Joshua (Josh) Williams
2010-11 Outbound to Finland

Hometown: Delray Beach, Florida
School: Spanish River High School
Sponsor: Delray Beach Rotary Club, District 6930, Florida
Host: Kuopio Veljmies Rotary Club, District 1430, Finland

Josh's Bio

Terve!

My name is Joshua Williams and I'm from Delray Beach and Boynton Beach, Florida. I currently attend Spanish River High in Boca Raton. My parents are divorced, thus I live in two separate houses. I’ve attended a total of ten different schools in my lifetime and I’ve moved either fourteen or fifteen times. So I think it’s easy to say that a new school and new home is not exactly something foreign and new to me.

I have always been a shy and quiet person, otherwise known as the “quiet smart kid in the back of the classroom.” It wasn’t until recently that I actually started to talk more, laugh more, and have more fun. Recently I have joined four clubs; Anime, French, Key, and National History. Also, I have become the HOBY (Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership) representative for my school. In Key Club I have become very active with community service; so much in fact that the club president and sponsor are begging me to run for an officer position next year but as you can see, that won’t happen.

Outside of school I mostly enjoy video games, board games, cooking, and the occasional game of soccer or volleyball with my sister. Besides for that, there’s not really all that much that goes on in my life besides for mountains of homework and studying.

The remaining half of this school year seems to be going by so quickly and that just means that soon enough I will be boarding a plane to Finland. As of right now…all I can do is…study the language and hope I sound somewhat decent in my pronunciation! I cannot wait for next school year to begin and I know that it will be a very fun and exciting experience. Thanks to Rotary and all of my family!

“Make the most out of life because tomorrow you might not have a life to make the most out of.”

Josh's Journals

August 25

               A little into my first week and I have finally found time to sit down to write my first blog. Clearly the life of an exchange student is always full of activity and is never really dull. But where to start…so many things have happened in Finland within just the short amount of time since I have been here. I guess the best place to start would be a cold, foggy, and rainy Sunday evening, I had just taken a three hour ride by bus to arrive at my language camp in Karkku, Finland. We arrived around 10PM and everyone on the bus was hot and exhausted. All the students were led into a dark building lit only by candles and into the basement where a snack was given. The power was out due to a thunderstorm earlier that day and now the buildings were hot and humid. Shortly after the snack, everyone received their room assignments at the camp and everyone trudged away to their cabins for the night.

            Over the next week, students took part in the Karkku language camp which was filled with activities as well as classes. Each day we would have five hours of Finnish classes which consisted of lectures and Finnish music. Also everyday we would have an outdoor activity which was typically an interesting twist on an American game (ex: hugging freeze tag). Every evening there would be a lecture in the main hall but after that, everyone would be free to wander the grounds and do as they pleased until 11PM. My favorite thing to do was go down to the dock and sit, watch the lake and feel the breeze. Occasionally Alex and I would get either a canoe or row boat and paddle out to the small island in the middle of the lake. But other times were spent just relaxing, talking to people, laughing, and making friends. Evenings were probably the favorite time for everyone because it always meant getting to hang out and truly just have fun.

            On Wednesday, everyone got on two busses and were taken to Tampere, Finland. Tampere is the third largest city in Finland and this is where we were given a tour and got to see so many sites such as a lake overview and a cathedral. After the tour, the students were free to wander the Tampere Keskusta (Center) and shop. I started out in a group that consisted of about 12-15 people but the group dwindled down, especially when we found the Spencer’s of Finland. In the end, it was Casey, Sonia, and me wandering around Tampere and trying to find a place that would exchange currencies. And as 5PM grew closer, we started to make our way back to the bus to go back to Tampere. We did learn some things in Tampere that day though:

1) Do NOT look people in the eyes for too long, it’s weird.

2) Cars don’t slow down ahead of time, be careful of being hit.

3) Talking too loud as you walk down the street either means your Swedish or American.

4) Finnish ice cream is the best in the world!

            Wednesday evening, everyone returned to Karkku only to pile back onto a bus shortly. Everyone was taken to a middle ages church in the country side. We got to walk around outside the church for a bit before going inside. There was a cemetery that surrounded the church and many of the students were taking pictures of the tombstones which probably wasn’t very respectful, but oh well. As everyone piled into the church, we were presented with music, songs, and short blurbs about the church and Finland. It was really amazing, especially when the Finnish Rotex came together to sing a religious Finnish song. It was then that I began to think, I was in a Finnish church, in Finland, and listening to Finnish church songs yet it still did not feel like I had left the United States. Would it ever hit me that I was in Finland?

            A couple days past and camp continued. Interesting things occurred…such as walking in on my roommate making out with a girl. Once in the hallway and once in our room, awkward much? At last Friday came and it was time to take the group picture where everyone held up their flags to represent our countries. The Americans and Canadians were fighting over who was dominant while Belgium was gaining additional support when I stole the Canadian flag. The rivalry between the USA and Canada had intensified, dun dun duuuuun. At last the group picture was taken and people began to take individual country pictures. It was then that something amazing happened. All the American students came together for a picture and began to sing the United States national anthem. We sounded above all the talking outside as we sung our anthem and people took pictures. It was truly amazing.

            At last it was time for Cozy Night. Cozy Night was essentially a talent show where people could sing, dance, etc. For the most part, people signed up in country groups so that every country did an act. Even the Finnish Rotex gave a few performances which were funny, dramatic, musical, and erotic. Then it happened…the United States and Canada finally came together to set aside their differences and dance to…drum roll…the Cha Cha Slide. Many people from the other countries didn’t know the Cha Cha Slide but since the directions are in the song, they joined in as well. As the night concluded, people were allowed to stay up till midnight so a few friends and myself decided to play Uno. It’s not so easy when you have three countries playing and each country has different rules. But in the end, it worked out and we all got Finnish chocolate, yum

            Saturday morning came and all the students were to pack up their belongings and attend one final lecture in the main hall. The lecture went on and it was finally towards the end that a woman named Mimmu said something and it finally hit me, “Welcome to Finland.” She had said the words that triggered the idea in my head that I was at last in Finland. As everyone filed out of the main hall, we all went to pack our bags and get ready to leave. The host parents began to show up and soon it was a mob of people everywhere. I tried to look for mine but was unsuccessful until a woman ran up to me and grabbed my arms, “Josh!? May I give you a hug?” It was my host mother, cheery as could be. I was a little stunned because I was told that Finns don’t like to hug, but I said yes and she hugged me and welcomed me to Finland.

            That afternoon I attended one final lecture with my host family, which was conducted in Finnish. After which my host family went to have lunch as I prepared my bags to leave. I said bye to all my friends and hugged many. The adventure was finally beginning and the excitement had yet to come. As I walked with my host family back to the car and left, I turned around in the car one more time to look at Karkku. It was official, I was now an outbound student in Finland and my year was beginning. So this is where my story begins, right here. A whole year of adventure is ahead of me and it’s only just now starting. To all other exchange students and those who may consider being exchange students, remember this. The point of an exchange is not to get away from home or to have a year of fun, it’s to get out there and see the world. You will realize that there is more out there than just your backyard and your parents’ home. You will learn that your culture is not the only culture and that your culture may not always be superior in every way. There is much to learn and much to see, much to hear and much to do out there and all it takes to see all of that is going out there to see it. So will you too have an adventure and see the world? The story begins…

 October 31

“Time goes on and things change. People start to change for both the better and worse and sometimes all you can do is sit there and hope that things won’t pass you by before you have the chance to catch up with them.”

It’s been almost two months since I have written my last journal entry and I now think back remembering how I had a goal to write one every two weeks, guess that didn’t happen. But I now can understand why people in the past didn’t write too often. It’s because being an exchange student is always full and busy, thus you doing always have time to sit down and write and whole journal entry. Haha.

Winter has officially come to Finland with twenty centimeters of snow in one single day! (That’s 8 inches of snow for all you USAers. And for everyone back in Florida, snow is that white icy stuff that falls from the sky…no it does not burn or kill you.) And it’s very weird how just a little bit of snow can cause you to revert to the mentality of a five year old, as demonstrated by me running outside and building snowmen, swinging on an ice covered swing, and rolling in the snow like a little kid.

As for the rest of the weather, Finland remains cold, damp, cloudy and dark most of the time. Most people would sit around and complain but I love it. Days are starting to get shorter as now the sun rises around 9am and is set by 6pm. Yet it will only get shorter and shorter until it reaches its darkest point of one to two hours of daylight in the middle of Winter. As for the temperature, it mostly stays around negative two to five degrees Celsius (28.4 to 41 degrees Fahrenheit). And just like the orientation camp in January of this year, I am most likely underdressed and anyone back in Florida would yell at me. Yay for going outside in 20 degree weather with only jeans, a tee shirt and a hoodie!

I still remember those days of when people would annoy me about going into the sauna naked...yet now...it's different. I now go to sauna without and problems. In fact, I have even gone to a public sauna at a swimming hall with people I don't even know. Not to mention, I have also gone swimming in water that was 5 degrees Celsius and felt my entire body turn white and go numb within seconds of entering the water. One night I even rolled in the snow twice after sauna, feeling its icyness against my skin. And you want to know what? The sauna, swimming, and rolling in snow was all done naked and it really doesn't bother me. In your face Leelah, Tracy, and Nicole!! I faced my greatest fear about Finland and didn't even blink.

All those days, all those times, and all the hours we put into making fun of South Americans before we left Florida. Well...needless to say everyone gets their just desserts. In my city I am the only person from the USA. All the other exchange students are from Mexico, Chile, Brazil, and Ecuador. Never really saw that one coming but I guess what goes around comes around. We used to make fun of Leelah going to Brazil and we would make fun of Nicole too but in the end, I would up going to Latin America even if I am in Finland. Oh well, guess this just means I get to learn Spanish AND Portuguese as well. Yo encantado mis amigos!

Speaking of friends, it can be difficult to get friends in Finland. People here are VERY VERY VERY shy and quiet and are often too afraid to approach you on their own free will. As a result, you must be the one to approach them and try to befriend them. Thus I have made some friends but not too many Finnish ones. Most of my friends are probably the exchange students and then there are a few Finnish ones. Guess it doesn't help that I'm shy myself, eh? But the one thing I can tell you is that when it comes to Finns, the friends you do make are your best ones. Sure I guess you could say that my host sister doesn't really count since she was an exchange student herself, but I still see her as being my best friend here and the one person I can trust with anything. Not to mention she always seems to make things better right when they start to go downhill. I really owe her a lot.

As for school, it's going great. I can't really understand too much except for many music class since it's all singing and all you have to do is read off of a paper. But luckily it doesn't really matter too much since some of the teachers help me with translating and they are very nice about it. I can honestly say that I enjoy going to school here since it means I get to see my friends and hang out. I like all of my teachers a lot, especially my music and English teachers. My English teacher especially likes me since I am a native English speaker and can help out a lot with the class. As a result of this, I typically wind up reading everything aloud or even so much as helping to teach the class.

The schedule for school changes everyday. My school day starts at 9:40 am on Monday, 12:15 pm on Tuesday, 8am on Wednesday and Thursday, and then 11:05 on Friday. So typically Tuesdays and Fridays tend to be my favorite days because I get to sleep in. Then on the other hand I dread Wednesdays and Thursdays because that means getting up early to tred through the dark and sometimes snow just to sit on a bus next to the smelliest person in town. Oh well, luckily that's only my schedule for this section of the year. And on the bright side, at least I get to finish my homework I didn't do on the bus. Haha, oh well for math and French.

In the first section of the school year, something really awesome and yet weird at the same time happened. Once a year my school has a slave auction where first year students can auction themselves off to be slaves for a day to the third years. Well being the nagging sister that she is...Alli got me to auction myself and in the end, Alli and her friends won me. As a result of this, I was forced to dress up like a bunny with make up, bunny ears, and a scarf for the rest of the day. (Luckily they forgot the pajamas at home) It was very hilarious because I had to do all sorts of jobs for them such as writing poetry to read in front of the whole school and fetching them drinks like a dog. The best part was when Alli wanted me to carry her down the stairs. So like a good slave, I carried her down the stairs princess style and then dumped her in the trash can, good times good times. It all reached a climax when Alli dragged me to the grocery store, still dressed up, and took me inside. Not only did I get laughed at by all the children there, all the older people looked at me like I was a drunken idiot. Oh well, in the end the money that was used to bid on me went to charity, so it's all for good.

Tuesdays are probably one of my favorite days because I take Finnish lessons at the local community college. I attend the class with many other people from a variety of different countries. There are four other exchange students in the class from Thailand, Ecuador, Chile, and Brazil. There are also other people from all over the world. There are people from Canada, England, Sudan, India, China, Japan, Austria, Russia, Ukraine, and so many more. So basically it's like we have a gathering of the world's countries coming together to learn Finnish, pretty cool. My Finnish...I'm not quite sure. I don't think I'm doing to well and I feel like I could be so much better but people tell me that my Finnish is really good and even if the grammar isn't perfect, I can write and speak well enough for people to understand. Minä rakastan suomea mutta se on tosi kova.

Hm...what else to talk about. Recently I have traveled around Finland a bit. I went to Oulu with my host father and host sister from my second family maybe about two or three weeks ago. And one week ago I went with my current host family to Helsinki for vacation. Both trips were great and I was able to learn a lot about Finland's past from museums. What is interesting is that in Oulu I bought something quite odd. The Museum in Oulu sold small sticker sheets with quotes by famous people. Well I just so happened to notice that one said "Barack Obama" and yet when I looked at the picture of who the quotes belonged, it was not Obama at all. There had been a misprint in the factory because when I looked at the remaining ones on the shelf, none of the others said Barack Obama on them. So now I am the proud owner of a picture of a fully white Barack Obama as well as his quotes.

A little while before that I went to visit friends of the family and stay at their summer cottage. I stayed there for the weekend and got to hang out mostly with Tatu, Ossi, and Jesse. Jesse was ten, thus he did not speak very much English yet. However him and I managed to have a couple conversations about music, nationalities, food, and how stupid his brother was. What was really awesome was that during this time I got to go four-wheeling for the first time ever! It was so awesome, especially when we stopped atop a large hill and got to see the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen. Farms and forests stretched into the distance until they became green blurs in the distance. It is certainly something that one would never see back in Florida.

It's hard to believe that already almost three months have gone by since I first arrived in Finland. It seems like just yesterday I was sitting in the Miami airport with Alex, playing war to pass the time until they called for our seats to board the plane. It seems like just yesterday I was at home packing my suitcases to go to Finland. It seems like just yesterday I was in the airport greeting Rafael and yelling Näkemiin to Leelah as I walked out of the doors of the airport. It all seems like just yesterday and yet now it is three months later. Time flies...

Sooooo much has happened and many more things are yet to come that I fear that I will not be able to rememeber it all or be able to tell people about all of it. I have made new friends, I'm learning Finnish, I am no longer afraid of the sauna, I have traveled, I have played in the snow, I have rolled naked in the snow, I have had a truly fantastic time that I know not many people will ever get to experience. And for that...I am truly greatful.

November 30

“Whether the weather be cold, or weather the weather be hot, we‘ll weather the weather no matter the weather, whether we like it or not.”

Weather…it is always so unpredictable and you can never figure out what it will be like the next day, especially in Finland. Normally around this time of the year, Finland is still experiencing temperatures above zero degrees and all the plants are black and dead. However…this year proves to be an exceptionally cold with temperatures already getting as low as -21 degrees Celsius for three days in a row. Not to mention, the temperature has been colder than -10 degrees Celsius for over a week now. (And for a quick reference, -21 Celsius is about -5.4 degrees Fahrenheit and -10 Celsius is 14 degrees Fahrenheit.)

As far as snow is concerned, it has been snowing a lot and the level stays around one foot of snow on the ground…and the rooftops! This also results in icicles that are about one yard long and could easily kill someone if they hit you in the head, better be careful!!! But the snow stays constantly great and I love it all the same, I wouldn’t have it any other way even if I could choose.

Overall life has been great and it keeps getting better. I’ve been hanging out a TON TON TON with friends, both Finnish and foreign. My friend Julia has helped me to a meet a lot of new Finnish people and make many new friends. Honestly, hanging out with friends is the best part of my day because not only does it expose me to the Finnish culture, it also exposes me to many different cultures from around the world. Plus, it’s overall just amazing and fun. I have also learned that, sure, Finns may be shy but if you talk to them, they are able to communicate back and do have a lot to say!!! You just gotta be brave enough to talk to them first.

As the end of November finally comes around, my time with my first host family draws shorter and shorter. A week before I switched families, I went on a weekend vacation with my host father and host brother to a Hotel, Spa, and Resort in Sotkamo. It was great because we got to stay there for four days and three nights, spending all the days going to a spa, bowling, eating at restaurants, and more. It was a great trip and I had a ton of fun. While I was there I also got to go to seven different saunas includes a smoke sauna which uses a real fire to heat rocks in the sauna. It was certainly much different and much better than a normal electric sauna!!!

Hm…what else…Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is not really celebrated outside the USA too much and certainly if it is, not in November. So needless to say, I didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving this year. However, I did skype with my mom and sister back in the USA to wish them a happy Thanksgiving. Talking to my little sister that day certainly cheered me up after not celebrating one of my favorite holidays of the year. The funny thing is that when I mentioned Thanksgiving to my host mother that evening, she said that she had intended on celebrating it for me but she had forgotten when it was and I had never mentioned it before hand, thus we didn’t have time to put anything together. Oh well, when you think about it, everyday should be about giving thanks, not just a single day of the year.

But like I said, that was my last week with my host family and the time finally came for me to switch families. My host family tried not to make it a big sad event and instead tried to keep it nice and simple with a day of packing and a nice late lunch before I left. We had a fantastic meal before I left and for dessert we had a pineapple peach cake that I had made. But at dinner we did something that really made me realize how much I had done and how much I had learned while living with my first family. After the lunch and before dessert we talked about everything I had done and everything I had learned. I had learned so much more Finnish since I had come to Finland, I had learned how to start an electric sauna, I had been out of town for half of my weekends, and so much more.

It finally came down to about the last half an hour with my first host family and I decided to bring out a gift I had gotten for them the day before. I quickly dashed up to the room I had come to know for three and a half months and retrieved a box of cookies and a box of chocolates as a gift and a thank you to my first host family. We spent the last half an hour sitting around eating the cookies and chocolates until my second host family came and picked me up. What really surprised me though…I was excited to go to my second host family because it meant something new and a new adventure and even though I was excited, I still had that feeling in my stomach that made me feel like “No!!! Take me back, don’t take me away from here, I don’t want to leave!!!” It was the same feeling that I had back at Karkuu and it was the same feeling that would soon prove to be false worry.

Despite all, the first two days with my second host family have proven to be truly wonderful and amazing. In the first two days I have already seen pictures of their summer cottage, learned how to light a smoke sauna, and how to dice onions in way that is certainly much faster and easier. I’ve tried to use Finnish when I can and understand as much as I can but it doesn’t always worse or I mix up words which can completely just make things far more confusing. So mostly if I speak Finnish I try to stick to basic phrases so I don’t make a complete fool of myself. Suomi on vaikeaa.

On this coming Friday I will be leaving for a Rotary trip to Lapland. For those that don’t know, Lapland is the most northern part of Scandinavia and overlaps Finland, Sweden, and Norway. I’ll be staying in Muono with all the other exchange students for about five days, doing different activities. I have signed up to go snowboarding so that should be interesting. But overall, I don’t really care about what we’ll be doing or where we’ll be going, I’m just looking more forward to seeing my exchange student friends again whom I haven’t seen in a long time.

So much is going on that I can’t tell it all here in this tiny little blog. If I was to take the time to type it all and tell everything, the blog entry would easily be over a mile long and would take weeks to type up. Thus I can only pick some of the biggest events that are going on in my life right now and try to simply just summarize them. Later I go back and reread the blog and realize how dull it is compared to what is really going on over here in Finland and that is why when I go back to Florida, I have plans of sharing my experiences with people and trying to retell in all the best I can so that my stories aren’t just simple words on a page but instead they become more realistic and believable, more exciting and more life changing. You only get this sort of chance once, so you have to make the best of it and make it as exciting as possible.

December 21

”Now I’m standing alone in a crowded room and we’re not speaking. And I’m dying to know is it killing you like it’s killing me?” –Taylor Swift (Perfect way to describe the quiet Finns)

As this year draws to a close, I think back and wonder if this whole exchange was truly worth it all. I’ve been gone for about four and a half months now and it still seems like no time has passed at all. But then I think back and I suddenly realize, it has now been a year since I got that call that I could be going to Finland. On December 14, 2009, I got the call that I would be going to Finland. It was the night of my birthday. Now as I think back I realize “Wow…it’s been an entire year since that day and look at me now. Here I am standing in Finland celebrating my birthday with friends from all over the world and it couldn’t possibly get any better than this.” So was Finland worth it? Yes it was, and that can’t be changed.

For my birthday I had four friends over as well as all three of my host families. It was a great party and the food was fantastic. My second host mother is an amazing cook as well as my host sister. The best part was playing games with my friends since it was so childish but also so much fun. We started out playing card games such as Slap Jack and Spoons. But eventually we moved onto games like Truth or Truth and Twister. Twister resulted in many weird and awkward positions considering we had like five or six people on a board meant for only four people. In the end, I wound up losing so I had to go jump in the snow with all my clothes on and roll around. When I went back in I had to take all my clothes off to avoid soaking the house. So my host parents then walked in and wondered why we were sitting around with me in my boxers. It was awesome.

However before my birthday I went to Lapland (the northern part of Scandinavia) for a Lapland tour sponsored by Rotary and paid for by Rotary. It was truly AMAZING! I did so much there and tried so many new things such as snow shoe walking, dog sledding, reindeer riding, etc. I finally got to see my friends again whom I haven’t seen since I arrived in Finland and I also got to meet one of the most awesome Rotexes in the world, Lotte! The drive up to Lapland was pretty interesting, a nine hour bus ride with about a quarter of the exchange students. It was horribly boring at first but it started to pick up at a stop in Kajaani when a friend of mine, Karly, got on the bus. At first she asked if I remembered who she even was and I said of course I remembered her, how could I forget. So after this, Karly and I would up staying up all night catching up and talking.

Once actually in Lapland, I got to reconnect with so many of my friends but also talk with a few people I haven’t really gotten to talk to much. I got to see Janet, Paige, Adam, Alex, Hiro, Halie, and more. The first night in Lapland was really cool because I got to just hang out and chill with some of my friends. The highlight was probably when we all started to use the same shower (No not at the same time for those who have dirty minds). We all didn’t really feel like going back to our own rooms to use the shower so we all just took turns using Hiroki’s shower and completely soaking the bathroom and room. Goofing around with friends in Lapland, a once in a lifetime chance.

The following day was filled with many activities but the highlight I would have to say would be the dog sled ride. So to go on the dog sled, we all had to get into groups of people that was suitable for the sled. Well my group: Karly, Lotte, Annie, and me all got onto the same sled even though it was only designed for three people. The ride was pretty bumpy as we also flipped over about five times due to bumps. But it only got more exciting when the dogs went the wrong direction and got us stuck in a ditch. So after sitting there for about five minutes, the dogs managed to get us unstuck but not without almost flipping us again. It wasn’t long before another incident happened, we ran into a tree. It took another bit of time to get us free from this but when we did, a branch came and smacked Annie in the face. HOWEVER, it’s still not over! After all of this, we then ran over two torches and almost flipped another three or four times. As we rounded the final bend and the whole group of other exchange students came into sight, we knew that we had just had our first dog sled ride, and probably our most exciting one ever.

The last day in Lapland finally came and everyone was set to leave but not without first visiting Santa Village! This small tourist attraction is known around the world. Children from around the world send their letters to this place to be read by Santa. It was so cool to walk around and see everything. I even got to see some of the letters from around the world. I got to see so many different languages and different envelopes and so much and it was just really cool. But at long last everyone had to leave. So we all said our goodbyes and climbed on the bus to prepare for the long ride home.

The bus ride back home was actually pretty awesome. I talked with my friends a lot and we used 52 business cards to make a deck of playing cards that we used for hours. However that eventually got boring so we started to mess with Lotte’s hair. I didn’t really do anything to it but I just took pictures of all the weird hair styles and faces. At long last we got to my stop and I said goodbye to all my friends since there was a good chance I might not see them again before the end of the year. But overall I loved the Lapland trip and I would never trade it away for anything.

School continues to be great. I am able to understand much more Finnish and I can even keep up sometimes with lessons and people speaking. But the best thing right now about school is the dancing course I have. All the second year students in the school take a dancing course right now in order to prepare for the Finnish ball in February. My partner, Anna, and I have been working hard to learn the dances but we still mess up a lot but at least we can laugh it off and have fun when we mess up. I just hope that we can learn the dances and be prepared for the February ball otherwise…I guess we’ll be stumbling all over the dance floor.

I’ve now been with my new host family for about three or four weeks and it’s been great. Since I’ve moved in with them I’ve done cross country skiing for the first time and it was both hard at first but very fun once I got the hang of it and figured out what exactly to do. Besides for that, I have tried reindeer cooked in different forms as well as rabbit for the first time. Some of you must be wondering what the heck is up with these nutty Finns but I can understand why they eat reindeer and rabbit. They both taste soooooo awesome.

Besides for main meals though, we have been baking soooooooo much lately with Christmas coming up. Lately we have been baking many different types of cookies and desserts which all taste awesome and fantastic. My favorite was a couple days ago when we baked gingerbread cookies from scratch. I have never done it this way before so I think the work made them taste just that much better. We made so many different shapes which mostly all turned out quite well. But the best part was when we made a ginger bread Muumi house. Two of the parts broke so we had to use melted sugar to put them back together and in the end we had to cover it all up with frosting. So basically in the end, it just looked like a very colorful circus instead of a house. But it was the first gingerbread house I have ever made in my life, so I really enjoyed it no matter what it looked like.

Christmas is this week and I can’t wait for it to be here! I went shopping last week to buy gifts for everyone and I think I actually did really well and I can’t wait for everyone to open their gifts. Not to mention, this will be my first Christmas away from home but also my first in Finland. The Finnish Christmas is bound to be interesting especially considering Finns celebrate on the 24th and not the 25th like the USA. But that also leads to the different way that Finns decorate for Christmas. Finns aren’t as flashy as the USA and they decorate much later. In the USA we would decorate maybe a week or two before Christmas and make it very flashy. However, it is now three days before Christmas and the Finns still have not even started to decorate and when they do, it is not very flashy. It is simple and calm yet very beautiful at the same time. I can’t wait to start decorating.

What else is there to say…oh yeah! The weather has continued to get colder and colder. It has now reached

-25C (-14F) and is still expected to get colder and colder as January and February come. There is perhaps around two feet of snow on the ground in certain areas and walking to the city can often be challenging or difficult since you have no idea what is the sidewalk and what is the street. Thus there is a good possibility that you might get hit by a car during the winter. But the best part of the weather is when the sun sets on one of few clear days. The whole sky turns orange and the light reflects off the snow to give the whole scenery an orangish blue glow which is truly breathtaking and beautiful. It is a scene that you would never be able to experience in Florida even in a million years.

So I’ve heard that the new outbounds have now been selected back in Florida. Well I heard about it a while ago but only recently was I put into contact with Mackenzie who will be D6930’s outbound to Finland next year! D6930 has to keep the Finnish spirit alive! (Take that Sweden, mwahaha!) But it’s so weird to write to the newbies and think that this time a year ago, I was just like them. Excited, curious, clueless, and naïve of everything that was going to happen in the next few months. But then I also remember all the things that happened at the January camp and remember how much fun it was and I know they will have fun there as well. However for anyone that does read this, I do have some advice for the January orientation;

1)      Bring warm clothing. Unless you are as cold resistant as me, you will most likely need the warmer clothing to prevent freezing your butts off…in Florida of all places.

2)      STUDY YOUR LANGUAGE!!! Knowing your language more will both impress the Rotarians and show how responsible you are. Not to mention it will be something you can brag about when you know more of the language than the other people going to your country.

3)      TURN IN ASSIGNMENTS ON TIME!!! I cannot stress this one enough. Save your self some humiliation and just do the dang assignments. Yes they are boring and annoying but you can actually learn a lot from some of them. Nothing says you have to do it all at once, just try to do one paragraph a day.

4)      People going to Finland and Sweden, please do not be gullible. We were last year and well…just trust me and don’t be gullible. =)

5)      MAKE FRIENDS!!! These will be the people that you can relate to for an entire year and will need to be able to talk to when things get hard. Especially try to make one really close friend that you can count on no matter what because when you have no one else to talk to, they will be there for you. Trust me on this one; I couldn’t have made it through this year so far without one certain person.

6)      Talk to the people who are going to the same country as you. I didn’t talk to Alex pretty much at all at the first orientation and we didn’t start to talk until the second. They can be really cool. Not to mention, they will be the people you are stuck with the on the plane for hours. So try to be friends with them, it will be worth it.

7)      Have fun because this will only be one of two times that everyone is gathered together like this. Make the most out of it you can and COMMUNICATE!!! Have fun and know that you newbies are the future outbounds for Florida. Good Luck.

Every time I write one of these blogs they make me think back to everything that has happened so far and they make me realize that this truly has been the best year of my life so far. It’s only bound to get better from this point out and improve. A shout out to all the newbies as they prepare for their year abroad: Be prepared for one of the best years of your life. You can only live it once so be open minded, relaxed, and go wherever the wind may take you. A ship goes no where unless the sails are open and your mind must be the same exact way.

“Minds are like parachutes. They only function when they are open” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

February 1

“So let’s make a Christmas Wish together. Let’s hope the best of dreams come true. Let’s make the spirit last forever. This is my Christmas Wish to you.” –Stacie Orricio

December, one of the busiest months in Finland and perhaps even the entire world. In Finland December means MUCH more snow, Christmas vacation, Christmas, new years, and so much more. I’d have to say, this past year’s December is one I will certainly never forget for as long as I live because of how amazing it was. I got to spend it with my fantastic second host family which also had the oldest two siblings visiting from out of town. It was truly an experience to be here for the Finnish Christmas and New Years and to see how a similar holiday can be celebrated so differently.

Christmas Eve is the big day in Finland because Santa comes to deliver presents IN PERSON on Christmas Eve as opposed to coming during the night while everyone was asleep. It was a long day though because I couldn’t wait for Santa to come and thus the day seemed to drag on forever. That evening I was so jumpy because every time someone would walk out of the room, I expected them to come back dressed up as Santa. However time after time the person came back and we resumed our watching of Christmas specials on television.

One of the most interesting things on TV that day was a Santa hotline. Children from all over Finland could call in to talk to Santa on the TV. The children would tell Santa what they wanted and then sing to him. My host sister, Alli, tried to get me many times to call Santa but I never wound up doing it. It’s not that I would have been nervous about calling, I just really didn’t want to sing and have all of Finland hear it. Oh well, it was still cute to hear all the kids calling in to wish Santa a very Merry Christmas.

At long last though, the oldest brother who was visiting from Oulu “stepped out to smoke” (even though he doesn’t smoke at all). However five minutes later, there was a knock at the door and Joulupukki (Santa Clause) came marching in with three big bags of presents over his one shoulder and a walking stick in the other. Though you could clearly tell it was the oldest brother, I still really liked this because I had never celebrated this way and it meant a lot to me that my host family put this together so I could experience it.

Being the youngest of the siblings, I had to be Santa’s helper and help to pass out the Christmas gifts to everyone. However because Mikke had “gone for a smoke” we had to put his gifts on the side for him to get later on. I helped to pass out present after present after present until they were all passed out. It was at this point that we spoke to Santa for a bit and even sang him a song (but I didn’t know the lyrics, so I just stood there). As Santa stood to leave, we all walked him to the door and then began to dig into our presents. Wrapping paper flew everywhere and I was so excited to open all my gifts. As I opened them, I uncovered cook books, Finnish books, tea, chocolate, a sauna board and much more. I was so excited and grateful to receive what I did. I don’t know if I will ever actually be able to thank my host family enough for what they did.

The next day, Christmas Day, was my host sister’s birthday so there was more celebrating. However I also made sure to stop to take time to call my family back in the USA and wish them a very Merry Christmas. Later that day I got to skype with them as well. I was so relieved to hear that the gifts I had sent them had arrived safely. I do miss my family in the USA but I always remember that they are still there and I can still talk to them, it’s not like they have disappeared forever. It’s this sort of thinking that got me through the down time of Christmas and home sickness. Let’s be honest, all the students laughed at the idea of home sickness around Christmas time but in their heart of hearts, they did miss their family somewhat and wished that they could at least hug their family on Christmas day. Anyone denying this would be flat out lying to your face.

A little less than a week later came New Years and once again that is a fairly big holiday in Finland. For New Years we had friends over and did many different things. We started out playing cards and each time someone lost, they had to drink (soda of course, no alcohol). We also played Twister, ate a lot of food and let of fireworks outside. At the stroke of midnight everyone got a glass of champagne but in all the excitement of sparklers and fireworks, I managed to spill the glass all over myself after only having one sip. Oh well, I still had fun anyways.

Once all the celebrations and festivities were done, it was time to go back to school…but not for long. Three days after going back to school we had yet another vacation which consisted of four days. During these four days my host family took me to Rovaniemi and Oulu to visit both of my host grandmothers.

In Rovaniemi I got to sightsee a bit and go to a museum called Arcticum which tells all about the Finnish northern culture and history. There were also many interactive parts of the museum which me and Alli managed to make fools out of ourselves with. One example would be using an electric magnifying glass, meant for looking at animal fur, to look at our hair, skin, clothing and more. I was also going to meet up with an exchange student friend of mine but we both wound up being too busy to meet up, maybe next time.

In Oulu I got to explore around town and meet up with a different exchange student friend of mine. I had a ton of fun seeing Janet again and catching up on all the exchange stories. Not to mention, Alli and I decided to make it a tradition that from now on, every time we go to Oulu, we have to go to this one specific Chinese restaurant since it is sooooooooo good.

After this mini vacation, we returned once again to Kuopio and to school. School continues to be normal as could be. I do what I’m expected to and go to classes and so on so forth. I study Finnish hard and my Tuesday Finnish classes have once again resumed. This period will soon be coming to an end so right now we are having finals week but due to circumstances…I have five classes but am only actually attending one of the finals. The others I am not required to go to or my teachers told me I could do the final at home.

I have also been taking dancing classes so I can prepare for the Finnish Ball on February 18. My partner and I are a bit nervous that we might not be ready in time but I still try to tell her that we are awesome and that we will definitely be ready on time. The only problem at the moment is that I still don’t have my suit…well I do have one that I am allowed to borrow but I haven’t had the chance to go try it on yet so I am not really even sure if it will fit me. Hopefully I’ll find out before the day of the dance!

I finally got to go downhill skiing for the first time! One Sunday morning I woke up and found out that we were going downhill skiing with a group of friends from school. It was weird because I had never done this kind of skiing before. At first it was hard and I fell a lot but I finally just decided to go on the big hill and if I survived, then I would learn. The first time going down the large hill I fell nine times, four on the second, and only once on the third. My host sister was really impressed by how fast I was picking up on this but I still think I wasn’t that great. Guess I’m starting to pick up on the Finnish habit of not bragging, eh?

I guess the last thing to talk about right now is the leaving of the oldies and the coming of the newbies. The old Australians, Brazilians and South Africans left Finland but all the new ones just got here this past well. Julia Kosonen, my newbie, also arrived this past week and I have been talking to her quite and bit. She seems to be doing well so far and I really do want her to have the best year ever! She doesn’t live too close to Kuopio but she does live close enough to Kuopio so that we can meet up sometime. Hopefully we will soon!

A new year has begun and new adventures are once again beginning. The old year is gone and a new one has come and as we say goodbye to the previous year, we say hello to a new year full of promise and excitement in a foreign country. My exchange may be half way over but to me…it’s not over and it is still continuing. There is still much to do and much to see in what time I have left in Finland. So there’s no reason to get down about my time being over halfway done because I can still make the most out of what time I do have left here.