31 October 2012

Guns, Politics, and Fancy Clothes

"Guns don't kill people, people do? With school shootings and irrational acts of violence, there have been demands for tighter gun control in several EU Member States. What measures should European governments take to ensure the safety of their citizens while keeping in mind the rights of hunters and hobbyists?"

There is an organization all throughout Europe called the European Youth Parliament. In about 35 nations around Europe, kids in high school gather at regional and national events to debate current events and try to find resolutions to problems faced by the European Union and the world in general. This past weekend I went to a regional session of EYP in Tampere with a few of my classmates. Although I can't say the whole time was amazing, I did enjoy what happened and I'm really glad that I went.

On Friday morning I rushed to the train station here in Kuopio for a train to Pieksamäki that left at 11:20. My friend Taru was on that train too, as well as some of her friends (Sini, Santeri, and Jyri. I didn't really know them except for that they're in my geography class, but by the end of the train ride we were all friends). The trip to Pieksamäki took about an hour on the train and it went by smoothly. The five of us were in a train car with a young man too and we cruised through the Finnish country side for 72 kilometres. There seemed to be a strange border around Kuopio, though, because after ten minutes or so the barren, dead landscape turned into a nice rush of snow and ice. 

It's really, really nice to encounter snow. For some reason or another the snow here in Finland is more gorgeous than what I've seen throughout North America and it really makes the spirit of winter strong. 

During the train ride to Pieksamäki, Taru, Sini, Jyri, Santeri, and I stayed in our little train cabin and talked and laughed and tried to write a bit of a proposal for our EYP committees. The proposal writing didn't really work, though, as you could expect, and by the time we put those papers away the train had gotten to the station in Pieksamäki. 
After arriving there we all quickly switched to the train heading for Turku. It had a stop in Tampere and so this train was the best one for our schedule. From Pieksamäki to Tampere was about 3 hours and after settling into our train cabin the group of us (minus Sini, I don't know why she wasn't with us then) decided to explore. Santeri and Jyri had found a playground within the train and so they took us there. It was a lot more magical than I thought it'd be, and I wish something like that was on all the trains I took when I was little. Regardless of our ages though (they are 16 and I am 18) we still had a really good time playing around on the tiny slide and looking at the little books and seeing a miniature train.

Santeri, Jyri, me, and Taru!

 I really wanted to find the restaurant car because I was so hungry, but once we hit that area I decided it was better not to purchase anything from there (the prices are even more expensive than usual) and so we all turned around. We spent the last two hours or so in the train cabin, actually writing up proposals to our EYP committee topics and discussing issues and viewing Facebook (the trains in Finland have WiFi and I swear that it makes my life). Jyri told us that he had written a three page paper for his committee and so the rest of us were freaking out that we weren't doing enough. I ended up making a note of my committee's issues but that was about it... Train rides just make me lazy, you know? I'm an exchange student, it happens.

We got to Tampere at in the afternoon (sorry, I actually forgot the time we arrived) and left the train station for Tampereen Lyseon Lukio (a high school in Tampere). When I emerged from the train station with my group of people I was astounded. Literally amazed. I have told many people how much I love Kuopio, and yes, I do love Kuopio, but Tampere is probably the prettiest city I have ever been to in Finland. Sorry, Kuopio. It looks like a legitimately classical European city, and of course I always admire those types of cities. I gasped when I came out of the train station and took in the river and the bridge and the statues and the snow and the trees and the hustle and bustle of everything that seemed to be going on. 

I didn't stop and stare for too long because we were on a strict time table and we had to rush to the school as soon as we could. The EYP officials were supposed to pick us up from the station but it seemed that they forgot, so we started walking straight and hoped for the best. Sini said she knew where the school was, and so she guided us. Santeri still thought it'd be a great idea if we all pretended to be Americans (it was suuuuper hard for me, of course) and ask for directions to the school in English. Nothing really quite worked out. The nice thing about Tampereen Lyseon Lukio is that if you walk straight from the train station for about twenty minutes you'll run into the high school, so directions weren't really needed. 

We eventually got to the school and waited outside for ten or fifteen minutes. The officials were setting up inside so we couldn't go in quite yet... It was really cold. Tampere was snowy and icy and being outside in just a peacoat and a scarf and mittens wasn't that great. Being outside was nice though, because we waited with a boy named Niko and talked to him and it was exciting to meet someone new. But eventually the officials of the event let us all inside and we got in line to receive our nametags and check-in for the event. 

The group of delegates (about 120 of us) carried our suitcases up to the gym on the third floor of the school and then quickly changed into our fancy clothes. It was time for the Opening Ceremony of the Tampere Regional Session of EYP Finland! Yes. We all shuttled ourselves into the second floor auditorium hall and watched as the officials ceremonially opened this meeting. The president was introduced, the vice presidents introduced, the journalists introduced... It happened just as you could assume. 

Walking into the auditorium hall for the Opening Ceremony. Fun fact: the two of the girls in this photo (Elsi, green and Stella, purple) ended up being in my delegation! They are both very nice people.

After that we did some group ice breakers ("Let me see your Funky Chicken!") and then we broke into our delegations. I was on the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs II (or LIBE 2 as we called ourselves), and our goal for the weekend was to come up with a resolution for the issue stated at the very start of this blogpost. To sum it up, we were discussing gun rights throughout the EU and how to keep the citizens safe while ensuring hunters and hobbyists their activities. LIBE II was composed of me, Elsi, Stella, Noora-Sofia, Tuomas, Patrik, Emmi, Pilvi, Kaisa, Iiris, Emma, and our chair, Sofia. I can't possibly express how much I enjoy these people and I really do believe that we were such an amazing delegation. We worked together really well, communicated really well, and in the end I'd like to think that we all became good friends. Maybe sleeping with the same people in a school room for two days does that to you, but the people that I had in my delegation really made everything better. It's been two days since I've seen them and I miss them all. Really really really.

A picture of my great delegation (minus Emmi, you can only see her arm on the right, and Sofia). Of course I'm making a ridiculous face.

The only un-lovely thing about my delegation was that our room (the place where we worked on the issues, hung out, and slept) was on the fifth floor. Room 501 too, which was the room furthest away from the door to the hallway. I can say that after three days of running up and down five flights of stairs numerous times my legs are feeling exercised and I no longer feel like a tubby exchange student. Which is a really nice feeling, so thanks EYP. 

The whole first evening was dedicated to delegation ice breakers. The ice breakers worked really well and by the next morning we were ready to work on the issue at hand together. The work started at maybe... 9 am and we didn't finish until 5 pm or so. But if you really think about all that we accomplished, it's surprising that we finished it so quickly. In the morning we talked about the issues involving gun rights and problems that are faced every day and solutions to those problems, and in the afternoon we figured out what solutions we'd pick and then Sofia helped us write them up into proper EYP resolution format. I thought it was really nice to be on the gun committee and the work, although being strenuous and hard to plow through at certain times, was really rewarding and I was happy to have done it with the people in my delegation.

That evening, starting at ten, there was a giant Halloween/Goodbye dance. Elsi, Stella, Noora-Sofia, and I went down to the dance and danced for a while but we went back up to our room and got into the Halloween spirit more. Elsi turned her dress into a hippie outfit and I teased my hair and put mascara all around my eyes (I didn't really have the option of doing anything else...) but I thought it ended up looking cool in the end.

Don't ask me what I was. "Alexa Without Sleep and Coffee?"

We went back down to the dance and it finished nicely at midnight. The main thing I learned that night, though, was that it is so hard to dance to Gangnam Style in high heels. Don't try it, kids. The leg slide is the hardest part. 

It was midnight then, but nothing stopped. The kids from our delegation went back up stairs and showered or wrote speeches. I stayed with Stella and watched her write a defense speech for our resolution, helping her a bit where needed. Some of us reviewed the resolution and tried to find good come backs to good questions. Some of us watched. 2 am creeped around eventually, and even though we weren't tired we all figured it'd be a good idea to sleep before the General Assembly the following morning. Nobody likes answering questions about guns without having sleep. The clocks were turned back in Finland this night too. More time is always good.

The organizers came into our room at 6:30 am and woke us up. It didn't take too long to get ready, finish packing our bags, haul them down to the third floor gym, and eat breakfast. At 8:50 the General Assembly started and... it seemed daunting. It wasn't supposed to finish until 5:30 that evening. The chairs weren't terribly comfortable and my clothes weren't terribly comfortable and the thought of having to review so many different committee resolutions in a day with only a few breaks was really... not fun. But we got through it.

My committee was the third committee that presented its resolution, and I was really proud. Here is our resolution:

"The European Youth Parliament,
1. Calls upon the amendment of current European firearm legislation in order to include regular psychological tests and background checks for anyone in possession of a firearm;
2. Supports the European Union's (EU) intention to establish a union-wide, computerised data-filing system registering all firearms;
3. Has resolved to ban all civil usage of firearms for self-defense purposes;
4. Urges tighter external border controls in order to prevent illegal arms entering the EU;
5. Calls for the firearms to be stored in hunting clubs and shooting ranges instead of households;
6. Requests additional funding for mental healthcare in order to make it easily accessible;
7. Reaffirms the current age limits for hunters and gun hobbyists entering into possession of a firearm;
8. Encourages more research on the possible connection between video games and violent behavior."

The review of our resolution started out with the reading of it. Kaisa did that. Nobody asked for clarification on the wording in the resolution, so we moved onto the defense speech that Stella presented. Then there were attack speeches... After not having any in the previous committees I thought ours wouldn't have one either, but we ended up getting two. I was the person who was responsible for the response speech, and so I was a little taken aback. I tried my best to rebutt it but being out of practice (Debate class I miss you), I didn't sound so eloquent. It was okay, though. After that we had three rounds of questioning. Patrik answered one round, I answered one (and that went really well! I was happy with my results), and Emma answered another one. Tuomas gave the final support speech and then it was time to vote on our resolution... It was a bit stressful because the decision was almost a tie. The first two resolutions had passed pretty easily but ours was the first one in contention. Eventually, though, it was passed and that felt great. A few others didn't pass though... one, in particular, that I gave an attack speech for.

The Closing Ceremony finished at around 5:20 pm and I quickly changed from my fancy clothes into my normal clothes and raced with Pilvi to the train station. We were running very far behind on our schedule and we were worried that we wouldn't get there by 6:18 when the train left for Kuopio. So, as we were running down the long street all the way back to the station, I notice a boy in a large blue overcoat and red hat walk up to me with a smile on his face. And at first I didn't recognize him- here was just some random Finnish boy approaching me and it was kind of freaky. But he came closer and I realized that, oh my god, that's not just some Finnish boy, that's an Argentinian boy and that is my friend Nacho! Nacho lives in Tampere and I did tell him I'd be there, but because of EYP I didn't think I'd have time to hang out with him. By fate or chance or reason or whatever, as Pilvi and I were rushing back into the station we ran into him on his way to a celebration in the town square. It was a light show, I think. He agreed to walk with us to the station and we caught up and it was really nice to be with him even for those few minutes. Soon we had to go board the train and so Nacho left. I think meeting him there on the street was honestly the best introduction to a person I've ever had. 

The train back to Kuopio was a lot more boring than the trains coming to Tampere. I sat myself in car number four with a few other kids from my school and listened to my iPod for an hour or so. A girl from my history class then sat next to me and we looked through her environmental English book. There was some weird stuff in there, but I think this was my favorite part.

Count your Wows and Boos.

We arrived back to Kuopio around 10 that evening and my host father picked me up from the train station. It was so, so, so nice to be back in Kuopio. I was so tired. He hugged me and took my suitcase and we walked to the car together and it was so good to be home.

08 October 2012

The Daily

I've seen a few other exchange blogs talk about their daily lives in their host countries, so I thought I'd share mine.

I can't say that every single day has the same routine happening, which is something that I really like! Routines, in general, annoy me, and I don't like living on repeat constantly. Maybe this is why Finnish school fits me a lot better than American school (or it could be the intelligent conversations, interesting way of learning, &tc...). But I'll go over my classes and predictable before/after school activities so you can have a general idea of it all.

A new jaakso started last week, so my classes were changed. Most of them start at 8:10, which means that I get up everyday at 6 or so. I wake up, rush to the bathroom, shower, then go back to my room to get ready. I emerge at about 7 and go downstairs for breakfast. I usually eat bread with yogurt (and my host brother thinks I'm crazy for putting the yogurt on my bread). Fruit juice is my norm too. At 7:35 or so my host parents drive me into the city (sometimes we drive my host brother too) and they drop me off at Carlson's and H&M. There is an extensive amount of construction going on in downtown Kuopio, and so I have to walk through a construction site to get to school.

This is where I spend my days.

We'll pretend today is Monday (today is actually Monday, so I'm very accurate). My first class of the day is Maanantieto 1 (geography)! For a while I've wanted to take an authentic geography class, so this is great. We don't have every class every day and so although it's been a week since starting the new jaakso, I've only had this class 3 times. Over those 3 days, I've learned about the solar system from a Finnish perspective and written an essay in Finnish about the sun! And when I say "written an essay in Finnish about the sun," I mean that I've written a few sentences about the sun in 90% Finnish (there were a few things I didn't know and couldn't translate, so I wrote the English equivalent) and I feel ever so proud of myself. Maybe this essay is one of those things I'll remember for the rest of my life.

My beautiful essay about "aurinko."

The first day of geography class was hilarious. The teacher told us to draw a map of the Earth, but just as I was about to start drawing he walks over to me and says, "It's okay, you can draw your own map." I was a bit confused, because the map of the Earth was everybody's map, and when he referenced "my own map" I could only assume he meant drawing the United States. But I thought, no, I'll draw a map of the world because that isn't hard. And so I did, and when he returned, he exclaimed, "Oh look! You drew our map!" I thought it was hilarious. The teacher is a very kind man who helps me along when I don't understand and I appreciate that immensely. I also sit next to my friend Viivi (you couldn't believe how happy I was to have her in this class. I thought I wasn't going to know anyone!) and she translates some stuff for me and we talk and the class goes by nicely.

The next class I have is Musiikki 2 (I don't think I spelled that right, but I suppose you can guess what it is regardless). My first music class was an intro to music in general, and music 2 focuses on Finnish music. Suomalainen musiikki! I love it. The teacher is a really spirited, funny man and he gets us all up and dancing and singing and playing the songs. I'm in that class with Viivi too, and so her and I usually share a guitar when it comes time to playing along with the music. We also have at textbook that shows songs and so we can follow along with the sheet music and strum the chords.

Me and Viivi's desks with Viivi's music book (yes I still need to order mine...).

After music is Historia 3, which is an international relations course. Yes, of course I was so excited to join this class! It was another one of those classes that I was really afraid I wouldn't know anyone in it... But my friend Elina is in there and so I sit next to her, and she has introduced me to some of her friends, and so I am integrating just nicely. The teacher is a nice man who lectures a lot, which I really like because I enjoy being immersed in all the Finnish. I take notes too, but they're not that good because I have a hard time reading his handwriting. They're not that good because I also don't understand what I'm writing. Maybe one day I'll look back and finally understand?

The lunch periods at my school absolutely confused me for the first few weeks, and they still do a bit. If you ask me when I have lunch, I won't know. I can usually give you an estimate of time, though. On Mondays I have lunch around 11:35. The lunches are most likely always in the middle of a class period, and so when you go to lunch depends on which grade you're in (year one, two, or three). My classes are normally with third years (or second years taking third year classes), and so I go during that section. Lunches are really nice here. Everything is free to the students (except for coffee, but that's only 50 cents or so) and it only takes 90 cents from the government to make a meal for one kid. Isn't that lovely? I really like the food but I know that it's not popular with others. We normally have fish, chicken, or beef with vegetables (usually potatoes). I really like it. It's a nice variety. Once lunch is finished you go back to your class for 30 more minutes of learning or so and then it's done.

After Historia I have Kuvataide 5 (picture art). I love all art classes at this school, and I never thought I'd ever feel so artistic! The teacher of these art classes is absolutely creative, and she comes up with the best project ideas for us to do. I'm not sure what Kuvataide 5 is centered around (which artistic medium), but my first art class (Kuvataide 3) was focused on advertising, and my other art class (Kuvataide 2) is environmental art. Numero viisi (number 5) might have to deal with personal art, or ... people art, but I'm not quite sure yet. I don't know too many people in this class, and so sometimes I feel awkward and a bit out of place, but I'm making friends and the teacher is such a nice person. I don't feel bad going here or anything like that. Don't worry.

The art classroom!

That finishes my usual Monday, but there are two classes that I still have that I don't have on Mondays. IB English and Kuvataide 2. IB English is as you can imagine- international baccalaureate English, dealing with literature and prose, and yes, it still challenges me even though it's in my native language. Kuvataide 2 is similar in a lot of ways to Kuvataide 5, as I explained a bit before, dealing with art but in an environmental sense. My friend Elina is in there too and so she helps translate and give directions to me. 

School this jaakso finishes either at 12:45, 14:20, or 15:50. I then take the bus home if I'm not hanging out with my friends and get there about 15 minutes later. Today was an adventure on the bus... My usual #20 was very late (like 4 whole minutes you guys) when suddenly a giant tour bus pulls up with a paper in the front reading "20" on it. I assumed that the normal #20 had broken down, and so I got on this bus with everybody else. Just as the doors close I heard the bus driver say, "Savonlinna" which freaked me out. The new bus situation was already really confusing and a panic set in when I started to wonder if I was headed 2 hours away to Savonlinna. How would I explain something like this to my host family? What do I do? I only know one person in Savonlinna, and I don't even have his cell phone number. But the bus drove off and hit all the usual stops of #20, so everything was okay. I got home just fine. I'll go to Savonlinna later.

When I get home from school I have some downtime until it's time for dinner. I either go on Facebook, call someone, watch TV, have a snack, go on a walk... The choices are endless, of course. :) Around 18:00 or so my host mom has dinner ready, and her food is always, always, always superb. Before coming to Finland people told me I'd lose weight, but now that I'm here and eating a lot of her food... I don't know. 

A sampling of äiti's cooking.

After dinner I usually watch TV with my host family. They like Smash, NCIS, and Tanssii Tahtien Kanssa (Dancing with the Stars a la Suomi) mainly, so we usually stick with those. We also usually watch the news, but because I can't understand it I feel like I've been living in a dream world that has no world events going on. If you quizzed me about global news, I'd flop. I can understand the weather though, and that's great. All throughout Finland it's under 10 C. Isn't it kind of weird that I consider 10 C... warm now? But I'm so excited for the temperatures to keep dropping. Apparently it's going to snow on Saturday! A really great way to start the Fall Break. I'll keep my camera with me waiting for those first flakes...

When it nears 21:00 or 22:00 I start getting ready for bed. Then I set my alarm for the next day and it all begins again.