31 December 2012

The Past 2 Months

I realize that I haven't blogged in a while, and after hearing a few mentions of this from my parents, host parents, extended family, and other exchange students, I've decided that I should probably do something about that. A lot of things have happened in the past two months (or so) since I last blogged, and I've put it all into a handy dandy list just so I wouldn't forget anything for you, dear readers!

So here we begin.
I go to Kuopion Lyseon Lukio (affectionately referred to as "Lyseo" by all), which is the oldest school in Kuopio and one of the oldest in Finland. On 8 November, it turned 140! And the school held a big celebration to commemorate the anniversary of Kuopion Lyseon Lukio's founding. Famous people who had attended Lyseo (Paavo Lipponen, politician, and Olli Kosunen, lead singer of Reckless Love) came back to give speeches and former students who had gone on to achieve great things after their graduation gave lectures to the current students on certain subjects (I learned, in Finnish, how to get accepted to colleges in Britain and how to also market my artwork), and we ate fancy food and felt happy. At least, I did.

The lead singer of Reckless Love telling us about his days in Lyseo. And even though he spoke in Finnish, I kind of understood, and what he said was really funny.

A few days later, AFS organized a pizza and bowling night for all the exchange students in the Kuopio chapter (please don't think we get some kind of crazy preferation by AFS; the whole of Finland had these pizza and bowling nights and that weekend was just our turn). I went to Sokos around 5 pm that Saturday night and met Mara (from Italy), Finja (from Germany), and Minna (Finja's host sister who was on an exchange to the US last year). We waited for a little bit and talked about school and then we met up with Ville (a boy who was on exchange to Spain two years ago), Johanna (she went to Spain with Ville), and Lookmou (from Thailand). We walked to a pizza restaurant just down the street and eventually Yayoi (from Japan), Kubra (from Turkey), and Meri (my volunteer person who was on exchange in the US two years ago) came. We had a really good time eating and catching up in that restaurant. I must say, I really miss my AFS people when they aren't around! They are all such good company. I think there's a nice connection between exchange students, but I don't quite know how to describe it.

After we ate our fill of pizza, we went to the bowling alley. I haven't bowled in a few years and that was really obvious... Minna beat me, Finja, and Lookmou by a mile. But wow, it was a lot more fun than I remembered! And the great thing that night was when Ville asked me, "How do you call this bowling in English?" and I forgot how to say, "Cosmic bowling." I love forgetting words in English. I think that's my favorite. I would love to forget it all (but I guess that wouldn't really help my blogging).

Halfway through November, my friend Michael (from Belgium) (I'm so sorry I'm spelling your name wrong, but this keyboard doesn't have an option for the e with an umlaut!) and I decided that it was time for him to come visit Kuopio. It was originally planned that he would come and stay with me for a few hours while his parents shopped in Matkus (the new shopping mall in Kuopio!!!!), but we decided that it'd be better if he stayed the night and took the bus back to Joensuu in the morning. Our friend Jenni came over in the afternoon and we drove around Kuopio, giving Michael a tour of the city. We took him up to the Puijo Tower and he got the same view of the area as I had gotten when I first arrived in Finland (except this view was covered in snow). It's really such an amazing view and I recommend that everyone who comes to Kuopio goes to the Puijo Tower. While going down from the tower we took a few funny photos... here's one for you.

Jenni, I will never tire of you.

That night Michael and Jenni went clubbing and I stayed in and watched a few movies. I don't think clubbing is my thing. Does that make me lame? Maybe once I get more immersed and become a full Finn I will learn to love it.

My 100th day in Finland came a week or so after Michael's visit. It was Sunday, 2 December, and I woke up with a headcold. It was nasty, let me tell you. I spent the whole day progressively feeling more and more disgusting and that night, after watching Kill Buljo with Aapeli, I decided that I was too sick to go to school. I ended up missing school for three days and I got my host mom sick too... Oh my. But let me think. On my 100th day in Finland:
  • I woke up at 6:30 am, feeling sick.
  • It was -17 C or so.
  • Kill Buljo freaked me out.
  • I needed to take the trash out but the cold intimidated me and I didn't feel like traversing across the yard with all my winter gear on just to accomplish that.
  • I started blow drying my hair and Aapeli deemed me to look "like a Finnish person."

Regardless of my illness, my 100th day was good and I was happy to have reached that marker. It's a good feeling when you're really starting to settle in.

I missed school for three days, and then I had two days off school because of Finland's Independence Day. Itsenäisyyspäivää! 6 December, for those of you who don't know. I liked that it fell on a Thursday this year, because that meant I was free from school on Thursday and Friday and it really fulfilled the missing Thursday/Friday off school that I usually have in the US when Thanksgiving comes. My host family had the extended family come over and we had a huge dinner together. After that we watched President Sauli Niinistö shake hands with a lot of people on television for 3 hours.

I'm not joking. (not my photo, by the way)

It was interesting to sit there and watch all the fancy dresses and tuxedoes go by. I really like what the First Lady of Finland was wearing, and there were a few other dresses I like too- most notably, the wife of the American ambassador. She was wearing a gorgeous neutral dress with an elk head on it. Classy and in spirit. Yes. If I were the wife of the American ambassador (or, you know, the American ambassador myself), I'd probably wear the same.

The next day my host parents and I drove to Turku from Kuopio. We drove from Kuopio to Turku. For those of you who don't quite have a good mental map of Finland, that's driving from the east to the southwest and it takes about 7 hours to do it. We left around 1:30 and go there at about 8. I finally met my host brother Taneli (the last sibling to meet! I have finally met them all!) and his girlfriend Elviira. They are a really nice couple. Taneli had made a big meal of meat for us to eat ("What do you want to eat for dinner in Turku?" my host mother asked. "Meat," my host dad replied.) and it was good to sit there and talked with them. The next day we went all together to Turunlinna (Turku's Castle), Turku's church, and the Christmas market in Turku. 

Äiti in front of Turunlinna. "Welcome to our home!"

"Pray for me, Äiti."

That night we went to a play at the Turku Theatre. Elviira's parents are both actors and so, before the play, we got a backstage tour of the whole auditorium by her father! It was really exciting. When I was younger, I entertained the thought of working in a theatre and I learned that what these people do for a living is really fascinating. After that we (my host parents, Taneli, Elviira, and me) waited in the sitting area of the theatre, drank some glögi, and waited for the play to start. We saw... Bridge Over the River Koe? I'm so sorry, I can't really remember. The title was a reference to Turku slang and so some of it went over my head. Turku slang is kind of crazy. But the play itself was hilarious, and what I could understand was really awesome. It's a good feeling to finally understand. And Elviira's father, who was in this play, was wonderful! About 7 people or so played maybe... 100 different characters? And so there were a lot of costume and set changes. They did such a great performance of it all.

On 14 December, my friend Nacho (from Argentina) came to Kuopio to visit me for the weekend before he had to return home. He's a semester exchange student in Tampere. Michael also wanted to have one last hurrah with Nacho, so he came that weekend as well. On Friday, Nacho and I had expertly designed a ginger bread house with my host brother Eemeli, and on Saturday, once the pieces were baked and everything was decorated we glued the house together. 

Nacho and I cutting out the ginger bread shapes.

Nacho designing his masterpiece.

Gluing everything together.

The final project. We are proud.

After we finished with the gingerbread house, it was time to go to the AFS Pikkujoulu! The AFS Little Christmas. Ville, the AFS volunteer, came to my house and picked all of us up. He drove us to the pikkujoulu because my host parents were busy that day. The party was hosted at Lookmou's house, which is a gorgeous farmhouse, and all mostly all the exchange students from the Kuopio chapter were there. At the start we talked and had some traditional Finnish Christmas food (rice porridge, glögi, ham, mustard, &tc), and then it progressed to ... more intense things. That night I learned how to play the craziest game ever. The chapter president, a woman named Lea, introduced a game where two teams must relay against each other by smacking a match box across the kitchen floor using only an apple in a women's stocking. You tie the stocking around your waist and you have to smack your matchbox across the floor as fast as you can. When you get to the other side of the floor you untie the stocking from your waist and you quickly give it to your teammate and then they do what you just did. It's a lot harder than it looks! My team didn't win but we put up a good fight. It was really close in the end. When the game was done, we all sat back down again and JOULUPUKKI CAME!!!!!!!!!!!! Finnish Santa Claus, guys. This guy is legitimate. Santa Claus, as you may or may not know, lives in Finland and pays regular visits to children in the few weeks leading up to Christmas. First, to get Joulupukki into your house, you must sing a song to him. It goes, "Joulupukki, Joulupukki ..." and then I don't know the rest of the lyrics. But it's a catchy song. I have it stuck in my head now. Once he comes inside, he greets you. We all had nice conversations with Joulupukki. He was a bit nervous, but everything went over nicely and after a little bit he left with his reindeer. We then did a White Elephant gift exchange, and I ended up with a bar of chocolate. After that we had coffee and joulutorttu (little star pastries) and eventually the night ended.

Now we have the Christmas and New Year's, but I feel all of those festivities deserve their own blog post. I promise I'll blog again soon! You'll learn about Finnish Christmas and New Year's in 2013- but it will be in January and not a month like March.

Happy Holidays and New Year to all! :) 

PS. If I don't blog a lot, please understand that I'm busy here in Finland and I'm having such a great, great, great time.The