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Leo Lähteenmäki sharing his Erasmus+ youth exchange experience

Updated: Nov 20, 2022

Hello everyone, my name is Leo. I’m 25 years old and I am from Finland.

This is going to be my most vulnerable post ever. In 2019 I was invited to my first youth exchange by Finland’s group leader Satu Nygren, who I had already met before the exchange. It was held in the small town of Lemele, Netherlands. I didn’t have any expectations at that time when I attended the exchange, and I was anxious and scared to go. The experience back then felt like a holiday for me, and I have to say that I didn’t gain much from it apart from getting new awesome friends and connections. I didn’t feel like I belonged back then, because of my own insecurities, holding me back from letting go and being my true self. Still, I have to say it was needed to go through that experience to come to this point where I am now, after all, every experience has something positive in it. So, thank you for the 2019 youth exchange!

Youth exchange playground in Lemele

Fast forward to 2022, after three years of self-development, ups and downs, loneliness, happiness, and sadness, I got invited to the youth exchange again by Satu. I went to the exchange with the aim to make the most out of it as I remembered how it was in 2019. Already during the first days of the exchange, I saw what I missed in 2019. I missed action-taking, talking to as many people as I can, and connecting. During the first days, I was so excited to connect and be with people that it was difficult to sleep, actually, this continued almost throughout the whole week. I have always been a person who likes to talk to people but because of my own insecurities and holding back, I have been always talking on the surface level and very shortly, not really saying what I want to say and avoiding. These things became automatic as I did them for so long, that it still feels difficult to go deep into conversations and connect with people. So, I hope you understand if I am not sometimes fully in the conversation or interested to talk. I am not fully there but I am closer than I have ever been, I believe. From that, I want to tell what I learned and felt during the week. I learned how it felt to be fully in conversations with people, just to listen, talk and connect. I learned how to show my emotions for the first time in my life. I cried three times, haha. Once in the open mic in front of +40 people. I learned how to be close to people without feeling awkward. It’s always been difficult for me to be close to people and hug them. During the camp, I learned how to do this and started to enjoy it. I learned to dance without thinking about who was watching. I sang karaoke for the first time and enjoyed it. I was rapping in a group of people and wrote my own lines, (thanks Oskari for pushing me out of my comfort zone). For the first time ever I was enjoying talking to girls and not being so much inside my head thinking about stuttering or what they might think. I was able to be the most authentic version of myself around the opposite sex I have ever been. I learned that I can be confident even when stuttering. I felt like I belonged to the group. I saw people growing and opening up, which made me feel that I want to open up and grow too. The connection between people was unreal. I learned that it is okay to feel whatever you feel at all times and just be with the feelings. I am forever grateful that I was again able to take part in a life-changing youth exchange for people who stutter in Lemele, Netherlands. I could not do this without these amazing people. I love them all. Feel free to message and call me anytime about anything, I would like to keep in touch. Lastly the journey doesn’t end here and it’s always going on, for me, this is not the end! Lastly, I wanted to share a part of a song that really touched me during the exchange. Thank you Ginerva and Dario for performing it.

'Cause all… 'Cause all of me Loves all of you Love your curves and all your edges All your perfect imperfections Give your all to me I'll give my all to you You're my end and my beginning Even when I lose I'm winning -John Legend – All of me

Leo and a fellow Finnish participants presenting Finland

Happy participants!

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