This week, the cold came with the autumn solstice and brought snow to all over Finland.
Honestly, I've been putting off writing this journal. Writing a journal about everything that is happening in your life when you're on exchange is hard work, your life never stops moving! Even if you're just sitting on the couch watching TV it's still so new to you because you are sitting on your new couch in a new house, with a new family, listening to a new language. So I guess I should start from the beginning...
I left from Orlando on August 1st and little did I know how mentally and physically exhausting the journey to Helsinki would be. I traveled a lot over the summer, so I thought that getting around the airports wouldn't be a problem. I was so incredibly wrong, but I won't get into how awful the process was but I will say that just because getting somewhere is a hard process, it doesn't mean that when you finally arrive it won't be worth it- I guess that applies to life too.
After I arrived I was placed in a hotel just outside of Helsinki for a night before all of the students went to the language camp in a place called Karkku. I was a little nervous for language camp, I thought that there would be tests and if I didn't pass they would send me home. Again, I was wrong. The camp actually was one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced. It was over a hundred students from all over the world and nights filled with talking to amazing people, the sauna, swimming in the lake, and traditional Finnish foods (and of course I learned a lot of Finnish too). After camp, all of us students became a family.
Immediately after camp, my amazing host mom took me to Tallinn, Estonia! This was interesting because if you read my bio, you probably noticed that originally I was placed in Estonia. Although Estonia was beautiful, I could not be happier that I was ultimately placed in Finland. I never thought that I would feel so much at home here, but I do. Almost every single Finn I have spoken to has asked me why I would ever want to leave Florida and come here, and it's hard to explain. Maybe it's because every plate of food I eat here is amazing, maybe it's because it's so peaceful, maybe it's the gorgeous nature or the modern houses or the school or the fact that when I told one of my friends that I was feeling a little sad, she brought me 3 pieces of pulla, or maybe just the fact that I ended up in an amaz ing family. I don't know really. All I know is that I love it here.
Immediately after I returned from Tallinn, my school started. On the first day I was really nervous, but it turned out better than I expected and I officially like Lukio better than High School. My gym class has actually been a lot of fun. With them I have played floorball, Finnish baseball, and went canoeing! There are a lot of differences between Lukio and High School: people here seem to take school more seriously because they go by choice. You can use tablets/ computers/ cell phones during class. The schedule is rotating and you usually have each class 3 times a week and they last 75 minutes with 10 minutes in between and most people have about 4 classes every day. School has no official start and end, and no bell system, and if the teacher has nothing else to say, you can just leave. Another huge difference are the school lunches, they are completely free for students, and buffet style, and they are not allowed to bring lunch to school. Oh, I almost forgot! My school has a candy bar machine which is heaven on Earth. It's not surprising because Finns love candy you can tell if you walk into practically any store and see the aisles upon aisles of it.
A few weekends ago my mom took me to our summer cottage which is on an island off of Turku. This was a huge cultural experience because almost every family in this part of Finland owns a summer cottage. Our summer cottage had no plumbing so I got to use an outhouse for the first time! It actually was not that bad. The weekend that I went to the summer cottage, was a special weekend because everyone creates huge bonfires because they need to get rid of the waste because the summer is ending and also because in the old times, boats were guided by fires to signal where the shore was.
They also took me mushroom picking in the forest, here there is something called everyman's right which allows anyone to go onto another person's property and pick and berries or mushrooms as long as they do not damage or disrupt the property. I went with my mom, aunt, and two cousins. One of my little cousins kept saying in Finnish "Kylie knows the path!" and he was not a typical Finn, he kept talking and kept talking to me about everything even though I could barely understand anything he said. Most of the time, I just stared blankly at him but he still told my mom "Kylie is a nice girl."
I think I learn more Finnish when I am with them than any other time because even if I do not understand, they just keep repeating it slowly to me until I get the gist or they give up. That night we went in the sauna. Yes, it's true, Finns go completely naked, but it's not true that men and women go together, at least in public places. When I first came here, I did not like the sauna. I thought that it was too uncomfortable, and felt like I was breathing in water! However, I kept trying and soon enough I started to love it. It really is a huge part of Finnish culture and it's something so different than anything I can explain. It's like when you are there, you are closer to someone, and your conversations get more in depth. Of course, afterward my mom jumped in the lake while my aunt and I went straight into the hot tub. We talked about Finnish culture while looking out at the still ocean and surrounding islands.
The following Friday there was a celebration for the 3rd years (basically the seniors but they are called abi) because they only had 100 days of school left. They went to all of the younger kids and wrote and drew on their faces. My cheek had "insert coin" written with lipstick, andd then a slot to put the coin in. They also decorated the main hall of the school and dressed up in crazy costumes that were jungle themed. One guy came as a gorilla, another girl came as a smurf and was completely painted blue, and one of my friends painted his whole body brown. Music blasted through the halls and everyone was smiling and laughing.
I think that I got very lucky with my placement too. Since I live in Raisio I have the best of both worlds. I am living in a peaceful small town, but if I get in a car for 15 minutes I'm in Turku, the 5th largest city in Finland. This past weekend, it was Turku day so there was a Rotary dinner which ended with a firework show. Everyone gathered on the streets near the river and watched the show, it reminded a little bit of the fourth of July in The States.
This week, the cold came with the autumn solstice and brought snow to all over Finland. My region did not get snow but it's sure to come soon. I also started taking Vitamin D pills to prevent depression caused by the darkness.. Oh Finland. So far I am loving my life here, although people are much more shy here, they say that once you make a friend they will always be there for you. I can see myself changing and I feel like I am getting to know myself. My style is changing, the way I eat is changing, my taste in food, and the way I look at people.
When you're on exchange you have to be ready to handle any type of situation: uncomfortable, awkward, embarrassing, or different but you are so incredibly honored to handle these situations because you love your host country and know that the good will come, and when it's good, it's really good.\
Note to Kylie: Your photos didn't get uploaded. Maybe try sending two at a time. I tried to send to your email but it came back. Candy
Photo description:This is pulla, a traditional Finnish dessert
Photo description:The view from the island our summer cottage is on
Photo description:A crawfish party which is very typical for summer, and so much fun!
Photo description:This is a typical Southwest Finland terrain, there are walking paths and trees everywhere.