John Finnerty

Norway

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 2250
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Stord

 

My Bio


Hallo! Mit navn er John. I am 16 years old, and currently a sophomore at Buchholz high school in Gainesville, Florida. I live with my mom, dad, sister, three dogs, and cat. I also have a brother who lives with his wife in New Port Richie. We moved to Gainesville from Orlando when I was three years old, and this spunky college town has been my home ever since. Soon that will change however, as I will be spending next year abroad in the beautiful country of Norway. My life revolves around music. I play the Guitar, Banjo, Mandolin, harmonica, and sing a little. This love for music seeps into my school life as well, as I play guitar for the chorus when needed. Practicing my music consumes most of my free time, but I also enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, Kayaking, and mountain biking, (not like there are any mountains in Florida). My love of American music (styles like folk, blues, and jazz) developed into a fascination with the music of other cultures, which then blossomed into an interest in other cultures in their entirety. Naturally, the urge to travel soon set in. I have always wanted to not only to see the world, but live in the world. When I heard about the Rotary youth exchange, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do just that. I want to experience more than a two week vacation, I want to experience a new lifestyle, learn a new language, and get a new view on the world that can't be obtained in any other way. Needless to say, I cannot wait for next year.

A nice view of town

A nice view of town

The fjord as seen from the neighboring island, Bømlo

The fjord as seen from the neighboring island, Bømlo

Another fjord picture

Another fjord picture

Trying to show off the beauty of the island, the picture really doesn't do it much justice though

Trying to show off the beauty of the island, the picture really doesn't do it much justice though

One of the first churches in Norway

One of the first churches in Norway

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Sledding on christmas day

Sledding on christmas day

My first snowman

My first snowman

The snowy scenery as seen from my new backyard

The snowy scenery as seen from my new backyard

Journals: John - Norway

  • John, outbound to Norway

    I love my Norwegian life. I have great friends, I get along really well with my host family, and I can just about say that I speak Norwegian. I’m starting to feel like I actually belong in Norway, and that I am no longer a stranger checking things out. In a way, I feel like I’ve “done it.” I’ve managed to carve out a life here that I’m incredibly happy with. In fact, I’m trying to find a way to come back for university. I feel like the hard part is over, and now I get to enjoy this incredible country for a few months before I have to go “home.” I think I understand it all a bit more now, and I am ready to write about what exchange really means to me, and that is what this journal will be about. Surely it means something different to every exchange student, so I don’t want to say that this is the way things are. This is just simply what I’ve been thinking about in the past weeks, in the midst of a really happy time in my life.

    The goals of us exchange students include many things. Learning a language, navigating a new culture, making friends, and so on. Ultimately though, I think all of these goals can be summed up into one wish: we want to feel normal. We want to go through our daily activities without being in a constant state of ineptitude. We want to have conversations, go to school, and watch tv without the heavy feeling of being different looming over our heads. When stepping into the world of exchange, it doesn’t take long to realize how weird you actually are in the eyes of the host country. Obviously that weirdness includes things like language and appearance, but it goes much deeper than that. The way you buy groceries, the way you cross the street, and even the way the toilet flushes, everything becomes alien. It’s like entering a strange new universe where everything is tweaked ever so slightly. This abrupt change robs you of your ability to function on a day to day basis, and you suddenly become reduced to a sort of infantile state. You can’t read, write, talk, or even walk in some cases (I am of course referring to the perilous task of walking on ice in the cold Norwegian winter). It’s a fascinating feeling at first, but attending high school whilst feeling as though you possess the competence of a toddler loses it’s charm rather swiftly. Life turns into a quest for normality in a bizarre, foreign world. Becoming “normal” suddenly matters a great deal.

    The thing is though, we exchange students aren’t normal at all. That’s exactly why we are capable of this. For us, all of the hardships tied to spending a year abroad do not deter us, but rather motivate us to dive in head first. Every language mishap, every slip on the ice, and all the bad days are just parts of an amazing story. It definitely isn’t easy, but if it was, what would the point? I said before that as exchange students, we really just want to feel normal. But that is a very different thing from actually being normal. We’re about as far from normal as possible, halfway around the world from it, really. Normal high school students don’t willingly say farewell to everything they grew up learning, simply for the purpose of learning it all again in a foreign land. Normal high school students don’t loan their families out to teenagers halfway across the world, while simultaneously borrowing someone else’s. In the way I’ve come to see it, the goal of exchange is to become so used to this incredibly ludicrous situation that you end up fooling yourself into believing that it isn’t strange at all. It’s not about getting rid of that heavy feeling of being different, its about getting so used to it that you stop noticing the weight.


  • John, outbound to Norway

    Well today marks another completion of the earth’s orbit around the sun, and I feel it is a good time to write about my Norwegian holiday experiences. I will begin with Christmas. Christmas is an even bigger occasion here than in the states, much to my surprise. The Christmas spirit really became noticeable in the middle of November. My town put up a large Christmas tree in the middle of the city center where it stands surrounded by shops decorated in lights and streamers. Christmas music could be heard through most of the “downtown” district, adding to the atmosphere.

    The decorating of the city was accompanied by the appearance of the delicious soda called “Julebrus” or “Christmas soda.” It tastes very sweet, almost like candy, but it was very good. There are some other special Christmas foods as well, the most shocking example has to be lutefisk. This Christmas dish consists of dried fish that gets soaked in lye for a few days, and then baked. Yes, I ate it, and yes, it was terrible. I got a round of applause from my table when I managed to choke it all down.

    The Christmas activities went into overdrive when winter break began. My host family and I spent the first days driving from town to town, visiting friends and family. All this family time culminated to Christmas eve, which is the most important day in the Norwegian holiday season. This is the day on which gifts are opened and salted sheep’s rib is eaten. It was another big day for family, with about 14 of us crowded into my host grandparents’ apartment, opening gifts, playing games, and just having a good time. On Christmas morning we awoke to the most exciting gift of all (for me anyway), snow! We ate a long breakfast, and then took a trip to the mountains for an afternoon of sledding, snowball fights, and snowman building. This was the most special part of it all for me, having never experienced a white Christmas.

    Then of course came New Year's. The time in between Christmas andNew Year's was spent relaxing and recovering from all the excitement of Christmas. I also made the switch to my next host family. New Year's was also rather exciting. There are almost no firework regulations here, so things became quite loud and colorful. At midnight, we stepped outside to see the town light up with hundreds of less-than-safe fireworks, and set off a couple of our own.

    I could keep going on about how amazing it was to spend the holidays in such an incredible country, but I’ll leave it here. It was a truly magical time. Godt nyttår alle sammen!


  • John, outbound to Norway

    Well I suppose it’s time for a long overdue journal. Time goes by so quickly here, I wrote my first journal in the beginning of October and all of the sudden it’s December. Please excuse my tardiness. In my defence, I did write a journal in the middle of November, but something went wrong when I sent it in. It vanished from the planes of reality. Of course I made the amatuer mistake of not saving, so it’s lost forever.

    So much has happened in the past three months, and I think the only way to organize my thoughts is to go month by month, so lets begin.

    September:
    The most exciting part of this month was, by far, meeting the other exchange students in the beautiful city of Trondheim. Rotary organized a week long language and culture camp for all the Rotary exchange students in the country, a whopping 18 of us. We took some classes, explored the city, and formed bonds that I already know will last a lifetime. So far, that week in Trondheim has been the most incredible part of my exchange. There we were, from 7 very different countries, in breathtakingly beautiful city, creating memories that stepped over the cultural differences we had. Despite coming from places that had vast differences, we were all in the same situation here in Norway, desperately trying to carve out a life in this place that was foreign to all of us. As if this wasn’t great enough, this all took place in the most gorgeous city I’ve ever seen, Trondheim. Granted, it is competing with the likes of Atlanta and Orlando, but still. Every building seemed to be designed by the same divinity that created the fjords and mountains surrounding the city. There are very few places where the Nidaros cathedral is out of view, towering above the rest of the city. It was truly spectacular.

    Needless to say, after such a magical week, it was a bit of a challenge to go back to the “normal” routine of things, but after a few days I got back in the swing of things: working on the language, my relationships, and trying to figure out this country.

    October:
    I’ll go ahead and say that October was not a great month. This was the point at which being in a foreign place, away from everything I know really started to take a toll. I was constantly fatigued from putting all my energy into trying to grasp what people were talking about, I was getting bored at school, and to top it all off there were less than ideal things going on back home.

    All that being said, there were definitely some good days. I went on mountain trips, went boating in the fjord, and started getting a grasp on the language towards the end of the month. While I didn’t enjoy the month of October while I was living it, now that I’ve made it past some of the challenges I was facing, I can look at myself with some pride. Obviously, if exchange wasn’t challenging there wouldn’t be much point in participating. It’s all part of the experience.

    November:
    This is where things started getting good. First off, to kick my boredom I switched from being a music student in school to a film student. Studying film is something I’ve never even considered, but I figured that doing those kinds of things is what this year’s all about. Things in the music track weren’t ideal either. I don’t really know how to explain it, but I couldn’t seem to connect to the class. The people were nice, and the classes were interesting, but something was missing, so I made the switch. That definitely kicked things off. My Norwegian has gotten good enough to where I can actually talk to the other students on a deeper level, and I think that was what I was missing. Now I feel like I’m making more legitimate friends, and the people I talk to aren’t just being nice to the foreign kid, which is how I felt before.

    This month I also got the chance to do a lot of cool things. I’ve had trips to Bergen and Stavanger, made a 30 minute presentation (in Norwegian!), played Norwegian and American folk music for Kindergarteners (long story), made a short film, toured one of the national news studios, seen one of the biggest firework shows in the country, visited the Grieg academy, shared twinkies and poptarts with my host family, and so much more. Things are going great!

    So, in a nutshell, that was the past three months. I should probably mention that this is a very brief summary, and the experiences I’m having are too weird and complex to write down. As any exchange student will tell you, it’s indescribable.


  • John, outbound to Norway

    Obviously, being used to the system in the US, I did not simply accept the fact that I needed no official approval whatsoever to enter the country.

    Well I've survived my first month of exchange! I left Florida on August 8th, and after three sleepless flights and a boat ride, I found myself on the incredibly picturesque island of Stord. I have to admit, the first couple weeks were not easy. The island of Stord only has a about 20,000 people, and thus it is a very tight-knit community. Finding my place in that community, especially among the students, was very challenging at first. This is not to say that the locals are not friendly, however, as everyone I've met so far has been nothing but kind and welcoming.

    I was also lucky enough to be placed in a music program at school which was gave me a fantastic opportunity to meet peers that share a common interest. But nonetheless, the initial "getting to know people phase" was a vast obstacle. But after stumbling through a lot of Norwegian small talk, I finally feel as though I've gotten to know the community, and have more or less found my niche among my classmates and the town.

    Ever since that happened, my time here has been phenomenal. I feel like I'm doing well with the language, and can hold up simple one on one conversations with people, and I've found that there is no better way to bond with my classmates than making attempts at speaking their language. I get the privilege of spending all day learning music in my school, where I've made many new friends, and finally every evening I can take a stroll to the coast to admire the fjords and mountains that surround the village. I don't think the beauty of Norway will ever cease to astound me.

    Lastly, I have a vast array of anecdotes at my disposal, and I think the best way to conclude my journal entry would be with one. I had just arrived in the airport and was prepared to face the terrifying task of talking to the customs officers. I followed the signs leading to customs station and there it was. Two hallways, each with a sign over it. The first stating "nothing to declare" and the second stating the opposite. Obviously, I chose the first hallway and proceeded to walk through, my palms sweating from nervousness.

    As I took the first steps into the place where I expected to be interrogated by a rude government official, I was startled to find that no one was there! I then proceeded to stroll into the terminal, I didn't even need to get my passport stamped! The Norwegian customs office is nothing more than a hallway that leads to the country! Obviously, being used to the system in the US, I did not simply accept the fact that I needed no official whatsoever to enter the country, so I walked back through to find an official.

    After asking if I needed to answer any questions or even get my passport stamped, he cheerfully responded, "nope! Welcome to Norway!" This relaxed, welcoming attitude really exemplifies Norwegian culture. Everyone trusts each other. Locking doors and bikes is optional, the police don't have guns and are rarely seen, and my school even gave me a key to the building where I am allowed to use the library or musical equipment when ever I want! It goes without saying that I love it here, and cannot wait to see what the next nine months has in store!


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