Saturday, August 31, 2013

First Rotary Meeting

Monday night I went with my mother to the first Rotary meeting of the season. We drove out to a golf range somewhere beyond Tartu for the meeting and a lesson in golf.

When we pulled into the parking lot, there was already a large group of ladies already gathered. We all said hello and then walked out to the driving range. Three ladies carried out their bags of golf clubs, probably those that actually play golf regularly. We got several baskets of yellow golf balls from the dispenser at the bottom of the hill, before climbing up to the driving range.

Once there, the ladies with clubs handed them out to everyone and we spread out so we had room to move. First we went through a series of warm-up stretches with the golf club, and then we each stepped up onto a piece of turf and one of the ladies explained and demonstrated how to hold the club and how to hit the ball.

We each got a bunch of balls and tried to send them flying. Most of mine went further than others because of the force I was putting behind them. It wasn't until the third round or so before I could lift the ball with any consistency. While we all struggled to emulate the experts hitting balls from the grass, more Rotarians arrived in clusters.

After a while, we stopped and followed the instructor lady through the playing of one hole, before walking back to in front of the restaurant by the parking lot. We gathered back together on a practice putting green for a lesson on putting and a competition. We had to put for three holes and record the number of hits. I got seven four four.

After that we went inside and sat down at two long tables.  I ended up sitting next to my mother and across the way from my counselor. We had little bits of bread as the club president made a small speech that I couldn't make heads or tails of. Then we had dinner, which was delicious. As people finished up their meals, prices were awarded for the top three places. Those people had seven, eight, and nine total. I remarked to my mother that I got two holes.

Then it was my turn to speak. I got up and talked a bit about Vermont, myself, and my family, then I asked for questions. There wasn't an overwhelming amount of them. After I sat down, one lady across from me asked me several questions about rugby.

We all ordered tea or coffee, then went to the deck to take a picture. After taking it, we went back to the tables for tea, coffee, and dessert. Dessert was some sort of eggcustard with a carmelized topping that required a little effort to crack (apparently that's how you can tell if the dish is well made). When I put the topping in my mouth it crackled and popped like pop rocks. After we finished dessert, my mother and I had to go home so that Adeele would go to sleep.

However, before we left, I met my next two host mothers. One has three daughters, 16, 14, and 5. The other has an eleven year old son.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fish Hooks and Sticks

Sunday afternoon my father asked me if I wanted to go fishing and I said yes, so we left, just the two of us, to go back to the same place as before. We drove most of the way there and then pulled into the parking lot of a convenience store. My father explained that there is no point in fishing if you don't bring snacks with you.

When we got to the boat launch point we undid all the straps and pushed it into the water. I ran along to the point to wait to get on, so that my father could get the boat out of the shallow water.

We drove far out into the river before trying to fish for the first time. We didn't have much luck and I especially didn't. I managed to catch two branches and a lot of grass. We continued on to a lake and tried in an inlet. I got my lure stuck in a root and we had to get close enough so that I could unhook it by hand. No luck there, so we zoomed across the lake to a large stand of reeds and grass.

Soon after we arrived my father caught a small fish, but had to release it because it was too small. I caught some reeds and had to remove the lure by hand once again. We moved position within the reeds several times and my father caught a couple fish which we could keep.

We were close to the shore when I had to free my lure again, and accidently stabbed my middle finger with the fish hook. I yelled and turned to my father and said, " There's a fish hook in my finger. Please help." He climbed over to me and I winced as the shifting  of the boat caused the hook to move slightly. Thankfully the barb was not in my finger and my father could just pluck the point out. After he pulled it out, he told me that at first he thought I had seen a big fish. I laughed and laughed and laughed.

After sticking myself with a hook, I was understandably reluctant to fish much more. Then we started to drive around the lake slowly with our lines dragging through the water behind us. Eventually we stopped by another stand of reeds and fished some more.  At one point my father swung his line back too far and his lure got stuck in my hat. I was just glad it wasn't my face.

The sun was setting over the water as we began to make our way back to the boat launch. We stopped to fish only once more and I hooked a fish, but it wriggled free almost immediately.

Eventually, we got back and took the boat out and drove back home.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

New Background

This is the new background picture, in case anyone is interested. It is a map of Europe with countries being covered in the flag that make the most fun of.

I like how Italy makes the most fun of itself and how all of Scandinavia makes fun of Sweden except itself.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Annoying Error. Again continuing.

I probably shouldn't type these posts up downstairs because the wifi connection isn't the best...the the couch is too comfortable to give up, so please bear with me.

In one of the nooks in the back of the amphitheater there was no specific image, just a bunch of random things. This was where people could try out painting with spray paint. I did a rose and if anyone sees the picture on Facebook, rest assured it was perfectly legal.

When we left to go see part of the actual skating competition, we practically had to drag Adeele away from there. We went by way of a path around a pond that my mother used to use to get to school when she was young. We stopped at a bench that had just been put in that year with a bunch of names carved into it in tribute to Elva's writers. My parents pointed out the names of the people they knew.

When we got to the skatepark there was quite a large crowd and Aksel was there too. Several of the competitors were from places like Latvia, and so the announcer did their rounds in English and everyone elses' in Estonian.

My mother pointed out one of the competitors that they are related to, and apparently the best skateboarder in the country. We found out the next morning that he had come in second, only bested by a guy from Latvia. We didn't stay for the whole thing, as it went well into the night, but left, got some doughnuts and went home.

By the way, doughnuts here are more like fried dough and less like American doughnuts. They are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, and are served with powdered sugar sprinkled into the bag on top of freshly made doughnuts. They are delicious.

The Day I Realized Dogs Can Hug

When I woke up Saturday morning, there were three boys out in the hallway: Aksel and his two friends who are both named Kristen. Because they were here we had pancakes for breakfast.  Shortly thereafter, they left to go do something and my mother told me about the many things that were happening that day. I didn't really understand most of it, but I gathered that the new skatepark was opening that day along with some other event. But first we were going to see some relatives who live right next to the second largest lake in Estonia that is positioned almost exactly in the center of the country.

We drove down there along with my mother's parents. I sat in the back with Adeele in the middle and her vanaisa on the other side. Her vanaema sat in the front with my mother driving. It took about half an hour to get down there, but it seemed longer.

We eventually got down there and were greeted by five people in front of a small cottage. As we greeted them, a huge dog bounded down to see who had come. I immediately began to pet him to avoid standing around awkwardly, and because I absolutely love dogs. I soon found out that his name was Rex and I gathered that he usually barks at strangers from the little I could glean from the conversation, coupled with the hand gestures. As we started to go inside, I stopped petting him and he rolled to his feet and jumped up on me. He was a big dog and his legs went all the way around me and his paws were bent to hold himself upright. It was the first time a dog has ever hugged me back.

When Rex went back to his own house, most of the people went inside the cottage. Someone started setting the table for Kohvi, and everyone else started talking and looking at a picture album from some relatives who live in England who did a bike ride from England to Estonia.

Then one of the younger women, Liisa, told me to come upstairs and she showed me around and told me how this used to be her grandparents cottage when they built it twenty years ago and now she and her parents live there in the summer because it is a summer house. She also showed me her collection of souvenir plates from all the countries she's been to. There were lots of them. She also told me about how she gets a feeling sometimes in the summer, where she really wants to go someplace new and exciting and experience the culture and meet new people. We instantly had a connection.

We went back downstairs and had kohvi and cake, then went outside for a walk. We went around back and saw their sauna and various gardens full of growing things. Then we went down to the lake shore and looked out over the lake.

Then we went back to the house and sat on the porch and I listened to the conversation.

Eventually it was time to go and we piled back into the car and went home. When we got back, my mother took Adeele inside to try to put her to sleep and her grandparents took me in their car to the new skatepark and handed me off to Aksel. The two of us sat of the top bench of the three tiered bleachers and watched the skateboarders. I learned that it wasn't just the opening of a new skatepark, it was also a big competition. I also found out that the new skatepark is now the biggest concrete skatepark in the whole of Estonia.

After a while Anksel, his friends, and I decided to go see the football game that was happening in town. I expected that we were going to walk there, but only two of us did. The other three, me included, went by motorbike. I got on the back of Aksel bike, wearing a full head helmet, and we went zooming down the streets to the field. That was my first time and I was kind of scared on the turns especially, but it was still amazing. I just kept my arms around him and tried not to squeeze too hard on the corners.

After watching the football game, in which Elva beat Tallinn four to one, we went back home.

After dinner that night, my host parents, Adeele, and I went for a walk. We went across the football field and past the tennis courts and basketball court that I didn't even know was there to an amphitheater where singing performances and festivals are held. On the back side there was apparently a lot of gravity, but that day professional graphic artists had been invited to make beautiful pictures on the newly painted over walls.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Onward to Tartu Continued

Due to an annoying error that happens whenever I leave the page, I am continuing from where I left off in this post.

I was surprised as we pulled up outside her office. I was expecting it to be in an office building, but it was  a beautiful two story house. I was amazed that she worked in a beach house right next to the ocean. Then I realized that it couldn't possibly be on the ocean because Tartu is nowhere near the ocean. Somehow the style of the house combined with the cries of seagulls had convinced me that it was built in front of the ocean. We went inside and she introduced me to all of her coworkers who were there. Then we went upstairs to my mother's office and she got to work and I sat at her colleague's desk in a spinny chair and read a pamphlet about her company. After I finished that I looked around the office, noticing the large map of Taalinn on the opposite wall and the English to Estonian dictionary of economics.

I took said dictionary and started to skim through it. I took the pen from my pocket and wrote down some words that I could use on the inside of my forearm.

An hour after we arrived, we left for an apartment complex where she had to drop off some keys for a  tenant who was arriving today. After that, we went to the police/immigration office and managed to hand in all the paperwork except for the piece my father has to sign, but that can be sent in by email, and he is back now, so we should have everything we need.

After paperwork, we went to a shopping center to visit the rotary club president and pick up my sim card. Her office was on the third floor and she appeared to work for some company that fit glasses or sunglasses.

Soon after, we went back home.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Onward to Tartu

I'm sitting here waiting for the oven to preheat so I can cook banana bread and trying to work around the gigantic bear being thrust in my face, so I thought that I could recap the events of yesterday.

Yesterday morning my mother said that she had to go to Tartu to do some things and that she was leaving Adeele at her vanaema's house again. She then asked me if I wanted to come. At that moment, the words of every rebound, Rotex, and rotary member rang in my head: always say yes! So I did.

We got into the car and drove to the shopping center where we would trade Adeele off. I decided to wear my Spock ears that day. We went inside the shopping center and started to scan the aisles for her vanaema. Eventually she found us and our aunt was with her. My mother started to talk to her mother and my aunt started to look curiously at my ears, so I turned to give her a better look. She laughed and pointed them out to my vanaema, who looked and laughed also and touched one.

We then all left the store, and my mother skillfully detached Adeele's hand from her own and attached it to the handle of the shopping cart.

My mother and I then left in the car for Tartu.

As we drove down the road into the main part of Tartu, I happened to look over and I saw Erick, the Canadian exchange student living in Tartu, crossing the street and wearing a pink shirt. We stopped in a parking lot across from our first destination, the notary. Here I saw some of the first evidence of Estonia being an e-country; my mother went on her phone and parked and paid for parking online, which is apparently the usual in Estonia.

We went inside the building across the street and took an elevator to the fifth floor, where the notary was. Very soon we were met by a lady who worked there who happened to be a Rotarian from my host club. She gave my mother all the papers she needed to fill out that had been requested for her daughter Annela, who is in Florida at the moment.

After we finished that we went to the police/immigration office to hand over the rest of the papers we had just received from my parents, but the lady who was handling the process wasn't there. We went to get lunch next at a place near my mother's office, where she was meeting a guy who was going to give her the keys that she needed. It was a nice place and the food was very good. It also had a very efficient system: you go up to the counter and place your order and pay for the food, and they pour your drink and give you a number, then you take your drink and go sit down. Later, when your food is ready, the waitress looks for your number and brings you your food.

My mother received the keys and we ate lunch with another guy who is in her choir. After lunch, we went on to her office.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Night of Songs

We had to go to Tartu today to hand over the rest of the paperwork so I could get my identity card to prove that I am allowed to be in the country. After we did that, I would be going to a rehearsal of my mothers chorus and then stay for the performance. With all this in mind, I stocked my briefcase with the things I would need and got ready to go.

Before we left, we took Adeele to her vanaema's house and left her there. This was the first time she had been left with her vanaema, so there was a lot of crying and screaming involved.

After returning to the house for my bag and the music my mother had to print out, we left for Tartu. At the police station we handed in the remaining paperwork and hoped that was what was needed, but apparently we still need more because the signatures were more than two months old. The rest can be sent by email.

We then went to the place of the rehearsal and performance. What I had expected was a small concert in the town square or something similar, instead we walked into a humongous amphitheater with an orchestra warming up in the top section, stalls selling food and trinkets, and security guards in orange manning the gates.

What I hadn't realized, was that the next day, today, was the date of Estonia declaring its independence from Russia twenty two years ago. This performance was the Song Night Festival that starts at eight and continues until early the next morning. It is a commemoration of the Estonian people singing their way to freedom.

Eva and I went around to the back of the stage and got a packet with wristbands for all of the people in her chorus and me. Then we went back to the benches in the audience seating and started giving them to the women. My mother told me that the performance would have a thousand people singing in the chorus and it would last for hours.

We listened to the rehearsal for a while, got ice cream and listened some more and then it began to rain. Eventually, we ended up standing in the middle of the chorus with my aunt and her and my mothers friends. Suddenly, I was part of the chorus and singing along to the lyrics as best I could. At some point my mother had to leave for a meeting and I stayed with my aunt.

A little while later, we went to eat and while I was eating Erick's host father came up and talked to me. Apparently, they had just gotten back from London and come right there. I never did locate Erick though, we were standing on opposite sides of the stage, with the raised platform in the middle.

Soon it was time for the concert to start and the amphitheater was full to bursting, with thousands upon thousands of people crammed into it. We weren't singing in all of the songs, just about a quarter of them. The soloists of all the songs were Estonian pop stars ranging from early twenties in age to over seventy. Lines of lights running through the audience pulsed and flashed and changed color to the throbbing beats of the music.

When we sang as the chorus, the music swelled and burst forth as a show of passion and pride. Estonian flags waved frantically from crowd and chorus alike and several large flags swooped back and forth above the crowd. As each song began, the crowd screamed wildly, and never more so then for Kuula, a song that won sixth place at a competition including thirty six countries. When it finished, the crowd and the chorus screamed for an encore and conductor broke down and lead us through it one more time.  It was easy to tell the most popular singers and songs because ever single person would jump to their feet to cheer and sing and dance.

During the concert I learned that one of the pop stars is the daughter of a woman from my host rotary club and another was the classmate of my stepsister. I also learned just now, as I watch a replay of the festival, that the president of Estonia is the friend of my mother's friend.

Many of the songs last night were songs of national pride and freedom. One lady sitting next to me explained it

The Last Village Before the End

This is what my host father termed the village we went through to get to the waters of the Mother River to go fishing.

It was Saturday afternoon, and my host parents said that we were going fishing, so I hopped in the car next to Adeele and off we went. I was expecting that we were going to fish in on of the lakes near Elva, but when we stopped and got snacks and dinneresque foods, I began to suspect we were going further away. We drove for a long while, not sure how long, and then turned onto a dirt road before passing through "the last village before the end". After that, the dirt road became increasingly bumpy, and soon we were bouncing up and down and Adeele was shrieking with laughter. We turned around and got out of the car to load up the boat with supplies and then my host father backed the trailer up the the water's edge, so we could push the boat into the water. After he parked the car, we all climbed into the boat and set off.

We stopped to fish just at the beginning of the small inlet we had entered from. My father caught a fish right off the bat and I learned we were at the delta of the Mother River, a place like the Florida Everglades. We couldn't catch any more fish there so we zoomed away, weaving through the river paths and passing a fishing kayaker.

We stopped again and tried our luck, but couldn't catch any, so we moved down a little ways. Here, my father caught another fish, both of them under a foot in length. Suddenly, I felt a tugging on my fishing line, and I realized that I had hooked a fish. It was about a foot and a half long and very strong. I got it close enough so we could start trying to net it, but it veered off under the grasses and shook itself free. Apparently, I had only hooked it by the lip and that had been too tentative a hold to bring in such a big fish.

We tried several other places and my father caught one other fish. I handed my rod off to my mother, because my arms started to ache.

Eventually, it was time to head back. We got out and brought the trailer down to the water and started to winch the boat onto it. However, we had forgotten to hold the rope, and the strap slipped off the boat and the boat fell back into the water and drifted away. My father had to run down the side of the river and hook the motor with a tree branch to get it back. Finally, we got the boat strapped onto the trailer and all of the stuff into the car and set off along the bumpy road.

 We stopped in the village and my father showed me where we had been on the map. It turns out that if we had continued down the river, we could have gotten to two other small lakes or eventually ended up in the large lake between Estonia and Russia.  My father also told me that the village used to have about a thousand people, but now it only has five families.

We got home at around nine thirty at night that night.

I learned how to say sun and fishing pole and I learned that rum flavored candy isn't my thing.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Cemetery Even Mom Would Love

I haven't gotten around to posting on my blog in a while, so I will be starting on Saturday and perhaps revisit earlier days as I feel inclined.

On Saturday, I decide to go for a walk after lunch, but ended up biking because it was a great deal more appealing. I left the house with the address in my head and with the full intention of getting lost for the fun and adventure of it. I wandered around the back streets for a while and saw a house structure that had been gutted by fire. Soon after I found myself out on Kao Tee, one of the main streets, so I crossed it and continued to explore the back streets. However, I soon realized that it is most difficult to avoid ending up back on the main streets.

I then decided to go to the shopping center and go somewhere else from there. When I got there I saw the map of Elva that I had forgotten about and decided to find something interesting to see. On the map I found a cemetery, so I decided to bike out there.

On the way, I passed groups of teenagers, an apartment complex, an old lady reading a book on a bench in the middle of a stretch of forest, and rode over a railroad track.

The cemetery was located in the middle of the woods and I could hear loud music coming from somewhere behind it. It took me a moment to realize that it was, in fact, the cemetery. It wasn't a somber gathering of aging stone clustered on a grassy clearing. It wasn't grim in any way at all. I wandered through the gravestones on foot and observed the beautiful cemetery. It wasn't like all the trees had been cut down to make space for it, it was more like just the underbrush and small saplings had been cleared away. Each gravestone or group of two had a well tended patch of earth surrounded by stone and pots of flowers blooming around it. Many had a small bench set upon the earth for family to sit with them for a while. There were paths through the plots with trees growing out of them and I could see a couple old ladies tending the paths and graves. The whole place had a feeling of peace and it looked like a park or garden. It was simply the most beautiful graveyard I have ever seen.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

First Impressions

I woke up that morning covered in sweat in a strange bed in a strange room. As I got up, I realized the room was stuffy because I had closed the window the night before. I got up cautiously and poked my head outside. Thankfully, there was no one in sight, so I took my clothes and shower stuff to the bathroom and tried to figure out how to wash my hair in the bathtub. Eventually I was done with my shower, so I went back to my room. I took my time unpacking my suitcase to delay my going down to breakfast. When I did go down to breakfast, it was nowhere near the terrible awkward event I had been imagining.

Later I went for a walk through town with my host mother and Adeela. We walked past a library (raamatukogu) and the shopping center, before turning onto the somewhat less used roads leading to Adeela's vanaema's house. We stopped there and she made us pancakes for lunch, which is apparently what she does for anyone who walks through her door. I also met her very armas koer (cute dog) and it was decided that I was definitely family because she didn't bark at me likes she does to all strangers.

After that, we returned directly home by going through a gate in someone's backyard, through a park, behind the school and past the skatepark, and back down the road to the house.

Later that afternoon, I went with Aksel to the football game down at the rand (beach) by the järv (lake) to see it and meet his friends. However, all his friends were apparently asleep, so we watched some of the game then got ice cream and went for a walk. We walked in a big circle, but I didn't realize until we got back to the house.

Every time I went out that day, I learned handfuls of new words.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

First Night

On Saturday, the five of us, Anett, and the Rotary guy from Estonia loaded ourselves into a van and drove down to Helsinki to catch a huge ferry to Tallinn. The Canadians sat together in far back and took turns sleeping on each other. Once we got the harbor, we could see that our ferry was green and yellow and as large as some cruise ships. Once on board, we went directly to the buffet for dinner and sat at a table next to the window. The trip went by in a flash and before we knew it, the coastline was visible on the horizon. We drove off the ferry and parked to wait for the host families. I was the only one not nervous at this point, because I learned that I was going with Erick and his host family to their home in Tartu, where I was then going to be picked up by my host family.

When we arrived in Tartu, we drove through the city center and then outward toward Elva. Shortly, we got to his house where my host parents were waiting for me. My new mother gave me a bouquet of flowers and my new father handed me an Estonian flag as we greeted each other. And then we were off for another 25 minutes of driving to their house in Elva. On the way, I learned that some family and friends were waiting for us at home for a barbecue party. When we got there, I was introduced to everyone first, before being shown to to the room I would be staying in. After that, we went back outside to rejoin the party. I have to admit that when I approached the group the first time, I felt an overwhelming desire to turn and run away, but forcing my jiggly legs to keep moving.

I sat down at the table next to one of the friends and opposite the friend from Latvia. We were having potato salad and a variety of meats. It was all very delicious. For dessert there was a cake made of a sort of jogurt that is a gel type thing filled with berries with a cookie bottom and topped with a blueberry message that read: Welcome Molly.  I made friends with my host sister when she handed her container of bubble solution and I proceeded to blow lots of bubbles for her to pop, including a
lot of big ones.

Thus it was past midnight by the time I retired to my room. It is a very beautiful room with wooden furniture. In one dresser, I found a letter from my host sister who is in Florida. It had a lot of information about my new family and was incredibly helpful.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Last Day

I'm sitting in the lobby at the moment, watching most of the other exchange students meet their families and talk to them. There are only a few of us leaving here without meeting our families face to face. Us Estonians make up the majority of this group, as we will be meeting them in Taallin (sp?).  The rest is the people whose families are unable to be here at this time for one reason or another.

Earlier today we met with our correspondents and district leaders. The USA correspondent was with the Finnish Outbounds in New York, so we meet with Liisa instead. Then I went to the district meeting and was with Liisa again. She brought up my blog and observed that it was last updated early in the morning, at about 5. I was a bit confused, so I checked it out and turns out the clock is off by a lot. I'm not even sure what time zone it's on.

In my district there are the Estonians, obviously, some Japanese, one Korean, some of my housemates, of American nationality, quite a few people I don't know, and Zorro.

Most likely, you have concluded that it cannot possibly be his real name. You would be right, his real name is Alejandro. He doesn't know I call him that yet, but he will soon. He probably won't realize that I actually do know his name. The story behind it comes from last night, Cosy Night. We had a large talent show with both individual and country acts. I recited a poem and there were three people playing the piano and Alaska playing violin. There were others as well, there was a funny video about why Italy is no different than the rest of Europe, and Japanese exercises, and dances. The country acts were great. The Mexicans danced several common dances to music, Alejandro is Mexican, by the way. He was wearing a black Mexican suit with silver embroidery, and a black sombrero. When he sat down and took off his hat, I looked at him and the first thing I thought was Zorro! so I started to refer to him as Zorro.

There was also a German boy who beat out the rhythm of every song against his chair so I refer to him as 'music in his soul', however, I actually do not know his name. The name is because of the thought thread that drifted through my mind as I looked at him. He  is not in my district though.

My blazer is getting heavy to wear.

Also, I dropped a glass cup in the cafeteria today and it shattered.

Not looking forward to the eight hour trip to Elva, but at least 5 1/2 hours of it I will be with Anett and the other four Estonian Inbounds.

Friday, August 9, 2013


Yesterday, instead of afternoon lessons we all piled onto three buses to Tampere. When we first arrived in the city, we  stopped at a park and collected a guide for each bus. Our guide talked to us about the history of Tampere and pointed out all the things that make Tampere special.

We learned that Tampere is the third largest city in Finland, home to the largest gravel cliff in the world and two splendid buildings built with absolutely no straight lines or corners. One is a library, and one is a cathedral. We stopped at the cathedral and went inside because it is open to the public. Inside we saw the majestic stained-glass windows and large paintings stretching across whole walls, each with its own potential for a story to be told of it. The artist did not paint all of them with something in mind, but by the time he finished they all had been given stories. There is one that stretches across the upper wall of naked boys carrying a long garland of roses that is said to represent life. The boys show how life feels at different times, sometimes it is easily carried under the left arm, sometimes it is heavy enough to make you stoop under the weight, and sometimes it pricks you. Another painting shows death pruning the gardens of life, and the ceiling shows the snake of evil with an apple in its mouth hemmed in by the angel wings of good. My favorite however, is a smaller painting that we could glimpse on the second floor of two men carrying a wounded angel with a white cloth tied around her eyes on a stretcher. Now I know where Nightwish got the idea for their Aramanth music video.

Later, we got to explore the city in groups. I went out with three others and we walked around and found a mall with three! bookstores and lots of other shops and then we found a small out-of-the-way pizza place and got pizza before goin back to the mall.

I spent the whole time people watching and learned a couple things about Finns. They are very quiet when walking outside, we could only here their conversations when we were right next to them. As all four of us were American, our loud voices stood out, but no one stared, as a matter of fact, no one made eye contact for more than a few seconds, even if they were having a conversation. Also, Finn walk close to each other, a matter of inches, but do not touch each other at all. The one people I saw touching were married or dating couples or parents with their children. Even friends walking together did not even bump arms occasionally.

It was quite interesting, and one of my friends nearly got hit by a bus. The Finns make an art of not making contact, whether person to person or bus to person or bikes to person. There were a lot of bikes and people could be seen riding everywhere. Outside nearly every store there was a collection of bikes in a bike rack.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


All the food here is wonderful. For breakfast there is cereal, potato porridge with jam, and bread with what we would consider lunch meat to go with it.

For the Finns, there are five times to eat. Breakfast, as I just described, lunch, Kaffe, dinner, and evening snack. You would think that we would be eating a ton of food, but no one really is. At lunch there is usually potatoes, salad, rice sometimes, and meat sauce. To drink there is water, milk, and home-brewed beer (ick). There is also a sort of soft creamy berry dessert to go with lunch. For Kaffe, there is one sort of food, a coffee cake, muffin, or bun sort of thing, and juice that also appears at breakfast. Of course, there is also tea, coffee, and hot chocolate. Dinner is more meat and potatoes, and tends to have fish. They serve home-brewed beer at this time too. Evening snack is usually something that is considered very finnish, like the thin pancakes, like crepes, that were served with sugar and jam.

It is all very good food and I am pretty sure everyone likes it.

Also, the beer is non-alcoholic.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


There's nothing quite like being told that the beliefs you had of Santa in your childhood were stupid. This is essentially what happened to me today when we discussed the Christmas traditions of Finland. The lady giving the lecture was describing the Santa of Finland. "Santa comes in the door," she says, "not the chimney, because that is stupid, there's a door!" "He doesn't fly, because that is stupid, his sleigh is pulled by reindeer. Reindeer walk across the snow." "He doesn't live at the North Pole, that's stupid, no one lives there. He lives on a mountain in the northeast part of Finland."

Apparently, in Finland each family hires a Santa to visit their house and bring presents to their children. The good children sing  a special song to welcome Santa into their homes. It seems that it is quite a good way to celebrate the holiday. Also, I learned that to the Finns, the Santa's Workshop in the north is just a tourist attraction and that Santa really lives on ear mountain. At least, that's what I think it is.

Please comment on my posts, I feel like I'm babbling to myself.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Inbound Conclomaration

So I'm here at language camp with at least a hundred other inbounds from all over the world. Walking through the camp, I can hear at least four other languages, and each being spoken at a rapid-fire pace. However, most of the people hear speak English at least passingly well, and it is the language most people are being taught in.

We are split into cabins, and all the people in mine are wonderful. Last night Rowan, someone from my cabin, cooked up scrambled brownies in a pan using only Nesquick chocolate mix, flour, and milk. They actually tasted like brownies too.

I have met a lot of people already and I am meeting more every day. My blazer is growing heavy already under the weight of so many pins that I traded for. I also have a lot of business cards.

The only place in the camp that has wifi is here, in the lobby, so people congregate here with there devices. I only just managed to get my iPad to accept the wifi so I could find out who was cast as the 12th Doctor, obviously the most important thing to do with the Internet.

There are six of us going to Estonia, two Canadians, two Americans, one German, and one Mexican. However, the Mexican hasn't arrived yet. We have separate lessons with the Rotex student from Estonia. They are going well, the lessons that is.

Yesterday, I experienced my first true Finnish sauna. It was amazing. Afterwards, I jumped into the lake and came out feeling quite refreshed. Before the sauna, I had been swimming, which was great, and rowing, which was also fun.

I have to go now.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Iceland Interlude

On the plane I sat between two ladies and had a good long conversation with the one to my right. She was from Houston, Texas and was going to Iceland for a holiday. Previously, for work, she had traveled a lot and had been to Estonia once.

As we left the Boston airport, I felt an overwhelming desire to turn and run away and go back home to the life I knew, but I quelled it within myself and looked to the new horizons.

Once we got low enough to see the ground, I could see it held the same wild beauty of the tundras of Alaska. I could see the tracings of the coast against the white-capped ocean and the brown scrub fading into the beyond before rising into a range of towering mountains.

As I walked out of the plane onto the Tarmac I felt the wind buffet me as if in rage at my daring to fly in on its back. Walking into the building, I again felt the confidence in my ability to travel by myself across the Atlantic.

In the terminal, much warmer than outside in the wind, I met three other exchange students who had come together on a 9 hour flight from Canada. Now we are hanging out while waiting for the next flight.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

On the Way

I am now in the airport in Boston awaiting the plane that will take me to Iceland. As I arrived in Boston I had butterflies fluttering about in my stomach and I felt anxious and nervous along with a mounting sense of excitement and adventure. Once I checked my bag, we had dinner at a grill in the airport and I felt the nervousness burn away and I was almost giddy with excitement. When I said good-bye to my parents, my mom kept hugging me so I had to remind her to let me hug dad too.

Once I got beyond the security check without any complications, I felt overwhelmingly confident and ecstatic, so much that I could feel it in my stride down to the gate. Now I am waiting for the plane and I still feel excited, but some feelings of nervousness have crept back in. However, on the whole, I feel like I am going to have one hell of a good exchange year!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Multi-country Rotary Districts

I learned the city where I would be staying in Finland on the day I landed in JFK airport in New York. I would be going to the very capital: Helsinki!

Well first I had to get my residency permit. So we went at one o'clock the next morning back to New York City to visit the Finnish Consulate and apply for my residency permit. It all went smoothly, and we went home feeling very lighthearted. However, now it is August first and it has not arrived yet. The last possible day for it to arrive if I am to attend the language camp on time is tomorrow.

No worries though. If I'm late, I'm late. However, this morning another situation arose that calls for even more paperwork. I am being sent to District 1420, one that includes Helsinki and all of Estonia. I got an email telling me that I was being moved to another city in the District, one that had its exchange student drop out at the last minute. Another city. In Estonia.

So now I need paperwork that lets me study in Estonia with a Finnish residency permit, and school records so they can put me in classes, and all the paperwork we sent to Helsinki needs to go there.

Well, it's a process and I'll get there eventually. The new city is Tartu by the way.

Plus, I have to begin again on a new language and try to figure out how to change the name of this confounded thing.