Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Joulukuu

Hello again! As the holiday season comes upon us, I want to wish you all a Hyvää Joulua (Merry Christmas) and an Hyvää Uutta Vuotta (Happy New Year) !

Lenni in a seasonal outfit

Minun Perhe / My Family

Anyways, WAAAAAAAAAY back in the beginning of November, I switched over to my second host family, the Virolainen* family.  They live outside of town, on the edge of the farmland, and next to forests, which makes for a nice view. Considering that it's about 3 kilometers to school (roughly 1.8 miles) I'm quite happy for the scenery. I have a bedroom on the second floor, which is separated from my host sister Annuka's room by a common room. Annukka (16) is in the first grade of lukio as well, and I hang out with her at school. She's really sweet, and it's nice having someone to bike with to and from school. They have two male dogs, Lenni, a white fuzzball who loves nothing more than to be snuggled, and Otto, a sweet and (in comparison to Lenni) solemn hunting dog. I believe the two are a bichon frise and a Swedish (?) beagle.

My host parents are Marja and Heikki Virolainen. They have both really taken me under taken me under their wings, and it's wonderful having someone to teach you how to knit (Kiitos, Äiti!). Marja is a child therapist in Kauhajoki, and Heikki is an elementary teacher in one of the small towns about 30 minutes away from Kauhajoki. I'm really glad that I've had the chance to stay with them. During November, I had the chance to meet suku (extended family) from both sides: Heikki's mother and sister on Isänpäivä (Father's Day)** and Marja's sister, nephew and oldest son on a weekend trip to Helsinki (I forgot to bring my camera, oops! But I got to spend an entire day running around historical sites and museums, I really enjoyed it). Annu is actually the youngest of three children, and has two older brothers, one who is about thirty and lives in Helsinki, and one who is in his mid-twenties and goes to TU (Tampere University). I met Tuomas (the eldest) briefly in Helsinki, but I'll get to know them more over Christmas, when everyone comes here for the holidays!

*Viro is the Finnish word for Estonia, and Lainen means person or citizen. Despite this, my host family is not from Estonia - it traces back through their lineage from when my host father's family lived in Karelia, a south-eastern part of Finland that is now split between Finland and Russia.
**Father's Day is held on the second Sunday of November each year in Finland.

Marja in NYC over autumn break
(courtesy of  Annu) 

Otto

Saturday Morning Breakfast - With American Pancakes!

Noora (left) and Annu (right) sitting behind me in history class


This was taken sometime in mid-November, before the snow came. The driveway goes a ways before reaching the main road, so the whole house is in its own little world. On the second story, you can see Annu's window, mine is on the opposite end of the house.

Our upstairs hangout room! 

PikkuJoulu / Christmas Party

On the Friday before last, the 9th of December, my Rotary club had their Christmas Party. So I went. Christmas are really popular here, and everyone seems to go to multiple parties once December starts! I enjoyed myself there, and it was nice to see my first host family. Also, I won a gift basket! 

Here's me, all dolled-up and in my stockings! I actually did my hair as two braids, then layered them over the top and pinned them up Scandinavian style! 

Notice the posters. They are only one of multiple boards of Rotary club flags from around the world,
 many of which come from exchange students. 

The party was held in a renovated country house from the Turn of the Century. 

This year's club president and others speaking about... Rotary things, I suppose...

 

Syntymapäivä / Birthday

I had my birthday party on December 2nd, which happened to be the day before I went to Lapland. It was really nice, Annu inviting some of her friends over and my friends coming together. Nothing big, just lots of candy and hanging out. Also, we watched Henkien Kätkemä (Spirited Away) which I am proud to say was in Japanese with only Finnish subtitles. ( I'm not saying this proves that much, considering that Japanese is my most practiced foreign language - but I did rely on the Finnish subtitles from time to time, and it helped me to understand what the dialogue was.)


Hanging out in the kitchen with my friends on my birthday!
From left to right: Bence, Reetta, and Lassi

Everyone who came watching Mythbusters, playing telephone, and hopefully enjoying themselves! 

Lukio

Mon 14.11.Tue 15.11.Wed 16.11.Thu 17.11.Fri 18.11.
1. European Culture
history
1. English 1. Advanced Math 2-3. World Religion
8 am
1C. European Culture
history
1C. European Culture
history
2-3. World Religion 1. Advanced Math 2-3. World Religion
9 am
10 am1C. English 2-3. World Religion
11 am1. Advanced Math
1. Advanced Math 2-3. World Religion
12 am
1. Advanced Math Finnish lesson for exchange students1B. English 1C. European Culture
history
1C. European Culture
history
1 pm1. Advanced Math
2-3. World Religion 1C. European Culture
history
1B. English 1B. English
2 pm
1. Sports1-3. Cinema1. Art1B. English
1. Sports1-3. Cinema1. Art
3pm









This is my third period schedule, of which I am currently taking the koeviikko (test week). It's crazy to think that I'm already half done with the school year, but that's life for you. I have really enjoyed being able to switch courses often and it makes for a good study of numerous topics. But I do miss being able to do big research projects and to be able to fully understand all the material. Not just because my classes are in Finnish (obviously), but because we have to rush through so much material. Of course, it depends upon the class, in particular my history and English classes, where the teacher has given us various out of class projects to work on. Outside of that, the only real graded assignments I seem to get are the final exams, which doesn't boost anyone's confidence much.  


The first year advanced math class, in which students ponder the mysteries of mathematics and stare into the lenses of cameras.  (Iida on the left, myself in the center)


After who knows how many hours of school, you would be falling asleep on history class too! 
(Despite what it looks like, she's actually awake) 


So, again, sorry for the delay, and I'l do my best to write another article soon, probably involving my trip to Lapland with the Rotary Club and Christmas stuff! 
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me. 


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Having a Grand Old Time

(American Food in Seinäjoki )    

(American, Asian, and Tex-Mex in Seinäjoki Shop)

Yesterday was a wonderful day. Made even better by the fact it was a Monday, and that Friday will be my birthday, and on Saturday I leave for a week-long trip to Lapland with all (140 or so) the Rotary exchange students in Finland. And on the sixth of December it will be Finland's Independence Day (going strong since 1917).

It started off as a normal Monday, and became progressively better as the day went on. I was able to understand much of what was going on in class, and in my World Religions class we watched a movie on Japanese culture, so I knew exactly what they were talking about.

After school we had gym, a class I usually fail miserably at, but today I was able to impress everyone in swimming! I felt so proud of myself! I was the top swimmer in the Swim Cooper Test, a 12 minute endurance test, and I managed 575 meters. Not too bad, considering I haven't been in swim team in over a year!

As a present to myself, while waiting to be picked up, I bought myself sukla (chocolate) ice cream to eat on my walk from the swim center to the library in the snow. While the few Finns I passed on my way looked at me a bit oddly, using a spoon clenched tightly in my gloves to eat my prize, I was happy under the falling snowflakes, warm even.

And I was really happy when I got to the library because, well, it's a library, one of my favorite places to be, regardless of what languages the books may be in.

All in all, a splendid pre-birthday afternoon.

                                       



Though this may not seem all too relevant to my main blog posts, I just felt like posting something short that describes what I'm feeling right now.  So, to all who read this, I wish a very happy (almost) Joulukuu (December).

Monday, November 21, 2011

Today marks a starting point of my life in Finland : Ensilumi - The first snow.  But more importantly, I had my first cup of coffee. Just a plain black coffee. I've been able to manage without it so far thanks to a healthy diet of tea. Lots of tea. And ruisleipä ( dark rye bread). It's the core of the Finnish diet, I think, along with some added toppings of voi (butter), juusto (cheese), and kurkku (cucumber).


( Maasa taking a walk in the Finnish countryside)

Although I still feel a bit guilty about updating so infrequently, I am using my time to its fullest extent, trying out new activities and adventures. Thinking back on it, there's always so much I want to tell, but by the time it gets up on my blog it's so edited that the original sentiments get lost. But enough melancholy! I really am enjoying myself in Finland, and I am my best to fulfill my duties as an American representative to Finland as an individual to everyone I meet. My Finnish is slowly improving, and I have had quite an experience, coming to terms with learning a language that is most definitely in a class of its own.

I've done several things of worth in the time since I last updated, not least of which is changing host families. I've also gone abroad (from going abroad!), begun my third period at school, and grown up (if just a little).

Estonia was amazing. Last month I was able to go there for my fall break, and I absolutely loved it. I was researching the country over a long term project last year in school, and it was such a rewarding feeling to be able to see what I had studied for so long. Of course, I still prefer Finland, but it was such a fantastic feeling, taking my first extended ferry ride and seeing both the new and the old of the city. It was a mixture of medieval architecture and Soviet apartments, of huge music halls and hidden beaches tucked away between near empty docks.

So, to give you a better idea of what went on, here's a ridiculous amount of pictures. 










That's all for now. 

I just wanted to post a short blog entry to let all who read this know that this account is still active, and that I'm doing well. I'll continue the rest soon. Hyvä Yöta! (Good night!) 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ramblings About School

Sorry! Many apologies to all those who read this site! I’ve really had no good reason to delay posting for this long, and I’ll do my best to manage a much timelier schedule in the future. All I can say is that I’ve been trying my best to adjust to my school, Kauhajoen Lukio. Speaking of school, the Finnish school system might be the biggest difference from Colorado that I’ve come across so far.


Children in Finland don’t start school until the age of seven, at which point they attend elementary school from first until sixth grade. From seventh to ninth grade they attend middle school, and then they have a choice for the tenth through twelfth grades.* They can either choose to attend the lukio,** more or less the equivalent of high school, or  ammattikoulu,*** the vocational school system.  The student is split quite equally between the two, with a 50/50 percentage on both side, with a difference of maybe one point or two.

*The upper school isn’t mandatory, but most people choose to do it because it’s much harder to get a good job without the extra education. Personally, I think I would just get really bored.
**Lukio is literally the “reading” school, because its name comes from the word Lukea, which means “to read.”
***In a vocational school the students do have subjects like Finnish, math, and other languages (though less than in a lukio), but in addition they are trained to different trades, such as electricians, hair stylists, plumbers, car mechanics, nurses, and so on.

I’m not too sure about all of what goes on in the ammatikoulu, but in my lukio the school year is divided up into six periods. There are others that I’ve heard about being split into five, but most seem to stick to three grading periods per semester. In order to graduate (at least at my school) you have to pass at least 75 courses. This seems hard, but seeing as you take about five new courses every six weeks, it’s not too difficult to get the required amount of classes finished. In fact, it’s not that out of the ordinary to see older students who are in their fourth year of school.


The classes themselves are taught in a totally different manner than back in Colorado (at least at the schools I’ve attended). Because of how short the classes are, there’s lots of new information every day at school, so it’s easy to get behind on what we study. There is no set curriculum for the classes, so it’s up to the teacher to tell us what to study, but we have to buy books for all the classes. They’re quite light compared to the longer course books for a semester or year-long class, but we still cram lots of studying with the books towards the end of the period. The books can get a bit pricey, but luckily I’ve been able to borrow most of my books from my host sister, and the Rotary club pays for the new books I need to purchase.

Kauhajoen Lukio is divided into three years; first, second, and third (fourth years are included in the third year). Within each year there is three classes; A, B, and C. Each class consists of about twenty students. So as long as I’ve done my math correctly, there are about 180 students in my school. It may seem a bit small, but I like it. As a general rule, students stick with their homeroom class for all the classes they take.  I’m in class 1-B, but since I’m an exchange student, I have the opportunity to choose the classes I take.  I’ve taken a mixture of first and second year classes, as the third year classes are much more focused on studying for their matriculation examinations in the spring, and I mean, being a “first year” back in the US, I just don’t feel prepared for the difficult upper classes yet.*

*The Finnish education system has been rated one of the top educations systems in the world. Despite this, many of the first year classes (at least, during the first grading period) are what a typical American student may think of learning in middle school. The difference is that Finnish students learn seven years’ worth of material in three years, as most classes up to the ninth grade are simply the basics. How’s that for cram studying?

Here’s my first period Schedule (simplified):


maanantai
tiistai
keskiviiko
torstai
perjantai
8
English 2A
History 1B
Biology 2A


9
English 2A
English 2A

Biology 2A

10
History 1B

Math 2
Math 2
Math 2
11
Biology 2A
Math 2
Math 2

Biology 2A
12
Math 2
Biology 2A
History 1B
English 2A
English 2A
1

Biology 2A
English 2A
History 1B
History 1B
2
Sports 1
Film Class
Art 1

History 1B
3
Sports 1
Film Class
Art1



I’ve clarified the classes by grade and class, and a blank on a class or grade means it’s mixed. I have quite a few free periods because I’m not taking a fifth core class (this is due to the fact that no classes that I would have a chance at passing are during that time slot). The film class* is open to all students, and all three of my “late” classes have no real final exams and I’ll have them for the entire fall semester. My history class was European history, and my math course was focused on derivatives (algebraic).
I was quite happy with my exam results, getting 10 points in English and history, and 7 points in biology and math. The Finnish grading system is on a scale of 4 to 10 points, and if you fall below 4 points, you have to retake the exam to pass the course.

*Concerning the film class, I’ll be going to Seinäjoki, the head city of my district of Finland, this week to see a musical about vampires!


Above: My friend Bence studiously coloring his picture 
Below: While Lassi... attempts to be... studious? Alongside Anna's head in English class.


Second period Schedule:


maanantai
tiistai
keskiviiko
torstai
perjantai
8
Chemistry 1C
English 1B
Geography 2A


9
Chemistry 1C
Chemistry 1C

Geography 2A

10
English 1B

Physics 1B
Physics 1b
Physics 1B
11
Geography 2A
Physics 1B
Physics 1B

Geography 2A
12
Physics 1B
Geography 2A
English 1B
Chemistry 1C
Chemistry 1C
1

Geography 2A
Chemistry 1C
English 1B
English 1B
2
Sports 1
Film Class
Art 1

English 1B
3
Sports 1
Film Class
Art 1



Right now I’m feeling slightly over boarded with science, even though I only have two science classes due to the fact that my human geography teacher was also my biology teacher in the first period. Never the less, I’ve been having lots of fun in my classes thanks to my friends and much thoughtfulness on behalf of my teachers. So far, I have been able to have the classes I’ve taken translated into English, which helps to better understand the Finnish that I take notes on and listen to in class. My exams should be coming up in a week or two, so soon I’ll have another schedule. I am enjoying having a changing schedule, though it makes doing extensive, long-term projects for a class highly unlikely. Though concerning my biology class,  I did go on a backpacking trip in a national park with my school, led by the same geography/biology teacher. It was fun, and we walked over 20 kilometers through beautiful old forests.


Before I forget, let me tell you about the biggest difference between US and Finnish schools; Finnish schools have free lunch. And on top of that, it’s a healthy, hot lunch with lots of variety to choose from. When I go back to the USA, this is something I’ll miss sorely. You can even take seconds and no one minds! The cafeteria I go to is shared with the middle school students, the elementary students, and the Kauhajoki basketball team (this is both very cool and frightening, since they are one of the best teams in Finland, but when they walk past me on their way to the cafeteria, they all seem to tower ridiculously high over me). All the educational institutions, including the community college and library, are located in the same general vicinity, which happens to be conveniently placed near the center of town.

Looking back, I suppose that despite being taught in a different language and learning through a different system, school still feels like school. Not that it’s a problem, because I really have been enjoying school. I have to give a big thanks to my teachers, who have put in so much effort to help me succeed, and then another one to my friends, who inspire me to do my best. I’ve been quite fortunate to make friends, because my friends – all my friends, wherever they come from – are the ones who make school such a good experience.