by Irina Jauhiainen
Being one of the many who struggled through her teenage years with a series of existential crises and spent her time writing poetry in the genre of Teen Girl Angst, I always knew that a change of scenery was exactly what I needed. Like so many other teenage girls in that same situation, I fantasised of being swept away to a place far away from dark, Nordic winters, to somewhere sunny where I could start again and “find myself.” For most, this remains a fantasy. I was unusually lucky.
It was by a complete chance that I found out about the United World Colleges organisation. At first I thought it was one of those boring exchange programmes to the USA or some other country I wasn't particularly into, but then I overheard two classmates talking about colleges in places like India and Swaziland. It was a miserable day in February. I longed to be somewhere warm, and decided that if there was a tiniest chance of me moving to a warmer climate, I would give up everything. It was a complicated and competitive application process, but somehow I got selected. Eleven months later I boarded a plane to Johannesburg, South Africa, and continued on a six-hour bus journey across a stunning mountain landscape to Swaziland, for two years away from everything I had known, a new life in constant sunshine.
It would not have been possible not to be a poet living in the Swazi mountains. I would begin my day by walking up the mountainside in the glow of a brilliant, orange and purple sunrise and a scent from jasmine flowers, breathless with amazement, trying to find words to make it make sense. I had intended to study Environmental Science at university – but at some point I realised that science could never be satisfying, nothing theoretical or academic could be satisfying, not after having been touched by such beauty. Not all were pleased to hear it when I decided to choose poetry over a respectable scientific career, but when a passion calls you, you have to answer. Like when a chance to leave a cold climate and go live in Southern Africa for two years calls, you damn well have to answer, even though everyone says you're crazy and all your relatives try to convince you not to go.
I am currently doing a combined BA degree of English Literature and Creative Writing at London Metropolitan University. It is hard to imagine a better place for a creative writer to live in than London. Not only are there traces of the life energy of Shakespeare, Marvell and Dickens tangibly lingering on these streets, but contemporary poetry, drama and fiction are alive and well and more active here than I can imagine them being anywhere else. At the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden I have begun to build a network of poets, whose constant support and inspiration fully make up for living so far from my family.
My life could never have been this interesting had I stayed in my small home town whose university did not offer anything I remotely wanted to study. Becoming a world citizen might not be for everybody, but it has transformed my life. I am living an adventure; I never know where I might end up next. It isn't about money, either; I lived in Swaziland on a full scholarship and am now relying on a student loan and doing freelance work with all the time I can spare. It does take courage, however. It takes incomprehensible amounts of stupid, risk-taking, death-wish resembling courage to go thousands of miles to find yourself, but I usually recommend taking risks.
Read Irina's blog about poetry, blues and London nightlife at www.somesortofblues.blogspot.com
Find out more about United World Colleges: www.uwc.org