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Photo by Kendall Marianacci, Nepal Semester.



My name is Leija (Lay-uh) and I could not be more hyped to embark on this adventure with you all! I’m 18 years old, also graduated from high school last spring, and am planning on attending Tufts University in the Boston area next fall. I grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts, a sizable college town in the western part of the state known for organic farms (one of which I worked on this summer), ultimate frisbee (which I play competitively) and political activism (which I enjoy because of the free stickers). I also lived in Helsinki, Finland with my family when I was in first and second grade. I’m hoping to live in Helsinki for part of this spring actually! My mom is originally from Finland and moved to the States just a few years before I was born, so I grew up speaking both English and Finnish at home and traveling back and forth often to visit family and connect with the culture.

Living in Finland and growing up generally feeling like my life was an intersection of cultures and national identities has given me what I would consider a strong sense of global perspective. This is certainly a reason why I’ve become so interested in the process of building connections across cultures, both as a topic of exploration in my own life and an area of inquiry in a broader sense. I have been an avid traveler all my life and I love discovering new corners of the world, whether it’s a country, a riverside picnic spot, or just a fresh perspective on something familiar. I’ve been lucky enough to find many opportunities to expand my horizons across the globe — besides traveling to many places in Europe as a kid and spending time in Finland, I spent three weeks in Senegal as part of a school cultural exchange trip during my sophomore year of high school and I have been volunteering at a peace-building ultimate frisbee camp in the Middle East called Ultimate Peace for the last two summers.

I’m really looking forward to immersing myself in the culture of Nepal and experiencing a new pace of life this fall. I decided to take a gap year because I knew I needed to take some time to really pause and reflect on what kind of person I want to become and what kind of life I want to live. I went through most of high school with a smile on my face, but on the inside it always felt like a battle against my perfectionist inner critic. This year, I’m really hoping to start letting go of the idea of perfection and focusing on building a sense of self that doesn’t rely on achievement or others’ definitions of success. Exploring mindfulness and spirituality is going to be amazing. Exercise and nature are also two things I know help me decompress and find fulfillment — definitely looking forward to marveling at the wonders of the natural world and gettin’ sweaty during our treks.

That’s all I got for now, can’t wait to meet you all and begin this huge adventure! Let’s gooooooo