Thursday, September 1, 2011

Karkku Orientation Camp

Thursday, September 1st , 2011

Although a bit late, here’s an account of my adventures at the Karkku* Orientation Camp.

*Karkku is a small town about an hour away from Tampere, Finland’s third largest city and the largest in-land city in Scandinavia.

Hosted by the Rotary Club, the week-long camp was held at Karkku Evangelical Boarding School. Just more than 120 exchange students were there, learning how to speak Finnish, Swedish, and Estonian. It also helped us to make new friends and get comfortable with our surroundings, inform us of our responsibilities as representatives of Rotary and our countries, and get a feel of Finland’s culture. I think it was a great experience for all of us, and succeeded its goal.

Sunnuntai (Sunday) – After arriving at 11:30 pm, I dragged my bags up a muddy hill (the cabin I was at was one of the farthest from the main building) to meet the other five girls who were my roommates.  After brief introductions, we all collapsed and fell asleep.

Maanantai (Monday) – Consisted mostly of lectures by various speakers, lots of information and greeting new people. Everyone had a short language session, mainly to find out who had any previous knowledge of the language. Many students were still completely exhausted from jet-lag, but for the most part we were kept busy and stuffed with food. We had five mealtimes; breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, and an evening snack. Luckily, this gave me an excuse to practice my Japanese.  Throughout the week, I used my Japanese quite a bit with the six others at camp who spoke Japanese; four girls and one boy from Japan, and a Finnish tutor who had gone to Hokkaido with Rotary two years before. It’s always nice to practice a language you know, and I was happy to help with translation during the week.  Monday is also the day on which I went to my first “real” sauna*. The sauna is one of the best-known Finnish traditions, in which you go into a dry wooden room, light a fire, and let the heat warm and cleanse you. About every ten to fifteen minutes, you get out and take a quick, cold shower and (if possible) you go jump into a lake. Even in the winter! You simply carve a hole in the ice, and jump into it. Rolling yourself in snow is also quite popular (or so I’ve been told…).
         *Sauna is the only word in the English language that comes from Finnish.

Tiistai (Tuesday) – I again woke up at 7:00 am (all the days started this way) and after a breakfast consisting of porridge with fruit jam and rye bread with butter, ham, and cucumbers, I went to my Finnish class. It was just going over the basics like olen lukiolainen (I’m a high school student) and minun nimi on… (My name is…). It wasn’t too difficult, but included many important basic phrases and words. There was probably about twelve or so different groups of students, with separate classes for the students learning Estonian and Swedish. (a combined group of ten kids). For me, the afternoon was quiet, consisting of a lecture about school festivals and free time, which I used to finish my Rotary presentation about Colorado.

Keskiviikko* (Wednesday) – Wednesday was an exciting day, because even though we still had Finnish lessons in the morning, after lunch we got to take a trip to Tampere, and use what we had learned! Or in my case, Puhutko Englantia? (Do you speak English?). After an hour or two of sightseeing in a bus, we were given free rein to explore central Tampere. Armed with my friends Christina (fellow Coloradan),   Chloe (Chicago), and Robert (otherwise known as Canada), we went on a shopping frenzy. First we went to Hesburger, Finland’s premiere fast-food restaurant, then to the dock (Tampere is in the center of two lakes) where we purchased fresh strawberries, consumed potato pancakes, and loaded down Robert with two bags of scarves. (With scarves being so in fashion, useful in winter, and priced at three euros, how can you not want to buy one!) For the next hour we just sort of wandered, looking at postcards, people, and shoes. After heading back to the bus stop, Chloe and I bought ice cream (using our new Finnish skills) and checked out a meat market before meeting back up with the rest of the group on the bus back to Karkku. After dinner, we again got on the bus, this time to Sastamala Church (an old candle-lit church in the middle of farmland) for a talent show, and some students were even brave enough to perform in front of everyone.

        *Keskiviikko literally means “middle of the week.”

Torstai (Thursday) – This may have been the longest day at camp for me. Because Thursday was a day  devoted to language classes from breakfast until dinner. Not that it wasn’t useful, because I really did learn lots of vocabulary and verb conjugations, but it’s just… it lasted so long. I think everyone was glad to see the evening free time come. I actually put this time to good use, talking to some of the Finnish tutors about their exchanges and asking all about what their daily lives in Finland are like. It was a nice, quiet evening, spent talking with friends and drawing with Brett (Idaho) and Chloe (Chicago).

Perjantai (Friday) – Friday was the last full day spent at camp, our last day of language lessons and filled with anticipation. When classes had finished, we went to our final lecture in the afternoon, one that again discussed how important it was that we represent ourselves well. It really helped me to think about my actions, and honestly, it still rings true to me. Of course, once that last bit of responsibility was placed on us, we had a party. Well, sort of. It was more of a world talent show, each country choosing representatives or going up as a whole to act out songs and dances. It was a little bit chaotic, but then everything involved with more than 120 teenagers from across the world is. I actually participated in three separate events (not including when everyone got up and danced): in the English and Finnish versions of ‘Brother John, Are You Sleeping?’ (Sponsored by Germany), the Finnish version of ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes’ (when Robert was doing some last minute preparations for the Canadian performance) and as a tech/translator/dancer in Japan’s show (the Japanese tutor had gone missing, so I was called in to make sure that the music would work from a Japanese i-pod, then asked to join in the dancing). All in all, it was a wonderful end to the week.

Lauantai (Saturday) – Saturday was the frantic, double-checking, exciting, tearful goodbye day.  We split up into our separate countries and then later into our districts, getting last minute information and hints of future events to come. Most people were packing, hoping that they weren’t keeping their host families waiting, but I had packed in advance, on Friday night, so when I ran into my host parents, I was all ready to go. I didn’t cry, even though I've made some great friends, because I know that when winter comes, I’ll be able to see all of them in Lapland. (But I will admit to a watery eye or two!)

I am so happy that I got the opportunity to meet others who have the same opportunities I have, and I can’t wait to see them all again. I was able to better learn how I am viewed as an individual and an American, and to discover more about other cultures. This week gave me insight on what I may want to do, how to go about to push myself in the right direction, and to strengthen my resolve as an ambassador to Finland. It was an extraordinary week, and I can only hope that others got as much out of it as I did. 


  1. Sounds like you have had an amazing trip so far! I'm looking forward to reading more about your adventures! (PS-It's BreannaAiedail from DeviantArt) or Maia :)

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