Jennifer "Jenny" Panitch
2008-09 Outbound to Finland
Hometown: Sarasota, Florida
School: Sarasota Military Academy, Sarasota, Florida
Sponsor: Sarasota Keys Rotary Club, District 6960, Florida
Host: Kuopio-Kallavesi Rotary Club, District 1430, Finland

Jenny's Bio

 “Let your mind start a journey through a strange new world.

Leave all thoughts of the world you knew before.

Let your soul take you where you long to be...

Close your eyes let your spirit start to soar,

and you'll live as you've never lived before.”

-Phantom of the Opera

Hello! I am Jennifer Panitch from sunny Sarasota, Florida. I was born in a small town outside of Chicago, Illinois, Buffalo Grove, where there were inordinate amounts of snow each winter and excruciating heat in the summer. Florida was quite the change, and what a nice one indeed. I suppose I should unpack my old winter clothes to prepare for my journey to Finland’s frigidness.

I live with my mom and dad and our neurotic dog named Winnie. We are very close, the Three Musketeers. I am an only child, unless you count the neighbors, Dan and Jon, and all of the friends that come in and out of our house each day calling my parents “Momma P” and “Captain P”. We should really have a revolving door. Almost every night Dan and Jon, show up at our house at dinnertime no matter what time dinner is being put out. It’s their sixth sense. I guess you could say that my family is somewhat friendly. J

I attend Sarasota Military Academy for high school. It is anything but normal. Currently I am a 16-year-old senior with good grades and a knack for getting myself involved in way too much all at once. Usually I am in over my head in homework, color guards, drill meets, my horse, reading a different book each week, volunteering for American Cancer Society, Interact Club, working as a hostess at a local restaurant, being a teenager, and eating (a lot).

I typically am extremely bubbly and hyper. I am easily amused; it’s the simple things in life! I am always eager to add something else to my plate and Rotary Youth Exchange seems like the perfect main course. This journey I will be embarking on will be one the most challenging experiences of my life, but unquestionably the most worthwhile.

July 29 Journal

 With a heavy heart and an open mind I patiently watch the world around me crumble and take new shape into a creature I could never have imagined. Each day my eyes well up with tears. In those tiny droplets I feel excitement, pain, fear, joy, apprehension, bliss…

It’s Tuesday night… Tuesday the 29th. I leave on Saturday (my best friend leaves for Sweden tomorrow {it scares the begeebies out of me}). We have been awaiting this time for months, months that seem like days, days that seemed to flicker by in an instant. Am I ready? There is no good answer to that seeing as I doubt anyone can truly prepare themselves utterly and completely for a journey such as this.

Aside from my indecision over my preparedness and packing abilities, I am doing fairly well. Although yesterday when I received my e-ticket receipt I almost had a nervous breakdown. I know deep in my heart that I will do great. I know that each one of us will succeed in our challenges, but my psyche is fragile at the moment. My conscience hasn’t yet decided whether or not it’s ready. It’s an unexplainable phenomenon, this mixture of feelings. I didn’t know this single emotion I feel was possible, an omnibus of feelings and thoughts all wrapped in one compact present just for me (yippee!).

I know, I know… a slightly dismal blog. But! It’s an interesting time with interesting thoughts. My brain seems to be filled with whale blubber making this week feel completely out of focus and mushy. I desperately wish there were better words to explain it.

Till next time good people... J

Wish me luck on getting all of that stuff… into those suitcases… =/. Meh.

August 9 Journal

 Hyy hyy Hyttylassa hyttyslapset laula. YY jyy jypy typy tyy, jylly rylly ryllyy yy jyy jypy typy tyy, jylly rylly ryy.

That would be one stanza from my officially new favorite song entitled Vokaalilalu. It repeats that eight times using every vowel.. or as the Finns say.. wowel. It’s way fun. J

Being one of a methodical mind, I will start at the beginning of the beginning….

Driving from Sarasota, Florida to Tampa takes approximately an hour. During that time I stared out my window at the last of the palm trees I would see again for a year. I also observed a fly buzzing around in the vehicle and named him Leonard.

Once I arrived at the airport, bags in tow, with trustee parents navigating the oversized luggage through the parking garage I felt absolutely nothing other than one repetitive thought… “Can I leave already, golly!” Yes, I say golly. I quickly reached the check-in desk and proceeded to do just that. Well! You know how when you have to check your luggage you place them on the little scale thingymabobber and push some thingys on the totally modern touch screen check-in and you’re on you way? Sounds simple right? Hahahahahahaha. Lucky for me, my lovely (ihana) father decided that, at the precise time I needed dire assistance in maneuvering my bags onto the scale, I was a free bird and could do it on my own.. an independent woman. PFFFTTTTT! That’s what I call ridiculous (I love you Daddy). I managed alright I suppose.

During this whole process, I found Cindy from Orlando who also happened to be accompanying me to Finland, and Danny who was off to Denmark. It was such a relief, especially since Katie (going to Poland) came with Danny to see him off! It was just super seeing her too! A real party. We all parted ways and went off with our families to eat the last supper.. or in our case…. lunch. Oddly enough, we all ended up at the SAME RESTAURANT. Go figure.. out of the… hold on, let me count… one, two, three….. okay.. one restaurant.. we all chose to eat! At lunchtime nonetheless. Okay okay okay.. I’m sure you don’t want to hear all about the food we ate.. or didn’t eat and the portion sizes compared to price and the actual value..

So I’ll jump to… DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNN!!!!!!!!....... The goodbyessss. Now picture this.. three families.. three exchange students.. standing in a semi-crowded airport hugging and hugging and posing for pictures and more hugging and hugging. It was not nearly as difficult as we all had thought… although I’m still not completely sure if my dad had to peel Mommy off the floor once the tram doors closed… or maybe it was the other way around.. Hmmm!?

We managed security and proceeded to strut soopuhfabulously though the terminal to our awaiting gate. All of just happened to be seated… okay try and guess… NOT next to each other.. not near each other at all in fact. very disappointing. We attempted to switch some seats around, but a grumpy flight attendant man was being.. well…. grumpy… I felt like pinching his cheeks and calling him a grumpy gills… then I had the urge to put on my Puss N’ Boots eyes and attempt to sway his mood by make him feel really bad for upsetting a poor little girl traveling across the world. I did neither though, and ended up sitting next to Hannah, a seven year old from Indiana. Her step-mom was towards the back, her dad towards the front… and her sisters all over and about the aircraft. Hannah and I had a great time drawing and playing Find-It (it’s like a modern Ispy game).. We shared Twizzlers and a can of Pepsi, drank our Pepsi with Twizzler straws and talked. I know everything about her and her family and how she doesn’t remember her oldest sister’s middle name, but her middle name is Marie and they missed their flight so that’s why they’re on this plane and how she would very much like me to join her on her next flight to Indiana… when I told her I couldn’t she told me she liked my watch and asked if she could keep it.. I said no, Silly… she said kayy and we continued on. She was very definitely the most wonderful plane buddy I’ve ever had.

Once the hairpane, as I like to call it, hit ground in Detroit… not as gently as I would have liked, but safely, Danny and Cindy and I reunited and proceeded to run/leap/skip down the moving walkways together.. the most fun we could have asked for from floors moving at less that 2 MPH. In Detroit we found nearly twenty other exchange students from all over the United States. We explored a bit, made some friends… mingled. By the way, if you ever get the chance to spend a few hours in the Detroit airport search for the Hall of Many Lights and the red Traintrain. Both are a bundle of fun. The train goes approximately 3000 MPH though the airport… yes, it’s true, and the Hall of Many Lights is like taking very illegal drugs, but legally… and it's perfectly safe. J. The only downside to Detroit, is that they failed me in the one thing I desire most in this world.. Diet Coke. Yes Folks, I’m addicted. AND! The best part is, that there isn’t Diet Coke in Europe.. It’s Cocacolai’mgrossinabottle Light. So all I wanted was one Diet Coke, a last farewell. NOPE! McDonalds soda fountain just happened to be out of order. Mhmm! I’m still angry.

The flight from Detroit to Amsterdam was long. And it was long. And, uhh, it was long. Guess how long I slept for on this glorious eight hour flight. Ten minutes. Yep! It’s okay though, they served real chicken. I enjoy chicken.

In the Amsterdam airport, we encountered many strange things. The first of which was getting my first stamp in my passport! I was excited.. and kind of scary. I couldn’t see over the counter and had to resort to the one-footed tip-toe method… it gives you at least another two or three inches. We hungry exchange students needed some lunch, so what’s better than Sbarro pizza!!! Heck yes they have Sbarro in Amsterdam. Not just any Sbarro though.. the man working there was a forty something year old nut from somewhere else in Europe… he spoke 500 languages and had four gold teeth. He talked to everyone… a lot…. a lot a lot. When we were up, I ordered and he asked me “Where from?” I said Florida excitedly with my usually smile on my face… he replies.. “NO! You look Russian.. you are from Russia, no?” I proceeded to giggle off his gibberish that slightly resembled English.. sorta.. and then he started getting very excited about pizza and began to shout at me happily in Hungarian. It was definitely an experience.

Once we located the gate to Helsinki, which happened to be down a secret escalator and though an unattended metal detector that beeped every time someone walked though it, everything was a blur. I began to get nervous and anxious, although it was most likely sleep deprivation and mind-tricks.

I slept a tad on the flight and took the cute (söpö) utensils given to us to eat our food with. I didn’t eat the food though. I couldn’t eat a thing.

I met a nice man on the plane though who happened to live in Miami, he moved there from Finland almost ten years ago. He helped me with my luggage in those hard to reach overhead bins and led me and some other exchange students to the baggage claim, explaining signs and things along the way.

Baggage claim was a mess. Literally. There were the boys by the belt throwing the luggage people pointed out was theirs, mostly girls with overstuffed suitcases… like me. Bags were EVERYWHERE. There was no possible way to move through the area we were in. On our flight there had been us, and a lacrosse team, and some other poor souls who were stuck with us. We all picked up little luggage carts and proceeded though those silver doors leading us to freedom, the first fresh air we had been in in hours. We were outside for about 3 minutes, walking to the bus and then loading our bags. We sat on a stationary charter bus for an hour and a half, and then drove for another two and a half hours. Golly it was long. I finally got some sleep though which was desperately needed. By then it was late and we were awed by the fact that the sun was still up at 10pm. When we arrived at our camp we piled off the bus and mulled into the lobby, hoping one of our Finnish tutors would help us with our bags. They gave us good hot coffee and bread and cucumber… there is cucumber with every meal, and showed us to our rooms. Finally I could shower… I smelled awful. Blech.

Language camp went by so fast! My teacher stunk… I learned only a little bit, but it helped I suppose. My tutor, Perttu, was excellent. He is 16 and lives in Helsinki. He is officially one of my top 5 favorite Finns. He was so funny and so helpful and made class a lot more enjoyable. I made tons of wonderful friends… my besties coming from Ohio, Illinois, Colorado, Canada, and Belgium! I also had a boy from Mexico, Juan, fall in love with me. Every time he saw me he gave me a hug and told me how cute I was and how I will always be his favorite American. J.

At camp we did sauna for the first time. It was great! Afterwards we jumped into the freezing lake, not what I'd call excellent. I know the question on all of your minds…. did you do it like the Finns? Not at first... but by the third time there were 7 of us girls who decided to bare all, literally, and go nude. It was wonderful. You should try it next time you’re at the local YMCA. J.

The week blew by and before we know it our makeshift family of exchange students slowly disintegrated as our new families came to pick us up. The nerves surging though the room at closing ceremonies was electric. You could feel everyone’s pulse, host parents and exchange students alike. It was a feeling I never could explain, seeing my new family waving a sign with my name on it. I hugged them all and was immediately filled with warmth.

The car ride home was a long four hours, I slept most of the way. By the time we arrived at my beautiful new home, I was overwhelmed with a new set of obscure emotions that I had never felt before and still can’t describe. Today I cried for the first time. I didn’t cry when I left… I didn’t cry on the plane… I didn’t cry at camp. But I sat in my new room and sobbed as I unpacked my belongings. It was sadness and happiness and everything combined. I found a note my dad had buried amongst my things and read it. It was short and sweet, and just at that moment my host mom Anne came in. My eyes welled up and and there were the waterworks, something I didn’t want her to see. She knows what I feel, her son Joonas left today for Florida, and she asked what I was holding. I simply said, “Daddy left me a note.” She hugged me and sat with me for a bit until I regained composure. I realized at that moment in time that no matter how far away I am, and what family I may be living with, Daddy will always be my Daddy, and that the family I have back in Florida is the most valuable thing on this planet, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. They support me through this and without them, I don’t know if I would make it out alive. I miss my family more than anything, but I know that they are there and always will be. I know I will be fine, but still I sit here for the first time on my new bed and wonder what will become of me this year. How will I grow, how will I adapt, and how will I keep that smile on my face when I can’t think of a reason to be happy? I know that every second I spend here is the luckiest of my life, no matter how down I feel. I know that out of this experience a new woman will blossom, emerging the true person I am meant to be. Wish me luck, world. I’m here and I’m not exactly sure if I’m ready. I suppose we will just have to wait and see.

Cheers, to my first night at home. Terve Kuopio. On kaunis.

August 17 Journal

 And now for my next installment….. =].

I have keen observatory skills… a knack for noticing and thinking deeply about what would normally be considered arbitrary and overlooked (unfortunately)… not even considered. Having this awesome ability I have been recording these observations. In Florida they were very nice, but now they have grown and since all I do at the moment is observe, for learning purposes, I find the most peculiar of things. For example.. I plugged my flash drive thingy into the USB port on the lappy and noticed that although it looks solid white.. it has a light on the inside that flashes!!! It’s quite intriguing if you ask me. Observe as you read. Mostly all my journal is observation. You should try it more often.

I’ll begin with explaining my school’s scheduling…

There are six class periods in a day… but each day is different… You can take a maximum of 8 classes and will essentially have each class 3 times a week. I however, am taking a total of 5 classes.. but only have three a day… I’m taking English 4, English 8, Philosophy, Art, and Math. On Maanantai, figure it out yourself… it’s a day of the week, I take classes 3, 4, and 5.. starting at 9:40am and ending at 2:20pm. On Tiistai I have classes 6, 3, and 2… beginning at 11:05 and ending at 3:50. On Keskiviikko, I’ll give you this one… it’s Wednesday, I have classes 4, 5, and 6…. beginning at 9:40 and ending at 2:20. On Torstai I have 6, 3, and 2 once again… starting at 11:05 and ending at 3:50. Finally on Perjantai, duhh, it’s the only day of the week left, I have classes 2, 4, and 5… beginning at 9:40 and ending at 2:20. Confusing huh? Yeah.. I only have classes 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. It’s nice. Once I memorize the schedule I have to switch too! Schedules are changed every two months!!!!

Not only is the schedule ridiculous, but the rules! Hah! What rules?! You can use you phone whenever you want, except during lessons… For example, the other day I was waiting for class to start.. sitting there in my seat minding my own business and there’s a girl in her seat chatting away on the phone! Crazy. They don’t have to worry about PDA either because Finns are not affectionate =[. The most affection I’ve seen between a boy and girl is a kiss on the cheek and a half hug. OOOOOO WEEEE! Hahahaha.

In my first class on Tiistai, which happens to be English 8.. we were reading a passage about the Six Degrees of Separation. It basically explains that everyone is connected to anyone through merely 6 friends. You could be the friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend to… let’ say… Heath’s mom Janet. It’s true. One specific excerpt caught my eye. You all must know who Kevin Bacon is, right? Well in this book it explains Kevin Bacon as a relatively unknown actor… but he’s miraculously connected to Irina Björklund though the six degrees of separation. Thank God because if he wasn’t somehow connected to her, he’d practically be a nobody! Yes folks, that my sarcasm for you… Everyone knows Kevin Bacon.. He’s the man!

Onward… Finnish boys are attractive sure.. I mean.. blonde hair, arctic blue eyes, a sultry swagger… but! They seriously need some help in the fashion department. Starting at the top.. shirt, fine, pants, fine, shoes… okay pause right there.. no no no no no.. it does not go directly from pants to shoes like it should. For some reason unbeknownst to me… they tuck the bottoms of their pants into their socks. Why!? Why would you do that? There is no explanation that I can muster up. Also they are super shy... possibly because they realize that no girl would want to be associated with a guy who tucks his pants into his socks. Hmmmm. Notice the picture of some of the boys making fun of my hatred of pant tucking.

It’s also funny to see how segregated everything typically is. In all of my classes girls sat with girls and boys with boys.. in only one class there was a girl and guy sitting together. It was so weird… at least for Finland.

Today is my two week anniversary of being in Finland and gosh, it does not seem like that at all. I feel like I have been here for AGES! I suppose I am slightly specific in my rehashing of experiences, so I’ll give a brief overview of the things you all want to know about, but I’m tired of answering…. =].

The food is good. The people are nice. I’m making friends (miraculously). Shopping is good. Exchange rate is bad. Yes, the Finns want to know about American politics and the economy. They all think Hillary Clinton is still in the race for presidency. The teenagers listen to American music, the same stuff we listen to back home. They have indoor plumbing. There’s cable TV. Precipitation here feels the same. The dirt tastes the same too. Porridge is icky… made with rice, milk, and gross all mixed together for a disgusting combination.

About my home…

My family has a garden, they grow 965 types of berries, along with potatoes, cucumber, tomatoes, carrots, onions, and as my host dad calls it, salad (lettuce). The house is beautiful, see attached photos. My room is nice, cozy, warm. I live in Rytky (pronounced rrrrrrrrr-oooot-kuhooo)… it’s a small village, about 30 kilometers outside of the city. My friends here find it extremely inconvenient, as do I. They laugh when I tell people where I live. My host dad has a bee farm in the backyard, yes folks, a bee farm. He makes his own honey. Even the Finns here think it’s strange.

Yesterday on the radio I heard the song Penny Lane by the Beatles… in Finnish. It was quite possibly the funniest thing I had ever heard.

As I said, I have made friends. Which is quite the relief…. Finns are thuper shy. I even had a jam packed weekend FULL OF PLANS!!!!

Ready for more details???


Perjantai (if you don’t remember what day this is… look it up.): I only had one class, English. I sat with my friend Salla, she’s really nice. She was an exchange student in Mexico last year. The rest of the day was set aside for first years to have an "initiation" of sorts…. they play silly games and the administration makes them do weird things haha. Salla and I got coffee. It was lovely, she’s so nice to talk to. It’s really helpful having a friend who was an exchange student.. so she knows how I feel. After coffee I got to meet up with Mona (she was an exchange student in Jacksonville last year)!!!!! It was sooo good seeing her again! We got ice cream and talked and hugged!!!! After that I met up with my other friend Anna and we went to a birthday party which was REALLY FUN! It was at the top of a building in the main square… we had to walk up 10 flights of stairs in high heels (we didn’t realize that there was an elevator). Salla met us there later that night. I made so many new friends, it was quite the relief.

Lauantai (Saturday): Saturday was busy as well. Spent the day with Janne, another friend, and met his friends. I‘m meeting so many new people. It was busy and I don’t feel like typing every inch of it, I’m sure you don’t want to read every inch of it either.

As of now I am teaching myself to ride a public bus… to be on time for the bus.. to walk a lot…. to not talk all the time… and I suppose I’ll attempt to learn Finnish too. =].

I have been reading quite a lot lately in school… because the lessons are in Finnish… fast Finnish. And I have found quite a few quotes that I love… and one that suits this experience perfectly…

"… I learned that loss was life. Tears were inexperience. The shock was gradually absorbed, all emotional bodies eventually regained their proper orbit."

August 27 Journal
 A smooth river glistening as it gently cascades down the contours of her face; her nasal cavity, alive with mucus and boogies, dying for their chance at ultimate freedom, only to have their dreams crushed by the plush of a Kleenex tissue (or sleeve). A cough laden with phlegm. A head ache that causes her brain to ooze out of the ears. A common side effect…. Inconceivable sleep deprivation.
The Finnish Flu.

Yes, I am home sick today... Working diligently on a little over 4 hours of sleep. J.

Aside from the fact that I am perpetually spinning into the icky green abyss of flu-dom, Finland knows how to treat a girl right. Not only do I have a solid group of friends, but an active social life, and a warm and loving extended family (consisting of nearly 20 members).

This past week has been remarkably good. The day to day seems to become more normal.. or as normal as it can be, I suppose.

I’m getting exceptionally good at riding the bus. Public transportation has never been my forte, but if I do say so myself, Kuopio’s bus system in the outer realms of the city is simply spectacular. Nice charter buses, clean and smell nice. The bus drivers are kind of scary, but I smile my thousand watt-er and watch them melt. J. I have a cool bus card too.. so I can ride WHENEVER I WANT! Heck yes! The first week I missed the bus two mornings in a row and was terribly embarrassed, but now with my knowledge and expertise, I no longer miss the bus. Also, I had to take the bus home one day, which means that I had to find the bus station… all by myself…. I was scared.. but for some odd reason, my memory did not fail me, and I made it with time to spare… I bought myself a soda. I also haven’t been getting lost on the 2 kilometer walk from school to the downtown Centrum.

This past weekend I was busy busy busy. On Friday night we had a fiesta at my friend Noora’s house. It was supposed to be a girls' night with dancing and tacos and stuff… but it ended up being a girls' night… playing cards and eating pizza. Hahah. We did dance a little bit… to the Follow the Leader song. Look it up on youtube and dance with it. It was quite possibly the most fun I’ve had this whole time I’ve been here. My favorite move would have to be the ‘jump and wave’. J.

Saturday was the most intense day everrrrrrr. All of my host families came over for the evening. And whew, let me tell you… it was kind of weird. When everyone first arrived it was the most awkward. My third host family is close with the family I’m with now, so the boys knew each other already, but my second family is new for everyone, so we all sat around the giant couch and didn’t talk. Not a word was said for at least ten minutes. Soon enough though the boys went off to play darts and I spoke with my other ‘parents’ about how I’m doing, if I’m making friends, school, ya know, the usual. It seemed like it took ages for dinner to be ready. I was starving and thought that maybe it would open everyone up a bit sitting together. Dinner went well and the food was delicious, everyone began chatting and I finally had a conversation, a short one, but a conversation nonetheless, with my oldest host brother, Jani, and his girlfriend. They are both very shy, especially when it comes to speaking English, or nowadays, Finglish.

After dinner we played a modified game of Hide-and-Seek. Everyone played, even the adults. It was a lot more fun than I had expected it would be. We played for over an hour. All of my host parents went for sauna, and I played poker with my host brothers and sisters. It was a blast! I kicked their Finnish butts in Texas Hold ‘Em!!!!

Sunday was rather enjoyable as well. My family and I went to a party at another exchange student’s house, Riley from Michigan. We had a really fun time - as it turns out, one of my friends from school is his third host family! AND my little brother, Jere’s, ex-girlfriend’s family is his second host family! Ironic, huh?

Nature is appreciated so much here. I picked berries for the first time!! It was actually quite enjoyable. Very relaxing. Everyone should try it one day. =]. We picked berries as a family, all four of us. My host father is always in the forest picking berries or catching crabs or something… well… the other night he came home with a box FILLED with these weird mushrooms that looked kind of like flowers almost… Some were orange and the others were black. He pointed at the orange ones and said ‘These are good.’ Pointed at the black ones, ‘These might be good… I don’t know if they are poisonous or not though…’ *smiles. Then he puts the box in my face and says ‘Want to TRY?!’ Hahahah. Later that night he was cooking up the black ones with some onions and told me to try some…. We took before and after pictures.

Okay okay okay. For any of you who really know me well.. you’ll appreciate this.

Many years ago, back when I was at the Academy J, one of my professors asked some very important questions. One being… If you were being chased by a flock of angry penguins, what would you do? The response had to do with a giant salmon suit (they have good salmon here). The next question was the most important of all… If you had to get a saddle on a moose, how would you do it? This answer involved sky-diving and super glue. This erupted my fascination with this mysteriously striking mammal. So obviously, the one food I have been wary about trying here is moose. How anyone could slaughter such a majestic creature with their big nose and antlers, loving brown eyes, soft pelt, perfect teeth…. and turn every ounce of its insides into food is beyond me. I told myself I would try it when the time comes… I knew it would take some courage. Well, yesterday I was talking to my friend Janne about the food I’ve tried here. He asked about moose and elk and such.. I said no, not yet… he also knows my feelings about these beloved animals. He chuckled a bit to himself and said…. ‘Actually… you have.’ As it turns out, the night he was over for dinner (last week!!), we had spaghetti and meatballs… not just any meat balls though… MOOSE BALLS. My host mom told him what they were and not to tell me what it was because she wanted me to eat and thought I wouldn’t eat it if I knew what it was. Mhmm! Okay, you have permission to laugh now.

Yes, they were delicious. Heath, you win.

At this stage in the game I’d say the emotions are still very odd. I still think I am absolutely insane for going on exchange. I think all of us exchange students are positively nuts, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It interesting how the vacation has definitely ended, but the shock of being surrounded by an unfamiliar world has too. Of course I get exceptionally nervous when attempting to communicate with strangers in public, or have to navigate on my own… but in another sense, this world that is so new and strange to me is becoming more and more normal. Not understanding people talking on the street, and having to tell the clerk at a store that I have no idea what the heck she’s talking about and listening to my girlfriends go on and on and on about something in Finnish, it turns out they’re usually talking about flatulence and boys. J. All this is becoming so common that it doesn’t really faze me anymore. I suppose I’ve reached the next stage on that goofy little rollercoaster chart, this one is a little easier to explain than the past few.

I still <3 Moose.

September 3 Journal

 The only logical way to begin these journals now seems to be with a ‘Dear Therapist.’

Dear Therapist,

Is it natural for it to be 5˚ Celsius by the end of August? Is it normal for wind whispering through the grain fields to make a girl smile? How many pieces of bread and butter is too much? Is it necessary to shave your legs, if your bottom attire consists only of long pants? Is skin that was once tan and now a ghostly shade of white able to ever tan again? Is a constant caffeine high bad, even if it’s because all your family drinks is coffee?

I need answers people.

I’d also like to know if confusing the common phrase ‘Are you’ with the phrase ‘Do you want’ is a huge problem… ‘Are you’ in Finnish, is ‘oletko’ and ‘Do you want’ is ‘otatko.’ I honestly don’t see the problem in asking my friends ‘Oletko leipää?’ (Are you bread?).. Rather than the ever popular ‘Otatko leipää?’ (Do you want bread?). They sound SO SIMILAR! Silly Finnish.

Language is a very funny thing. Not only do I get laughed at and mocked constantly for my bad Finnish… but my friends say funny things too. J. I’ll let you in on a few of these hilarious blunders…

-My friend has a ‘slap phone’ …. which is really a flip phone.
-His horoscope happens to be ‘bison’ …. He’s a Taurus.
-It was late the other night… the ‘klock was much’ … yes the klock.
-And my favorite… I remind people of the ‘Duracell Rabbit’ …

The Duracell Rabbit led to my new nickname… Pupu.. Yes it’s pronounced Poo Poo… But it means cute bunny. I don’t think it's fitting. Besides being called Pupu, Yenny, Yessica, Jankki (yankee), and having a robot vacuum cleaner named after me… I’m called ‘Gringo.’ One of my best friends here was a foreign exchange student in Mexico last year… and he insists on calling me Gringo. J. At least he doesn’t shout ‘Americano’ across the school.

One of the most awkward things I’ve done thus far would have to be….. dinner the other night… My host brother was out, so it was just the folks and me… and well…. My host dad was very interested in learning all of the English curse words. J. I didn’t want to teach him them, but he was so interested in learning. My host mom said she knew some and proceeded to say ‘F-ing idiot’ … but she actually dropped the F-bomb. It was great. So now he knows how to say insert your favorite curse word here. You name it.. he knows it. J. You’re welcome, Al, for spreading the joy of the English language from sea to shining sea.

In English class we were assigned to write an essay… In English. Well, needless to say, I’m pretty sure I did well... especially after my friends in class asked me to edit theirs and I saw the level of writing. It’s fun to read because it sounds like fourth graders writing about high school or college level topics. I have become the resident editor, which I don’t mind in the least. I have to say, though, English class is pretty nerve wracking. We do these listening comprehension tests… and typically I get all the answers right, as I should… but there have been a few times where I’ve missed one or two. You have no idea what a low blow that is… getting questions wrong on a basic elementary English exam.

Last Saturday, I had plans of course… pffttttt… super popular girl right here. HAH! But anyways… I had plans to go watch my friends’ soccer game. From what I gathered, his division or whatever it is, is pretty advanced.. and he’s the captain. J. I was excited to go and watch… despite the fact that it was under 5˚ Celsius and precipitating. I don’t even know what to call this type of precipitation.. it's like… rain.. but mist… but freezing cold.. and wet…. and…. Lets just say, Florida beach bums are not cut out for this type of weather… This game also happened to be outside.. with about ten spectators… 5 of which were affiliated with the team… The opposing team’s uniforms looked like ‘Where’s Waldo,’ so that was rather amusing. Janne, my friend, asked me to take some super sweet pictures since I have amazing photography skills… I managed to capture one of the guys on the other team giving him what looks like a hug from behind.. him pointing at the sky while the guy he’s standing next to has his hand down his shorts… and a few pictures of people right after something exciting happened.

That same day, since they won, I cooked dinner and was laughed at for where I placed the forks and knives. There was also a little miscommunication with my host family and I ended up having to take a taxi home!! The driver didn’t speak any English so when I told him to turn left and he pointed right, I knew I was in trouble. I did make it back home though, my nice cozy bed awaiting my freezing cold, pissed off self.

I had a nice conversation with my host dad the other day… about US Economics. I hate to say it, Col. Brockman, but none of what I learned in your class helped me explain the price of homes in the US and what the taxes there are like to a man who doesn’t always understand English. J. I managed though. You all, every single one of you, should be proud.

You know what the best feeling in the entire world is? Well, you might have your own idea, but you're wrong, and I’m going to tell you what is. Imagine yourself walking around a town you’ve lived in for a little over three weeks…. not speaking the language… still not completely comfortable.. certainly not home… and you walk into McDonalds, ready to treat yourself to the first French fries you’ve had since you left… mind you, you’re still alone… and hearing from across the room ‘GRINGO! AMERICANO!’ And seeing people you know, friends... just running into them out of the blue. It’s exciting enough running into people back home, but here… it literally is the best and most comforting feeling in the world.

Aside from finally feeling settled, things are going well….

My friend Sampsa tried to teach me some Swedish… I translated the passage… To me, it said ‘The tourist in the Armani suit was doing somersaults with a bucket at the cracker stand.’ I think I was close.. but not close enough. So instead of proceeding on, his friend showed me an embarrassing video of him dancing like a maniac last weekend. J.

I bought some yarn the other day. I recommend taking up knitting…. even you Al. BUT! While I was knitting on the couch, my host dad brought out his hunting rifle to show me.. he’s going to teach me how to shoot soon!!! I thought it was a funny change of topics… knitting to guns. He told me he usually hunts moose….. =/ Anne was behind me making the hand motion across her throat as if to tell him to stop talking about it… she knows how I feel about those moose… and he immediately said that he wasn’t hunting this year, he doesn’t think. J. Slowly but surely… one moose at a time… that’s all it takes… You’re welcome Moose Society…. I love you.

My tutor, Perttu, from language camp lives about six hours away in Helsinki. He was visiting Kuopio, his brother moved here. We met for coffee and had the loveliest talk ever. We must have talked for about two hours. Well, I’ll make this short story long.. At language camp, one of my friends had brought Poptarts with him… and we made Perttu try them. He fell in love with them upon first bite, obviously. AND! He just happened to find one branch of stores in all of Finland that carries Poptarts. We have that store in Kuopio, but they didn’t have the Poptarts.. so when he goes back to the store in Espoo (I think)… I’ll be getting a package filled with delish. I know! You guys are really excited for me.

I think if you have some time and money, you should send me random packages…. another exchange student, Trey from Illinois, is about four hours away from me, but we were talking on the phone last night and he received a package from his father a few days ago. His dad sent him two dozen ears of corn. TWO DOZEN! No note, just corn. His host family thinks he’s nuts. His dad cared SO MUCH about this corn that he paid nearly triple and it got here in two days. It took less time for the corn to get here than for Trey to get here. Any random item will do. I’ll create a list.

If you can’t send a box… email me recipes!!!


Yes my darlings, I’ve been here one whole entire month. Crazy I know. So to celebrate… I made pie!!!

Not really.. I wish I made some pie though….

Mmmmm pieeeeee.

September 11 Journal

 Tiedä, mitä syöt.
Know what you eat.

The first complete Finnish sentence I’ve read all by myself. It was on the box of Rice Crispies. I was alone… my only witness a cup of coffee and piece of bread… both of which were consumed shortly after the reading. Be proud.

I’d like to take this time to thank Al Kalter for making me the northernmost Florida Rotary Youth Exchange Student. I hold this title with honor and distinction… even though it was 4˚ this morning as I walked to the bus stop… It’s early September and I’m walking around with a thick jacket, gloves, a cute cap, a scarf…. My gosh… I should be wearing shorts and flip-flops.

I am also proud to inform you all that due to the fact that I walk EVERYWHERE… at least 10 kilometers a day… I have calves the size of Jon Ott’s biceps, hammies tighter than my pants on an elephant, permanent leg and foot cramps, and buns of steel… literally. I was walking.. and my butt muscles were sore! I didn’t know it was possible… so I flexed my leg… and sure enough.. my butt muscle is like WHABAYUM. I guess it’s good that I am walking so much because I’m also eating a TON of bread. A ton. And drinking too much coffee and eating too many Digestive cookie things… (no they aren’t for those lacking fiber, they don’t cause constipation, or induce a case of the runs). They’re just delicious.

I made cornbread the other day.

*Finnish Idol is on television right now, it’s worse than American Idol… and that’s saying something.*

There really isn’t much new that’s going on… same old same old..

BUT! Due to the fact that I was doing absolutely NOTHING in my high school here (wow, sounds familiar), I investigated and signed up for some classes at a small business school here taking some college courses. They are taught in English, so I can actually learn a bit, which is super great. I know what you’re thinking though… yes I ALWAYS know… why the heck would you take courses that would only make you think in English even MORE?! Well… the answer is simple…. You’re asking the wrong question first…. I was always taught to get the full story before you jump to conclusions, weren’t you taught that too? WELL! I’m taking a Finnish language course obviously… anddddd…. a course called Intercultural Communication. Basically, Intercultural Communication is Al Kalter’s Cultural Boot Camp (that sounds kind of like an aerobics VHS…. You too can have a six pack of cultural steel in just 60 minutes!!) on steroids. The objective of the class is to increase intercultural awareness and the understanding of cultural influences. The class is primarily made up of exchange students coming here for a year abroad from college. I am the only student under the age of 19 and the only student from outside Europe and Asia. We will focus on the following: concept of culture, intercultural learning, communication and culture, perception, values, stereotyping, culture shock, and time orientation. What is REALLY interesting though, is that there is no final exam, just a semester long project. That project is to keep a journal (yes, like this) and elaborate on our experiences while including references from suggested reading and lectures. J. I can honestly say I’m stoked to write this. I already started… no I am not copying and pasting my Al Kalter journals into a Word document and printing it. I wish I could, but I figured that they needed to be a little more sophisticated and not have vocabulary like ‘thingymabobber’ and my excessive usage of …’s.

It’s due December 18th, and I already have 5 and a half pages.

Today one of the books I ordered came, ‘When Cultures Collide.’ I’ve already begun to read it and found some amazing things! I think Al should let me lecture at the next Cultural Boot Camp… I have some great material…

Here are some of my favorite parts of this book so far…

‘For a German and a Finn, the truth is the truth. In Japan and Britain it is all right if it doesn’t rock the boat. In China there is no absolute truth. In Italy it is negotiable.’

‘Comparisons of national cultures often begin by highlighting differences in social behavior. Japanese do not like shaking hands, bow when greeting each other and do not blow their nose in public. Brazilians form unruly bus queues, prefer brown shoes to black and arrive two hours late at cocktail parties. Greeks stare you in the eye, nod their head when they mean ‘no’, and occasionally smash plates against walls in restaurants. French people wipe their plate clean with a piece of bread, throw pastry into their coffee and offer handshakes to strangers in bistros. Brits tip their soup plate away from them, eat peas with their fork upside down and play golf in the rain.’

-Richard D. Lewis, When Culture’s Collide

I actually put a bracket around that passage in my book and wrote ‘Al would like this’ beside it. J.

I’m such a dork. I’m learning a ton of interesting things in this book and want to share them all…but I’ll spare you and not. I’ll enjoy them all by myself.

This past weekend I met a guy from Pennsylvania and another guy from New Jersey…. they’re here playing hockey. To be completely honest, yes it was a relief being able to speak English like I normally would… BUT! They were kind of annoying… American guys are not nearly as enjoyable to be around as Finnish guys. I thought I missed the forwardness of Americans, once I was around it, I gravitated towards my Finnish friends that were also there… instead of Steve from Pennsylvania who was clinging to me everywhere I went and attempted to grope me when no one was looking… how rude. The Finns are SO much more respectful.

So today.. I was riding home on the bus, and it’s typically quite empty seeing as I live in the middle of nowhere.. and not many people live in the middle of nowhere… SO! I had to actually SIT NEXT TO SOMEONE. (Take this time to gasp in disgust). So I was sitting next to this little girl, I think, it could have been a boy, who was wearing purple corduroy pants and a olive green jacket and a navy baseball hat thing… I was diggin’ the pants… and she smelled curiously like cheesy snacks………………………… on this bus ride I listened to music like usual, but instead of staring out the window, I watched an enormous woman eat a sandwich. It’s not everyday you can witness the obese here in Finland.

My friend Sampsa insists on saying he’s ‘Having a ball time’ when he’s having fun… I think it’s hilarious. A ball time…..

Well… last night my host parents weren’t home… Kari was coming home late from Lapland and Anne was spending the night in Turku… So it was just me and the little bro. We watched Brokeback Mountain together.. a real bonding experience. I cant believe they actually showed some of that stuff… I wanted to cover poor Jere’s eyes . AND! We ate candies. THEN! After the movie Jere put on some American rap music and wanted me to rap in English for him… HAH! So I dressed up like a gangsta and danced around the house… we took sweet pictures… Thugz4Lyfe. He then mixed us fancy drinks… apple juice for me, orange for him… and put them in fancy glasses with a slice of pineapple and neon straws. AND! He received an e-mail from Skype.. thanking him for downloading… well… the email was in English… so in the best Murican accent he could muster he read it… “Hello Jerry Karanen…” His name is really pronounced yair-ay kair-ah(as in cat)-nen. It was hilarious.

SPEAKING OF ANANAS. (pineapple)………… I have come to the realization that the Finns love this tropical fruit. They put pineapple on pizza.. but not with ham… with kebab and onion and garlic and tuna and other weird stuff that for sure DOESN’T go with pineapple. AND! They put it in pasta! Tonight was the second time I’ve had pasta with pineapple in it. They put it in salads and and and and and and… its anananananana overload.

I love this commercial they have on TV…. a woman is sitting on a toilet and puts long strips of toilet paper over her face… until she pushes them back like a wedding veil and ‘Pachabel's Canon in D’ starts playing… all while she’s peeing. J

I’d like to end with a little cultural funny for you…

Yes, this is also from my book that I love so much…

Journalists around the world organized a competition to write an article about elephants. The titles were as follows….

-English: Hunting elephants in British East Africa
-French: The love life of elephants in French Equatorial Africa
-German: The origin and development of the Indian elephant in the years 1200-1950 (600 pages)
-American: How to breed bigger and better elephants
-Russian: How we sent an elephant to the moon
-Swede: Elephants and the welfare state
-Dane: Elephant-meat smørrebrød
-Spaniard: Techniques of elephant fighting
-Indian: The elephant as a means of transportation before the railway era
-Finn: What elephants think about Finland
-Norwegian: Norway and Norway’s mountains

Get it?!?! If you don’t, then you don’t read enough….

It’s poking fun at ‘various national faiblesses. French lust, German seriousness, American bragging, British colonialism, Finns’ preoccupation with what others think of them…..’


September 22 Journal

 This morning on the bus I sat next to Arnold, dead on the window’s ledge, and Regina, undeniably his mourning lover searching for an escape from a bus that reeked of death in the immense expanse of false hope. Arnold lay dead and Regina flew frantically next to me as that damn silent tear rolled gently down my cheek.
The grain is gone.

The barren scarred land evokes emotions so strong, I barely know what to do with myself.

The tears continued to fall on the long walk from the bus stop to school. Not even the autumn leaves made my smile wake.

I closed my eyes and raised my stained face towards the sun and thought to myself ’Make it stop, make it stop, make it stop.’ I don’t know who I was pleading to, but I was certainly painfully pleading for salvation.

This picture I seem to have painted for you may not be pretty, but it’s the reality of exchange. I have been experiencing amazing highs, but the lows come to match with the same intensity.

I found myself yesterday wallowing in the dark as I was having two online conversations, one with my mommy and one with my boyfriend. I don’t understand these emotions ever. I had an amazing week and a half since I last journaled, absolutely nothing to complain about… but for some reason, Sunday nights, they kill me. This particular Sunday was extremely melancholy and I don’t understand why! It is so frustrating how it feels you are hit with the huge Mercedes bus and thrown thousands of feet into the air, falling falling falling, knowing that the bottom will come soon and then you won’t feel anymore. That bottom never comes though, the numb you get when you know in your mind you’ve come to the absolute end of the road, it never comes… I feel every ounce of pain and sorrow and joy more acutely than I ever could before… I can feel every emotion pricking my skin with millions of tiny needles trying to rip away my outer shell protecting me from harm. That shell is all I have and once it’s gone, it’s nearly impossible to recover.

The biggest problem with being here is not having something that’s mine; Heath and I were discussing this in detail. Him being in Sweden, the emotions are nearly the same…. Everything we have here is borrowed. No matter how loving and warm and kind your host family is, you are NEVER their family… no matter how much fun you have with your friends, you are each in two separate worlds, this is their home, you are visiting for a while and need support, but you get the feeling that if someone asked them who their friends are, your name wouldn’t cross their mind... You may have your own room, but you are not living in your house. This is not your town. You possess nothing except yourself.

I had grain once… that was mine. That was something I could soak in everyday and smile to myself feeling like this grain could never give anyone as much pleasure as it gives me. Now it is gone. And I have to find something else to call my own. There is no way to trace someone if they have nothing. If you cannot trace them... do they really exist? Or do they fade in with the background?

I suppose that’s enough of the inner-dwellings of my mind for this week… I’ll give you the perky day to day stories now that you so desire.

OH! And for those of you who were confused as to who I am referring to when I speak of Al Kalter, I’m talking about the head-honcho of Rotary Youth Exchange… He’s basically the guy responsible for sending me to Finland. =].

Since I last wrote, I suppose quite a few things have gone on….

On Sunday the 14th, I went on a four-hour nature ride on horseback. It was the most breathtaking experience. We went through the tiny mountains and saw the most beautiful views. I can’t even describe it with words.. pictures barely can show what I want to share with you.

That week at school was uneventful and long, except for getting in trouble with my English teacher. I really cannot stand that woman. She starts class 5 minutes early so even when I’m 30 seconds early, I’m late. I got yelled at for not having a pen and paper out when there was nothing to write… none of the other students had it out either, but she decided to yell at me… and then threatened to call my Rotary counselor for skipping my OTHER English class that she was substituting for, when in actuality I had class at my other school which takes precedence over my high school classes and my schedule was already worked out with the counselor and real teacher and she was very upset that no one had notified her about it, when really it had nothing to do with her at all…. She really needs to stop taking her frustration out on poor little exchange students and start perfecting her fake British accent (Sorry I needed to vent).

On Friday, my friend Keegan from language camp came to visit… he’s living about 4 hours away in Oulu… he’s from Colorado… We had such a fun weekend. =].

I’ll start with Friday night…

We decided to go to dinner at a nice little place called Amarillo’s. It very cute and had delicious food, very American though. Well, dinner was great, but after we finished our food we were waiting for the server to bring us our check…. we waited for about 20 minutes until we noticed her in the back with her jacket and purse heading out the door! Our waitress left!!!! So we waited for about 15 more minutes until we finally flagged down some other guy to get our bill. I still am astonished that she just up and left!

After that we went to a friends’ house for a party. There were three Americans there!!! Keegan, Riley from Michigan, and me! It was quite fun, but I’ll be honest… Finnish parties are crazy. Basically… There were a lot of guys running around screaming eating food… then when it got late and sauna was ready they all completely stripped and ran to the sauna… I have never seen so many naked people in my life, ever. It was almost scary. They asked if I wanted to join them in sauna too, but I was NOT about to strip to my skivvies and jump in with a bunch of boys. Talk about a makkara fest.

By the time we got home we were exhausted and passed out rather quickly.

Saturday was fun too! We went to Puijo.. a tower here in Kuopio… Anne thought it would be fun to take the stairs to the top…. 20 flights of stairs later, Anne and I practically dead, Keegan not even out of breath, we were at the top… It was the most amazing view ever. I couldn’t believe that this is my home. We took the lift down, thank god.

Next was to Prisma, the Finnish super Wal-Mart… Keegan and I were in charge of cooking dinner… We actually found everything we were looking for… and my goodness.. that night when we got home and cooked…. THE FOOD WAS AMAZING.. We made a sophisticated version of mac and cheese… with fancy cheese, penne pasta, and chicken… homemade Caesar salad with fresh croutons made by us. =]… and for dessert… a homemade All-American apple pie. Holy crap we can bake. It was soooo delicious.

That evening Anne had bought Keegan and I tickets to see the show Chicago at the local theatre. Chicago is a wonderful show, loved the movie too… but this version… well…. I guess I’d describe it as…. Tim Burton’s Drag Queen Finnish Chicago. Each of the characters was the gothic version of what they were supposed to be complete with bad black hair, black lipstick, sunken eyes…. Keegan and I were laughing hysterically throughout the entire play and would only clap for people who did jazz hands. Even the songs were in Finnish… the sad thing was, the only parts we really understood were when someone had a line with curse words in it. Appalling, I know.

Send me sweaters… send me recipes… send me love.

MOTHER, SHIP MY PACKAGE! (hopefully this will capture her attention)


And to my friends…
No matter how many times I have to tell myself I don’t miss you to get through each day, it doesn’t change the fact that I do….

I’ll be okay. =]

Eerl <3

September 25 Journal

 Hold up,
Wait a minute,
Let us put some funk in it……
Stop laughing SMA-ers…. The cadences stick with you long after graduation…. I found myself with this stuck in my head on my walk to school and had no idea what it was… and then I realized and was like HOLY DONUTS, IT’S A CADENCE.

Now, you may think I’m a dork, a loser, a freak of nature…. because this is my second journal in less than a week…. and you’re so right. BUT! Due to the dreadful mood I was in at the beginning of the week, I left out some things that I wanted to write about… and now that I have no school for the week because of exams, I have ample time to create another entry just for YOU! J

I believe that once upon a journal ago, I mentioned something about my observation skillz (yes with a z). No folk, they haven’t gone anywhere…

Here’s the most recent…

Remember when you were little and after watching Parent Trap you thought that there was two of everyone and that you had a twin that lived halfway across the world? Someone who looked EXACTLY like you? WELL! It’s true. There’s this kid at my school that looks exactly like Jacob Hilliard… except with frosted tips and preppy clothes… it’s odd and scares me. This morning on the bus, I saw the exact double of Ron Zimet. My friend Noora… she looks exactly like Becky. AND! My favorite of all… there’s this guy on the bus who looks precisely like the Geico caveman.

There is one bus driver here who reminds me of a pirate. I swear… he must have been a pirate before he started driving buses around Kuopio. But… he happens to be the friendliest ex-pirate I’ve ever met in my ENTIRE life. No joke. He’s the ONLY bus driver who smiles, the only one who says ‘Moi’ audibly enough for humans to hear, the only one to say ‘Kiitos’ for riding on his bus of joy and joyness and joy…. He also steers that bussi like a ship at sea, so smooth and calm, I don’t even get sea sick…. And even though his thumb nail is super gross and green… the blue captain’s hat he wears makes up for it.

My host grandma, Mumu, knit me socks… two whole pairs of socks. And I love them. I love those socks with every fiber of my being… the only socks I’ve ever received were from Mrs. Natarajan. Now I have THREE pairs of knit socks to keep my feetsies warm through the winterrrrrr.

So today I was buying yarn. And I went up to the register to pay. WELL! The people that work there speak Finnish, crazy I know… and usually they start talking really fast and I have absolutely no clue whatsoever what’s going on… AVAST! Today I had a clue. I KNEW WHAT WAS UP. The lady was asking if I had a store card! And if I wanted a bag. AND YA KNOW WHAT FOLKS…. I gathered this knowledge by UNDERSTANDING WHAT SHE SAID IN FINNISH. I replied too. IN FINNISH.

YEP I KNOW. It’s like I’ve sprouted language seeds from under my skin and they are blossoming into beautiful flowers of language-ness. Sort of. Long way to go… but it’s a start, right? I’ve also began to count in Finnish without even thinking about it… like it’s the only way to count. It’s neat.

AND… if you're in the mood for a catchy tune.. go onto youtube and look up ‘Heart it Races by Architecture in Helsinki.’ So addicting… so weird… so Finnish.

Now I went to my first Rotary meeting today… the club president just happens to look like Paul McCartney. I showed my slideshow presentation, and they loved it. I talked A LOT… and they loved it. I giggled… and they LOVED it. I picked a good time to go too…. the District Governor was visiting and gave a presentation. It was super cool and he is way nice, he even talked about me in his speech and would make comments in English just for me… like a secret joke or something, even though everyone else understood, I knew he was just talking to me. I honestly can’t remember a time where I’ve been more excited about Rotary.. and more proud to be the daughter of a prominent Rotarian, and have knowledge of Rotary. It was simply amazing.

Rotary is totally neat.


October 1 Journal
 Seven cups of coffee and one presidential debate later……. My goodness… I need to cut back….
But anywho… my current feelings right now are…. CRAWL UNDER THE COVERS AND DON’T COME OUT TILL WINTER IS OVER. Now today is October 1, 2008… The weather forecast for Sarasota, Florida is what you folks would call a chilly day…. The current weather is 85˚… feels like 88˚… the sun is shining!!!!!

Now here, you ask… 39˚… feels like 36˚….. precipitating……. It’s doing that weird mist rain thing again…. Basically… it’s effing freezing.

OH! And get this…. While your Florida sun is setting at a normal 7:20pm… My sun is down, gone… it leaves at around 6:30 and it’s not gonna come up again until 7:30 the next morning… and ya know like… 2 months ago when I got here… the sun didn’t set until 10:30….

At least I have warm clothes right? NO WAY JOSE… cause if I wear my winter parka, I’ll get stared at cause it’s really not THAT cold, but if I wear my wool jacket, I’m freezing!!!!! I suppose I’ll deal with the stares and wear the big puffy one.. I will NOT turn into a Jenny-sicle… I’ll save that for when winter comes (oh dear god this is only autumn).

Yes, you will receive weather complaints from now until it starts getting warm again… and I’m pretty sure my definition of warm will change drastically by the time this year is over.

On a lighter note… literally… Have you ever seen someone with black hair? I have… it’s like.. a super popular choice of color here… But it’s rarely natural… Now in Florida it’s quite common to see blondes with dark roots growing in… But have you ever witnessed the phenomenon of black hair with PLATINUM BLONDE ROOTS? Not me… not till I got here… It looks funny… like they have a scalp disease.

When I didn’t have school, I thought I was going to go nuts… but now I’m back in school… and I’m pretty sure I'm going to go insane… I mean… I despise school… high school at least…. My college courses are GREAT! I realllllllllyyyyyyyyy love them… But throw me in a geography class with a bunch of 15 year olds and a teacher who is too nervous to talk to me, once he figures out that I’m even in there…. I’m going positively mad!

The whole friend situation… well I suppose that’s coming along… Kind of.. I feel more like I’m rewinding now that the initial ‘cool-she’s-foreign-phase’ has gone.. I have people to spend time with, but really only one friend… well I consider him a friend. The rest of the people I spend time with seen to help me out and take me under their wing, but if you asked them if I was their FRIEND… the answer would probably be no… or not really. It’s hard not having someone close here to talk to… I know it will take time though. =].

At my college classes there’s this ranskalainen (French person) (I learned ‘Ranska’ really well because my family’s favorite salad dressing is French. =]) who talks to me… and a German guy… and a girl from Hungary.. and this Chinese girl who’s fascinated by me… and a Nigerian boy who asks me out on lunch dates at least once a week… Everyone there is so nice, and since they are all from all over the world and this isn’t home for them it’s easy to relate. The only downside is that they are all twenty-somethings and I happen to be a seventeen year old (despite my wishes).

I have my first exam on October 13th… Finnish… gross. BUT! My friend Sampsa (yes, the real friend)… we are meeting 3 to 5 times a week so he can tutor me and teach me Finnish before he packs up to spend a month or two in Florida this winter…. (yes he’s seriously going to Florida for about 2 months) (yes, you can meet him if you drive him places around Florida) (he’ll be 19) (yes, he’s cute).

This past weekend I had a Rotary district camp… I got to see all the exchange students in my district.. most importantly my best friend Hope. When we got to camp and were finally reunited, we hugged… and immediately began talking. Not the slow English we usually speak with the Finns, but excited-teenage-girl-English… for anyone but us, I’m sure it was frightening… we talked at top speeds about anything and everything without stopping to breathe for three straight hours. I’m not even exaggerating. Poor Hope has a bad host family… an 80 year old host father who pays people to come spend time with Hope… and a 60 year old host mother who doesn’t allow Hope to use the microwave because it gives off evil negative energy……

The weekend at camp was pretty lame, despite all of us staying up until four in the morning every night talking around bonfires and coffee…. and seeing Hope. The ONLY thing Rotary had planned for us was a five-hour nature hike through… nature? The guide was an ancient Finnish man who looked like he was about to keel over at any second… and smoked an entire pack of cigarettes… and then a pipe cause he ran out of ciggs… all on this hike…. Now before we went into the thicket he showed us the map… and pointed at where we were… and where we were going… and what path to take… The only problem was… he was shaking SO badly… that when he pointed to one spot… he pointed at half of the paper…. He also got lost in the woods a few times and confused… a lot . It’s not smart to send a dying man with Alzheimer’s who cannot communicate with the people he’s guiding into the woods… it’s just not something you do…….

But I am safe and not lost in the forest which is a good thing…..

I really love the Spice Girls.

WELL! I know I’ve said this before.. but I’ll say it again because I was reminded of it again today… the smallest things trigger emotional instability. Here’s my story… this is what happened. It’s short.. I promise.

This morning I had to wake up at 6:30am… and as I’ve been over before… It’s very dark at this time. Back in Florida when I had to wake up in the wee hours of the morning, my daddy would be awake already with his cup o joe…. On the computer or reading the paper… Usually just got out of the shower and smells like his cologne and aftershave…. Then we’d ride to school together and I would sleep and he would listen to Jimmy Buffett and things just worked. Well… this morning there was a daddy reading the paper (not drinking coffee cause if he drinks it in the morning he gets a stomach ache)… and he smelled of cologne and aftershave… But he wasn’t my daddy… And then we drove to school.. and listened to some cheesy Finnish music (which I love).. But it wasn’t the same.. and made me wish my daddy could drive me to school early on Wednesday mornings. But it’s coo it’s coo.

I really like the letter ö. It sounds quite ugly… but it’s just so fun to say…

Friday is my two month anniversary of being here. Whoa nelly.

I need to find the post office.. I walked around for 30 minutes on Tuesday looking for it… then I got cold and gave up and bought coffee instead. =].


Here would be proof that I am going insane.. but I love my home here.<3.

A conversation between my mother and I online… a discussion that began by trying to find a good place to talk to myself…….

JENNY: i dont have a car to be alone in
KAREN: you have the bees
JENNY: they sting me
JENNY: ;i prefer the dead ones
KAREN: have you been stung?
JENNY: that why i give the dead ones names
JENNY: no not yet, but i dont want to risk it.
JENNY: ill stick to the deceased
KAREN: lol
KAREN: the bee cryptkeeper
KAREN: thats you
JENNY: whooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
KAREN: you can have little bee funeral pyres
JENNY: perfect!
JENNY: i should make tiny headstones and make a beegraveyard!
KAREN: perhaps you have been alone in the countryside a wee bit long?

Tomorrow, I will microwave the mashed potatoes my host mom made tonight. Then, I will eat them. 

October 12 Journal

 Today would be the Sunday before Monday… and a lovely Sunday it is…. aurinko paistaa (the sun is shining)… it’s kahdeksan (8) degrees… I have to go rake more leaves… I couldn’t picture a better Sunday before Monday.
I’m assuming most of you probably thought that I was admitted to the local mental hospital after my last journal… BUT! Lucky for me I escaped that one.

Not too much exciting has been going on except my excessive coffee drinking and knitting. So far I have knit two scarves and now I’m attempting a pair of socks. Right now it's just one sock, just the ankle part… and if the heel doesn’t go well these will be very tight legwarmers.

The other morning I woke up to get ready for school… I stumbled out of my room unconsciously to the coffee pot to brew my daily cup or two (my friend Jessica and I miss rhyming).. when my host dad said to me, ‘Wear many cloth, it.. quite… COLD.’ Staggering ever so gracefully to the window where the thermometer is, I took one look and immediately was horrified. It read -4˚ and the outside was completely covered in the thickest frost I had ever seen.

So taking his advice, I put on much cloth and got ready to take on the day. I wore… three pairs of socks, tights, blue jeans, a tank top, a t-shirt, a long sleeve shirt, a sweater, a thicker sweater, a wool coat, a scarf I knit, a pair of boots, a hat, two pairs of gloves… and… I think that’s it. And I was still cold. Winter is going to be very long and very cruel this year.

OH! I am officially a high school drop out… kind of. I DID graduate in the States so I don’t think this is as severe BUT! I am no longer attending the high school in town. I am a student at Savonia-ammattikorkeakoulu… a business school here in town on the big hill. I love it there. I love my classes, I love everything. I’m even learning how to deal with the Nigerian boy who refuses to take no for an answer.

Tomorrow, the Monday after Sunday, I have an exam…. a Finnish exam. Gross. Hopefully I’ll do super well.. I actually had another encounter with a salesperson at the store the other day when I was buying some tape. I understood what she asked. I replied calmly and appropriately and it was neat. BUT! I actually had a COMPLETE conversation with a woman the other night whilst I was schmoozing with the adults at a birthday party. She spoke to me only in Finnish and then I would respond in English… and I understood her!! It was for sure a breakthrough.

So although my comprehension skills are rising, my speaking skills have plateaud at.. well.. nothing. BUT! I do see my English skills to be on the decline. Not only am I completely unable to type ever.. I find myself thinking in the broken English my family and friends use. Such as…. ‘I will pick up you half eight.’ This means… ‘I will pick you up at 7:30.’ Or ‘I throw away you and if friends to coffee I throw away them too.’ This means, ‘I can drop you off and if your friends come over for coffee I can drop them off at home too.’ It’s a terrible way to think. I was talking to my friend online last night and decided to go for sauna.. so I said to her ‘I think I go sauna, but I come to back.’ Meaning… ‘I think I am going to go for sauna, but I’ll be back.’ When I come home I don’t think anyone will be able to understand me… maybe I’ll just stay here……….

I will leave you today with…

*spoken with snotty British accent in big chair in front of fireplace with a pipe* ...

The Art of Raking Leaves.

If you want to be a successful leaf raker you must follow these simple rules.

1. Put on thick socks, sweatpants, t-shirt, sweatshirt, special leaf raking jacket, cotton gloves, special leaf raking gloves, and super sexy rubber boots.

Now you are ready to begin.

2. Go outside and find the area of the backyard (or front yard) that is covered entirely with leaves.

3. Pick up rake.

4. Begin to rake.

5. Keep raking leaves until you have piles.

6. Once you have achieved pile status you should find your wheelbarrow.

7. When wheelbarrow is located, roll it to desired leaf pile.

8. Begin to pick up as many leaves as you can in your arms and put into wheelbarrow.

Note: To make the least amount of wheelbarrow trips, smush as many leaves in the wheelbarrow as possible… if necessary, sit on the leaves in the wheelbarrow for maximum smushage.

9. Wheel wheelbarrow to big rock.

10. Dump leaves behind big rock.

11. Repeat steps 8 through 10 until all leaves are picked up.

12. Go inside.

13. Remove all clothing and dump in laundry room.

14. Put on clean clothes.

15. Go to refrigerator.

16. Remove giant bottle of Fanta.

17. Pour glass of Fanta.

18. Enjoy Fanta.


Next week I will divulge all my deepest secrets about how to keep bees warm in the winter….

It involves tiny bee-sweaters.

October 20 Journal

 So this weekend I went to Helsinki for the first time. I realllllllyyyyyyy loved it. I think my exchange year would have been much different if I was in Helsinki. BUT! I’m in Kuopio.. or as Ranjani pronounces it…. Kuopo. Jere and I call it that now… it’s our little inside joke. =].
On Saturday in Helsinki, after we ate breakfast, my host parents let Jere and I roam Helsinki on our own… Helsinki is HUGE!! There was a huge shopping district near our hotel that we explored thoroughly. We went into 876852 stores and he would put on mini fashion shows for me when he would try things on. THEN! We took the underground about 15 minutes outside of where we were into the actual centrum of the city. There was a gigantic shopping mall that we took over. He likes to pretend we’re gangsters and then we walk around saying ‘yo’ and ‘Minä olen niin huppu’ (I’m so hood) a lot. We tried on every super cute hat in every store we went in taking pictures along the way. He even found me a balloon and bought me an ice cream cone. We really are like brother and sister. It’s cute and we just had the best time.

We stopped for coffee in the centrum and talked for a while.. I asked him if it was weird having me live in his home with his family… and he said ‘No. It will be weird when you’re gone.’ Finns aren’t people to really express things like that very often, and it was very touching… I almost cried… but then I didn’t because we bought hats.

I’ve never had a brother before… I’m going to miss little Jere a lot when I switch host families. Like… a lot a lot.

I’ve gotten extremely close with my host mom Anne too. The night we got home from Helsinki I showered and unpacked my bags and then went to go sit on the couch with the rest of the family and watch television. I felt a need for some ‘Mommy comfort’ and sat next to Anne… She wrapped a blanket around me and let me snuggle against her and she put her arm around me. We spent the next hour talking about the relationship a mother has with her daughter and how different girls are from boys.

I am a part of this family here and it’s the most wonderful feeling in the world. Anne calls me her daughter and treats me as such. Kari and I have our inside jokes and make each other laugh a lot because of his poor English and my poor Finnish. The two of us are always learning from each other. Jere and I have grown close in a way that only a brother and a sister could, a relationship I cannot explain. Even my older brother Jani, although I don’t see him very often, every time he’s here he asks me to say jäätelö tötterö (ice cream cone) (it sounds kind of like YAA-TELL-UH TUH-TER-UH) (when I try and say it sounds like YAA-TELL-UH DUH-DUH-DUH) because he thinks it’s hilarious and he tries to get me to eat candies that he knows I don’t like at all.

It’s lovely and I will protest moving even though I know I have to.

I started my second Jakso (school session, like a quarter) today. I have the same classes plus a new one that’s like… Organizational somethingorother in Internationalsomething Businessstuff. It will be good, although I don’t know how well I’ll do with the business aspect of things… we shall seeeeee.

AND OMG! My favorite Finnish soap opera is on!!! SALATUT ELÄMÄT!!! I don’t understand most of it.. but it’s funny to watch. It’s actually the only Finnish soap opera… but I can still call it my favorite.

The other night that show where they give people a lie detector test and if they answer the questions truthfully, they get money, was on. It was a beauty queen from… some state… And she was kind of obnoxious. BUT! It was funny.

Today I ran into Jarkko in front of Coffee House… so we got coffee… well he got coffee…. I’m trying to cut back. It was nice bumping into a familiar face.

So I went to check on the bees last week… and well… I don’t think they’re there anymore… I think they might be sleeping. I hope so. I hope they’re not dead. I only name the dead ones. And there are a lot of freaking bees. I don’t have time to name all of them.

Sampsa and I discussed what to do with bees in the winter. I thought that if we knit them tiny bee sweaters with six sleeves and itty bitty buttons they’d be happy. So if I see one buzzing, I’ll be sure to give it a nice cozy sweater.

Now everyone warned me the first few weeks I was here that I was going to get really depressed at the end of autumn and not come out of it until spring. WELL! I laughed it off and didn’t think anything of it. I can handle no sunlight for five or six months. I can handle the sun not beginning to come up until 8 am at the end of October and setting at 6 pm… The days just keep getting shorter and shorter… and it keeps getting colder and colder. I find myself slipping into bouts of this Finnish depression that claims the Finns every winter and it’s not fun!

I suppose they were right, those Finns. I would like to take this time to thank Al for sending me to a place where you can see people change on the streets as the weeks wear on. People walk quicker now and keep their heads down, they smile less, they talk less if at all. This is worse than the Finnish Flu people. And it’s not just hitting me… IT’S ATTACKING EVERYONE!!!! OH NO, MR. BILL!!! (Like Daddy says).

I believe it is now time for some more funny things that makes Finland, well… Finland.

1) Plastic bags cost money at the grocery store

2) You bag your own groceries.

3) If you want a shopping cart, you have to stick a 2€ coin in the handle to unlock it from its chain attaching it to the other carts… and if you want your money back you must return the cart to the front of the store and relock it.

4) When a stranger smiles at you, you assume 3 things
a) He’s drunk
b) He’s American
c) He’s insane

5) We put our dishes in the "wet cupboard" to dry

6) Silence is fun

7) NEVER expect a response from a group you are giving a presentation to…. EVER. They will not smile, they will not laugh, they will not ask questions, they will not participate… This holds true for class in school.

8) No one EVER sits in the first row

9) School lunches are free! Hurrah for Pea Soup (gross)!

10) People don’t buy food in advance and stock up… which I think they should, like squirrels so they don’t have to go out in the winter.

11) Finn’s NEVER walk across the street without the green man showing, even if there are no cars in sight.

12) Nothing is open before 10 am, after 7 pm, or on Sundays.

13) Hugging is reserved for sexual foreplay

14) There is sex on TV

15) They sometimes censor curse words… sometimes.

16) If people are talking on the train / bus, you assume:
a) they are foreign
b) they are drunk
c) they are Swedish-speaking Finns
d) all of the above

17) Sauna is part of your daily routine.

18) People answer the phone by saying their name, not hello

19) When you ask Mitä kuuluu? (how are you) people actually think you want a detailed response

19) When you pass someone on the side walk, you ignore their presence

20) Awkward silence doesn’t exist. It’s just silence.

21) Breaks in the conversation are common… and it’s okay.

22) You NEVER start a conversation with someone you don’t know

23) People are openly racist.

24) Expect to get stared at no matter what you look like.

25) People are not very educated in other cultures of the world.

26) You never command a Finn to do something

27) Prices are deceiving. Something in the states that would be $19 is usually 19€…

I’ll have more later I assure you…

Jere and I are watching a documentary called The Girl with Eight Limbs.

I think that’s enough for this entry.

I’ll be sure to write before I head off to the Canary Islands for a vacation. =].

October 27 Journal


Just guess.

If you guessed a giraffe… you’re very wrong.


OH MY GOODNESS IT WAS HUGE! IT WAS AMAZING. MAJESTIC. PERFECT. I want one. BUT! Right after it crossed the road in front of our car it stood in the ticket of trees and stared at us as we stared at him… Then my host dad says… The moose has to cross lake over there. I inquired about the moose’s swimming abilities… but sure enough, they can swim! I then pondered what you would do if you were taking a nice swim in the lake when all of a sudden a moose swam by? I would of course grab his antlers and have him drag me through the lake… How fun would that be?!

In other news… We were over for dinner at my 3rd host family's house… they are close friends with the family I’m with now… AND! My 3rd host dad is like… 6’ 8’’. Thuper tall. And reallllyyyy funny. I’m excited to live with them.

I love my host brother Jere. He’s the best brother ever. He’s started finding it fun to speak in Finnish really fast to his friends and throw my name in there randomly so I think he’s talking about me… I’ve started beating him up.<3. JUST KIDDING! He’s perfect. The best little brother I could ever ask for… Of course my horse.

This morning I was standing at the bus stop patiently awaiting my chariot when an elderly woman came up to me… I said ‘Huomenta’ and went back to listening to my iPod. She replied with an excessively cheery ‘HYVÄÄ HUOMENTA!!’ and began jabbering away in Finnish. I freaked out a bit and responded with, ‘…..Uhhhhh… Minä en puhu suomea!’ *shifty sideways glances* This means ‘I don’t speak Finnish.’ It was too early to muster my Finnish vocabulary. But the funny thing here is that… when you tell someone here you don’t speak Finnish… in Finnish…. They continue talking. REALLY fast. Well I tried the best I could… and understood some of what she said. And I tried to reply in my best Finnish. She was very kind. She asked me where I lived… and I told her the family I’m living with and she rambled on about how Anne has three boys or something like that I guess….. THEN she pointed to the school across the street and asked if I went there… and I said ‘Minä opiskelen Savonia-Ammattikorkeakoulu.’ Which directly translates into… I study Savonia University of Applied Sciences. I don’t know how to say ‘at’… there is no word for it… you just add something to the end of the place you study at or live in or go to. It’s confusing… anywho… She understood and asked me what I study… and I forgot the word for internationally business… so I said ‘boo-see-ness’ hoping she’d understand my suomalainen (Finnish) version of the word business… and she did.

When I told my host parents about this just a few minutes ago, they were laughing hysterically and thought it was GREAT! It turns out that the woman I was talking to… here in the village… they call her… ‘Pipity Popity Muumi’ or something like that… maybe ‘Bipity Bopity Muumi.’ She very friendly and very talkative… and I think the next time I see Pipity Popity Muumi I will invite her over for coffee to hone my Finnish skillz.

Today I walked from school to town with a French girl from my class… she’s really nice and we had a really nice chat.

Speaking of people from school…. This past Friday I was invited to the like… 22nd birthday party of this German girl I go to school with… All of us international students in my classes were crammed in a tiny student flat… about 30 of us. I believe we represented about 10 different countries. I think one of the best parts of the night was when it was time to sing happy birthday… it was repeating many times in everyone’s home language which was REALLY fun to hear…. It was sung in: - German - English - French - Lithuanian - Russian - Italian - Spanish - Chinese - Hungarian - Polish - Finnish. Very cool. Very very cool. It was funny because everyone was picking on Saulius (from Lithuania) calling him the ‘baby brother’ because he was born in 1987 when everyone else was born in 1986…. And then when I mentioned to them that I was only 17… They firstly didn’t believe me… and when they finally did… they laughed and hugged me and told me that even though I’m the little one of the group, we're all a makeshift family so far from home and that it doesn’t matter because they thought I was much older anyways. It was nice to be ‘accepted’ in a way… I’ve been going to school with all of them since August, but since I just started going there full time I haven’t bonded with them until now. It’s a good feeling.

On a different note…. Something VERY interesting happened Saturday night…

Cultural analysts would consider this occurrence a lingual breakthrough... I however would like to argue. We exchange students were told that probably around the three month mark we would dream in our target language... and it would be cool and exciting... WELL FOLKS... I did it; I dreamt in Finnish. Was incredible? I suppose I should answer, ''Yes. YES! Positively stupendous!'' But I'm not going to... Yes you said we'd dream in our language... but you didn't specify if we would understand it or not! I had an entire lengthy dream... or possibly a nightmare... of me in a hospital and a woman and a nurse screaming at me frantically in Finnish like something was terribly terribly wrong... but I couldn't understand...

Gosh. Way to prepare us for everything. I almost wet the bed.

November 18 Journal

 Mark my words Al Kalter, the next time you consider sending some poor unknowing girl to the tippy top of the universe, I will personally destroy the brain cells that think this is a good idea, unless you provide her with a parka the size of Russia, multiple pairs of long underwear, and the sun. Yes the sun.
I have a new favorite song…

Olen omena
Olen omena
Olen pyöreä omenaaaaaaa
Olen omena
Olen omena
Olen punainen omenaaaaaaaaaaa!

It saysssss.

I’m an apple
I’m an apple
I’m a round appleeeeeeeeee.
I’m an apple
I’m an apple
I’m a red appleeeeeeeee.

If you would like to hear this song with your own ears, please visit…, or if you’d like to listen while watching a beautifully choreographed slideshow of apples, please visit…

Did you know that it is 2:11 in the afternoon and it’s already getting dark? I mean, the sun never came out to begin with, it was gross and grey and dead looking from the second I opened my eyes… but honestly, 2 o’clock?!

Since my last journal there have been quite a few things going on…

Tuesday October 28th marks the day we lost my grandmother. She passed away that morning and my mother told me the news via instant message when I got home from school. I can honestly say I had the weirdest feeling when she told me. I was at peace because I knew my grandmother had not been ‘alive’ for years, but of course, any loss is devastating. I also was overwhelmed with the notion that I am thousands and thousands of miles away and my mommy’s mommy just died and I can’t give her a hug and I can’t be there with her and I can’t go to the funeral and I can’t do anything because I’m so goddamn far away. It broke my heart to not be able to just be there. The funeral is next week and it makes me sick thinking that I cannot go.

On a lighter note…

It snowed for the first time on November 1st. The biggest snowflakes I had ever seen in my entire life. Bigger than cars. Bigger than dinosaurs. Bigger than… we have awesome rock formations here. From the ice age. Rock formations and trees. I don’t think the trees are from the ice age though…

Other than that I don’t really recall much of that week… it was far too long ago.


I was in the Canary Islands… It’s part of Spain, but kind of like… off the coast of Morocco… yes. And I will now take this time to recount every second of my trip.

So we left on Wednesday the 5th to the airport for a long journey…

We boarded the plane and I’m pretty sure somebody planned it so I got the worst seat ever… it was the last row of a middle section with a huge box behind me preventing any reclinage… and I had zero leg room… and those of you who know me know how long (or maybe how short) my legs are… they are practically non-existent… and I had no LEG ROOM! For like… 6 hours? We flew from Kuopio to Madrid and then… we didn’t switch planes in Madrid, we switched pilots, and THEN, we flew to Las Palmas in Gran Canaria.

Despite my lack of room and uncomfortableness, the plane ride was funny… I honestly have never seen so much alcohol consumed in a single flight… EVER! I swear every adult on the plane ordered at least two beers, a bottle of wine (half size), two liquors, and then a bottle of whatever they were selling on the duty free cart.

(I’d like to explain the word ‘we’ for a moment… We is not my host family and I, we is… My host family, my third host family, and another family that they’re all friends with… 13 of us total. We were very loud… and all of our seats were situated very close to each other… I felt bad for the other people on the plane.)

We finally stumbled into our resort at around 1:30am in Spain, 3:30am in Finland… we had been traveling all day, so I showered and passed out in our little cottage we (my host family, not all 13 of us) rented.

Thursday morning I woke up much too early and went to get breakfast in the dining room with my host family… I actually ate bacon and enjoyed it… and the apple juice was too strong. After that I decided to explore the grounds and take pictures of everything… I was kind of sad because I didn’t think I would have anyone to spend the week with. Later we went to the pool and for naps and to a shopping center…

We went to a pizza place for dinner which was very nice and I talked to some of the people my age that were with us... Oskari (3rd host brother), Vera (his girlfriend), and Pipsa (the daughter of the other family). We decided to hit the nightlife after dinner together, so once we finished our meals we walked around the area we were in looking for a good place to dance. WELL! All there were were gay bars… and me being the only one fluent in English, not only was I recruited to ride shotty in the cab, but I had to talk to one of the servers at a bar to find out where a good place to go was… Well this was not any server. This was a man with diamond stud earrings in a black speedo with a bunny tail, bunny ears, and a bow tie… The first words out of his mouth were “Hello Darling!” I was glad I was talking to him and not the 6’7’’ ‘woman’ working at Dave’s Drag and Comedy Club next door. He told us that nothing would really be open until about 12:30am (it was only 9:30), but the best places to go were upstairs and to the left. Perfect. =]. As we were walking through the center square of this shopping area, a man dressed as a clown was walking around causing mischief and we were his next victims… he snuck up behind us and scared the crap out of us… and then as we kept walking I felt an arm around me and I thought it was Pipsa, but it was the clown… and he proceeded to scoop me up and start carrying me to the other side of the square trying to pass me off to innocent bystanders… very funny, but he passed me to some other guy who ALSO kept walking which was when I politely asked him to put me down and he did and I caught up with the others. So we went back to the hotel to get all dressed up and a few hours later we went back, upstairs and to the left… There were four nightclubs and a shop up here… all proudly waving rainbow flags and complete with drag queens and well… it was uncomfortable… especially for Oskari, and the shop was… a gay sex shop… WELL! We hightailed it out of there just before a drag queen snatched us and tried to find somewhere else to go.

We ended up catching a cab and going to another area of town where we found LOTS of places to dance.

The place we ended up staying at had muscley waiters dressed in black speedos and bowties and all of their skin was painted in gold glitter. Mother would have loved it.

We danced and danced until about 3am. I met a lot of people from all over the world… mostly weird guys who were trying to chat me up as they attempted to dance upon my leg which was a major no-no. This one guy from Canada thought he had me though cause he was from Canada and I’m from the United States, poor guy.

The next day we lounged by the pool and then went to the beach… a very nice beach… Lots of sand… and water… and naked people. I’ve experienced so much nudity since being here… I can’t even being to explain. Anyways… it was a nude beach, well… you didn’t have to wear a bathing suit… There’s nothing like watching an old naked couple go walking hand in hand through the sand dunes… (ew).

That night the four of us went shopping and I bought shoes… we then went back to the cottages and played Uno and Riisi until about midnight when we went to sleep.

I was awoken around 1am to the noise of my little brother dancing back into our room after being out with his two friends… (two 14 year olds and a 16 year old). I of course woke up, he’s not as sneaky as I am… and he was rather talkative… so he kept me up for about 2 more hours telling me everything about his night and asking me questions and we just had good talks.

The next day we went to a shopping mall (haven’t been in a mall since Florida!) and shopped… a lot… Vera and Pipsa were worse than me! And I’m a serial shopper… Oskari hung out with us for the first hour or so, bless his heart he was so patient, but then went off to find the boys.

That evening after showers and naps the four of us went out dancing again, this time we knew where to go and wasted no time. Lucky for me, the Canadian wasn’t there!!! But an old English man found me and shimmied his way over (he must have been at least 35) and whispered in my ear that he had a friend who liked me but was rather shy and would really love to talk to me… he proceeded to pull me over to the bar to this other middle aged English man and introduced us and I said hello and while he was turned to the bartender in search of a drink to buy me, I snuck away with Pipsa… The rest of the night if this man would come dancing in our direction, whoever noticed would shout ‘VANHA MIES’ (old man!) and we’d slide to another part of the dance floor.

Sunday was Fathers’ Day, but in the morning all of us kids went to a water park built into the side of a mountain which was fun! I even got a little sunburned! AND! There were sea lions! They are SO CUTE. I want one. We showered and napped and then went out to a nice Italian dinner all thirteen of us. Dinner was lovely and the man singing at the restaurant serenaded us and brought us sombreros and maracas (way too much fun). Pipsa and Anne ended up on stage singing with him and he left them to sing alone and came to dance with me since Jere wouldn’t dance with me.

Monday each family rented a car and went their separate ways navigating through the mountains on the other side of the island. It was absolutely gorgeous even though I thought I was going to be sick the entire car ride… Kari’s driving plus mountains equates to possibly a space shuttle being steered by an anthropomorphous Macaca fascicularis on amphetamines. =D. We took some fantastic pictures and got lunch at a cute local restaurant perching atop the mountains.

Pipsa and Vera and I had some fun after our daily naps doing each others hair up in pretty curls and being girly until it was time for us to hit the town again. We got food and went to the club… this time no Canadian and no old English man, just a young English man who proclaimed his undying love for me (mind you I’ve never met this man in my life) who kept telling me how much he was in love with me all night and I swear if we didn’t leave when we did he would have proposed right there on the dance floor… But aside from all these men getting in my way, Pipsa and Vera and I had an AMAZING time dancing together while Oskari held all of our purses and bought us bottles of water from the bar when we wanted them (3€ for the smallest water bottle I’ve seen in my life).

Tuesday we relaxed poolside until it got a bit breezy… we then went for more naps! That being our last night, we wanted to go out for a nice dinner so we found a cute little restaurant and had a nice time. The young boys were bored so when they finished eating they went to take pictures of themselves at the resort. Vera and Oskari went off shopping somewhere, and Pipsa and I went with the adults to an underground Finnish karaoke bar. We had a blast, Pipsa and Anne sang a lot and Pipsa’s dad danced with me and tried to teach me how to step one-two something something to the left right backwards crisscross spin thing… which I was horrible at… but Kari taught me to waltz which was so fun and so nice and it was just such a nice evening. Pipsa and I really had bonded this week and laughed all night long.

Wednesday we woke up at three to catch our plane back to Finland (woooo).

The Saturday after we got back we went to the main square to watch them light the big Christmas tree and see a fireworks show. I had a great time, I ending up spending the evening there with like… 12 other exchange students here all through Rotary or ASF.

I’m knitting some amazing socks right now.

Yesterday was my first day back to school after being on vacation… and let me tell you how fantastic it was…

Woo. Yay. Fun. It was -7° and it had snowed the night before and and and… the ground was hard and cold… and the bus was 15 minutes late… and and and I kept slipping cause I wore the wrong boots and and and… I fell once, but no one saw I don’t think, still thoroughly embarrassing… and and and… I could barely stay awake in class and and and… it was crummy.

There was one good part about my day though…

I was asked if I speak fluent Canadian… Instead of explaining that we both speak English and there is just a different accent…

I told him.

I speak fluent Canadian…

December 14 Journal

 It’s been a while dear friends… quite a long while… For many twists have etched themselves into the stone of my life… A consuming reality…
This pretty little package of life reminds me of those washcloths Santa sticks in your stocking each year… Ya know, the ones that are the size of a cookie wrapped in plastic and then you put them in a cup of tepid water and in 30 minutes you have a full size washcloth with Winnie the Pooh on it textured like a soft sandpaper…

Look at it like this… you begin in a sheltered armor of childhood, secure from the big bad world… you slowly unwrap the plastic lining of your youth and quest into adolescence… this is short lived as young adulthood submerges you in undulating adventure, each precious second ticking by until you are gasping for air… Always immersed in that pool for entirely too long, strangled by the forces opposing your liberation, you wait as you writhe for freedom… Finally you are released from the watery prison, but twisted and squeezed painfully, just to achieve the full effect… By this time, you are fully grown and left to dry… you do your job and sometimes it turns out that you have fulfilled everyone’s hopes and dreams of you, and sometimes you are a disappointment, not what someone had in mind… sometimes you think you are on one side of this spectrum and sometimes on another, but really… when it comes right down to it…

You’re still a cheap washcloth textured like soft sandpaper…

I however… am the washcloth that everyone anticipates… Softer than expected… with a nice design… I’m the washcloth of your dreams simply because I want to be.

My glass of water is currently called Petonen, the second most dangerous part of Finland. I call it my glass of water because these past four months have been meticulously confusing my washcloth self… I went into this experience submerged, as most of us exchange students have… but have been ripped from my glass many too many times and twisted and wrung viciously only to be placed back in the water… I think it’s just so I have plenty of time to become better in my little viscous cocoon. Being compressed and mangled so many times leaves my muscles sore and my mind exhausted… Afterwards I feel stronger than before, it’s an incredible phenomenon.

Anyways… I do live in the second most dangerous part of Finland… I am proud to say I live in this Finnish ghetto… it’s exhilarating… Much more exhilarating than my tiny village of Rytky, although I do miss that bee farm.

I switched host family’s November 22nd… it was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do since being here. I had grown SO close with the Keränens that leaving them was like leaving home all over again, but worse… I don’t know why, but I cried more when I left my first host family than when I left my real parents. I felt kind of bad though… Anne and I stood in the kitchen of my second host family crying and hugging for a very long time……

My new family is very different from my home, very different from my first host family too. I have four host brothers and sisters. Rita (18 female), Reko (15 male), Roni (10 male), Rosa (6 female). Now… I have a very open mind… I also have a terrible disease…. It was diagnosed at a very young age and has hindered my ability to live normally for many many years…

I have OCS, better known as… this is very difficult for me to talk about, a very sensitive subject…


There… now it’s out in the open. Symptoms of OCS: enjoys peace, enjoys quiet, hates yelling, doesn’t understand why children cry a lot, likes to be alone, has own things and does not need others' things, nor hopes other needs owns things…

This home is never quiet… it was very difficult to get used to, and I don’t think I ever can get used to that for it is something I really just don’t enjoy… but it’s okay… I vow never to have more than two children when I have kids… you can quote me on that, write it down, stamp it, get my signature, I will not have more than two children. One is perfectly sufficient.

The eighteen year old and I get along very well… we’re very different with different friends and different fun-making activities, but we get along… the fifteen year old and I also get along… he’s funny and plays the guitar REALLY well… the ten year old…. I’m sure he’s a very nice child… but we have a bit of a communication barrier… because he doesn’t speak or understand English yet… and he doesn’t speak Finnish to me either……

The six year old… I won’t get into everything… but she likes coming into my room and poking me…. she likes sitting on my bed and saying random words in Finnish and having me repeat her even though I don’t know what the words mean… she likes sitting under my desk and ‘fixing’ it with tools while I work on homework… she likes cuddling with me in bed when I watch Across the Universe… she likes playing myyra (mole) in my bed by crawling underneath the covers from the foot of my bed up to my face… she likes singing and dancing… she goes to a German kindergarten and speaks some German… she’s loud… she’s six. I like her best when she’s quiet and cuddly… other times when she’s loud… and poking me… I have a strong urge to punt her across the foyer… but I don’t… because I’m a lovely washcloth.

It’s warm tonight… 36°F… 2°C… that’s the warmest it’s been in a long time…

The most exciting recent event in my adventure here was a trip to Lapland, which Cindy had talked about a bit. I’ll add. =].

I got on the bus at approximately 11:52pm Friday December 5th. I was reunited with my lovely friend Hope and we had many things to update each other on. The bus ride was ridiculously long, but I slept VERY well… The beauty of being small… I had a pillow and blanket and I fit perfectly on two seats. I’d have to say the best part was being reunited with my two best friend Chris and Trey… 3 of the Rotary busses had ended up stopping at the same time at the same ABC (truck stop kind of place)… and I saw Trey first and attacked with a nice run jump hug and then saw Chris who was out of it like usual… and I was like… HEY! Where the hell have you been?! He had practically fallen off the face of the Earth… We were happy to be back together again, the three of us.

We still had a few hours of bus ride after that and we went to our separate busses (they were together which made me jealous) and headed up to the Arctic Circle. We arrived around 11:45 the next morning… and went and found our rooms and then had lunch and thennnnnn… they took us to the ski slopes for fun in the snow. I went snowboarding… and I didn’t break any bones. None. I was rather proud.

After snowboarding we had much free time at the hotel, which was nice. It was nice being able to relax with my friends. At language camp Chris and Trey and I started a tradition of sorts called Story Time. Chris is an excellent reader and we would hide in one of their rooms during circle games and have Chris read When You Are Engulfed In Flames to us… As soon as we could we tried to hide in Trey’s room and have a bit of Story Time, but we couldn’t find the book… so Chris read interesting discoveries of UrbanDictionary… a crowd formed and Story Time was no longer ours.

Later that evening they had planned a nice dinner for us… In the middle of the woods… in the freezing cold… Outside… In the woods… We ate reindeer soup and had crepes and hot juice… Hot juice is NOT a thirst quencher let me tell you… they were a fan of this hot juice crap all weekend.

We then went back to the hotel and had story time until the grumpy Rotarians made us all go back to our own rooms.

Well, as Cindy said, our room was the best… It was huge and even though we had five girls in there (Jocelyn from Washington State, Stephanie from California, Hope from OHIO [Ohio Cindy], Cindy from Florida, and me)… it was still huge… We also had a sauna in our room… an amenity that only we had. We wanted to begin the second part of our evening with a nice sauna… but we couldn’t figure out how to work the stupid thing… It seemed nearly impossible… Knobs with no descriptions, holes that we thought would light up but don’t! How ever was it possible that we could make these seemingly normal wooden room turn into a hot steamy bath of joy and joyness?!

Stephanie decided to run up to the front desk to ask… we were about 20 feet away from the desk and even though it was 15 minutes after curfew, she thought she could make it…. Well, well, well, as we have learned… old Finnish Rotarian men are veryyyyyy sneaakkkyyyyyyyy. One popped up right around the corner and asked her what she was doing… she started to say she needed to ask a question at the front desk about the sauna because it wasn’t working. He cut her off after two words and told her what she should be doing which was going back to her room and sleeping (he has no compassion, we later learned, in English, only compassion in Finnish). She said ‘Yes, but!’ And before she could get another words out of her mouth he chases her back to her room repeating ‘Yeah, but. Yeah, but. Yeah, but.’ Over and over again… From that point forward, since we don’t know the names of our lovely Rotarian guys, he was given the name ‘Yeah, but’.

That evening continued with some events that probably shouldn’t be addressed, but for the betterment of society as a whole, I will speak of them.

After Yeah, but… we knew we couldn’t leave the room again… Unfortunately we had two smokers in the group who wanted one more… I jokingly suggested that they smoke out the window, not thinking that they actually would…

Well this window, you see, had two glass things with heavy wooden things and heavy and complicated and stuff… and so they propped the window open with their heads and free hand as they leaned as far out the window as possible trying to exhale in sync so they could waft the smoke outside and close one of the windows to prevent it from coming back in…

As you are most likely suspecting, this went horribly wrong… Well, not horribly, but it was pretty much an epic fail… They did smoke their cigarettes, buttttttttt… the entire room smelled. Bad. So we propped open the window of doom with a ski boot and brain stormed…. I showered and left the bathroom door open so the steamy goodness of my shower with good smelling shampoo and conditioner scents permeating through the room… the girls rubbed orange peels together and then all showered with the door open as well… It was quite the fest…

Once the smell seemed to be gone, we began the real fun.

Take one guess at what you think our next activity was…

Consider these factors…

It’s midnight, in the Arctic circle, in a hotel room… with…




Of course I was first and me being no pansy, I chose Dare. I was dared to run into the hall and run all the way down and knock on 3 doors and then come back…

WELLLLLL… Me in all of my brilliance, I knocked on the way down the hall not on the way back, which probably wasn’t the smartest… But lucky for me I’m super speedy with my legs of steel, so I made it back to the room safely

Next I dared Cindy to eat 10 pieces of salmiakki candies all at once! It’s a good one I promise… Just ask her how great it was!

After that the girls got tired so we made a circle on the giant bed (three twin beds pushed together) and played… Truth or Truth. Which turned into Ask-Jenny-a-Bunch-of-Weird-Questions-Cause-She-Has-the-Best-Stories.

We then laid in a very Finnish silence till one of us turned off the lights and we went to bed… after 10 more minutes of giggling of course.

The next morning we woke up and got breakfast in our pj’s and got ready for DAY 2 on the slopes.

If I may be so bold as to say that I (quote) Shredded up those sick slopes, man dude. (end-quote). (Quote) I made that snow my b*$#@. (end-quote). Right after I (quote) Ate gnarly sh!t (end-quote).

See, not only did I learn to snowboard, but I also learned some of their neat lingo.

The first time I fell really hard, I was heading down the slope and lost balance or something and ended up sliding about 20 feet face first in the snow… Dave boarded up next to me and yelled “CONGRATULATIONS JEN, You just ate your first shit.” I don’t understand why they refer to snow as fecal matter honestly because it actually tastes rather nice and it feels better than falling on asphalt or hard wood floors or metal spikes.

Growing thoroughly exhausted from falling and riding the impossible ski lift and falling and actually getting the hang of the falling leaf technique… we called it a day and went up to the lodge for hot cocoa and pool. Before we went to the lodge, Chris and Trey had to turn in their skis in the equipment room because they rented theirs… I went with them and even though it didn’t take too long, we ended up sitting in the equipment room arguing over which Pringle flavor is better and why Chris like Jaffa and isn’t a fan of Pepsi and… We took a survey of all the people who came in… Sour Cream and Onion took the cake much to their dismay… damn Original lovers.

There was a boy in the lodge that really got on Chris’ nerves. And it was hilarious. I won’t tell this tale… cause your really just had to be there.

On the bus ride back to the hotel Chris and I discussed blood types and the importance of knowledge of your own blood type and that of your partner’s. It was very interesting… We continued the rest of the weekend by introducing ourselves to people we didn’t know with…

“Hi, I’m (insert name here.) What is your favorite Pringle flavor, red or green, and what’s your blood type?”

Then you can have knowledge.

Anyways… that evening we had dinner and went to a school to use their gym. Each country had to perform something, a song, dance, skit… anything.

WELL! Us Americans were very unprepared… And we all really lacked any sort of real talent…

I told them I knew songs. They said OH! LIKE WHAT?! I said wellllll… I know the Jellyfish Song, the Froggie Song, the Penguin Company Song, the Herman the Worm Song, the Oreo Cookie Song, the……..

So this lead to me singing the Oreo Cookie Song, alone, in front of 130 exchange students and then leading them all in a rousing round of the Hokey Pokey.

The rest of the weekend people kept asking for encores of the Oreo song… It really is a good song.

We all hung out together back at the hotel for a bit until we were sent back to our rooms… where us girls, all exhausted, fell asleep almost right away.

The next morning I thought for real I was dead, or dying. Every muscle in my body was SCREAMING at me. Muscles I never knew existed. I could not move my body. Hope dragged me out of bed and I hobbled to the dining room in tights and sweats and a sweater looking positively ravishing and ate bread. Lots of bread.

This day was Monday. They had a fun filled day of Lappish fun for us to have fun with. We took the bus to an old woman’s house… She wore traditional Sammi clothes and showed us her old house and then showed us a slideshow… on a slide machine… like the huge projector things that go ‘CLA-CHICK’ when you change pictures. I slept through this… But I did catch the part where we learned how to castrate reindeer with our teeth.

Then we fed reindeer moss. Real reindeer, real moss. They were SO cute!

We took the bus to a museum then… and watched a documentary on nature… which I also slept through.






We were right near the Swedish border so we went and took pictures for like 10 minutes. It was glorious. I even sent Heath a text message saying ‘GUESS WHAT?! I’M IN SWEDEN!!!! WOOOOO!!!!!” Cause that’s how exciting it was.

We went back to the hotel for lunch and thennnnn.

We had a snowmobile ride… well… it was three snowmobiles with carts attached for like… 8 people to sit in… And… I was late… so I got to ride on the snowmobile! It was exciting. We went up to this teepee thing where they had some reindeer and sleighs. And we went on a reindeer sleigh ride. It was intense… We of course had the fastest reindeer!

After the reindeer we went snowshoeing… it’s not really fun. We played human dominoes though… One girl fell down and took another girl with her and we all just tipped over down the long line of us District 1430-ers.

We went to a husky place… except non-native-English speakers can’t say husky sleds… they say… ‘hushky sledges.’

We saw baby hushky puppies and went on hushky sledge rides and it was soooooo lovely. It felt like Christmas. Really Christmas.

We went back to the hotel after that for quiet time before dinner, which wasn’t very quiet… Story time was nice though.

Dinner was a candle-lit dinner that we were supposed to get dressed up for… there was a delicious chocolately dessert, Thibault from Belgium ate all of mine though… The nerve.

Rotary had recruited a Sammi singer guy to sing for us and it was very nice… and funny… he was a hilarious man. Then the oldies from Australia gave gifts to their newbie’s… but Kuopio doesn’t have oldies… ours got sent home… so we didn’t get anything… And then the tutors did a hilarious dance….

After this assembly the exchange students threw room parties… A dance party up in the Mexicans room, a different party with the Aussies, Story Time in Trey’s room… It was a wild time.

We all got sent back to our room at around 2:30am. Well… for five of us girls, we were silly… and had two room keys… and they were all locked in the room. And reception was closed… So we sat in the hall in a circle of prayer to Santa or something and hummed a bit hoping the master key would work and it didn’t… so we slept in rooms with the tutors… which turned out to be super fun… Hope and I were with Ella and we had the best night ever! She was an exchange student 5 years ago and we ate and talked and listened to music all night.

We woke up early the next morning to pack our things and get ready to leave.

On our last day in Lapland we drove to Rovaniemi to go to the place where the real Santa Claus lives. Santa’s Village was adorable and soooo Christmasy. There was a post office where you could send letter to people at home from the real Santa and and AND! This was the place that if kids mail a card to Santa, it goes to. They sort them right in the post office in the back area and you can see it... and talk to the sorter lady. She said that they receive nearly 800,000 letters each year. They read every single one… If the letter has a return address, Santa will send them a letter back, ALWAYS. (Keep this in mind parents).

We also went into Santa’s real lair… It was creepy so I think it was a lair. And met him… He speaks 15 different languages… We got a nice picture with him too!!! ONLY 7 EUROS!

Chris and Trey and I shared a soda with three straws and then got back on the busses to go to lunch…

Then it was time to say the goodbyes.

It was a very emotional time, because for most of us, we won’t see each other again until May, and this was the last time the Aussies would all be together… They all leave in less than a month now.

As sad as it was to see them all crying and hugging each other, it kind of made you feel a little warmer… realizing that I too will be sad to leave this icy tundra.

I will leave you with this…

I have deciphered the phenomenon of Europeans and their smell…

It’s not that they don’t wear deodorant…
It’s just that it doesn’t work…

Thank you Mommy for sending Secret Powder Fresh for Christmas.

January 9 Journal

 The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming!
In Russia the most extravagant holiday of the year is New Years. Their favorite way to celebrate is to come to Kuopio, Finland to ski. And when they aren’t skiing they pillage the 75% off racks (of which there are many….) (after Christmas sales)… and raid the McDonalds and pizza places and the streets yelling in their language that sounds an awful lot like paska. Don’t get me wrong… I have nothing against the Russians…. I mean… I’m part Russian myself! BUT! For the love of salamanders, I would really appreciate it if the would refrain from cluttering up my small city with their pushy attitudes and fur….

Which leads me to my next point…

You can ALWAYS pick out a Russian by the inordinate amounts of fur that they wear. Fur coats with ridiculous fur hats and fur scarves and fur boots and fur furfur! I wonder how many animals died in the creation of the Russians' winter wardrobe. Although I think since the Russians are here and wearing their furs it puts the Finns at ease and makes them think it’s okay to whip out their extensive fur collection and parade around town. When they bump into you and you say ‘PerkeleVenajalainen’ and then realize they’re really Finns cleverly disguised as a Russian, it’s a bit embarrassing… All I’m trying to say…. Is it’s time to get rid of the fur and get this town back to normal!

You see… the Finns hatred of the Russians began many a moon ago when the Russians were mean and bossy and controlled Finland… after Sweden controlled Finland of course. Now… Finns still hold a grudge because they find the Russians very annoying… they don’t really mind the Swedes… and the only reason they actually put up with Russians is because they boost our economy and I’m assuming because they allow them free reign to bust out the furs.


Many things have occurred since the last time I wrote.

Recall the family I told you about in my last entry? WHELLLLL…. I moved. I am now living with my Rotarian counselor right in the center of the city and this pleases me. Details are unnecessary… but I will say this… I am now eating cookies in my room at 10:05 at night and in the rest of the house…. do you know what I hear?


It’s beautiful.

You know, I was thinking… and it’s really strange because I used to have very interesting stories because everything was new and exciting and story making… BUT NOWWW! It’s all too normal. I find that in the first few months of my exchange each day was an event. I could remember everyday and everything and it was always new and fun and new. Now instead of living each day as an individual experience… I’m just living. Days happen without anything out of the ordinary… each day is just a day and sometimes it’s memorable, but most of the time it’s just a day. A normal day…

And sometimes… realizing that you can just have a normal day is more extraordinary.

How was your Christmas?

Mine was…

…I will post a note of warning to the new bounty of Outbounds preparing themselves* for their exchange year…

Please don’t read this and then get really mad at me for being scary or anything… but… Just don’t blame me if this gives you holiday jitters. Exchange is fabulous, but it’s not a piece of cake (I love cake).

Now, mind you, things with my second host family were a bit rocky (I had only lived with them for about 3 or 4 weeks before Christmas), so I won’t go into details, but this… this was the worst Christmas of my life.

Dinner… for dinner, they make ham (I’m not a ham fan), and three types of latikos. Latikos are three different pureed dishes. I don’t know about you, but I stopped eating purees before I was potty trained. Purees are made by Gerber, not Christmas delights. So dinner, was gross… oh! And to drink with dinner… I had a nice yummy glass of apple juice like my 6-year-old host sister. NOMMI! Juice, ham, purees. Fabulous. After dinner, they set up… microphones and amplifiers in the living room. For what purpose you may ask? Oh, just to sing Christmas carols in Finnish, of which I was not provided with lyrics to join in the festivities. Singing was followed by Santa driving to our house in an old Toyota and passing out gifts and… SINGING MORE SONGS. I was rather bitter by this point. For the record, I’ve never been the jolly Christmassy type. We opened lots of presents… the ones I received were very nice. Then as I sat in my chair as the family mingled with themselves… not exactly bothering to talk to me, except for the cousin who was nice, I politely excused myself and did what any bad exchange student would do.

I cried on my bed until Mommy and Daddy and Grampa and Rose logged on Skype to talk to me. And you know what? That cheered me right up. Relying on home while you’re here to get through the tough shit is typically a major no-no. But sometimes… Christmas just isn’t Christmas without family. Especially when the one you’re residing with doesn’t really meld you in.

Some facts about a Finnish Christmas
- Christmas in Finland is Christmas Eve
- Christmas Day is not celebrated
- Santa comes directly to your living room… ours came at 6:30pm
- When asked what Santa drives… the answer is not a sleigh, but a Toyota circa 1987
- You eat ham and latikos for weeks after Christmas
- Once the latikos are gone, you eat pea and ham soup with the left over ham
- I can sing Christmas carols in Finnish really well when provided with lyrics
- One of the pureed dishes happens to be pureed carrots
- White Christmases are lovely until your host mom decides you should shovel the driveway
- It doesn’t matter if Christmases are white when it’s only light out for 2 hours
- I solemnly swear never again to celebrate Christmas in Finland again

Now that you’ve relished in my delightful Christmas… I’ll move on to a more joyous topic…


I have them. It’s neat.

No but for real I do. I have a nice little gaggle and it’s lovely. We spend so much time together that they noticed I have a slight stutter. My friend Stephanie has a lisp… and we were talking about speech impediments because she was telling us about the kid in hew speech thewapy class who couldn’t say his aw’s… which led to us questioning the person who labeled stutters as stutters and lisps as lisps, for they are extremely difficult for those who have the said problem to say.

In Kuopio, Finland there are many fun activities for people my age to do… I will provide you with a list of fun things to do in Kuopio.

- sit in Coffee House
- smoke cigarettes in Kongi
- Go in Sokos to stay warm
- try on perfumes while in Sokos trying to stay warm
- sit in Hesburger
- sit in McDonalds
- stand outside and stare at giant clock/thermometer on top of the bank and curse whenever it switches from the time to the temperature
- repeat

Here’s a dictionary so you know what I’m talking about.

Coffee House: favorite coffee shop in town, also the most expensive

Hesburger: Finnish McDonalds

Kongi: Tunnel area between Sokos and Coffee House where all the gothic kids hang out, also a choice spot to watch drunks get arrested and drug deals

Sit: Sitting in a coffee shop or fast food place typically means, one of more persons purchases something so we don’t get kicked out… then we sit there for hours until were bored of there… then move to next sitting place and repeat.

Sokos: Big department store

Temperature: -4 is a warm day, -8 is comfortable, -20 (the most common reading) makes you want to shoot yourself

As of now, I have no other things to tell… but I will.

Happy January… I can’t believe it’s been almost 6 months!

*Did you know that the word ‘themselves’ does not technically exist? Well, of course it does, but the way in which I used it is completely improper and grammatically incorrect. I should have said ‘preparing himself or herself’ or if that’s not politically correct for feminists across the globe ‘preparing herself or himself.’ But as a writer I find that this disrupts the flow and good writing must have a proper flow, just like a good freestylin’.

February 1 Journal

 February of the year 2009 may very well be my favorite month since February 1998, although I would consider February 2009 to be ranked higher because I did not appreciate what February of 1998 truly had to offer. It is the most symmetrically beautiful and aesthetically pleasing month. With a calendar that starts the week on Sunday, February of 2009 has 4 perfect weeks of 7 days all aligned perfectly in succession the way life is supposed to be. While nothing truly exciting is going on this month except for an appointment with my therapist, I’d like to appreciate the simplicity of living in a perfect calendar month.
My life here in Finland is so blisteringly simple, that I can’t help but twist everything into contorted versions of complexity because I don’t know how to do simple. I am unable to focus on anything, no matter how effortless. Blame it on my uncanny ability to seek every possible entity of life that could possibly put stress upon my shoulders, or place the blame on my utter insanity… it really could go either way I think.

I did have something rather exciting occur in my life recently though. Would you like to know what? This really was the highlight of a rather low period…

An exchange student in Ecuador named Anna found me on Facebook and sent me a lengthy message. The contents of this message are really what blew my mind. She’s Finnish and is keeping a blog “openly wondering, complaining and at the same time loving the Latino way of life.” She said she was wondering one day about what exchange students in Finland feel about the culture she is so accustomed to and Google searched it. She found her way to my journal somehow and said she couldn’t stop reading it. She read it from top to bottom and said, and I quote “I can't really say anything else but that I AM UNCONDITIONALLY AND IRREVOCABLY IN LOVE WITH IT,” she also added ©©© to the end of that. By the time I finished reading her message I swear I just couldn’t stop smiling. It really is miraculous how this huge world we live in can be so small… I won’t lie; it also felt really good to have my writing complimented. I felt so honored that an exchange student in Ecuador, not even through Rotary just randomly found my writing.

It really does mesmerize me though. A Finnish girl in Ecuador who lives in Helsinki but parents grew up in Kuopio reads my writing… Joonas, currently in Florida, whose family I lived with here in Finland knows Vivian, a Taiwanese girl who lived with my family in Florida…. One of my closest Finnish friends’ here in Finland used to live in Clearwater, Florida… Another Finnish friend of mine spends every Christmas vacation in Sarasota, Florida on Longboat Key with his family… It’s just so hard to imagine how small our world really is. When living in an environment like most do, you don’t get the opportunity to see the wonder of internationalization. It shocks me, it really does.

So I’ve begun writing a book in my free time… because I get bored really easily and find writing something fun to do… I want to write about my exchange and base it off my journals that I write… My only problem is that I don’t know whether I should rework the whole thing and use my journals as the basis, or make it a compilation of my journals Sex and the City style. I could really use some solid input.

I suppose it’s a short one for today, but it’s better than nothing huh?

Oh, you know what I find incredibly difficult to type? And it’s kind of a problem sometimes because I have to type it frequently… It’s exchange… and the scary thing is that now that I’m thinking about it I actually typed it right on the first try this time… although I do keep screwing up nearly every other word I type. Goodness.





Sometimes it works… sometimes it doesn’t.




Yes, I really actually tried… no I did not sit here for ten minutes typing out different ways to misspell exchange.

Well… Till next time.

February 17 Journal
 A Word on Customs… in the Office of Customs.
I have a premonition that the postal workers of the world believe my family is composed of felons and drug smugglers. Every time my parents send me a package I am told to pick it up from the customs office. My other American friends, they pick their packages up at the post office. So either:

a) Finland’s postal service believes my family is sending me illegal materials

2) Believe I am ultra suspicious therefore I must be surveyed

or the most logical explanation…

III) They want to explore my box of goodies.

Now when I go to pick up my boxes, it’s usually a middle-aged Finnish male who attempts to make jokes and asks what I’m being sent. They always ask if I’m being sent drugs. They also cut open my boxes and go exploring.

Last time, when I ordered new boots, the man opened the box and said, “Oh, you ordered boots.” This is after his initial, what did you order question, of which I replied, “Boots.” Then he asked with fascination, “Are these leather?” I responded with, “They’re suede.” He then proceeded to stroke my boots for five seconds longer than necessary.

This time however, after the initial, “Are there drugs in here?” question, a different man proceeded to open my package. He looked inside, “Ooooh, Skittles” (pronounced: ‘skeet-lays’). Rummaging with his right and holding up a larger object on top with his left, he found things and said out loud what they were with growing interest: hair products, granola bars, candies, diet coke, contacts. Then… he realized that the things he was holding in his left hand were, much to his surprise, bras. He then proceeded to stare at them with awe for five seconds longer than necessary.

I have come to some conclusions about the customs of people who work at the customs office (great play on words, huh?):

a) They find pleasure in looking through other peoples' goodies.

2) They are all men.

III) They all giggle.

dee) They look scary, but are really giant fluffballs.

finally) They all have a passion for fashion… and undergarments apparently.

March 2 Journal

 An exchange year is filled to the brim with being busy. Stress is a natural factor... between moving to new houses constantly, or at least it seems so, making friends, becoming comfortable, learning the way around town... But now, dear people, I am officially past that part of exchange. Yes, it’s over. I have moved into my final host house with my final host family in my final host room. I also have an amazing close-knit group of friends AND I haven’t gotten lost in months. I’d say this is quite the achievement.
It’s becoming more and more strange that I will be leaving my best friends in four short months. I have grown so close to my friends here, it’s hard to describe. I have created bonds with people that typically take years to form, and I’ve made them in a matter of months. The looming reality of leaving home originally seems daunting and slightly depressing, leaving your family and friends behind while you go on an amazing journey that you feel should be shared with those people you care for so deeply... In retrospect, you will come back to them... However those people who you grow to love and are with you every step of your exchange... growing and changing and exploring life... they are the ones that you leave and you don’t know the next time you will see them. They share such an extraordinary part of your soul and your heart and in reality, some you may never see again. Going home seems so close, like a pesty next door neighbor. I won’t lie, going home will be lovely, seeing my friends and family and being warm... It will be happy. But this life I’ve created for myself here is so comfortable and normal, it’s hard to imagine the drastic change that will be made so soon.

When I had been here four months, I thought, WOW, I can’t believe how long I’ve been here... Now I think I have four months left, and I see that I will spend a huge chunk of March in Sweden and then April not much will happen, nor May, just live, and then it’s June and I have Eurotour and then 10 days after Eurotour I will be HOME. Which essentially leaves me two months in Finland which is really scary and I’m actually feeling a panic attack coming on because I just realized this and while it’s the beginning of March, soon it will be the end of March because months go by so quickly which is great because then I get my Rotary allowance, but I also have to buy a new bus card, but I only have to reload it two more times and and and and....

It is so horribly cold here I think I might freeze to death... It’s been cold since October, and freezing since November... and and and...

I find I have nothing to write about because I do nothing exciting really.. It would be like you telling me what you do in a normal day... my life should be more exciting than yours because I’m an exchange student for goodness sake. But it’s not and I appreciate that SO much. Having something exciting to do everyday would spoil life because then nothing would be exciting anymore. Am I right?

I enjoy coffee.. I went a while where I cut WAYYY back, but my new host family drink it a lot. I like it.

I hope Flagler College doesn’t read my journals and decide not to allow me to come in the Autumn because they think I’d be better off in an asylum...

Oh the tribulations of life....

April 5 Journal

 At heart, I am a passionate person. The problem I frequently come by is that I am a tough critic on what is allowed to be the recipient of my devotion. I jumped from hobby to hobby throughout my childhood, possibly in search of that one thing I could partake in with unrequited love.
I found horseback riding eventually and this, this I loved. However in the world of horses there is pressure. I am not one who enjoys pressure.

I enjoy knitting and traveling, eating and sleeping, talking and swinging on swings.

This year I knew would be a year of self discovery while I explored the world that lies outside of my safe haven of home. I find this idea rather peculiar... Finding yourself through everything that is not you. It seems like the ultimate challenge, but yet, sometimes, when the world that surrounds you is dissimilar, possibly even a polar opposite, your reflection stares back at you with crystal clarity.

In two months, I will leave Finland with more of myself than I came with.

I found my passion in words. In your words, in our words, in my words. It mystifies me still being able to fill a page with words, words that I have chosen to put together to express myself, and then to have people read them and to have these people enjoy the words that I have chosen to put together to express myself.

Next year when I go to Flagler College, I know what I will study in my educational pursuits. I have a goal in sight for myself. A goal that I know is achievable and a goal that I will enjoy to the fullest.

I will write. For you, for them, and for myself.

On a completely different rambling note, I read something very interesting the other day. Due to scientific and medical advances it is said that people currently under the age of forty have the potential to live for centuries. A geneticist at Cambridge University has stated this. Other scientists, doctors, geneticists, and nanotech experts insist that not only is the idea of postponing or even reversing aging possible, but a goal that is achievable in time to benefit those of us alive today.

Sounds neat right? I mean this one lady says that the first person to live to 1,000 years old is living today. However I read in another place why immortality would really be a terrible terrible idea. As you grow older your perception of time speeds up. This would be fine if everyone was immortal, but let’s say our life-span remains the same as it is on average now. You’ve been through numerous relationships and numerous deaths of relationships and time is still continuing to speed up in your mind. Essentially this makes what would seem a life-long relationship seem like 5 minutes, right? Eventually this would get so bad you’d be completely unable to form relationships and you’d be fast-forwarding until the sun decides to expand and the Earth begins to cook and then what?

Immortality would be really lame.

This journal consisted nearly entirely of my endless frippery... and didn’t have any life in Finland stuff...

I swear there really isn’t anything I haven’t already told you before... Except possibly... yes.

At this kebab and pizza place I discovered the most greatest of discoveries... For 3 euros I can get an entire dinner sized plate piled high with French fries. Besides the 50 cent ice cream cones from Hesburger, I think this might be the best deal in the city.

For those of you wondering what this kebab I speak of is... it’s not shish kebab. No. Shish kebab is for lame-os.


‘Döner kebab, literally "rotating kebab" in Turkish, is sliced lamb, beef or chicken, slowly roasted on a vertical rotating spit. It is similar to gyros and shawarma. Döner kebab is most popularly served in pita bread, as it is best known, with salad, but is also served in a dish with a salad and bread or French fries on the side, or used for Turkish pizzas called pide or "kebabpizza". Take-out döner kebab or shawarma restaurants are common in many parts of Europe. Döner kebab is said to be the best-selling fast food in Germany and Poland as well as being popular in many other European countries, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. In Australia and the UK, kebabs (or döner meat and chips) are most popularly eaten after a night out, representing a large part of nightlife culture. As a result, many kebab shops (and vans) will do their main business in the hours around closing time for local pubs and clubs (usually from 10 pm to 4 am). The same applies for the Netherlands, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada and Scandinavia. It is therefore not uncommon to find similar late-night kebab vending shops in holiday-clubbing destinations such as Ibiza. Health concerns about döner kebab, including unacceptable salt and fat levels and improper labeling of meat used, are repeatedly reported in UK media. The German-style döner kebab was supposedly invented by a Turkish immigrant in Berlin in the 1970s, and became a popular German take-away food during the 1990s, but is almost exclusively sold by Turks and considered a Turkish specialty in Germany.’

April 22 Journal

 Today smelled like happiness.
I woke up and I didn’t know it yet, but today indeed smelled like happiness. It was so perfectly appeasing in everyway.

Today was simply whimsical. There is no better way to describe it.

The sun glittered its gems lightly on my pale skin, the breeze playfully tousling with my hair … I walked down the street with myself without a care in the world and couldn’t help but let my lips curl into a smile. I was flood with the most beautiful happiness... oh sweet Spring.

I can sense my dreams tingling through my spine... I want to take hold of them and make them real and I want to do it now.

I want to do it today, this perfectly whimsical day.

May 5 Journal

 So in this here part of the world there’s a little celebration called Vappu... celebrating the beginning of summer.
My Vappu went like this.

In the morning I came to town. The city center was more crowded than I’d ever seen it. Most people were enjoying the sun, some were dressed in funny costumes. My friends and I bought ice cream cones and bottles of bubbles and enjoyed them to the fullest. Later on we moved to my friend Stephanie’s house to put on our costumes!!!! I wore purple leopard print tights, black shorts, a black t-shirt, lots of necklaces, rainbow fake eyelashes, and I curled my hair to the extreme. Then we taught our friend Saniya how to eat a taco. =].

We went down to the lake around 4 pm and it was packed... by 6 there were thousands of people there. It was one giant party... absolute madness. The party had started before we arrived and lasted until a little after midnight... when everyone wandered into town to find some food.

There were a few interesting things I saw that night.

Beginning at about 7pm police officers in groups of three began walking around... observing, not really doing anything... which was fine and dandy. Then around 10:30 there were paramedics walking around in groups of threes, I assume to pump stomachs or rescue drunkards from the frozen lake. I witnessed one of the paramedics in ‘action.’

The three were wandering around looking to see if someone needed help. There was a girl, with her friend, head between her legs, puking probably from the likes of alcohol poisoning... this girl looked REALLY bad. The paramedics walked by... one looked at her, hesitated... looked again... looked slightly disgusted... and then walked away. Didn’t ask if she needed help. Didn’t offer any sort of assistance, didn’t notify a police officer to get her address and drive her home... Just kept walking. They were efficient!

I also witnessed boys pushing other boys in a stolen shopping cart... pushing them into curbs, railings over the lake, innocent bystanders....

My favorite part of the evening however was in the city. My friends and I meandered towards the city around 12:30am in search of nourishment like the rest of the city of Kuopio. We first went to a stand inside the center market trying to find some food that was cheap and fast... Stephanie wanted a cheeseburger so we asked the woman how much it would be... she began to open a package of the microwavable cheeseburgers you buy at the store 2 for 3.49€... and told us... 7€. That’s $9.25 for a microwavable cheeseburger. At Hesburger, our favorite fast food joint... you can get a burger (similar to a Big Mac, but better), fries, and a drink for 7.10€. The audacity of food vendors. ANYWAYS! That wasn’t my favorite part... it’s leading up to my favorite part... I just didn’t realize how much explaining I wanted to do for the prep, so yes. After the whole food vendor ordeal we went to Hesburger. We didn’t go there in the first place because it was packed... but anyways... so we got there, go to the door.... and guess what’s at the door... A bouncer... like at a night club or bar... one of those huge scary guys with the headset wearing all black looking menacing... My friend Milla goes first, he searches her bag, finds empty cans of cider in it and won’t let her in. Stephanie goes... she has no bag... She puts her arms in the air, tells the guy she has nothing, he looks at her suspiciously and lets her in. Next I go. This man fondles my bag for a good 30 seconds... looks me in the eyes and grants me entrance to the fast food restaurant. Our friend Jarkko who Stephanie and I used as our bodyguard was coming in after me, but since there were too many people in the Hesburger at the time they wouldn’t let him in until more people left. It was absolutely ridiculous... and hilarious.

I don’t have much other news. Well, I did laundry yesterday.

You know I cannot wait to have a clothes dryer again. Seriously... I put my clothes up to dry yesterday at like... 5pm... and some of them still aren’t dry today. Clothes dryers and fabric softener.

...Moving on...

If I’m remembering correctly… in one of my prior journals I wrote a bit about the less than efficient deodorant over here... Well.... the weather is getting warmer, the sun is shining, the sky is blue, the people are perspirating...

This warm weather has come upon us Kuopiolainens rather abruptly. I think people here have a bit of a complex about leaving their beloved jackets at home... Everyone seems to be bundled up. IT’S HOT OUT! Not nearly as hot as Florida... but a t-shirt and shorts would be appropriate attire with this weather.

Now they can wear their coats and scarves all year long if they want... but for the love of my organs, please, PLEASE, buy some deodorant that works.

Yetserday I was taking the bus to town, minding my own business, enjoying the nice weather... when all of a sudden the bus stops and more people begin to get on. Not a problem in the least. One particular man though, with dirty blue jeans, a t-shirt and black overcoat, bald on top, full hair on the sides that looked like it had been dyed orange in an attempt to go stylishly blonde... with brown roots an inch thick underneath.... sweaty... and smiling like he was up to something... he chooses the empty seat in front of me... and I knew. I thought to myself... ‘In six seconds I won’t be able to breathe... one... two... three... four... five... six.......’ My nostrils burned, my eyes began to water. This man must have been the smelliest man on the planet.

HOLY SCHMOKES... I wrote the words prior to these earlier today... and I am so glad I waited to send this in!

Something exciting happened today!

I decided to trek into town... I was on a mission. Mission: Glue Stick. I decide to take bus number 20 because the bus stop is closer to my house and I was feeling lazy... I usually take bus 16. As we approach the Shell station two bus stops past mine, midturn, the bus stops. The bus driver makes everyone get off the bus, walk to the next bus stop and wait for another bus (which only took 5 minutes) but still... Everyday is an adventure with public transportation.

Mission: Glue Stick was a success.

OH! ANDDDDDD.... I was watching television and a commercial came on for M&amp;M’s which is ironic because I ate M&amp;M’s just yesterday! But anyways... it was in Finnish of course... Well what happened was the red M&amp;M was standing and the the yellow M&amp;M walked up... but he was red too... and the red M&amp;M asked him what happened and the M&amp;M that’s supposed to be yellow said that he went to sauna and he had a sauna branch with him that you beat yourself (or friends!) with in the sauna for an extra something.... and he had leaves stuck to him... and then the red M&amp;M said... ARE YOU CRAZY! YOU’LL MELT! And then the yellow M&amp;M who is still red shrugs and then changes from red to yellow.... It was so Finnish... the voices sounded like the same male Finnish voices in every other commercial.... even though they were M&amp;M’s....