2005-06 Outbound to Finland
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bartram Trail High School
Sponsor: Bartram Trail Rotary Club
Host: Helsinki International Rotary Club, District 1420. Finland
August 19 Journal
I left for the long awaited trip on August 6th, where all the Rotary Youth Exchange students from North America met together to endure the long flight across the Atlantic, to Finland! I spent all of last week in Karkku at a language camp. Camp was fun, meeting all the other exchange students was great, but really tiring.
This past Saturday morning all the families arrived in a very crowded camp lobby. It was really quite funny watching everyone scramble around looking for their match, and if they would get along, or even show up.
My family is really nice, I have two host brothers ages 15 and 17, and a host mom and dad! Our home is really beautiful and I have my own room and bathroom! We are located directly on the Gulf of Finland, with a great view, and we are only about 10 minutes drive to downtown Helsinki!
Helsinki is such a beautiful city, the architecture is a fun mix of older European style buildings, but then new modern and very Scandinavian buildings. There are so many cafes and shops it is hard to determine where to start! There is a harbor with old fashioned fishing boats from many of the Baltic states and Russia. A small canal runs throughout the entire city so you can go almost anywhere in Helsinki by a small boat! There are also lots of tiny islands all along the coast.
My host family actually owns a small island with a summer house on it. We are going there this weekend! In wintertime when the sea freezes you can four wheel on the ice, and technically you COULD walk to Russia from our backyard.
School started this past Tuesday. I am the only exchange student in the school, which surprised me. I would have to say that is good and bad. Either way, people are really nice here and I meet so many new people everyday. Tonight a group of us from school are all going out to Helsinki, should be fun. School is really exhausting though, you try so hard to comprehend the lessons, but it seems impossible. I leave everyday yawning and with an aching head. Then I usually I nap it off, haha hopefully next week I will stop being so tired all the time!
Moi Moi! LeslieAnn
September 16 Journal
Slow down, you move too fast. You got to make the morning last. Just kicking down on the cobblestones. Looking for fun and feelin' groovy. - Simon and Garfunkel
I don't think I have ever been asked "How long have you been here?" more times than this week alone, or else I just notice it much more because each time I give an answer I seem to surprise myself as well.
For the first time since I have been here I completely forgot I was actually from the states. Although I was wearing a scarf and sweater, walking in downtown Helsinki when it was only about 10 degrees Centigrade, speaking in Finnish with my friends, it slipped my mind I was foreign or different. Everything about this city feels comfortable now - I know my way around, memorized the bus times and where all the taxi lines are quickest, have a few favorite cafes and shops. But I still catch myself grinning every time I step off the bus and look around, or run into the common large groups of Finns celebrating simply that it is the weekend. Last week when I realized I had been away for over one month I had maybe a ten second shock period and then went back to normal; homesickness is yet to hit me.
I start Finnish for Foreigners class with Kaori, a friend from Japan on Monday at the University of Helsinki. This should be pretty helpful, but I've already improved so much in my speaking skills. At first Finnish was completely incomprehensible, sounded like gibberish or some silly language they would have spoken in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. First I eventually was able to distinctify Finnish, and now I can recognize dialects or different tones of Finnish, and of course common phrases are now first to my mind in Finnish than in English. The other day I was talking to my host brothers in the other room and walked into the kitchen where Japé, my host dad, thought some other Finn was in the house because he could not grasp it was me speaking Finnish so well. Being as Finnish is truly either the second or third most difficult language in the world (depending on where you read and get your facts), this is quite a compliment because most occasions unless you are raised speaking Finnish you will never pronunciate as well, and for years of studying the language you can still sound foreign.
The first of the Autumn Storms came this week, and just last night the temperatures lingered just one degree above freezing. At first how quickly it became cold shocked me and I thought I was going to die this winter, maybe Finland really is just an iceberg? Early mornings are the worst, and make me miss having my own car more than ever to get to school. But, I am finding that later in the morning it is really very nice out. The air is cool and crisp, but the sun is shining and the sky is blue which makes it simply lovely out. Until I acquire my winter wardrobe I do not think I will ever hear the end of "where are your winter shoes?!" and then continue down the list ... hat...gloves... scarves...socks, it is never ending. Although I am determined to hang on to my more "Florida appropriate" clothes for winter as long as possible, today was quite a test, I admit.
I go to the Helsinki International Rotary meetings every Monday for lunch. It is always a nice time, despite the significant age difference there is always something to talk about. Helsinki International is probably the most unique Rotary Club in Finland, they speak English! The members truly are from all over the world. Last Friday we celebrated their 15th Rotary anniversary. There I met the Rotary governor of the entire district 1420, and many more of the founding Rotarians in Finland.
Thanks Bartram Trail and Helsinki Rotary Clubs! Thanks mom and dad!
October 19 Journal
September came and went faster than imaginable and now here October is soon to pass. I found myself in class counting the number of remaining months I have left here on my fingers. Depending on the mood this was either looked at as how many months were left to drag out here or "wow, only that many months left?".
Helsinki is still an amazing city and I am always noticing new details about it each day. However, it is beginning to occur to me that this is MY city, and I live here. This became especially clear when all of my "foreign to Helsinki" friends came to visit and I was showing them the more locally known areas, sharing my basic city knowledge and helping the Swedes with the Finnish. Their faces reminded me a bit of myself when I first arrived and was met by my Aussie oldies who would show me around on my first day out in the city. Helsinki doesn't even seem so big to me any more because I have learned my way around so well, but no one could stop commenting how huge it was compared to their small towns.
This week was exam week for the Finns, so because my Finnish is still quite basic and only conversational it would be pointless for me to sit doodling in classes all week, so I got to have a nice vacation. This came at a very good time because I have not been homesick, but more experiencing the irritations and frustrations that every exchange student dreads to face, but must. So, since I am conveniently located in the capital city of Finland, many other exchange students were able to come visit, not only from other areas of Finland, but Estonia and Sweden as well. Spending time with the one group of people who can relate perfectly is so comforting, and I think we were all having our "this program is shit" week. Pleased to inform you I am now cured and feeling much better about it all now. Possibly it was because of the start of Autumn, one day it is cloudy, misting constantly with sporadic downpours and the next day the sun is shining and sky is bright blue. Finns are said to sometimes have random moods because of this, so maybe the Autumn can explain the massive whirl of highs and lows to a large number of nearby exchange students, including myself.
I have now completed my first term of Finnish Lukio, and at quite ease I should add, no serious injuries or problems thankfully. Next term my classes will be slightly out of my league I think because each time I tell other Finnish students my schedule they laugh and wonder why on earth I have Advanced Swedish and Psychology, which is considered one of the most difficult sciences here. Perhaps the Swedish will help me with my new home-to-be's language, German, or maybe it will just be a good laugh? I am also taking two English classes where I am going to sort of intern and teach the classes about American culture, and our dialect of speaking verses British language. In exchange my very helpful English teacher is going to help tutor me and teach me easier Finnish, obviously I already know English.
What I once considered "cold October weather" was apparently record high temperatures for the Finns here in over fifty years! Everyday people constantly told me how the weather was so warm and nice and I stood there bundled up in my coat, scarf and mittens - although still not giving up my tiny flat shoes, just thinking "Oh mannnnn these people are crazy, this is like winter not too warm for Autumn weather!" After assuring everyone the odd fluctuation of warmth for the time of year was caused by my lovely presence... or just simply global warming... the weather has now dropped back to normal temperatures. That means at night it is always freezing or below and during the day just a few degrees warmer. The first few days of this I was truly terrified and just wanted to lay in the Florida sun... or stay in bed all day. But now I am realizing how very cozy and comforting this extreme version of Autumn is. Every evening the sun is down by 6:30pm and setting earlier each day, but every direction you look there are leaves scattered on the roads and sidewalks and the trees are warm yellows, oranges and reds with a cool breeze and smell of wood burning fire places in the air.
There is this one bridge that takes you the short distance from Helsinki to Espoo, and although I travel across it multiple times a day the view of scattered islands, sail boats, and a beautiful sky has not once been disappointing or failed to remind me how incredible this opportunity is. Thank you Rotary, and I hope all the other exchange students are doing wonderfully in their each unique and exotic countries across the globe.