Gray, outbound to Finland

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This journal is a little overdue, as I just passed my three month mark of being on exchange here in Finland. A lot has happened in the time I’ve been here in my host city of Pori! Pori is located on the west coast of Finland, and is a part of the Satakunta area. It’s the 8th largest city in Finland, and the capital of the region. The city itself has about 80,000 residents, and my school has about 1,000 students, but I’ll write more about my school itself later in this journal. 

My original arrival here went well, nothing spectacularly interesting or bad occurred on my 8 hour or 2 hour flights. I was lucky to have my friend Brittany, also from RYE FL district 6980, on the same flights as me. Besides the initial nerves and jet lag, everything went great. We then took a bus to our language camp located in Karkku, 2 hours from where we landed in Helsinki. The camp lasted for a week, and I got to meet the other 120 Rotary students. We not only learned a lot about the language but also about the culture, and had an amazingly fun time doing so. We even went to Tampere one day, which is the 3rd largest city in the country! We got both a tour of some of the historical places in the area and to walk around the city and explore for ourselves. After the camp was over on Saturday and everyone met up with their first host families we said goodbye until we meet again for our winter Lapland trip. 

I had school starting the following Monday, and that was certainly an adventure. After having been in town with my host mom who showed me around the city (including how to get to my school and what buses to take) I, at first, thought I would be able to manage my first day on my own no problem. Except I managed to nearly miss my bus, then I ended up 5 blocks down and 6 over from where I needed to be in an area I didn't recognize, asked no less than four random people for help, and was in the end 30 minutes late the first day. In the end I look back on it and find it funny, since already I feel like I can’t really get lost here anymore it’s so familiar now. My school was built in 1926, and is the largest in the city. The students are very nice and understanding, and I have made quite a few friends. I’ve even joined a volleyball team outside of school, and have made new friends there too! The system here lets students make their schedules almost entirely customize d, where in each of the 5 marking periods you choose new classes. In the US, where you take chemistry all year and it gets more difficult as the year goes on, Finnish students choose the course each time (chem. 1, 2, 3 so on.) I think it’s a very nice system that allows for a lot of flexibility. The biggest shock for me was that anyone can leave campus whenever. If you don’t want the school food you can go to a local cafe and then back to class. Because this academic type high school (non-vocational) isn’t entirely required, people here take it very seriously and it feels more like a college setting. 

I’ve done much more than just going to school however- I got to go to the coast, where the Sea of Bothnia is. I got to go to both Yyteri, which is a wide sandy beach, and to the rocky jetties of Reposaari. I went to a wedding and after a medieval castle from the 1300s, called Hämeen linna. (There's even a church in Ulvila where my family lives from the same time period! One from the 12th and one from the 15th century.) I’ve had so much fun going to all these exciting places with my host family. These times with my family and new friends have been my favorite. My closest friends are an AFS exchange student from Missouri, Aly, and Mirabelle and Liisa. While Liisa doesn’t go to my school and I don’t have classes with Mirabelle, we’ve done a lot together. I’m so thankful to have not only a new friend from my own country but also from my host country as well!! I was worried that it would take a long time to meet people, but all of those I cal l friends were eager to hear my opinions and ideas as well as share their own views about Finland, the US, and the world. 

I’m looking forward to even more exciting adventures in the future! A major thank you goes out to Rotary for enabling me to experience a new culture and make friends from around the world.