people go around in groups of girls and boys, meeting at popular places for fun.
Meal times in Finland are less formal than in some other countries. At dinner time, if family members are on conflicting schedules, each person warms up food on their own. On weekends, many families live a more communal life and eat together. Everyday food tends to be simple but nutritious. The Finnish diet is based on meat, fish, potatoes, pasta, bread and dairy products. Vegetables in the northern climate tend to be seasonal. Coffee is a favorite beverage, even among teenagers. Salads and smorgasbord are popular.
Ninety-three percent of the population speaks Finnish, though Swedish is also an official language. Many people also speak English.
You will likely be enrolled in the first or second year of a public upper secondary school. Your classmates will be between 16 and 18 years old.
The school year is divided into five (sometimes six) terms from August to June, with breaks at Christmas and Easter, a one-week sports vacation mid-winter, and the First of May celebration. You will study a few courses intensively each term, including Finnish and/or Swedish, math, science, psychology, art, music, history, and geography. Most subjects are compulsory, but there are also elective courses that are worth looking into. You'll have at least 25 hours of school per week.
Check out the Host School FAQ (.pdf).
Orientations & Activities
In addition to the online and in-person orientations that you will participate in before you depart, you and your fellow AFSers will have several orientations while abroad. These are intended to help you maximize your AFS experience, prevent culture shock and gain knowledge, skills and a global understanding. Topics covered will include Finnish society, culture, family, school, language, safety and health issues. Each orientation will be tailored to your group and your group's needs. All orientations are several days in length, and will occur a few weeks after arrival, and just prior to your return. They will likely be international, giving you a chance to make friends with AFSers from around the world who are also studying in Finland.
In addition to orientations, many local volunteer chapters organize activities for students and host families throughout the year. These will vary from chapter to chapter but may include get-togethers or trips to other cities or regions in Finland. Unlike the orientations, these activities are optional and are not included in tuition.
Your program will begin in New York, where you will meet your fellow AFSers from the US, attend an overnight orientation, then travel together to Helsinki where you will be met by AFS Staff and Volunteers. International airfare is included as part of the tuition, but it will be your responsibility to arrange your travel from your hometown to New York. Details will be provided after you start your application.
To get more information about the visa requirements, view the Finland Year and Semester Programs Visa Overview.
To participate in this program, you must:
- Be within the age range upon departure
- Have a minimum 2.8 cumulative GPA on a 4.0 scale
- Be mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy in accordance with AFS Medical Evaluation Policies
- Have a valid U.S. passport, or a U.S. Permanent Resident Card at least 4 months prior to the departure range
- Have an open mind, willingness to be flexible, and the ability to adapt to new a culture, school, and environment
The Finnish cuisine consists largely of fish, meat and ground vegetables, so vegetarians can be difficult to place and most families prefer to host a student with no dietary restrictions.
High School graduates will be considered for participation in this program.
Although there is no language requirement, AFS strongly recommends learning some Finnish and/or Swedish prior to your departure.