Monday, November 17, 2008

#2.4 Fall Break

We had a a week off for a fall holiday in the middle of October. I didn't feel like spending the whole week at home alone so I decided to visit Yesim in Ranua. I checked the bus schedule and talked to my dad about it and he said it was alright, so i packed myself a small bag and set off. Ranua is a small town about an hour south of Rovaniemi. It's only claims to fame is that it is home to one of only three zoos in Finland, as well as having a berry called Hilla that looks like a yellow blackberry. Not much to offer.
I got off the bus in front of the Zoo and there waiting for me was Yesim. We went inside an tried to buy our tickets in Finnish. Once inside the zoo i realized just how special this place was. The zoo only has animals that are native to Finland + polar bears (just for fun i guess...) The entire place was spread out on the side of a hill that was still completely covered in trees. You had to follow a wooden path through the Forrest and all of a sudden you would run into an encloseure of wolves or beavers or bears. The funny thing was that the inside of the enclosures looked pretty much the same at the outside. They also had reindeer and moose, Owls and a huge crow that said "Jaska" if you said it first. (Jaska is the name of Yesim's host dad, who found the bird and
nursed in back to health, taught it to say his name and then donated to the zoo.)
After the fabulous zoo we went to the Fazer factory. Fazer is like the Finnish version of Hershey's, only 20 times better! Finnish candy, particularly chocolate, is like the best I've ever had. SOOOoooO0 good! and at the factory you could get things discounted :)
Then we went to a second hand store (my favorite) where i found the most amazing green plaid coat for only .50 euro cents!! You can't get cheaper then that. Everything here is normally so expensive. A decent coat, nothing special, would cost you a minimum of 60€ which is pretty expensive when you think of it in $. Plus you have to add the crap exchange rate on top of that, so it comes out to about 75$ for a decent run of the mill coat, and i found a really cool one
for practically nothing!! i love thrift stores.

One thing that annoys me about Finnish stores besides the prices are the business hours. Nothing opens before 9, weekdays shops are open till 6 or 8pm, but on Saturdays shops close up at around 4; and don't even bother to go anywhere on Sundays, every things closed.

After our adventurous day out, her host dad came and picked us up. He was younger then my dad by a decade or two, and he spoke English! They had a nice house full two the brim with 5 nice little children, the oldest one of which had just turned 11. They were really sweet, but after an hour they were climbing all over me too, begging to play games and such. I don't know how she deals with it, I know i couldn't.

After an eventful dinner, Yesim took me on a tour of the little town. All it really was was a collection of grocery stores, a bank, a bar and a post office. I really don't know how she lives here! But she says that she really likes it, which is good for her. We went back to the house and read a Finnish bedtime story to the little ones. They only corrected our pronunciation a few times, so i guess we were doing pretty well, even though i didn't know what i was reading half the time.

Yesim still had school that week, so i went with her the next morning to her school. Her first class was English, so we figured that it would be ok for me to tag along. we talked to the English teacher before class and she was over joyed to have me there. In the first class they were just working on grammar stuff, but once the class was over she invite me to talk in her next class. I agreed.

I've kinda come to expect certain things from a Finnish audience of students, and these didn't let me down. As I was talking about where i was from and why i was here, no one said a word. They just stared at me with their impassive faces, which i was used to at this point so it didn't bother me much. I ended up getting a bit carried away, and the teacher kept prompting me. So the teacher and I ended up having a pretty good conversation in front of the class.

One topic that came up was the recent school shooting in Kauhajoki Finland. It was the second shooting in about a year. It was a very sad affair. I remember that day they they flew all the Finnish flags at half mast. She thought it was the fault of the school system and i thought it had more to do with the psyche of the individual. I don't know how much of the conversation the kids in the class got though. When I asked for questions, there was only one. "Can you do my homeworks for me?" I told him to see me after class. He never did. Figures.

After school I said good bye to her family. They said that i was welcome back any time.
The rest of the week i Spent at home or with my Sister and her friends.

One event that was fast approaching was Halloween, already! I was very disappointed that they don't do much for Halloween besides watch horror movies on late night TV, and they had a very small section in the grocery store dedicated to Halloween kitch. I was especially disappointed because the only thing better then Finnish candy would have to be FREE Finnish candy, but no luck there. No one i talked to was going to dress up at all but I couldn't let the day pass unmarked. I got up early the day of and drew some fabulous blue scales under my eyes. I was a fish or something.....Everyone stared at me in school, but everyone though it was supper cool, so that was fun. Later on that night I went to a friends house to watch a scary movie, and then October, my second month here, was over.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

#2.3 2nd Jakso

The next week we started the 2nd jakso, which meant all new classes for me. My new classes are Biology, English, World History, an advanced Math class + 2 art classes and a sports class. One thing a noticed about my new classes was that people were finally starting to worm up to me a little! People who I had sat next to for the whole 1st jakso and hadn't said ANYTHING to me started to say "hi" when they saw me!! It was soo exciting.

I started to make friends my own age instead of the 18 year olds who were more confident in their English. Now I don't have to ask people to translate, they just do it by themselves which is
pretty cool, but sometimes the translations are sadly lacking. Like in History class. I had my book open to the right page (that's a game i play with my self, i try to get to the page the teacher says before anyone else dose ) and i knew we were supposed to read this chapter in our books. The title of the the page was "Antiikin Kreikka ja Rooma" and it had a giant picture of the parthenon on it. I figured out that it was about ancient Greece and Rome. When i asked
my partner to translate all she told me was that "dis is about uhh antique Greek and Rome. we read dis and answer dese questions" "oh ok...thanks" So i just sat there the rest of the lesson pretending i could read text book in Finnish. I do that a lot in my classes just sit and pretend i know exactly whats going on.

Luckily the textbooks all have nice pictures and Ive already studied most of the stuff that their learning now, so i can catch on to the general subject pretty easy but i still don't know what their talking about exactly. I can Do the stuff in math class which is cool because its the only class where i can actually actively participate in (besides art and gym) its hard though because i cant read the instructions, i only see the problem, so i first have to figure out what I'm supposed to do then i have to figure out how to do it. Its also the only class that i have any home work in.

I don't really like my gym class, but hey, i go to a sports school now so i guess I'll give it a try.My favorite classes are of coarse, the art classes. Ive done similar things before in other art classes either at DSA or some place else, and usually after a particular assignment the teacher will come up and ask me "have you done something like this before, and I'll say "yes I have"

One assignment was to design a building in Rovaniemi that would fit in with the existing architecture. I designed a hotel that kinda looked like the Arktikum a museum in Rovaniemi designed by Alvar Aalto, one of Finland's most famous designers. First we learned to to single and double perspective drafting with one or two vanishing points. Then we had to draft our design, then do a water color rendering of it in its location. Finally we had to build a model of it. I've had a lot of practice in this kind of thing from tech. It really made me miss tech!!
There are only 2 theaters in this city. One is rather large, it was also designed by Aalto. I think
its the worlds moth northern professional theater. Then there is a Student theater, which i though would be perfect for me to work in while i was here. I had some of my Finnish friends look into it for me, and one of them talked to like the technical director on my behalf. I filled out some forms and gave them to the theater. I Also E-mailed the TD with something like a resume and pretty much pleading with him to let me help with something. I received an e-mail back
saying that he was impressed with what i had done, and it wasn't a problem that i spoke English, they had some Italian guy work with them last year. BUT usually you had to be 18 to work at the theater, but he was thinking about making an exception for me. He said that they weren't doing any shows at the time but he would let me know when i could come down for something like an audition. I never heard back from him.
Nesli (Turkey), Me and Waka (Japan) in the city center

Time started moving ahead at full sped again. With people warming up to me I started to get invited to do more things with more people. Sometimes they would take me somewhere for coffee or dinner, or maybe a movie night at someones house. I started seeing Nesli (the Turkish girl in Rovaniemi)more. I ran into the Japanese girl in a cafe one day, and i started to see more of her after that.

It is kinda funny, time has gone by soo fast here, I feel like Ive just gotten here, but at the same time everything is really familiar. I know my way around the city well by now. I can't even imagine what life would be life if i hadn't come here. I miss everyone back home. Of coarse I do I miss them a lot, but i don't miss the actual place so much. I really love it here and if i Could just bring all the people I love here then I could probably stay forever.

Jätkänkynttilä brige in Rovaniemi

#2.2 Napapiiri ja Joulupukki (the Arctic circle and Santa Clause)

After 2 short weeks of Autumn, all the leaves were completely bare, leaving the trees exposed to what everyone told me would be a very cold winter. The seasons change so fast! The days started getting shorter. When i first got here it didn't get dark until 9 or so, but all of a sudden it was getting dark before my Finnish class was over at 5:30. Every one told me that this was the most miserable time of the year, it was dark and bare, they said that once they finally got some snow things would brighten up.
The sky here seams like its always has an impenetrable layer of clouds. Cloudless days are few and far between. Some times we have a dense fog that covers everything, i love it! We will be driving across one of 2 bridges into the city, but you wont be able to see the watter below, or even whats on the other side of the bridge, so your driving on a bridge into nothingness! Or we'll be driving along the river bank, and it feels like your looking at the end of the world, because you will just see the bank, and then nothingness, not even the water. All this time as its
getting darker its also getting colder. It went from the meager teens when i first got here to single digits celsius. The first frost wasn't that far off, and the first snow was always just around the corner.

The First 'jakso' or 'period' of school came to a close during their test week. Each day there is a test for a different class. You have to be at school at around 9 and then you can leave once your done with the test. If you don't have a test one day then you don't have to come to school. I only took 3 tests, one in chemistry one in english and one in geography.

The chemistry one was hard because half the test was about naming molecules, like dihydrogen oxide and stuff like that, but in Finnish. They don't even have the same names for most of the elements! So it was crazy to try and learn what 2-metyyli-2-propanoli meant in English,
and then i had to draw them out, crazy. Part of the geography test was vocabulary words, there was a word, and i had to explain what it meant. Well the teacher hardly speaks any English so she could only translate half of the words, and she couldn't explain what they meant to me with out giving away the answers. Needless to say i didn't do to well on either of those tests.

So i had several days off while everyone else had their tests. I got an email from one of the Italian boys from Oulu saying that he wanted to come up and visit because his host family was going to a funeral. I also talked to the other Turkish girl who was living in Ranua (80km south) and she decided to come up also. I talked to my dad and made a plan for that Saturday. We would go up to the Arctic circle (napapiiri) and meet Santa Clause (Joulupukki literally 'the
Christmas goat" in Finnish)!

We picked Filippo up at the train station and ye§im up from the train station. my host dad told me that Tarja Mari and some of Mari's friends were already there and we were going to meet them, in Finnish, and i had to translate for Filippo and Ye§im, they were impressed with my Finnish :) There is a collection of really touristy kind of shops on the arctic circle and there is a line down middle of the complex that is the arctic circle. If you didn't already know, let me remind you again, Santa clause LIVES here NOT in the north pole like everyone else has told you. They even have Santa clause's official post office where all the millions of letters children write come to. During the Christmas season, the city of Rovaniemi gets about 50,000 tourists,
which is pretty much the same as it's population. Every one is crazy about Santa here. Buildings in town say Santa's official this and Santa's official that. We even have the worlds most northern McDonald's, and yes its is Santa's 'Official' McDonald's.
So we walked around the different stores that all sold the same kinda of kitchy souvenirs that any local would be ashamed of buying. We all bought a few things,and we took some pictues alond the arctic circle.
Then we went to Santa's building or house, or whatever you call it. A nice elf let us in, greeting us in Finnish, then English then Italian. You have to go through this like arctic themed almost like haunted house type of thing, across an ice bridge and up the stairs through the gears of a giant compass/clock thing. Then you have to wait outside there big doors until the real Santa is ready to see you. Outside his doors there is a wall covered in photos of famous people meeting Santa. Some of them were pretty funny. There were a few Finnish politicians, and a few Finnish metal bands as well as the the Dudesons (like a Finnish version of the show jackass) and few other famous people.

The guard elf beckoned to us then. It was time for us to meet him! He was sitting on a huge armchair surrounded by old world kitch, it felt like his study or something, the effect was really cozy, but it was spoiled be the fact that the whole opposite wall was covered with high tech cameras and a board looking elf behind them.

"Where are you all from" Santa said in deep rumbling Finnish. My host dad told him, and he switched into flawless English addressing me first. "Welcome welcome. Where in America are you from?" "Denver Colorado" "Ah yes, the Rockey mountains". Wow I was impressed by this guys geography, wait that's right he's Santa...he just knows.... Then he switched into Italian for Filippo, they talked about soccer or something. He talked to the Turkish girl in English though
haha, but he knew exactly where she was from when she told him, he even had a little story about it. Crazy. He asked why and for how long we would be in Finland and we told him that we were all exchange students. Then he talked to all the Finnish people in Finnish, i think asking where they were all from and stuff like that. then we all gathered around him and got our picture taken. All in All i was very impressed by this Santa fellow.We left saying goodbye and thank you in several different languages.

We went downstairs to the place where the elves were trying to sell us the pictures with
Santa for way to much money. by host dad bought a big one for 30€ and i split 5 little pictures with the other exchange students for a mere 25€. It was for a good cause i told by self, it would go towards presents for little kids or to feed Santa's reindeer or something... speaking of which i have seen like 5 different heards of reindeer since Ive been here. Just wandering around the forests! they are supper cool!

We had lunch at a touristy buffet. they served reindeer! Filippo and Yesim tried it, but i stuck to potatoes. Afterwards My dad dropped us off in town, and i played tour guide for my friends. We called the other Turkish girl and she came also. we were laughing and joking in the center of town, we were probably the loudest thing to be there in a while, Finnish people are soo quiet! we went to a coffee place and i decided to call some of my Finnish friends to see if they wanted to meet everyone. Two of them came by and we all had a pretty good conversation. we had lost track of time Filippo's train was supposed to leave in 10 minutes, so one of my Finnish friends gave him a ride to the station.

The rest of us got a ride from my other friend to the Tivoli, this bar/ concert theater where bands would come and play. We met up with my sister and her friends. The band we were going to see is pretty big in Finland, a little rock band called Negative that i really like. The show was fantastic! It was so cool to see these guys that i had heard about in the US. The only thing was Finnish people don't jump around or shout half as much as we do in the U.S, but besides that it was fantastic. I caught the bass players sweaty towel and i bought an autographed CD from the merch table.

After the show Yesim came and spent the night at my place. She showed me a lot of cool Turkish stuff on the Internet, and we took turns showing each other our homes on google earth. soo cool. We stayed up late just talking which was cool because its hard to have a really good conversation with Finns because all the ones at my school are so shy. When she left we gave each other hugs! I can always count on the Turkish girls for some good hugs!

#2.1 Möki and Autumn

The seasons change fast here. Rovaniemi's city website clams that it is a city of 8 seasons and would have to agree with them. It felt like just a day after I got back from Oulu it was Autumn. It only took a few days for all the leaves to change into brilliant shades of orange and gold, 'ruska' as the Finns call the color change. After each season i am struck by the beauty of this city.Maybe it has something to do with the trees.

The next weekend My family decided to spend the weekend at our summer cottage, 'möki' in Finnish. Summer cottages are a very big part of Finnish culture. Its the quintessential Finnish vacation, like the road trip is America's. Every family has access to one. It's a retreat away from the stress of modern life, back into the nature that they love so much. The cottages usually don't have running water or electricity. They are usually on or near one of the many lakes in Finland. All of them have a traditional Sauna! Our cottage is about 40 km north of Rovaniemi, above the arctic circle, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. We had to navigate through a maze of dirt roads to get there, but my dad seamed to falter even for a second, he goes there so often for so many years.
The cottage (or cottages) were right on a little river bank. There were 4 buildings, the main one which was red (most Finnish cottages are red...) the second building was called the museum, it had a bedroom and the sauna. Then there was a storage shack that held enough fire wood to make it through the winter and then there was my least favorite building, the outhouse, that was just a little ways into the woods. When we got there there were 2 other cars already waiting for us, my dad's brother, and my dad's girlfriend and her 15 year old daughter. They had all brought there dogs, and so had we, + our 2 cats.

We went for a few hikes though the forest. The fall colors were beautiful. We picked a bunch of berries. Blueberries just grow wild in the forest and they are delicious. They also have a few other different kinds of berries, but i don't think there are even English names for them, but they were really good. Once we got in a boat and took a trip down the river. One night we had a camp fire, and another we set up a game of crocay all over the front lawn. Mari and I slept in the main cabin, the fire place doubled as a ladder into the loft. Pretty cool! There was also a TV so my dad didn't miss out on any of the formula 1 races (its a really big deal in Finland) All in all it was a nice little weekend retreat.

Once we got back home, things fell into their usual rhythm. The only change was that my Finnish lessons started! I'm taking Finnish lessons outside of school at a place called Rovalla in the 'city'. I have them twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays. I recognized one of the Turkish girls and the french boy from the Oulu trip. We were the youngest ones in the class. There are people from all over the world in the class, and were all trying to learn this insane
language! The teacher ONLY speaks Finnish in the class, which was kinda hard at first, but now i can understand pretty much everything in the class. And spoken Finnish is so different from Written Finnish so its like learning 2 different languages.

Slowly I've been able to understand more and more Finnish.It was crazy when i first got here i could hardly understand anything. I was hearing this crazy language all the time, and i would always try so hard to understand but i just couldn't. Some syllables in Finnish kinda sound a little bit like some in English, so i would keep hearing things when people were talking. So to keep myself from going mad i started to disassociate all meanings from sounds and syllables,one word was as meaningless as the next. I would be watching TV, maybe a Finnish program, and then the next show would start, and i would take me like 2 minutes of watching it to realize that this one was in English, i had to re-attach meaning to sounds before i could get it all. It was crazy!

I have started to notice the things Finnish people get wrong the most in English. They get he and she mixed up all the time because they only have hän, which is genderless. They also get their articles a, an, the, wrong a lot because they don’t have any articles in Finnish. And there really confused about prepositions, words like in, at, into, on and things like that, because in Finnish they have 6 different cases that express that sort of stuff, and that’s probably one of the hardest parts of Finnish for me to learn. For example talo means house, but talossa means inside the house talosta means from inside the house, taloon means to inside the house, talolla means like at-in the general area of the house, talolta means from the general area of the house, and
talolle means to the general area of the house. Ahhh is that not crazy? So if I wanted to say the apple is on the table I would say omena on pöytällä.

#2.0 AFS Camp in Hailuoto (Oulu FIN)

Two weeks into my stay AFS organized a post departure orientation. I figured it would pretty much be a repeat of the one in New York, they would go over the rules with us again and then give us tips and answer questions as to how to survive this year. I was looking forwards to seeing more of Finland and to meet the other exchange students, but that was about it.I had no idea that it would become one of the most memorable weekends in my life.

My AFS contact in my school Viivi would also be going. She had just come back this summer from her exchange year in South Africa. She is the one who interviewed my host family, and she's the one I'm supposed to go to if i have any trouble. We decided to go together a day early so we wouldn't have to catch the 5:00 train the next morning. Her boyfriend has a flat in Oulu where he goes to the University and we would spend Friday night there and then meet up with AFS early the next morning at the buss stop.

My Dad dropped us off at the train station and Viivi and i went in and bought tickets. It is about 15€ one way for a student or under 16 to get from Rovaniemi to Oulu. It is a distance of 225 km and it takes about 3 hours by train. Oulu is the biggest city in Finland north of Tampere home to 130,000 people, more then twice the size of Rovaniemi. The train was nice, pretty comfortable and quite fast. We talked most of the way there, she told me about her time in south Africa. When we weren't talking i was gazing out the train window in awe and Finland's uninterrupted forest. Its just crazy how many trees there are. I love it! its absolutely magical, but Viivi was laughing at my enthusiasm saying that Finnish nature all looks the same. I even took somevideos out the window. At that time of the year everything was still in its summer colors of green.

It was on the train that she told me that we weren't going to be staying at a hotel in the city as I imagined, but staying in cabins on an Island off the coast of Oulu!!!! I got excited then. She also told me that her boyfriend was on a trip to Helsinki right now, but his roommate was still here.

The train station was in the middle of the city, you only have to walk forward from the train station to find yourself in the middle of the city surrounded by 4 story buildings on either side (that's really tall for Finland) She stopped and asked a question at R-Kiosk,which is like the equivalent of a 7-11.

We had to catch a bus that would take us to the place we were staying on the other side of town. We walked through the city center which feels really European, compared to Rovaniemi which was completely burned down by the retreating Germans during WWII and was completely rebuilt in a more modern way by Alvar Aalto, on of Finland's most famous architects. While in Oulu, with its narrow cobblestone streets and architecture from the 1800's made me feel like i was transported into another world. We past Finnish designer stores like Marimekko and Sepälää with big store windows showing the glamorous trends of the upcoming winter that i would never be able to afford. I wanted to stay and ogle at the city for a wile, but Viivi didn't want to miss our bus, so we walked to the buss stop. On the way Viivi saw someone she new, no
surprise there, Finland is such a small country that where ever you go your bound to see a familiar face.

We Fond our bus stop and got on a bus, the buss was about 2€ which is way to expensive and the reason why i walk everywhere in Rovaniemi. We go off somewhere and Viivi realized that she was lost, so we had to call Jukka, her boyfriends roommate, to come and find us and lead us safely back to his flat. I was a little intimidated by him at first, as I am by most Finnish people, but after he got over his fear of speaking English he was very nice, saying "make your self at

A few things that surprised me was how many young people live in an apartment by themselves in Finland. A few of my friends from school do even though there only about 16. Another example of the independence given to the young by their parents. Also most of Finnish homes are surprisingly modern. Except for my home, which was built by my Host dad in the 80's. One thing all Finnish homes have in common are mud rooms. You MUST take off your shoes before going into anyone's home. There is also a place to put your coat just about anywhere you go, from restaurants, to schools or even trains always have the hooks on the wall for you to safely hang your coat.

We went out for dinner and then went back to the flat to sleep, we had a long day ahead of us. We got up early and fond a bus stop that would take us back into the center. The main bus stop is next to the train station, but you have to go through a tunnel under the train tracks to get there. We were some of the first people to get there. We even beat the AFS people. People started to trickle in Iwas really curious about them, and i wondered if i would meet anyone I knew. I was surprised again when the AFS volunteers arrived. No one was over 25 as far as
I could tell, unlike the meeting in NY where none of the staff was under 35. They got us organized and onto the bus.
All the while iIwas meeting new people from all over the world. Turkey, Japan, Brazil, Hungary, Italy, Germany, new Zealand ( I remembered her from the airport), Switzerland, Venezuela, Belgium, Thailand, France and then finally America! There was another American girl from Alaska that I remembered. Everyone was speaking English with each other, which I wasn't surprised by, but it was still really cool, i never realized what a bridge language English had become.We got on the Bus and Samulli the trip leader got on the PA and told us more about where we were going and what we would be doing. He had been an exchange student to Japan, and he spoke in almost perfect English. He told us that the Island we would be going to is called Hailuoto and we would be taking a ferry there and then drive another 20 minutes to get to the most western part of the island where we would be staying in cabins on the beach! I new this was gonna be good!

Everyone was talking with each other and Samulli kept telling us things, playing tour guide. When we got to the see,we had to wait a while for the next ferry, so they let us out to stretch our legs. The view was beautiful.We were right along the Baltic sea and you could see the coast line of Oulu and there were these huge white windmills for wind energy. We climbed back onto the bus and drove right onto the ferry, they packed about 30 cars onto the ferry!
Once we were on our way they let us off the bus again and told us to be careful of the cars because Finnish people really like their cars. The ferry ride took about 20 minutes, which was too short for me. Back on the bus they told us that in winter the sea would completely freeze and you could just drive there.

Once we were one the island they switched tour Guides. The new one's name was "Oll...lli" (Olli) He was quite a funny character. He had been and exchange student in Texas, which explained why his English was soo bad. He kept telling us his name but he reaaaaly exaggerated the double Ls. He just talked to us for a while which was really funny, he got the whole bus laughing at him and his English. And he had the funniest laugh ever! We arrived st a cluster of buildings that was the meeting center and the cafeteria. We went right into the meeting room and all sat down. The AFS staff was at the front and they all introduced themselves. There were..6 all together. Before they got the meeting started, they gave us some unfortunate news. There was no toilet paper in any of the cabins, and there was only one roll for all like 35 of us. So we passed around the roll and each took our share. After everyone had got some, Samulli told us that it was just a joke, and now we would have to tell a fact about ourselves for each piece of toilet paper we took. So that set the mood for the whole weekend, it was really fun and joke-i (is that a word?)

They talked to us for a while and then gave us the program for the rest of the trip. After that we Split into groups and did different games/ activities, like drawing a map of the world in the sand and standing where you belong, or saying why you wanted to come here (I hate that question). Then we went to the cafeteria for lunch. I wish i could tell you all the things we talked about, but that would take way too long. It was so cool to be talking to everyone. No one was shy and every one was friendly. I talked with the American and New Zealand girl, and every one listened in on our conversation, testing themselves to see if they could understand native English speakers speak. Everyone tells me that i speak perfectly and they can understand everything, but hardly anyone could understand the New Zealand girl except for us Americans. the Italian boys were on her case for speaking wrong English. It was great.

Then we got back on the bus and went to you cabins. It was beautiful!! they were right on the beach, you just had to walk over a hill and you were staring out over the Baltic sea. Olli told us that if we looked close enough that we could see Sweden, but you cant believe everything that he says. We split into smaller groups again, I was with the New Zealand Girl, the American girl, A boy from Belgium and a Boy from France. Our group leader was from Rovaniemi and she had spent a year in Italy. We talked about our host families with her, and we went through some worst case scenarios and what to do if they happened. then we stopped and had a coffee break. Afterwards we did some more talking in our groups, then we went and had dinner.

Back at the cabins we now had free time between now at 6:00 the next morning (they didn't give us a bedtime) So we went out and played on the beach as the sun was setting. It was mind blowing! We played games on the beach, and had races and stuff like that. The sand was really soft so i took my shoes off, even though it was icy sand. We went a few meters into the water from the shore, but it was freezing so we didn't say there long.
Later on that night, after the sun had set at about 9:00, all the girls had a chance to go into the sauna. We ran out in our bathing suits into the cold night to try and find the sauna house. We found it and there were about 15 girls who were there and wanted to go in. So we decided to go in shifts. We took a shower before, and right before we got in one of the Finnish girls there told us that traditionally one goes to the Sauna naked, and wanting to be as Finnish as possible we all striped down and got into the Sauna. We managed to cram 10 girls into this tiny sauna. Some one poured watter on the rocks, which instantly evaporated into clouds of burning steam that found a way to spread its heat to every part of your body. It even came clawing down your thought suffocating you with its heat. Overall its a very pleasantly purifying experience. After about 10 minutes of that, about 6 of us (including my self but excluding any Finnish people) decided to go for the full Finnish experience and go jump into the Baltic sea for a bit of a swim. We Ran out of the sauna house (bathing suits on again), just the shock of the night air was enough to catch your breath and make you pause, but we kept going, screaming all the
way. There was a small crowd on the beach watching us to make sure we didn't chicken out. We ran strait into the waiting waves.The shock of the water was like a million needles shoving themselves deep into every inch of your skin. I couldn't breath, i couldn't move the cold was so intense. After a few seconds i had enough, but the others had not, they wanted to go for the total submersion. We ran further out into the waves in search of deeper water, we had to go pretty far out to find any. When we made it out far enough we counted to 3 and all 6 of us went under at once. You know nothing of cold until you spend time under the surface of the baltic sea. It was 10000 times colder then when i first got in the water, we screamed coming back up, there was nothing else to do. There was no getting used to this water, you would litterly freeze while you waited. Even so we spent about 5 minutes in the water shrieking the whole time, I went under a few more times.

We ran back to shore, strangely the night air didn't feel any warmer after the sea. We ran past the astonished faces of the people watching us the crazy foreign girls doing something crazier then most Finnish people would do, but we didn't stop for them, we kept running until we were back in the sauna. Even with the scorching temperatures of the sauna it took us a while to defrost.We could have stayed there forever, but someone told us that our turn was up and the boys were coming soon.

So we got out and went back to our cabins to get dressed. We went out to a little gazebo type thing where they were having a camp fire and roasting all kinds of traditional Finnish things like mustamakkara (black sausage) and, of coarse Marshmallows. So we sat around the fire trying to speak in our two week old Finnish. "Missä on makkara?" "En tiedä..aha se on tuolla. Ole hyvä." "Kiitos!". We watched as it was the boys turn to take a dip in the sea. But there were only 3 of them who went, and they were only there long enough to go under once before they were running back. Psht we were so braver then them. The camp fire hose became more crowded as the boys got back from Sauna. After a while of sitting and talking, people started drifting off to bed.

Ashleigh (the New Zealand girl) and i took a walk. We ran into Olli who told us to follow him, we
did and he took us a ways away from the light of the cabins. It was a clear night and the view of the northern sky was spectacular. I had never seen so many stars, even in the mountains. He started to point out Finnish constellations. Then we saw Shooting starts or 'flying stars' as they are in Finnish. I made a wish. Then he told us to look at the very edge of the northern sky, there was something there, something long and bright blue that stretched out across the
northern horizon. He told us it was the Aurora Borealis!

Back at the Cabins, only 7 of us were left awake, and none of us wanted to go to sleep anytime soon. We stayed up together huddled for warmth on the freezing beach like penguins until 3 in the morning....Best Night Ever!

The next morning we hiked back to the cafeteria for breakfast and then had one more meeting with our groups at the cabins before we had to pack up our things and load up the bus. The bus ride back to Oulu was a sad one, no one wanted to go back home. Everyone was a flurry with trying to get every ones Finnish phone numbers and email addresses as well as last minute pictures of everyone. The Ferry ride back was mostly about pictures also. I felt closer to
some of these people that i had just met that any of the Finns i had known for 2 weeks. I was sad to see them go as they each got off the bus and made their own way home.

On the train home I found out that there were 3 other exchange students staying in Rovaniemi. One of the Turkish girls, the french boy and a Japanese girl. We exchanged information and promised to meet up again soon.

My Dad came and picked me and Viivi up at the airport. It felt weird to be back, like i was coming home.