Tuesday, December 23, 2008

#4.0 Back In Finland

At school I started the 3rd Jakso. This time around I'm taking Geometry (really easy for me), Geography (All About Natural Disasters), Biology (Environmental Ecology), Finnish History, English and Art. I also decided to dabble in another language opportunity, Italian. My school offers lessons once a week and I decided to give it a go.

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.

The Following weekend I had everyone + a few more over to my house to make them an all American meal. I made...what else.. but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Mac&Cheese with Reece's Peanut Butter cups for desert. My mom had sent me a package with all the supplies needed. These things are very hard to find here, and cost a pretty penny at that. there's actually an 'American' section in one store in town, its pretty funny. No one there had ever had any of those foods before! Its hard for me to comprehend an existence with out Mac&Cheese, but they seamed to be getting along pretty well. they all said they liked it, that it was good in a kind of gross artificial way. Which is soo true! The boy who had grossed me out with the tofu said pb&j was good in the same way, putting 2 things that completely didn't belong together, just to find out that it was actually good. I thought that was Bizarre. How could anyone not see the connection between peanut butter and jelly?

#3.2 Tenerife!

It took my sister about a week to pack. She was taking 2 suitcases, more then I had brought to Finland for the whole year. I packed the night before, just what I needed. Despite this amazing opportunity to travel to some place I never dreamed of going to, I wasn't really looking forwards to it. For one, things were starting to get good in Rovaniemi, and I didn't want to miss out on Finland. Another thing was we were going to a tropical island. Now I'm the kind of person who chooses of her own free will to go to Finland for a year. Tropics is not my forte'. If I wanted heat palm trees and a Spanish speaking culture I would have gone to Mexico or Costa Rica or something. Not that I'm complaining, how can you?

There were 5 of us going together. Me, my host dad and sister plus his girlfriend and his girlfriend's 14 year old daughter.The 5 of us crammed ourselves in a car for about a 3 hour trip to Oulu, where we would catch our plain. The weather was frigid as we drove. There was about 5 cm of snow and about -12 degrees C. I saw a few herds of reindeer grazing alongside the road. Once we got to the airport we had a direct flight from Oulu to Tenerife. The flight took about 6 hellish hours. Our headphone jacks didn't work and i had to sit in the middle, deprived from my usual window. We flew over Stockholm, Paris and Lisbon.

We arrived at about 9:00 local time. We got of the plane as was welcomed by some overly cheerful tour guides handing out maps. "To quiero una carta?" One of the ladies asked, I was so impressed with myself that I understood. "Joo, kiitos!" I said. It took me a minute to realized that I had definitely not responded in Spanish as I had planned. This multi-lingual thing was giving me a headache. The outside air was just cooling off, but it was still hot. About 18 C. (That's in the 70's I think..)

We were picked up by a Finnish travel agency who had a bus. We got on and they gave the tour, only in was in Finnish, so I didn't retain much. Our hotel was about 10 minutes away from the air port. From what I could see it was a sprawling maze of a complex. We went in to check in. There was a Spanish man at the counter. I was curious to see how my host dad would handle this situation, as he hardly speakers any English. He asked for our passports, and we gave them to him. He started talking about Finland, when he heard where we were from. "Finland?! ahh Terve Terve! Mitä kuulu? beautiful country!" I was surprised to hear him speak Finnish, but it turned out that almost everyone knew a little.
He gave us 3 girls lollipops. As he was giving the passports back he saw mine. It stood out between the burgundy of the Finnish ones, the eagle on the cover blatantly parading my origins. "Alright" He said. "Which one of you is American?" Uh oh... I knew that America wasn't exactly popular these days but I never expected to be singled out like this. "That would be me" I said. "How old are you?" He asked bluntly. "Uhh 16.." "Ahh. so too young to vote, yes?" ah now I saw where this was going. "Yeah I'm too young. but if I could have I definitely would have voted." "And who would you have voted for?" He asked, blunt again. "Obama!" "Ahh yes! Good, muy bueno. Well if you had I would have given you another lollipop!" I was taken aback by the whole exchange. Not what I was expecting at all.
We made our way through the maze that was our hotel to our room. The hotel was basically a lot of suites with patios stacked on top of each other an and order that hardly seamed planed. The whole complex was open to the sky. It was a playground for parkour, full of ledges leading to roofs and staircases leading down and away. Later on we would wonder through our hotel we found 3 swimming pools and the ' cave bar' all tucked away.The hotel room it's self was small hot and stuffy. The main room had a little kitchenette and dining table a couch and a TV that had a huge contraption attached to it, it was coin operated. 1€ per hour. T(hey charge you for everything here in paradise) Riikka Mari and I shared one room and Tarja and Jussi got the other. Mari's suitcases took up about ½ of the floor. The bathroom was a bit grimy, but alright I guess. It was strange to be crammed back into such a tinny shower after the all to open one I had back home.....no wait...in Finland.

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.

We went down to the beach almost everyday. There were shops and restaurants all along the coast. Some of the shops were cool, all of them were cheap, but after a while they all seamed the same, after all they all sold the same merchandise. But the beach was beautiful and the sun was welcome after being pretty much deprived from it for 3 months. Some days we would go swimming in the hotel, or we would go on some activity planned by the travel agency. One day we went inland to the water park where they had a bunch of water rides and dolphins! The dolphin show was free for customers so we sat and watched.

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.
Time passes in that sluggish was it does in paradise. But it passed none the less. After two weeks of rest and recreation it was time to go back to Finland a little tanner and a bit more traveled and well rested.

Monday, December 22, 2008

#3.1 Another trip to Oulu

The weekend they left I got an email from the AFS Oulu chapter. They were having a meeting the weekend after Ivy and Domi left, and i definitely wanted to go and get a chance to see everyone again. The meeting was on a Saturday and I was planning on catching an early morning train there and then taking the last train home. I talked to One of the Italian exchange students there, he said that his host family could pick me up from the train station and go back and have breakfast at their home before going out to the meeting.

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.

Not Wanting the train to leave with out me I got on. There weren't many people on it, but i found a comfortable seat next to a window. I had planed to enjoy the ride, maybe take a nap, but i was still in a state of panic. I didn't have a Ticket!!! The train lurched and then started to pick up momentum. I Knew that any minute the conductor guy would come out and ask for tickets. What would they do when they found out that I didn't have one? Would they make me get off at the next stop? I couldn't call anyone to ask, to early. And my dad couldn't help because I didn't know how to explain it to him.Should I hide in the Bathroom, that always worked in movies right? But they would find me for sure. Would the Finnish police get involved? Oh god that would mean that AFS would kick me out! I was going home, I was sure of it. I Didn't want to go! not yet! I was desperate. It a last attempt I walked through the nearly empty train trying to find someone who didn't look too scary. I went over to a young woman with headphones on. I was breaking the invisible Finnish protocol now. You didn't bother strangers. You keep to yourself. I asked her If she spoke English, my nerves couldn't take a conversation in Finnish right now. "Can you buy your tickets from the man who comes to check them?" I asked. "Yes you can." Whhhoooooshhhhh. Ah Wow that was intense. I was so relived, you have no Idea. I went back to my seat and tried to relax.

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 found my self alone in an almost deserted city wandering through the narrow cobbled stoned and foggy streets. It was almost magical. I covered the center of the city twice, up and down, it took me 3 hours to do it. Everything was closed, but I mapped out where I would want to go next time i was here. i wouldn't get lost here either. I found some pretty cool things that I took pictures of. Finally noon rolled around, but you could hardly tell because of the fog. This time i bought my ticket form the lady at the train station, I don't think she noticed that I wasn't Finnish. I only understood like 1/3 of what she was saying when she gave my a few sheets of paper, but I smiled and nodded and it seamed to be enough. I got on the train and had a look at what she gave me, but everything seamed to be in order, plus there was a booklet with all the timetables for trains In and out of Oulu.

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.

#3.0 Visiting Relatives

Right at the end of October Mari's 30 something year old half sister Päivi, and her son Domi came up from Helsinki to spend a few days with us. We picked them up from the airport. It was the first time I had been back in the airport since I had first arrived. It was strange to be back, remembering my first day there. I saw the pair coming through the gate. Domi has the reddest hair I have ever seen on a 4 year old! Its really cute! He had a little rolling back pack that he dragged behind him all the way out. My host dad's face lit up when he saw his grand son. He loves to spoil the little guy, how could you not?

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.
Domi my dad and his girlfried at the snow mobile expo