Sunday, April 1, 2012

The People Make the Place

I'm sitting in my new room, looking outside at what should be a beautiful spring scene, but instead, I see snow falling from the sky. Not only that, but there is actually a substantial amount of it accumulating on the ground and on our roof. It is very picturesque, but it looks like it should be set in the beginning of December, not the beginning of April. This thought made me smile, because it is almost like even the weather is willing there to be more time left in my exchange year. If only it worked that way...

Quite a lot has happened since the end of February, which was the last time I sat down to write. At the beginning of March, I went downhill skiing at a place called Ellivuori with Rotary. It was a great time! I had not been skiing for two or three years, so it was great to give it a try again. Normally, I am a bit of a cautious person when it comes to things that could be a bit dangerous, but I actually went down all of the hills but the very hardest. My experiences here have definitely helped me become much braver than I was before and I have realized that letting fear get in the way of life is just silly. You just have to let the chips fall where they may and take some risks. That makes life so much more fun.

On March 24, I moved in with my new host family in Raisio (about 30-40 minutes from Turku, depending on bus traffic) and it has been wonderful. I miss my first family, of course, but I absolutely love my new family too. My host dad was an exchange student to Ohio with Rotary thirty-four years ago, so it has been really fun to discuss exchange student things with him. My host mom and host sister (and other host siblings that do not live at home) are also great. I have been learning some Finnish, which is really nice. I love both of my families so much and it is very strange to feel torn between them, but it is also wonderful. Feeling torn means that I have great connections with both of them, which is wonderful. They honestly both feel like my real family. Who know that one person could have so many people in her life that she considers her immediate family?!

Other than that, life has been pretty normal. I have recently been baking quite a bit. Lu-Wei and I made cupcakes, pancakes, and smoothies a few weeks ago, and I recently made an American breakfast, complete with pancakes, bacon, and real maple syrup, for my family. Making food is always so much fun and it is great because I can share what I make. I have also been playing around with the piano a bit and have even attempted teaching myself a few things on the guitar. My host dad is really into music and actually is part of a band as a hobby. His band practices in our basement, so there is a really great room filled with keyboards, guitars, drums, and microphones. Yesterday, Lu-Wei and two of our best friends, Waltteri and Juusef, came over and we had quite the little music fest going on. Lu plays the piano and Waltteri is fantastic at guitar, so we had a lot of fun. It was such a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Besides baking and music, most of my time has been spent in the various cafes around Turku. I went bowling the other day, which was fun, and I actually was not half bad! It is currently test week, so as an exchange student, I have quite a bit of free time on my hands. I have actually been considering trying to teach myself to knit, although I would probably get fed up with that very quickly. But it would be great to be able to make my own scarves. We'll see if I ever actually get around to that.

Time has been absolutely flying by. This last month was gone in a flash and I really wish I could slow everything down. But that's not the way life works. Nothing lasts forever, so my goal is to make the most of the time I have left, spending time with my friends and families. I can only hope that they all know how much they mean to me and how much I love them. Thank you all for being amazing!

Well, here's a quick peak into the near future: The last jakso begins on the 10th, which is a bit bittersweet. I mean, I am really looking forward to summer and no school, but this is my last jakso in Finnish school, which is sad. My first host family returns from their trip on the 11th and it is currently looking like I will move back in there on the 14th. It will be great to see them, but it will also be really sad to move away from my new family. Ah, the emotional turmoil! Anyway, on the 18th, my dad will arrive and I will go to Helsinki to pick him up from the airport and he will be staying until the night of the 23rd. I am really looking forward to him meeting as many people as possible and seeing what life here is like for me. Once he leaves, the next big milestone is the 26th, when my exchange year is 3/4 of the way done (yeah, I made the mistake of doing the math...that is NOT going to be an easy day for me). Then May 1st is Vappu (a bit of a party day all across Finland) and we're into our last month of school. My goodness, how time flies.

Well, here's to good friends, wonderful families, and living in the moment! I plan to make every second of my time here count, and with the wonderful people I have surrounding me, that should be easy. :)

Until next time!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Timey Wimey...Stuff

It is currently the skiing holiday in Finland, which marks the eighth week of the new year. That in and of itself is really unbelievable. Time has been going so fast, but yet it feels like I have done so much recently, way more than the first part of my exchange. The last two months have been absolutely incredible. Now, that is not to say that the rest of my exchange was not wonderful; these last two months have just been extra awesome. It seems like just yesterday that my Oldies left and I had to say some of the most difficult goodbyes (or, see-you-laters, as one of my friends likes to put it) of my life. The hardest thing is that there is no set time that I will see them again. But here's to hoping that it's soon!
Anyway, I have met so many wonderful new people over the last few months and have had many story-filled moments, most of which have taken place in the little cafes all around Turku. I can understand quite a bit of what goes on in Finnish conversation, which is fun. I definitely do not catch everything, but it is a lot of fun to try to understand what my friends are saying to each other. One of my friends and I have decided that one of these days, we're going to go to the cafe and speak only Finnish with each other for a full hour. That should be interesting because I have a really hard time understanding him when he speaks...oh well, it will definitely make for a good story!
Yesterday, Grayce and Petteri came to Turku to visit. We went to a cafe for a while and just chatted, then met up with a few friends of mine and played pool. Fun fact about me: I had never played pool before coming to Finland. The first time I tried...well, let's just say it was a miracle if I hit the cue ball. True story! Anyway, I have now improved quite a bit, thanks to my wonderful friends who have put up with my less-than-incredible pool playing skills. I am still by no means good, but I am much better than before. Anyway, it was great to see everyone, as always, and it was really cool to have Petteri and Grayce meet some of my Finnish friends. Although we did not do anything big while they were here, it was really nice to spend the day with them.
Oh! Big news! My dad is coming to visit me at the end of April! When I first left for exchange, I was not sure I wanted anyone to visit me. I mean, it is sort of my year and I wanted to live it myself. It is a bit difficult to explain my reasoning. Anyway, after living here for half a year, I realize that this is my life and when I go back to the United States, I am going to want someone to actually have some idea what I'm talking about when I mention people, places, foods, or anything else I miss. And so, my dad is coming! I guess that's one good thing that comes of Delta Airlines...flight benefits (Delta and I don't exactly have the best track record, what Dad's job being moved to Georgia and all...). It will be great to introduce him to everyone and show him what my life is like here. He won't be staying long, so it will be a very busy five days!
On a similar note, my host family is going to be visiting my host sister (she is on exchange in Canada this year) and traveling a bit in the U.S. and Canada at the end of March/beginning of April, so I will be staying with another family for around two and a half weeks. We still are not sure who that will be, but hopefully we will figure that out soon. There is a possibility that I will stay with Hannah's first host family and go to school in Masku for a little while (that could be an adventure!), but we still need to talk to the family again and see if they can still take me, and talk to both my school and Hannah's school to see if that would be alright. Hopefully we can work something out relatively soon. My family leaves in around one month, so we are starting to run out of time. But that's okay. I have no doubt we will figure something out.
Oh, I almost forgot! I am taking a biology class this jakso and it is so much fun! Lu-Wei and I have class together and it is microbiology, which is my absolute favorite (Definitely make me miss AP Bio/FAPS...I miss you, SW!)! We just learned the cell parts and I am proud to say that I remembered almost all of them in English (I forgot the word chromosome...oops) and have actually learned a lot of them in Finnish. I still have no idea what endoplasmic reticulum is in Finnish, but I really do not think I will need that in my everyday vocabulary. Anyway, I also have two English classes this jakso, one of which requires me to do quite a bit of work outside of school, which has been kind of fun. We have three "essays" that are 300 words each, two short stories/responses, and a book review all due at different points throughout the jakso. The hardest thing is keeping everything short enough! As I'm sure you've noticed, I tend to have a lot to say when I write. Haha. Anyway, my other classes are not particularly interesting. I have art, which is kind of a strange class...we never seem to have any reason for what we do in there. We randomly made clay eggs the other day. Welcome to Finland, I guess!
Well, I guess that is really all that is new here. But you know what's weird? Time. Time has been absolutely flying by and, in some ways, it feels like I just got here, but in other ways, I feel like I have always been here.  It is an odd feeling, but a nice one too. I am absolutely loving my time here and doing my best to live in the moment. I think I have gotten a bit better at that recently, although I do still like to have a plan when I go to do things. My goal is to try to live for today a bit more, without worrying about tomorrow. Spontaneity, here I come!

Until next time!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Carpe Diem!

These past few weeks have been lovely. The Newbies have arrived from Australia and it has been great getting to know them. We have five in the Turku area (Lu-Wei, Miri, Izzy, Isy, and Jono), which is more than we were expecting. I have not met Jono yet, but the others are all really nice. Lu-Wei and I go to school together (along with Mateo, of course) and we get along really well! I am really looking forward to all of the fun times we're going to have together. We've already had some pretty great adventures at school, on buses, and with Finnish friends. It is so much fun to see how her first few weeks have been going. It makes me remember how I felt when I first got here. Things that once were super exciting or nerve-wracking (like taking the bus) have now because normal tasks that are essential to everyday life. Now, that's not to say I don't still get excited about the little things, because believe me, I totally do. It is just different than it was at first. And actually, it is nice to have things feel normal. If they didn't, this would just be an extended vacation instead of life in another country. And trust me, living life here is way better than any vacation ever could be.

Besides having the Newbies around, not too much has changed over the past few weeks. I've been having a great time with my friends and I swear I now live in cafes! I can't wait until it is warm enough to meet friends and just go sit by the river or walk around town without ending up completely frozen. Despite the chilly weather, we have found lots of ways to have fun. I still haven't gone ice skating here in Finland and I really want to do that sometime soon. Hopefully I can get a group together for that. It's been around two years since I've been skating, so hopefully I remember how. If not, at least we'll get a good laugh out of me trying.

I guess the last few weeks have most been decision making time for me. I had to determine whether or not I was going on Euro Tour and when I would go back to the United States. I ended up deciding not to go on Euro Tour, partly because it is so expensive, but mostly because I do not want to miss three weeks of Finnish summer. There is so much I want to do and I want to spend as much time with my friends here as possible, so I am actually kind of glad that I will not be going. Hopefully I'll be able to travel Europe on my own someday down the road. My return date was a much more difficult decision to make. In all honesty, I never want to leave Finland. My home is here now and I am the happiest I have been in a very long time. When I try to picture myself back in the U.S., I kind of just get this big blur, which is strange because when I left Finland, I could actually get a pretty clear picture of what I wanted my future to be. Living here has made me less sure about what will happen, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It gives me a chance to rediscover what is important to me and what I want to make of my life. But anyway, the date for my return was a decision that had to be made. I finally decided that I would go back sometime in the last full week of July. I actually was not able to pick the specific date on my own (all of you who know me well know that decision making has never been my strong suit), so I asked my friend to pick a number. And so, I will be going back to the U.S. on July 24. Sometimes, I am able to come to terms with the fact that I have to leave this amazing life I have here behind and other times, I just break down and cry. But, my goal for now is to live in the moment and not worry about the future (which is a lot easier said than done for someone who usually plans every aspect of her life and weighs all decisions heavily).

I am going to take my friends' advice now and try not to think about the things that have to change at the end of this year. I am so thankful that I have found a place I call home here, met wonderful friends, learned so much about myself, and been able to experience the world. I look forward to making these next few months even more amazing than my first six! Here's to living in the moment, saying what is on your mind, and being brave enough to embrace today for what it is without focusing on what it will all mean for tomorrow.

Until next time!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Holidays, Goodbyes, and New Beginnings

Well, it has been a while and I have quite a bit to talk about, what with Christmas and New Years and all. The New Year marks a time of change for exchange students, but wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go about this in chronological order, shall we?

Christmas: I went with my family to visit both sets of host-grandparents in Eastern Finland. My host grandparents speak only Finnish, so for about four days, my speaking and listening skills improved leaps and bounds. We first went to visit my host mom’s parents and were there for Christmas Eve, the day most of the Christmas celebrations occur. We ate traditional Finnish Christmas food (Christmas ham, many kinds of casseroles (sweetened potato (no, not sweet potato), carrot/rice, liver/rice (yeah, I had one bite and that was more than enough for me), and turnip), beet/apple/lots of other stuff salad, Christmas porridge, karjalanpiirakka, and much more). That evening, we went to the cemetery to light candles for loved ones who have died. It is a beautiful Finnish tradition. Unfortunately, I was not able to get any pictures, so you will just have to use your imagination. Each grave in the cemetery had at least one candle and the whole place was aglow. Add to that snow and a community gathered together in remembrance, and you will understand the beauty of a Finnish cemetery on Christmas Eve. The next day, we went to my host dad’s parents for a few days. I had met them earlier in the year, so it was nice to see them again.

In between Christmas and New Years: MURIEL CAME! It was wonderful to see her. She got to meet a lot of my friends here, both Finns and exchange students, and her visit seemed much shorter than four days.  She was here for my 18th birthday, which was nice. It was hard to see her go the next day, but that was made easier by the fact that I know I will see her again soon and despite the time we spent apart, we are still great friends. 

New Years: New Years in Finland is quite the holiday. It is usually celebrated with alcohol and fireworks, which is really a terrifying combination. Drunk Finns handling explosives just does not sound like a good idea to me. I went out for pizza with my friend Hannah (from Michigan) and then we bounced between groups of friends for the rest of the evening. It was actually pretty nice weather, considering it was the end of December in Finland. At midnight, we were greeted by a fireworks display over the Aurajoki (the river in Turku). It was a great way to bring in the New Year.

After New Years, the rest of break (which lasted until the 9th)  flew by. On January 5th, the first of our Oldies left Finland. Megan from South Africa had completed her exchange year and headed home. It was really difficult for all of us to say goodbye, especially since it was for an indefinitely long period of time. One week later, we were in the same position, saying goodbye to Jackie and Maygen from Australia. Most of the Turku family went to Helsinki to see them off at the airport. It was extremely difficult to say goodbye. 

Hannah, Maygen, Me, and Jackie at Milan

The Turku Family at the Helsinki Airport

This marked a turning point in our exchange. We were no longer the Newbies, lost and scared in a brand new place, excited by all of the newness around us, and naïve about the challenges we would face in the coming year. We had spent five months of our lives living abroad, learning to take care of ourselves and growing into the people we will be for the rest of our lives. And now it’s our turn to make as much of an impact as our Oldies did for us. In less than one week, we will become Oldies ourselves. In fact, there is actually an Australian girl who will be joining Mateo and me at Klassikko in one week! We are really excited to meet her! Anyway, my exchange may be half way over, but really, I think the main point of exchange is just beginning for me.

Around the time I last posted, I was still feeling like I had very few good Finnish friends. I mean, of course I had a few people I hung out with, but most of my time with friends was spent with exchange students. Don’t get me wrong, exchange students are some of the best people I have ever met and I have had some amazing memories with my Turku family of exchangers, but there is something about having real Finnish friends that feels different. The making and keeping of good friends is something most of us have really been struggling with because of cultural differences and, let’s face it, fear. I know I have been scared to go up and talk to Finns because that is just not part of the Finnish culture. This has been especially difficult at school. Often times, if I cannot find the girls I usually spend time with between classes, I end up sitting by myself, which is alright sometimes but other times is difficult to deal with. By the time Christmas break rolled around, I was starting to think that maybe this is just how exchange goes in Finland. You meet a lot of great people, make a small number of good Finnish friends, and just enjoy your year for what it is. But then, something changed. The Oldies leaving made me realize that exchange really is what I make it and that I have a limited amount of time. I promised myself that I would make plans with Finnish friends that I had been too scared to make before. My goal? Hang out with five new Finnish friends by the end of January. Not only is it not the end of January, but I have succeeded in my goal. And actually, because I forced myself to be brave and step outside my comfort zone, I have made some really amazing friends. I actually spent the whole after noon with Finnish friends on Thursday, which was really fun. I think I have turned over a new leaf in exchange life and I like it a lot. I am so glad that I had the courage to meet new people, experience new things, and just start really being myself. A big thank you to all of my amazing Finnish friends, both those who have stuck with me from the start and those who I have met recently. You guys really are helping make my exchange amazing. Thank you for being such great friends!

On that note, I think it is time I wrap this up. I have learned a lot about myself and life over the last month and I hope this continues for the next six months of my life and beyond. Being an exchange student is really a learning process. It’s learning that first impressions are no way to judge people. That letting go of worries about tomorrow is okay. That being yourself and finding people who accept you for who you are is what matters. That making a fool of yourself is good from time to time. That right and wrong are subjective. That just because you’ve known someone for a short amount of time does not mean you can’t love them as much as you love your friends you’ve known for years. That life is what you make it and you have the power to choose your attitude. That people are what make a place. That family extends beyond your biological relatives. That home is wherever you are happy. And for me, at this point in my life, home is here in Finland.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Molding the Clay

This has been quite an eventful month. As we began this Christmas season, all of the Rotary Exchange Students from everywhere in Finland piled into four buses and headed on the 17 hour trek to Lapland (the area of Finland in the Arctic Circle). When we arrived, we were greeted by snow, almost no daylight, and loads of hugs from exchange sudents we hadn't seen in upwards of four months. Nothing can quite describe an exchange student reunion. Imagine for me, if you will, being in a crowded room with almost no room to move, listening to 5 or more languages, and spontaneously being pulled into giant hugs. Now intensify what you are imagining about 100 times and you will have what we experienced on our first day in Lapland. As the week progressed, I swear the intensity only increased. We went skiing/snow boarding/sledding, snowshoeing, on a reindeer sled ride, a sled-dog ride, made ice sculptures, ate reindeer, said a tearful early goodbye to the Oldies (Oldy: An exchange student who arrived half a year prior to the Newbies; for those from the U.S., the Oldies are from Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and Argentina), and had an epic dance party. All of that was packed into three wonderful days of sleeplessness.
After returning from Lapland (another 17 hour bus ride), it was my friend Hannah's 18th birthday. We went to a party with some of our Finnish friends and it was a really great time. It is always nice to have the chance to meet Finns outside of school because they tend to be much more willing to talk with us, in both English and Finnish. It is always hard to strike up a conversation with people while in school because, in all honesty, there is not a lot to talk about. I mean, you can only complain about the nasty rainy weather for so long!
For the last week or so, we have mostly just been preparing for Christmas. The lack of snow is making it a little difficult to get into the spirit of the season, but we're working with what we have. We had a pikkujoulu (Little Christmas - a custom in Finland where you have a party with friends/coworkers before Christmas) on Friday with the Turku area exchange students. I organized a Secret Santa (which, surprisingly, actually worked out!) and we all made food to share. Then on Sunday, there was a Rotex Christmas party, which was nice. We made joulutortu (a delicious Christmas pastry) and just sat around and talked. As always, it was good to see everyone.
So, things have been pretty good here. Although I was told I would become especially homesick during the holidays (sort of a continuation of the November Blues), that hasn't hit me yet and here's to hoping that it won't! The one thing that has been a bit hard is knowing that Speech Club is starting up and that, for the first time in five years, I will be sleeping in every Saturday morning instead of waking up earlier than I did for school in order to perform. I heard from SW that the team has 56 kids this year, which is absolutely amazing! I have no doubt that they all will have a wonderful season.
Oh my! I almost forgot! I was accepted early decision to St. Olaf College, which is super exciting! I am so glad to be done with the application process and able to focus on living here in Finland.
To wrap up this post, I would like to tell you a story that will hopefully make you think a little about your own life. The other day, I was talking with one of my wonderful Oldies about her time as an exchange student here in Finland. We discussed making and keeping good Finnish friends (which is still difficult sometimes), spending time with other exchangers, learning the language, and just the whole journey in general. Towards the end of our conversation, I mentioned that this has been quite the journey of self-discovery for me and that at this particular moment, I am so different from the person I was prior to exchange that I am not really 100% sure who I am anymore. She told me to think of myself as a piece of clay. Right now is that time when I'm squishing the clay back down and sort of starting over on my grand masterpiece after trying out a few different shapes. Granted, I'm still working with the same material I had before and the clay will continue to be reshaped after this year, but I am currently building the foundation and basic shape that will last for the rest of my life. I thought this was wonderful advice.
Today, I challenge you to view yourself as a piece of clay, molded by everything you say and do. Live your life in a way that molds your clay into the shape you want. And remember, if you make a mistake, you can always go back and fix it because, after all, it's just clay, and you get to choose how to shape it.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Attitude Adjustment

On Monday, I was just going along, living my exchange life full steam ahead and BAM! I ran into the November Blues. Yes, they finally hit me. Luckily, I was not the only one feeling that way. Exchange students from Finland to Ecuador to the USA all seemed to experience the same thing. I am not sure there is a true explanation for it, but I think it usually is triggered by one itsy bitsy little thing that just makes you start focusing on the negative and then you get stuck thinking about all of the less than perfect things. For those of you who did not see on Facebook, here is my analysis of the November Blues:
Definition: The time where exchange students all over the world feel really down. This often begins at the beginning of November and lasts through the holiday season (It didn't hit me until yesterday).
Cause: It is often brought on by one little thing that causes one to focus on the negative instead of all the wonderful things.
Symptoms: Difficulty focusing on the positive things, lack of motivation and just not feeling like yourself.
Temporary Relief: Hugs, especially from those from your host country (Finnish friends, I need hugs!)
Cure: Time. This is sped along by good friends, warm sweaters, tasty food, and lots of fun.

But really, it's more than just that. Once it hit me, I started feeling that I had not made any progress with the Finnish language, that I had not made any friends, and that the darkness was absolutely terrible.
Now, I know that none of these things are true. My Finnish has improved a ton since I arrived. I can sort of hold conversations (such as asking the bus driver if the bus that pulled up to my stop today that was a different number than usual actually went to Pääskyvuori, the place I live) and can understand some of what goes on in classes. Also, I have made wonderful friends, both exchange students and Finns. Thanks to all of you for helping me find my way out of the blues. And thanks to my wonderful host family as well. You guys are the best! As for the darkness...well, that really is not that great, but it is tolerable.
Anyway, once I realized how badly these blues had hit me, I decided I needed to get out of the house and remind myself that things are good. It was time for an attitude adjustment! Instead of focusing on the negative, I needed to remind myself of all the good in my life. I went out to lunch with two of my best exchange student friends yesterday and then Hannah (my exchange student friend from Michigan) slept over. Today, we went shopping for food to make a Thanksgiving meal for our host families on Sunday, which is something great to look forward to. I also made plans with Finnish friends, which helped me feel quite a bit better.
So, things are looking up! That's not to say I don't still want hugs (Finnish friends, I would love a hug next time you see me :) ) and that things are completely back to normal, but I have a much better attitude about everything now. Sometimes it is just difficult to focus on the positive, which is strange, because there are so many positive things in my life right now.Speaking of positive things, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I would like to make a super short list of things I am grateful for.
I am grateful for...
1) Rotary. Without all of the work from the amazing Rotarians both in the USA and in Finland, my exchange year would not be possible. Thank you!

2) My U.S. family. Although it is difficult to explain everything that goes on over here and we are sort of living separate lives right now, I know you will always be there for me. I love you!
3) My Finnish family. You guys have made my exchange wonderful! I love you so much and I am blessed to have you in my life. Thank you for making me feel like part of the family. I am so glad that I get to stay with you all year. Thank you for hugging me, for talking with me about everything, and for helping me as I attempt to learn Finnish. You are the most wonderful family any exchange student could ever hope for!
4) My U.S. friends. Thank you for understanding that even though I cannot always talk with you, I still love you all. You guys have supported me unconditionally and I will always do the same for you.
5) My exchange student friends. Whenever I am feeling down, you guys have a way to make me feel better. You understand both the amazing and not-so-great things that happen on exchange and I am so glad that we have each other.
6) My Finnish friends. You are some of the most amazing people I have ever met! Thank you so much for accepting me and being my friend. It means so much to me that you are here for me and that we are able to have such amazing times together. Thank you for hugging me when I feel sad, for laughing with me, for helping me learn Finnish and understand the world around me, for teaching me to navigate the bus system, for inviting me to go places with you and your friends, for helping meet people, for putting up with me in class when I have to ask you what everything means, for saying moi in the hallways when I look lonely at school, for taking me to try new foods (kebab is the newest food I tried...delicious!), and for just being the amazing people that you are. I look forward to getting to know you better as the year goes on and I cannot imagine my life without you in it.
7) Smiles. Sometimes my day can be turned around just by getting a smile in the hallway. :)
8) Patience. I know things take time and I am so glad that I have found the patience to wait for my life here in Finland to unfold and become 'normal'. But more than that, I am grateful that others are willing to help me as I learn a new language, culture, city and group of people. The patience that everyone has shown when I ask my silly questions or say things in Finnish incorrectly or any number of other things has been amazing.
So, to end this post, I would like to quote Viktor Frankl, a man whose quotes I find shed light on almost all of life's situations (for more, see the book Man's Search for Meaning). I first heard one of his quotes from my wonderful Speech coach two years ago and it really helped me through some tough times. Now I turn to a new quote: "Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." To me, this means that no matter how much things change or no matter how hard things get, I always have the ability to choose my attitude and my own path in life. And today, I choose to be grateful.

Until next time!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Marraskuu: Death Month

Yet again, time has gotten away from me and it has been a few weeks since my last update. I have been so busy here with school, Finnish, friends (both of the exchange student and Finnish variety), family, and just soaking up the November...clouds. Yes, November is a rather gray, gloomy month here in Finland and tends to be a rather difficult time for exchange students all over the world. There is even a name for what many exchange students feel during this time: The November Blues. Couple that with the fact that the Finnish word for November (Marraskuu) translates to mean approximatly "Death Month" and I am sure that you will be surprised to hear that I am having the time of my life right now. These last few weeks have been the most amazing of my exchange thus far and things are really feeling like they are falling into place. I have made Finnish friends, met my Rotary counselor, kept up with exchange student friends, made pancakes, made leaps and bounds with my Finnish language skills, celebrated Halloween and even solidified a visit from one of my favorite people in the whole world this December (more on that later).
School: Well, this jakso (Pop Quiz! Who knows what that word means?) has been quite a wild ride. I had my first class that one must truly know Finnish to understand and it was geography/geoscience. That was not a good choice. I did not know it was going to be a geoscience class and if I had, I never would have taken it. I have learned a few words (auringonpilku = sunspot, happi = oxygen, syntymä = birth/origin), but most of those are not going to be very helpful in the real world. Plus, none of them are going to help me on our big test in a week and a half. I also had a math class this jakso, in which I unfortunately do not really have any friends that talk to me regularly. Because of this, I found out super late that we needed a second math book and now there are only four math lessons left in the jakso, so I do not think I will be buying the book. Hopefully that exam will still be alright. We have been multiplying polynomials recently, so I think I should be okay as long as I can figure out what the Finnish directions mean. The one thing I do love about that class is that once I know what we are supposed to do, it is all just numbers. I never realized before this year how numbers truly are a universal language in which people from all over the world can communicate, even those of us who are not huge fans of math. My other classes this jakso were English, German, and Spanish. I really enjoy my German class because it is the one time of the day where I always feel like I accomplish something. I am in the perfect level class to learn some Finnish while brushing up on my German skills. My Spanish class, on the other hand, has been much less of a success. I have to miss class once a week for Finnish lessons (which are moving along at a very nice pace right now), so I fall behind. Also, I am already trying to learn Finnish, so I have not been studying Spanish much at all. Maybe I will take a semester or two of classes in college next year. Anyway, I will be choosing new classes next week. Right now, I know I will have English, German, and hopefully chemistry, but other than that, I have no idea what I want to take!
Finnish Friends: Yes, it is official! I have Finnish friends! I will try to include some last names in case any of you want to see pictures on Facebook. My best Finnish friend from school is Nelli Peltomäki. She is a third year student, which means she is done with school at the end of January. That will make my school days a bit more lonely, but we have planned to still meet up outside of school. Nelli watches Bones (and those of you who know me well know that Bones is my favorite TV show ever), so we get together every Friday to watch the new episodes. It has been really fun. I am also good friends with Veera, one of Nelli's friends, and Mari, a first year girl with whom I have a lot of classes. She has been so patient with me as I try to understand what is happening in school and is one of the people with whom I often speak Finnish. Outside of school, I have met quite a few people as well. I went to a Halloween party at Hannah's (my best exchange student friend) house last weekend where her and I were the only two exchange students. It was such an amazing time! I think the party really helped the Finns to branch out of their comfort zone and start conversations with us. I actually became friends with a few of the guys (I know, it's crazy! Finnish guy friends!) and we hung out yesterday in Turku for a few hours. Their names are Ville and Edi. We ended up going bowling and it was a great time! None of us were very good, but we still had fun.

Halloween Party! Me as a cheetah and Hannah as a zebra!

Exchange Student News: Not too much new with my lovely exchange student friends. We still meet at the cafe on Wednesdays, Hannah and I are still playing in an orchestra/band thing and the exchange students are still a great support system.

Family: I still absolutely love my family here in Finland. Today is isänpäivä (Father's Day) here in Finland, so I made breakfast this morning. I tried to make pancakes, but they had this strange after taste. Moral of the story? Mom, I need our usual recipe! Anyway, I had a bit of a scare for a few days when I found out that there was another family that was possibly interested in hosting an exchange student here in Turku. As a Rotary Exchange Student, I am sort of supposed to have more than one family and apparently there were extremely interested in hosting me. I was worried that I may have to switch families part way through the year. Luckily, after talking to my counselor, it turns out that I only have to switch if I want to, which I most definitely do not! It is going to be so difficult to leave my family at the end of the year. Luckily for me, I do not have to worry about that for quite a few more months.
Rotary: Rotary has been nice. I have been to a few meetings and the people in my club (all men my host dad's age and older) have finally started to open up to me. None of them really know what to say, so I end up answering the same questions over and over and over, but I really do not mind. They are all very sweet and I definitely feel welcomed at the meetings, even though I do not understand a large portion of what is going on.
News: At the end of December, Muriel is going to be coming to visit! I am so excited to see her and show her the amazing place that I am fortunate enough to call my home. I owe my host parents a HUGE thank you for letting her come and stay with us. Muriel, you are going to love it here! There are so many people excited to meet you. :)
U.S. Life: Well, being a high school senior, I cannot completely push the U.S. part of my life aside. My college application to St. Olaf (early decision!) is due on Tuesday. All that is left are my teacher recommendations (from the lovely SW and Ms. Schmitt) which may already have been submitted, but I am not sure and my NHS transcript. I really cannot believe that I am about to graduate high school. It seems like such a sort time ago that I was starting ninth grade. Now, that is not to say that I am not completely ready for the new chapter in my life. Plus, the exchange year is really helping me find myself, which I know will be a huge advantage during college. I hope that my application truly showcases who I am and that St. Olaf likes what they see. By the way, a big thank you to everyone who helped me complete all parts of my application. I could not have done it without your help!
Well, I guess that just about covers my life here in Finland at the present moment. Still no snow here, but hopefully we will have some soon. Oh, I forgot to mention the darkness! It is not getting dark at around 4:30pm (or at least starting to) and does not get light again until at least 8:30 or 9am. Plus, the whole day is in this perpetual twilight sort of deal, The sun never reaches full height, so there are always shadows. It definitely give the town a unique atmosphrere. Hopefully some snow will come and help brighten things up soon. Right now, things are mostly wet and gray. But, despite the less-than-ideal weather, I am definitely extremely happy here. I absolutely love Finland and everything it has to offer.
Well, until next time!