written by Oskari Piilonen
The Youth Exchange of 2022 in Lemele was undoubtedly one of the sweetest experiences of my life. After that week, I felt like I had finally broken out of my shell. A shell that had been
maintained by the tension and anxiety caused by stuttering in social situations, preventing me from showing all the sides of myself that I cherish the most. I felt that I had finally broken free from the limitations that stuttering had imposed on me, and now I would be unstoppable. To my disappointment, I was wrong.
After the camp ended, the world got to enjoy the unstoppable Oskari for about a month. But gradually the self-confidence to stutter I had gained, began to erode as I once again became accustomed to living as a stutterer in a world of fluent speakers. During the camp, I had managed to change my attitude towards stuttering to see it as a unique trait in myself, which makes me an interesting individual, different from the ordinary. However, as I settled back into my daily routine, my attitude towards stuttering started reverting to its old, gray mold, where stuttering is so shameful that often the way to maintain a better mood was by keeping my mouth shut. Stuttering felt worse than ever, since before the Youth Exchange of 2022, I had numbed myself to the belief that stuttering has ruined my life and I’m ok with it.
The camp had taught me that I had been wrong, but I now felt like I had returned to square one. Now I knew what what I could be and what I had lost. It felt like during the camp, I was the version of myself that I always wanted to be, but in my everyday life, I couldn't let that version of Oskari take over. I felt like I had failed.
Because last year, I didn't yet know how compassionately one could approach stuttering, the
Youth Exchange of 2023 felt even more needed than before. I see stuttering as a language that all of us, the people who stutter, speak. And that we have the need to speak it regularly. If we don't get to speak it with someone else who speaks the same language, we can easily forget how to use the language proudly and unashamedly, and eventually, we may not want to use it at all. Through our shared language, I was able to get to know new people from different parts of Europe once again, and in just a few days, I formed friendships that feel so strong that I wouldn't be surprised if they lasted for a lifetime. I told them about my "failure" of the past year, and they understood me. Many who had been at the camp the previous year had experienced the same decline when they returned to their daily lives.
With my friends who we spoke the same language with, we developed a new game plan. Although at the camp, we felt invincible, we need to be aware of the realities. When we return home, the people around us don't speak our language, and we are at risk of losing ourselves. That's why we must stick together, even if there are hundreds and thousands of kilometers between us. Self-confidence in stuttering and pride in being a person who stutters do not sustain themselves; they require effort. It's challenging to do it alone, but fortunately, help is only a phone call away. I promise to do my best not to forget how to speak our language.