Wednesday, August 31


That means food.
I really like the food here. I'm also finding that I like things here that I didn't like in the States. Like marshmallow fluff. You can't even buy it here. The kind my host family has they bought from the US, and then I brought them another jar because they said they were running low. But about twice a week now, I find myself going into the kitchen and making myself a peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwich. And then I thoroughly enjoy it.

But enough about food that you can have in the US. One thing that I have absolutely fallen in love with and already know I will miss when I'm gone is karjalan piirakka (or Karelian Pie). It is an eastern Finland specialty, but I'm so glad that we also have it in the southwest. It is a thin rye bread crust, filled with a rice pudding (not sweet though) mixture, and then you bake it. Then you chop up some hard boiled eggs and mix it with butter to put on top. Delicious.
Here's a basic recipe, along with some information about them.
So that's one thing that I'm always happy to see in the house. I've also eaten reindeer... twice. The first time was on my bread for breakfast. It has been cold smoked, and was sliced like lunchmeat. For some reason, reindeer lunchmeat just doesn't seem right. But it was really good. I also had it like in chunks with mashed potatoes and lingonberries on top. That's the traditional way to eat it. And I'm sure I'll be seeing more reindeer on my plate this year. And I will be happy to eat it.

The chocolate here is to die for. I buy some pretty much every day, which I should probably stop doing. Because that's going to add up to be a lot of money spent on chocolate. But I just can't help myself. The main chocolate company here has so many different flavors, and my mission is to try them all. So I guess I'll just have to continue buying chocolate every day until I've done that. It could be a while.

Salmiakki! That would be salty black liquorice. Although I don't really enjoy it when I eat it, it definitely needs to be mentioned. Everyone here loves it, and I haven't found a single person that says they don't. My goal is to enjoy it by the end of the year. This means that I continuously force myself to eat it so I get used to it. There's lots of different kinds, and some are definitely better than the others. There was one that also had eucalyptus in it.... that would definitely be on the worse list. But I will continue to eat it until I can eat it without making a face... and then eat it some more until I like it. I figure I'm not really a Finn until I like salmiakki.

I'll post more about the food later after I've spent a little more time at a grocery store, but I figured I should post another blog, and this was pretty much all I could think of.

But on a side note... here are some other things I've been up to lately:
I went sailing in the Turku Archipelago last weekend. It was amazing! So beautiful! And with so many islands, it seemed like we weren't out in the middle of the sea... but we were! (more pictures of that to come later... I've just been kind busy and haven't uploaded anything)
I also got a cell phone! Finally. Everyone kept asking for my number... but I didn't have a phone. And not having a phone in Finland is like a sin. Everyone has a phone. So now I don't feel left out of the loop. And I can actually go and do things and if I get lost I have some way of figuring out what to do, and just being able to tell my host mom where I'm going is always a good thing.

Sunday, August 21


That means school. But, my specific school, high school I guess you could call it, is called Lukio. That's what this post is mainly about.

However, first, totally not school related, is that tonight great! We had the neighbors and their 4, adorable little children over for dinner, which was all made on the grill, to celebrate my first whole week of living in Masku! And I'm loving every minute of it! :)

But now onto school. I have been making a list in my notebook during school of everything that I notice that I want to mention on here, so hopefully I'm not forgetting anything. These are in no particular order, and probably will jump back and forth a lot. But here's what I've noticed:

Pencil cases- everyone has them! Back home, I remember I never wanted to use them because they were "uncool" after about 7th grade. But these pencil cases lead to the next thing...

Markers- the ones that are basically felt tip pens, but in all different colors. Everyone also has a ton of these, which makes the pencil case necessary in order to keep them all together!

Bells- there aren't any bells to dismiss us from class, the teachers just tell us when we can leave. Then, we have 15 minutes until the next class (which, coming from having 5 minutes between classes in a much bigger school, is really strange to have so much time to just sit around) Then, there are bells, which are more like chimes, telling us to head to our next class.

Morning Announcements- The first day of announcements, I had no idea what was going on. I had just gotten to my first class of the day, and then the announcements came on, and all I could make out was that they were naming some states from America, and then saying a few sentences, and then everyone would laugh, and then they would name another one and the cycle would continue. I had no idea why anyone was laughing at the things being said about the United States, and I was getting a little worried. However, I asked and was told that they were telling about the stupid laws that were in those states, which was totally understandable, as I've looked them up and found them funny myself. Anyways, after the announcements every morning, then they play a song over the loudspeakers before we begin class. The song the first day was one by Pitbull and Marc Anthony, which probably never would have been played in my school in Manistee. Everything at school here is so laid back. Leading to the next thing...

What the Teacher's Wear- the best example of this would be my math teacher. He stands in front of the class everyday wearing pretty much a white v-neck and jeans. Now, compared to say, Mr. Joseph (my old english teacher), that's no big deal, right? But compared to my old math teacher, Mr. Thuemmel, who ALWAYS wears khaki pants and a button up shirt and tie, it's pretty different. But it makes it a lot easier to relate to the teachers here, so I like that-even if we don't speak the same language yet (although most of them come and talk to me one on one in english-except one class where all of his lectures are in finnish, and then again in english just for me... I feel like my classmates may be somewhat annoyed with that, but it's not REALLY my fault)

School Lunch- It's FREE! It's buffet style, and you can get however much you want, at no cost. However, there is only one option each day, until the 9 you get in Manistee, but it's generally good food, and very filling. Whereas in Manistee, you paid 2 dollars to get hardly any food and it wasn't good for you and left you even hungrier than you were before you ate anything at all.

Computers- students don't get any. Also, they don't even take them to school. Since it is the best education system in the world, maybe we shouldn't use them in the states. They are a big distraction, and the kids here just learn from books (which they buy themselves, they're not given to them by the school). Plus, isn't it a proven fact that you obtain knowledge more if you write it down, not just type it into a Word document?

Chalkboard- this one isn't that big of a change, but there are chalkboards in every classroom- no dry erase boards. And, the chalkboard always seems to look clean, never smeared with old chalk from the past lessons. I guess everything in Finland is just cleaner.

Bathrooms- No big bathrooms with multiple stalls. There are just individual bathrooms located down the hallway. Boys and girls use the same ones, and only one person goes in at a time. Simple as that.
Taking shoes off- The first day of school, everyone took their shoes off before they went into any classroom. I had no idea what was going on, or why they were doing it, so I just did it anyways. However, that was with a class I had with all 1st year students, who were new to the building. I later asked a 2nd year why they took their shoes off, and apparently they had to last year for some reason, but this year they could leave their shoes on. However, people still do it just because, and they did make an announcement saying that if you had shoes that were like running shoes, that you had to take them off before going into the class because they track in a lot of dirt. But there is one room where you HAVE to take your shoes off, and that's because it has carpet, which leads to the next thing, since carpet shouldn't be an issue since all of Manistee High has carpet. However...

No Janitors- The schools here have no janitors to clean up after everyone. So, everyone takes care of their own messes, and that includes dirt from your shoes. The schools aren't dirty by any means, so I'm wondering how things get cleaned, but I'm sure I'll find out more about that later on in the year.

Folders- I went to buy school supplies and expected to just get a regular folder that you can find in pretty much any store in the states. Just one slot on each side to slide my papers into. But, the folders here are different. Something that seems to insignificant can catch you off guard. The folders here have stretchy bands that wrap around to keep the folder closed, and when opened, there is only one place to put the papers. It isn't just a slot either. It has 3 sides that fold over where the papers go, and then you close it and put the stretchy bands around it to keep everything in place. Not the best explanation, but I hope you get the idea.

Paper- no regular lined paper here. (okay, not completely true. There is SOME, but I had to search for it in the store). All of the paper they use for every class is just like graph paper. You know, with all of the tiny little squares all over it. Again, insignificant, but kind of hard to get used to writing on.

That's it for the list that I've made. But one more thing is riding the bus to school. I have a choice between two bus stops to go to, one is about 10 minutes away, so I have to leave at 7:50 to catch the bus, then change schools at the middle school, where I have to wait about 20 minutes until the next one comes. OR, I can walk to a bus stop about 20 minutes away, and leave at 8:15 for an 8:35 bus, and go straight to school from there. So, obviously, I choose the one that's further away so I can sleep in just a little bit longer. Every bit counts. Plus, I figure in the middle of winter, I won't want to be waiting at the bus stop for 20 minutes in the cold.

A few more things totally un-school related:
Metal link charm bracelets here are really popular! I'm talking about the ones that everyone had in the states in about 7th grade. Each charm was probably about 4 dollars. Here, it's a MUCH bigger deal than it ever was there though. Each charm is apparently about 20 euros (about 24 dollars), and I've even spotted some of the guys wearing them. They do look good though, and since we were only in 7th grade and wanted just as many charms as possible, they're much more ACTUALLY fashionable here. Especially since the charms are so expensive, people are really choosy about what they put on them.

CAPRIS- for men. So many guys wear capris! I don't think there's much more to say about that, just that they must be in fashion.

I'm definitely loving it here though! Some things take getting used to, but I can most definitely do that! I'm getting a phone in a few days which will make it a lot easier to connect with friends here and such. Next thing is just to learn Finnish- but that will probably be a big thing for the whole year... there's a lot to it, just like any language. In fact, my principal came up to me the other day and told me it would be great if I would make a speech at graduation in Finnish, so I'll see what I can do :)

Monday, August 15

Finally a place to call home...

I'm probably going to skip a lot of what has happened so far, but I will do my best to talk about the most important/interesting things.
Karkku language camp was so fun and I learned a lot! (But there is still MUCH more to learn, but I believe I am starting Finnish classes the first of September, so that will help)
Since I talked a lot about Finnish design in my last blog, I figured I should post some pictures of my room at language camp. I got lucky and only had one roommate, and we had really good beds, where some other people had 3 roommates and had to sleep on a cot.
I know that isn't really much of a picture, but I'll post more further on of my first family's house. After all, we were only at a boarding school. But thankfully, that bed was very comfortable. Which was how I was able to sleep for 14 hours the first night (with a little help from jet lag, of course) 

We went to Tampere, the 3rd largest city in Finland last Wednesday, and it was really neat! There were a lot of people, and most of them acted just like our teacher Anni said that they would- like typical Finns, I suppose. One thing all of us realized was that there were many people with "interesting" style, and no one even looked at them funny at all. If they dressed like that or wore their hair that many colors in the States, they would definitely get some funny looks. But we just hung out around the markets, and went to Hesburger for the first time, where I tried to order in Finnish, but he just answered me in English. By the end of the year, I'll be able to do it all in Finnish! In the market plate (which was all outside), there were 2 really big lines. One for some type of French bread that smelled wonderful, and the other for churros with nutella. The 2nd one had the shortest line of the 2, and so of course I had to get some! Also, there were stands that had all sorts of kinds of olives, one with candies, and another with dried sausage (not sure what that is, but it was definitely interesting) 

After we got back from Tampere, we went to Sastamala Church, which was very old (over 500 years I believe), and was made of stone with a dirt floor. It was really neat being in a place that old, since there is nothing nearly that old in Manistee. 

Fast forwarding to Saturday now... my family came (except for my host dad, he was in Germany) to pick me up from camp. Everyone got out of a meeting at the same time, and our families were waiting all in one area, so we had to search for them. I saw mine all the way across the room, so I was shouting "anteeksi" (excuse me, in Finnish), while trying to get to them. It was so nice to meet them, and it almost didn't seem real since I had been waiting so long for that moment. So, I showed them around the camp a bit and took my suitcases to their car, then went to eat. After that, we drove home and I got to unpack, and we took the dog for a walk and picked some blueberries so we could make a blueberry pie for dessert. 
My room is very cozy, and I like it a lot! 

That's my room, with the dog sitting in the middle of the floor. The dog seems to like me a lot, which I am glad about, because I sort of miss Buster and Dixie, so it's good just to have a dog around. She (Hari) is adorable! 

On Sunday, we went to the summer cottage, and, unfortunately, I forgot my camera. The cottage is on the sea, and we had to go across 4 bridges to get to the island that it is on. We went there to big black currants so my host mom could make juice. We went with my host mom's friend and her daughter, who is my youngest host sister's friend. It's such a beautiful place, and I really wish I had taken my camera. 
We picked lots of berries, and had a small picnic. We also went in sauna, and then jumped into the sea of course. It felt wonderful, and it wasn't too salty like I thought it might be. There was a medusa in the water when we first got there, and we caught it and got to touch it. It was such a unique feeling. It was jelly, yet it was moving a bit and felt so strange in my hands. We had been talking about snakes earlier in the day, and Venla and I went outside to take down the hammock, and I freaked out because I thought I saw a snake! Turns out... it was not a snake. It was a sort of lizard, but without legs. So it looked just like a snake, and still freaks me out a bit, but it's not harmful. 
We had a delicious dinner at the cottage of pasta and bread. And for dessert, we had cheesecake! It was so good, but very different than the cheesecake I've had before. This seemed to have a lot more flavor, and tasted a bit more like cheese, but I would like to make it sometime. 
Before we could head home, we went to pick up Emilia's friend Iida from her summer cottage. It was also on an island, and we had to take a ferry a very short way across to the next island, and it took only about 50 seconds to get across. I will take a picture of one sometime to post on here. It wasn't anything like the SS Badger or anything. Once we picked her up, we headed back to Masku, and I slept most of the way, but I was awake when we saw a fox near the road. I am amazed at all of the wildlife I have seen so far, and it hasn't even been a week! One other thing that we saw in the neighborhood was a bunny! But it was no ordinary bunny, this was like a bunny on steroids. I swear it was about 3 feet tall, and was actually quite intimidating. Nothing like you would think when you think of a bunny. I always thought a bunny was a baby rabbit, but I was proven wrong on this one. 
Anyways, today we met with the man from Rotary who is in charge of my exchange, and talked about some things that I need to do soon and that I will go to my first Rotary meeting on Wednesday! School starts tomorrow and I am very excited, yet nervous because I have no idea what to expect, or what classes I should take or anything! But I suppose I will post more on that after tomorrow! 
The railroad near Karkku

A view from a high point in Tampere (and some friends.. of course)

A church in Tampere

The olives at the market in Tampere


The lake at Karkku

Monday, August 8

Welcome to Finland!

I'm in Finland! As of 9:40am on Sunday, I am finally here. 
A little bit about the trip over... My first flight was delayed about 40 minutes, and I had a scheduled 3 hour layover in Chicago, after flying out of Grand Rapids, so 40 minutes wasn't bad. So I got to Chicago, and met up with about 20 other exchange students, and we all flew to Helsinki together, after our flight was delayed about 1 & 1/2 hours. But it was all good. We just sat around talking and getting to know each other before we were spread out all over the plane. The plane ride went really well, and the food was actually a LOT better on the plane than I had been expecting. When we got to the Helsinki airport, the first thing I thought was "WOW. It is really clean and REALLY quiet." It was morning, but not super early, so I'm not exactly sure where all of the people were, or if it was always that way or what. But it was a really nice change compared to O'Hare airport. Also, there was a spa/sauna in the airport, so it was obvious we were in Finland. Going through customs, I was a little worried, and expected to be asked questions about what we were bringing with us and being sort of interrogated, but it was SO laid back. They just asked for my passport, asked where I would be staying, and that was that. Didn't even glance at my bags or anything. After customs, we met up with the Rotarian and about 3 other exchange students that were already there. Then, I called my parents (of course), and just sat around waiting for more students to come so we could head to Karkku, but we all just wanted to sleep. Once we got on the bus, we stayed awake until we got to the country, I guess you could call it, and there were no more Finnish signs or buildings, then we pretty much all fell asleep. We got to camp and were told the rules of the camp, then got to put our stuff in our rooms (which are very nice, I thought that it would be either more rustic, or a lot more dorm-like, but it was neither). On that note... so far I REALLY like Finnish design. It's all very modern, yet simplistic. Anyways... then we got to eat, which was really good. But I'll post more of the details later, this is basically the "I'm here, this is what it's like & my first impression" blog. But there was an evening snack that night, but I ended up going to sleep at 6pm, and sleeping all the way until morning wake up at 7:30am. So I'm much more awake today, and I think jet lag will be gone by the end of the week here. I'll post pictures and more details on everything later. Hope everything is going well in America :) 

OH, I forgot to talk about the title of this blog. One of the speakers here, whenever she talks about some sort of custom in Finland that all of a sudden everyone starts talking and thinks it's completely different than where they are from, she just said "Welcome to Finland!" So now, whenever something happens that we don't quite understand, we just say "Welcome to Finland", and we all know exactly how each other is feeling when we say that. I think that pretty much explains it. If not... post a comment and I can try to word it better. But for now, my computer is dying and I want to post this before it does!

Friday, August 5

All Ready To Go! :)

I JUST FINISHED PACKING! AND... I will be in Finland in a total of 24 hours!!!
I was planning on posting pictures of before and after of the whole packing thing.... but somehow the before pictures are nowhere to be found. However, here is a "in the process" picture.

This does not even begin to show the amount of stuff that was in that room... that ALL ended up in my suitcases. (even though I AM taking 2, because I really don't feel like paying double the price I would here for anything I might need). 
And there it is! It doesn't look like much for a year... but I'm sure I'll look like a fool trying to carry that all around the airport, but it's worth it I think! 

Enough of the packing! I skyped with my host family yesterday for the first time. Although their video didn't work, it was really nice talking to them and learning more about the town and family I'll be staying in. AND... they eat REINDEER! Which, if you didn't know, is one of the things I'm most looking forward to while there. Whenever anyone asks me what I want to do most (or a similar question), I answer with "eat reindeer". So I was very happy to hear that they eat it regularly. They seem like a wonderful family and I can't wait to meet them all! 
I guess this will be my last post from the States, since we are leaving for the airport at 7 am tomorrow. I go straight to language camp with all of the other exchange students for a week as soon we get to Finland, and I will meet up with my host family on the 13th. I will post another blog when I'm all settled into my new home! 

Tuesday, August 2

4 More Days!

Well... I'm down to four days until I leave! I couldn't be more excited, especially because I was woken up this morning by my mom, telling me that we had finally been e-mailed my flight information! I've been waiting for this for the past month, and had been checking my e-mail pretty much every five minutes for the past two weeks, so it was about time.
So, I will be flying out of Grand Rapids at 12:20 PM and will arrive in Chicago at 12:10PM (Chicago time). Then, I have about a 3 hour layover, and will leave straight from Chicago to Helsinki at 3:35 PM, and will arrive in Helsinki at 8:30 AM. There are a ton of exchange students also flying from Chicago to Helsinki, so it should be fun to all be together for the flight.

Anyways.. for the past few weeks I've just been getting ready to leave. I keep finding more and more things that need to be done, but I'm getting there! Two weekends ago I went over to my aunt & uncle's cabin in Minnesota with my grandma and grandpa. My sister and her boyfriend Cory were also there, and it was nice to finally meet Cory! I was worried I wasn't going to meet him before I left for Finland, but it all worked out. :)  It was just nice to spend time with some family before I left.
About 5 miles from the cabin, there is a town called Finland, Minnesota (the only town named Finland in the US), and they just recently had a mural painted on the side of the co-op in town. Naturally, a picture had to be taken.
Also, we went to a camp nearby where Marley's friend works, and we got to do a high ropes course, which was super fun! Here's a picture of everyone that did it (plus grandpa, the "catcher", as we called him, because his job was to catch everyone before they hit the stairs on their way down from the zip line. 
So that trip was a lot of fun!

Also, last weekend I had my going away party with my friends. We had a bonfire, listened to one of my friends sing & play her guitar, and just had a good time. I'll miss everyone, but I'm glad to know I have such good friends that will be here when I get back. 

As for now, it's just more packing up to leave. I'll try to post soon with some information about where I'll be staying next year, and then I'll post again with pictures when I finally get everything all packed!