Wednesday, March 4, 2009
As I was standing there watching the colored sparks rain down against the for once clear black sky I felt a like I was in a dream world, like this was all too fantastic and far fetched to be happening. Here I was standing with my best friend in a small foreign city on the arctic circle on new years setting off fireworks with new friends that I know I'll always keep in contact with!! And the strange part was that it felt so comfortable and natural, like I was already home. I forgot to make a new years resolution that night, I was too busy being swept up in the moment.
We got home late. My dad was still up and waiting for us with a bottle of champaign waiting to toast the New Years. Kippis! (Cheers!) I hope you all had a great New years, cause I know I did!
After taking pictures of the reindeer we went home and talked. She's had a very different experience in Finland than I've had, partly because were completely different people and partly because or situations are opposite as well. She lives in a big city and her host family is kinda up tight while mine is completely laid back, and we live in the middle of nowhere close to a smaller city. Sometimes she finds that Finnish people in general cold, unfriendly and sometimes even rude, but we both love them anyways. It was great to have her visit and just to be able to talk quickly with out sencsoring my vocabulary. Her visit was short but sweet. It was weird thinking that that might be the last time I ever saw her again...
After she left, I had another American friend over. My best friend Kathryn from Denver who is also an exchange student in Finland, only shes with YFU a different exchange agency. She's now living in Lappeenranta, that's in south eastern Finland a good 480 miles from me, too far. I wish we were placed closer together so that we would be able to see each other more often but no such luck. Since before we left we had wanted to meet up in say Helsinki and spend a few days with each other. Well now we were finally getting that chance! She would be coming up to visit me for New Years and then we would take a train together to Helsinki where we would stay at Päivi's for a few days and then she would go home and I would stay a few days longer and then go up to Oulu for an AFS meeting there. The whole trip would take a week and I'd end up missing a few days of school. I had everything worked out with train tickets, I talked to my host dad and I let AFS know.
As I was standing on the train platform waiting for Kathryn to arrive I was extremely excited! I hadn't seen anyone I had known from back home in over 4 months! But I was also a little nervous..what if I'd changed too much or she had? We had been really close back home, but what if now things were different? I saw her through the window on the train before she got out. We were jumping up and down and waiving even before she was out. It seamed to take forever before she got off the train. Then we ran and hugged and squealed and stuff, probably scaring every Finn on the platform by our blatant outburst of emotion. I don't know why I was worried, it felt like we'd never been apart, the only change that was visible is that she was skinnier then the last time I saw her.
She also received the tour of Rovaniemi. We went through the shops and had a little tussle in the toy shop :D It just was like always. I introduced her to as many of my new friends as I could. It was cool having my two worlds overlap just that bit. It made it seam more real, like when we go back I'll have some one who always knows what and who I'm talking about and wont get fed up with me when I start going on about "Well when I was in Finland..." I'm so glad that I have some one like that.
The day or so we were there before Christmas, we mostly spent getting the placed decorated and festive looking. A good sized tree was set up in the living room, and red curtains and tablecloths brought a lot of cheer to the usually rugged looking place. I helped cut some wood for the fire, our primary heat source. Later that day my Host dad dug out the old snowmobile and got it running. Mari, who has a snowmobile and moped licence, (you can get them at 15 in Finland but a driving license only comes when your 18) gave me a few rides through the windy woodsy back roads. It was quite exhilarating to zip through the crisp frozen air, but I felt almost guilty for disturbing the forests winter serenity. The crystalline frost clinging to the branches gave the forest an appearance of ethereal fragility that was only revealed by the two or so hours of week sunlight, so week that the sun could only stand to hold its head a few inches above the horizon. The light that it had the strength to shed was pastel, casting a fairytale feeling over the frozen land, adding for a few hours, pale pinks and yellows to an otherwise fairly monochromatic world. . (Picture taken at around 2pm on Christmas)
There are a few main differences between the way Christmas is celebrated in Finland than it is in America. Everybody knows that Santa comes Christmas eve, so you have to wait till Christmas morning to open your presents. Then most of the main celebratory stuff happens on Christmas day, including a fancy feast and whatnot. Well in Finland most of the main celebrating is done on Christmas Eve, including the feasting, partying the traditional Sauna run and.. the opening of presents! I was puzzled by this for a while.. How come Finland gets to open their presents a day before the rest of the world? Then it came to me! Of coarse! Santa lives in Finland, so they are the first ones to get their presents delivered! And every one assured me that we would be getting a very special visit from Santa that night. So since all the exciting things happen on Christmas Eve, Christmas day is usually a day of rest where you get to eat all the left overs (of which there are plenty) try out your presents from Santa and see any relatives you didn't get around to seeing the first day.
The morning of Christmas eve, I was awakened by the smell of something delicious burning, don't you hate when that happens? I climbed down to see what it was (I was sleeping in the loft over the fireplace, so the rocky outcroppings that was the mantlepiece also doubled as a staircase.)Päivi was making 'joulutorttu' or 'Christmas tarts' little flaky pinwheels with a berry center. She made a few dozen of them, only to realize that I was about the only one who liked them. There was also pippuri or little ginger bread cookies. The real cooking started at about mid day. They made Finnish rice porridge, which I really like, its good once you get over the texture and add some cinnamon and butter. Then there was these two kinda umm.... well Idon't know how to explain them, there were the consistency of mashed potatoes only one of them had carrots in it 'porkkanalaattikko' and the other had some sort of potatoes. I liked the potato one one the other one...ew. The quintessential Finnish Christmas dish was the ham. they get a huge chunk of it and spruced it up and then sliced it up for everyone. I didn't try any, but every one tells me that its amazing. Instead I made some tofu and Päivi had made some stuffing which was also pretty good. Then there were some potatoes and gravy and a few kinds of Finnish bread and chocolate. All in all I was stuffed!
Päivi tipped me off when it was about time for Santa to come with the presents. Everything had to be set up perfectly for little Domi, who still desperately believes in Santa (who was to be played by his great grand dad) I Had agonized over some of the gifts I had gotten for people, but I gathered them all up and snuck them out to the shed so they could be stuffed into a sack and then dutifully dragged in and passed out by Santa. When he finally got there he seamed too frail to be able to drag the bulging sack of presents through the door, let alone fly around the world in a night, but it didn't matter, the sight of him was still magic to the young boy. He was maybe too thin for the role, but he was dressed at a traditional Lappish Santa, with decorative trim in the red coat, and the reindeer hide pointy slippers, He also has a mask, which I though was a bit frightening, but I guess it was necessary considering the wearers hidden identity. Domi was still shy, running to embrace his mom rather then Santa, but he had an expectant grin plastered on his face, and for good reason. for when I started passing out the presents (I was Santa's reading elf), Domi soon became lost in a monstrous pile of gifts. He was ecstatic, like a little boy at well.. Christmas! To my surprise I was starting to gather quite a pile myself, though it was nothing compared to his.
I was surprised at some of my gifts! They weren't ALL socks! I had gotten a few books, some by some favorite authors and some picture books about Lapland. I Also got some DVDs a T-Shirt, good winter mittens some good long johns as well as some make up and a surprise package from my mom! One thing that was weird for me was that i had no idea who any of my presents were from, since they had all come from Santa.
I watched eagerly as the others opened their presents, wondering if they'd like what I'd gotten them, especially my host dad, I had gone through a lot of trouble to come up with the perfect thing for him. I Knew he would like them, but I couldn't have predicted the childish look of glee that came over his face when he pulled his present out of the dented UPS box that they had been sent from Colorado in, even though he had been drinking since noon that day. (Some how he managed to be tipsy from about 1:00 pm everyday we were there. I don't know how he does it, Finnish men have a very special relationship with alcohol.) Inside the box there were a pair of his very own authentic American cowboy boots! He loved them!So much that he wore them inside (Finns NEVER wear shoes inside) AND he said he didn't want to go to the Christmas Eve Sauna because he didn't want to take them off!! That's a lot coming from a Finn. There was also a note from my mom in Finnish (she had help translating from a friend) which I though was a very nice touch.
The rest of the holiday was spent socialising and just hanging out. I got to meet the rest of the family, and my host dad introduced me as his 'new daughter' and made me speak Finnish to every one. I got a chance to talk to Päivi and I told her that I wanted to visit Helsinki some time soon and she invited me to come down and stay with her after New Years! When we got back home I got on the computer and started looking up train schedules and talking to friends and school to try and sort everything out. My plans worked out perfectly, plus I had arranged for two friends to come and visit me in Rovaniemi!
Monday, February 16, 2009
It was getting cold and dark. I really started to notice it when one day I walked to the city after school at about 2:00pm and the sun was setting quickly and the temperature was a bone chilling -22 Degrees Celsius (thats about -10ish degrees Fahrenheit) When your outside at in that temperature you freeze after about 5 steps. The cold is complete and all encompassing. Your face feels like its going to fall right off. The snot in your nose freezes after a minute or 2 and you have these little icicles tickling your nose, its pretty gross when you go inside and they melt. I had a lot of Finns tell me that when they were kids it would regularly go down to -30 C, but because of global warming, that doesn't often happen during the day.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
The ceremony started out rather somber. Every one stood as the Finnish flag was carefully carried in, followed by the Schools flag. The National Anthem was sung and then everyone sat down. There were a few performances from students. A school band played and a few girls put together a dance. It reminded me of DSA. Next there were some speeches, then it was time for the graduates to get their diplomas and their hats. Unlike American graduation ceremonies, you get your hat instead of wearing it to begin with. The hats also look a bit different then ours. Here's a picture.
The atmosphere in school had changed. The way when any anxious study weary student gets when the freedom of Christmas vacation is only hours away. As if the long drawn out Friday classes weren't enough, they made us come in that Saturday for the school Christmas party. There was to be a little performance, followed by lunch and then you went and visited your homeroom class where the grades from the first two jaksos would be passed out.
The rest of the show was Good! They had a team of gymnasts from are school do a pretty crazy routine involving flips and a trampoline. there was also an intense tango from a couple that goes to our school. (Finland is crazy about tango for some reason..go figure!) There was more Singing and then we got a visit from a very famous Finn. Joulupukki!!! Literally translated it means 'the Christmas goat' but it refers to Santa Clause! It took me a while of listening to this particular Santa to realise that i knew him under all that red fur and white hair. he was one of my friends form school! He threw out some candy, made us sing some more songs and then was off.
After the show I had some people come up too me and said that I did a good job, that i Speak really good English! ha Finnish humor.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
I noticed that when I got back people were different towards me. It was a subtle difference, but I definitely noticed it. It feels like they've finally gotten comfortable around be. When I first got there, if I sat on a bench outside a classroom, waiting for class to start, people would always leave like a courtesy bubble around me, maybe room for 2 people on either side of me. Well now that bubble has disappeared. Also I had people save me a seat next to them in a class they knew we had in common. At lunchtime I was finding more places to sit, and siting next to people who don't talk to me, stopped feeling so awkward. or I'll be in a group of girls and there all talking, and then some of them will try to fill me in, but she wont know one word in English so she'll ask "Mikä on (/&)/% englandiksi?" And she'll ask everyone in the crowed, and the shout it over to the next cluster of people until someone knows this word. And sometimes I know the word she's looking for in English. That always draws a gasp. :O She can speak Finnish :O!
Once when my biology partner was absent one girl, who I had never talked to before, called my name, startling me half to death and asked if I wanted to sit next to her for that class. Another time when a classmate was trying to explain something to me some guy cut in saying " hey Janaki its like this...." I never realized that everyone knows my name. i guess its because they don't use it, but I just never realized it.
Outside of school things were going well also. One Sunday we organized a 'pikkujoulu' a little Christmas party at a friend of mines apartment. She is a vegetarian, and she invited her other vegetarian friend over. The both go to the Lukio in the center of the city, and they're in the advanced program there, so all their classes are taught in English. We also invited the rest of the exchange student as well as some of more friends. We met at a grocery store in town and bought a whole bunch of ingredients.it reminded my of our summer picnics back home. We must have looked odd, trying to come up with some sort of vegetarian meal. Describing the foods as best we could. The japanese girl suggested tempura vegetables, I was the only other person who knew what she was talking about. We also bought some tofu, white bread and rip off nutella (the french boy's contribution) We went back to the apartment and cooked up a storm. It was great, until one of the Finnish guys dipped the tempura tofu in the nutella instead of the soy sauce.Gross! He said it was good but whatever, boys will be boys, whatever nationality.
It was about at that point that i got hit by a crazy double home sickness. I missed Finland, the people and the space, not to mention the cooler temperatures and cleanliness. I missed Denver, I always do, but I guess I just learned to live with it in Finland. but now on vacation away from home away from home It hit me, and it hit me hard.We went on a walk that first night. I hoped i would feel a bit better after some fresh air. That's when i discovered the cockroaches...It would be a long two weeks.
Every day there was surreal. Being back now it feels like it never really happened. The landscape was picture perfect paradise, complete with palm trees and sandy beaches. Everything was set up to cater to a tourists every need, at a price of course. The restaurants had menus in almost every language. There were tourists from all over Europe, and there were a lot of British people. I can almost be sure when I say that there were more tourists on that Island then there were natives. You could tell that half of the natives were happy doing business with tourists, they were always helpful and cheery. The other half seamed to resented us all.
Another day we went on a boat tour. We sailed between two of the islands. we saw a few funny looking whales, and then we ran into a huge pop of spotted dolphins! It was amazing, there were about 20 of them and they were all at the front of the boat, swimming and jumping through the waves. It was so much fun to watch! The boat pulled into a little cove and stoped there for a while, giving people a chance to go for a little swim. I jumped oout into the Atlantic Ocean expecting it to be couls, but was pleasently suprised when i found out that the water was rather warm.
Monday, December 22, 2008
My dad took me to the train station very early that morning, the train left at 7. He asked if he should go inside with me, but I thought I could handle a ticket transaction in Finnish, so I said no thanks. When I got inside I was shocked to find it deserted. The ticket booths were all closed with a sign that said they didn't open until 9:00. There were some automatic machines in the corner, but I couldn't figure out how to use it (it was in Finnish). I Looked at the big clock on the wall, I had 5 minutes till the train left. I started to panic. I went out the back and onto the train platform. I asked a maintenance guy where the train to Oulu was and he pointed it out to me.
The Man came by And I bought the tickets, no problem. I spent the rest of the train ride trying to calm myself back down again. The train ride took about 3 hours. The scenery was getting too be so familiarly Finnish. I got of in Oulu and waited on the platform for Filippo to come and find me. As I was waiting I ran into A German AFS exchange Student living in Kemi, she was going to the same meeting that i was. We had a whole conversation in Finnish! It was soo cool! We just talked about basic things like "what was your name again, sorry I forgot" ,"What rain are you taking home", "who are you meeting here", and "I'll see you at the meeting later." I felt so international ha ha!
I met Filippo and his host mom. They lived about 15 Km out of Oulu in a suburb called Kemplele or something like that. He had two younger siblings. We had the oh so traditional open faced rye bread sandwiches with butter cheese and cucumbers on it. I had a nice conversation with his mom and dad. I couldn't help comparing his family to mine. After we ate I got a tour of the house. Very modern, most Finnish homes are, with the exception of my cabin. After the tour Filippo and I left to go catch the bus into the city.
We walked around the city. The last time I had been there there wasn't much time for sight seeing. This time we wandered for hours looking into shops. It was cool to be in a (kinda) big(ish) city again. There were a lot of people. The city is older then Rovaniemi, it has cobblestones and narrow streets with architecture from the 1800's. We went to Stockman's, the quintessential Finnish Megastore that has everything from high fashion to a variety of toilet cleaners. The building was massive, with rotating doors that could fit 2 or three shopping carts. The building was 4 stories tall, and each floor held its own secrets. There were even like these half stories in between the floors. And there were other stores inside so you could find yourself in a different one without even realizing it. It was really cool. Even though I was in a different city that was crowded, I still ran into some one else I know. The Thai exchange student and his friend. crazy! Finland is such a small country, people wise.
It was just about time to meet up with AFS. We met in the square in the middle, there were about 10-20 people from all over. We stood in a cluster and started talking in many different languages. I was surprised to see the New Zealand girl there. We started talking, but it was kinda unfair cause every one could understand when we were talking to each other, but we couldn't when they started speaking German or french or Italian. So Unfair! Freaking multilingual Europeans man!. There was one Swiss boy who I was particularly jealous of. He spoke Swiss German, German ( both north and south dialects) Flemish, Italian, French, English and now he was working on Finnish! So He could understand what every one was saying and he transitioned smoothly between languages.
We went to a cafe' that was on the top floor of Stockman's. AFS paid for one cup of coffee for us each. We sat and talked for hours about Finland and home and everything in between. I think this is one of the coolest parts about being an exchange student, just mixing with people from all over the world and drinking good finish coffee and meeting all their friends. I love It. I didn't want to go home, but the last train left at 5:30, which was much to early for me. I asked around and Ashleigh from New Zealand said I could spend the night with her, even though she lived about an hours bus ride away. I called my dad and he said it was ok. The place closed at about 6, and half of us left anyways.
We found another coffee shop and we stayed there the rest of the night. one of the kids had brought their laptop and we spent a while watching funny YouTube videos. Which goes to show that where ever you go these days teens are pretty much the same, connected through the Internet. Then we started up a conversation about minorities that have been persecuted throughout history, maybe not one of the favorite subjects of teens, but we all had something to say about it. Then we moved on to Politics. And the subject of Obama came up. At this point he had been elected. They were tentative about asking me my opinion of him, asking first if it was ok if they asked a personal question. I wasn't so shy about giving them my opinion though. Everyone here is surprisingly supportive of Obama, they're all up to date on what was going on. And they all had something to say about Palin And McCain also... I don't know if you heard about the comment Italy's president made about Obama, but every Italian I meet here (and i know quite a few) tells me about it. He said something along the lines of "yes a very handsome young man with a nice tan." Europe was outraged by that comment and immediately shot him down for that statement, making people ashamed to be Italian for a while.
The elections were a big deal here. I remember I woke up at about 5 in the morning so I could follow them on the Internet. I later found out that most of Finland, and perhaps the world, had done the same thing. I was over joyed when I found out! In the car ride that morning my dad was intently listening to a Finnish news station where they played back some of his speech. In My English class that morning the teacher asked me to do an impromptu presentation on American politics and about Obama. But before that she asked the class what they already knew about him, quite a lot. they new his age and occupation before running and a lot more. They are very informed people. People would come up to me in the halls that I had never talked to before and ask me my opinion. It was crazy. See I bet you can't even name the president of Finland? And they know about ours and the names about half of Europe's.
(By the was Finland's president is Tarja Halonen. She is currently serving her second 6 year term. She was one of the first female president in the EU)
They also knew a lot about the huge plunge the stock market had just taken, and how it effected Europe. Pretty much the entire country of Iceland is now bankrupt, and many countries are suffering from their investments. The news is full of frantic politicians trying to come up with a scheme that will help them. For me personally it means that my currency keeps changing its value. When I first got here it was about 1.2$ to 1€ but now it went up to nearly 1.4$ to 1€. Its a pain, Finland being already expensive enough for Finns without this currency gap.
Anyways.......At 8.00 this cafe' also kicked us out because we were under 18 and they were about to start serving alcohol. We had to catch out bus anyways, so we said our goodbyes and set off to find the bus station at night in a foreign city. Easy as pie. We compared our slang on the ride to her place. Zealandese has a mix between American and British slang. but all her E's sound like I's, which makes her incredibly hard to be understood by the Italians, who make fun of her constantly. She also calls dinner 'Tea time" which I think is ridiculous because there is no actual tea consumed at this time.
Ashleigh loves her family. She got really lucky. Her host family actually came and visited her in New Zealand before she came here. Amazing! We looked up the bus schedule for the next morning, uh oh. The only bus out left at 7 and got me in Oulu by 8, my train left at noon uhk. That Sunday was 'Isänpäivä' fathers day (yes in November) So all the shops were bound to be closed. They were.
I told my dad happy fathers day and gave him an Origami card I had made. He asked my about my trip, and I was able to give him some details, and he seamed happy with that. I was almost done with my 2nd course in Finnish, but i was nowhere as good as I had hoped to be at this point. I can understand much more then I can say, and saying it is the hardest part for me, major confidence issues.
School was going well also I guess. Its just a bit monotonous and boring when you cant learn much from it. I was enjoying my 2 art classes however! I started to see the other exchange students out side of Finnish lessons more often. We would go somewhere afterwards for coffee or something. Sometimes they would bring their friends and sometimes I would, until we had this pretty cool interlocked group of friends. It was the end of the 2nd Jakso and the tests were coming up, and I though i might be able to do alright on them. It was just at this point that things were looking up for me socially and academically it was time to leave for a two week trip to the Spanish Canary islands off the coast of western Africa with my host family.
I got talking with Päivi or Ivy, as she later told me to call her. She had spent about 6 years living in London, and had been an exchange student in California. (which might be a reason why my family decided to host me). So she had perfect English, without a trace of any kind of accent. Domi's father is british, so shes bringing Domi up bilingual, or trying to. He was too shy to talk to me, but he goes to an English day care and apparently he talks all the time there. And Mari said that he was asking her questions about me. I wonder why everyone finds me so scary to talk to...? But his mom didn't. We had some good conversations. We have a common tastes in Books, Movies and Music. I also found out a lot more about my host Dad and Mari from her. Things that were pretty obvious to them, but that they had never gotten around to telling me about. For instance, my host dad had built this house from scratch in the 80's, which explains the house's many quirks and unusual proportions.
That weekend we went to a snowmobile expo. People here love their winter sports. I my self don't know much about it, but Mari promised that I'll get to try some when the winter sets in proper. I probably spent more time looking at the people then the Snowmobiles.
A few days latter they had to leave. Ivy said that they were going to come back up for Christmas, and that I was welcome to stay with them in Helsinki if I ever got around to taking a trip down there.
Monday, November 17, 2008
nursed in back to health, taught it to say his name and then donated to the zoo.)
for practically nothing!! i love thrift stores.
The rest of the week i Spent at home or with my Sister and her friends.