Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Picture Update!

Thank you Bergen for showing me how to put pictures on here...
So enjoy everybody!

This is a picture of the center - very bicycle friendly!

The Daily Ape Show is a funny show that everyone should watch.
Mom - click on this link to see it ^
I highly suggest episode #2 on Finnish water.

My first corridor party. 6+ floors of people partying and
drinking in the stairwell - what could go wrong?

Tiny door!

View off the lake right next to where I live

One of my favourite buildings - very near campus.

First night-club I went to. It was packed
because it was a 'back-to-school' party.

They provide these at blind intersections.

The opening of the Light Festival here. I will
walk the path and post more pictures soon.

The view from my balcony.

Pretty pathway to a museum.

A view of one side of the city. My favourite view. <3

Or maybe this is my favourite... ?

From the bike ride I took with Bergen.

This is 1-2 kilometers from where I live.

This is one of the many lakes in the region I live in.

Traditional Finnish Liqueur. It tastes like Black Licorice.
I did try it; unfortunately I really didn't like it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Note on the Queen's English and Greeting Cheek to Cheek

Here in Finland, there are a lot of native Finns, and other Europeans who speak English. In fact – some of them speak it quite well. However…many of them – especially the Finns- speak the queen’s good English. Within the first two days of me being here, I was asked which corridor (hall) I lived in, and where the end of the “Q” (queue=line) was multiple times. Not only that – it is completely normal for me to hear somebody speaking English with a British accent on top of their already present Spanish/French/fill-in-the-blank accent. It can be quite amusing, but I’m beginning to notice that the vocabulary is slowly creeping into my word bank. Not because I’m trying, but because the way that words are used around me is slightly different. Another surprise for me was when I went to my first Introduction to Finnish History course, and had problems understanding the teacher because of his heavy British accent (he studied in Oxford for 8 years). However, the biggest shock was when I heard a Finnish girl speaking American English – it was so out of place that my jaw nearly dropped. When I asked her about it, she said that she’d watched enough American television shows to have picked up on our accent. I also heard that in Finland, English teachers teach that the only proper English is British English. I don’t understand how that is possible though, because Britain has so many different accents even inside their borders. I also have to admit that I find that rather offensive. Especially since foreign students who are struggling with English say that an American accent is much easier to understand than a British one. I’m not saying that one accent is better than the other, I just think it’s sad that my accent is looked down upon so heavily in the school system here.

Also – the method of greeting in most places outside the US is completely different. One or two kisses by the side of the face are generally well accepted. As United States citizens, I think we learn about that in whatever foreign language/culture class we have. I can assure you, however, that if after a week of being in a foreign country, four different people from four different cultures have done it, you might end up in a small bubble of culture shock. It’s not debilitating at all, but it comes as somewhat of a surprise. By now, I have had more people from more countries do it, and it’s still new to me. I absolutely love the custom though, because I think it shows friendship and amiability. Another interesting bit of information I’ve discovered on this topic, is that some countries don’t know that we don’t typically do the cheek to cheek greeting in the United States. I found that very interesting. When people ask me how we meet and say goodbye in the states, I can’t remember. Does anybody else know? Is it a hug? Do we have any physical additions to our everyday greetings? Some people shake hands with me thinking it is my custom, but I feel that is more of a formal meeting and leaving action. But who knows…

Anyhow – those are just a couple of my observations of Finland/the cultures surrounding me.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

School System Description

The school system here is so bizarre. As a general rule, the classes last for two hours, and there are about six of them (more for a large class, but all mine are ‘short’) before you have the test. Also, you don’t need to go every day if you prefer to study on your own. Most of the time, if it’s a large class with an exam at the end, the teachers don’t take attendance.
Also, they allow book exams, which is primarily for English speaking students. In a book-exam course, you study completely on your own based on a book assigned by the teacher, then show up to take a test over the material you were told to study. It is interesting because it allows the student to take responsibility for his/her own education. Also, it seems to allow for a better student/teacher relationship because the student isn’t forced into attending a class at an inconvenient time or place.
There tends to be very little homework given in most classes, so you’re more likely to have a large project or paper due at the end of the course. If you do have a large project, there usually isn’t a test at the end. The system is good, but it is very stressful for some students – especially those from the United States – because your entire grade is based off of one assignment, or one test. This can be problematic because the student finds themselves having a lack of knowledge as far as the test style and structure goes. To help combat the possibility of failure, the school allows a student to take the exam more than once. So the first test date will generally be in the middle of October, then the second will towards the end of December. As a foreign exchange student, I am not allowed to come back to retake an exam in the second semester, but students here can.
Another interesting differentiation between school in the United States and Finland, is that the library carries multiple copies of most textbooks, so the students don’t have to buy the books. They rent them by the month, and study from them, then have to return them if somebody else has reserved the book.  An interesting thing about the library here is that you can rent a book at a self-renting station, and return it to the library at that same station by yourself as well. The system works based on barcodes and a scanner, and your student card. The copy machine and scanner work that way as well. For those of you that use banana bucks at the library at Pittstate, it is similar, except you actually punch in your student username and code at the machine and then it works. You can refill it at the main desk, or you can do it online. Also, your account starts out with six euro on it, so you can print off that much stuff for ‘free’.
I don’t think that you can use your own laptop to get internet in the library, so you have to instead use the ones they have set up. It works well, but sometimes you have to wait a few minutes to use one. They also have group work rooms, and a silent reading room there. I really love the silent reading room – I think every library should have one!
So…that’s just a little view into how the school system is different from the United States…

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Constant Culture Connecting

Hello again!
Reading my last blog, I see that I left off before my first Women’s Studies course. It was a very interesting course, but very difficult to follow. It was all about theories and their creation and it was rough following it. It was also a video-lecture course, which means that the speaker is in another town and we see them on a screen and communicate with them via internet video. Also, there is a different speaker every week. I hope next week is more informative about hard facts and less about theory though, because I think I will follow it a little easier.
I did end up going to the Cultural Stereotype Stammitch on September 16, and it was very fun! I wore a cowboy hat that I found at a theatre store. I was dancing in part of the biggest group on the dance-floor. We all pretty much knew each other and eventually we had formed a huge circle that people we didn’t know were making bigger and people we didn’t know were dancing in! It was so fun and random! I wanted to go home around one thirty (my bed-time/at least I’m going to go sit in my room and be quiet time), but Viki told me I wasn’t allowed to leave till it was over. I ended up having fun, and in the end, Jeffery (Holland), Viki (Italy), Andre (Germany), and I were the only ones left dancing from our big group. Everyone else had gone home. It was fun though! The last three songs were slow ones, so it was a little ridiculous, however, Andre and I did what I think is the two-step (maybe it was the waltz?) on the last song and it made it fun again. I needed a bit more practice before I danced it though – I hadn’t done it since District Days last January! I’m glad I stayed out till three in the morning- it was an experience!
I went to a few museums with Vilma on September 17, and it was an informative experience. I don’t know the names of all the museums, but the first one was called the Central Museum of Finland, and it showed how they started way back before the ice age, and their progression to semi-modern times. It was almost like seeing the progression in the Americas, but the food types, and birds, and everything was just a little bit different. It’s so bizarre to feel like you should know what happens next, but really you don’t.  A neat thing that I’ve noticed is that the subject matter I studied World History first semester of last year is coming in handy in understanding the time-frame of history I’m learning in my Intro to Finnish History course. Also, my Spanish History class I’m taking right now has all the information written in Spanish, but because I took the World History course, I recognize the time and theme of the era I’m reading about. Also, the Spanish History and Finnish History seem to be progressing at the same rate, which helps me draw connections between what was happening in the world. It seems like a huge puzzle that is easier for me to figure out because I have had previous experience studying it.
The next night, Victor had his 20th birthday party. It was very fun, because again, there were many cultures in one room. Getting to spend time with all the people is such a neat experience. For example, there is a Spaniard named Quique who wants to learn better English, and because I speak some Spanish, we are able to communicate and sometimes I can help be the go-between that allows a conversation between two people to progress. Also, listening around the room you hear French, Spanish, English, Finnish, and some languages I can’t even place. It will never cease to amaze me.
Today Bergan (American roommate )and I made pork roast and gravy with potatoes, carrots and onions. We also had rolls, salad with balsamic dressing, and caramel and pecan ice creams for desert. It was soooooo good! We invited Viki and Antonia (Italians), Satu (Finnish roommate), and Carlos (Costa Rican) to eat with us. It is so interesting to hear the conversations between that many cultures – language differences are so noticeable, but everybody is willing to work through the misunderstandings to consider speaking. I love getting to experience that.
This week I’m going to work on understanding my classes better, which means I’ll speak with teachers and do even more homework than I already have. Hopefully, I’ll stress out a little less once I know what is in store for me come test time. Also coming up this week, hopefully we’ll have the drinking game party that people want Bergen and I to have to demonstrate some of the American drinking games. We are also going to learn some foreign games. Maybe we’ll do that on Thursday night, or Saturday afternoon. Anyhow – I’m going to go to bed now, but I hope that whoever reads this is having a good day! I’ll write again soon!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Toto...We're Definitely Not in Kansas Anymore...

Hello again!
So I haven’t written in a while even though I said I was going to. Shame on me. Anyhow, as you can imagine a lot has happened since then. From going to a genuine Finnish sauna to having my first class!
The sauna was amazing. It was located beside a big lake, and so we would sit in the sauna, then go jump into the ice cold water of the lake, then get out and run back into the sauna. It felt so nice! (P.S. The lake really was freezing almost – it was too cold to swim in.) Afterwards my skin felt nice, and I was really relaxed. It was awesome.
I went to my first night club – and it was so fun! I loooooved dancing there! All you American girls who’ve never been, you’d love it too! They played the good American music, but they also played really good foreign songs I’d never heard before!!! It was so fun…and so interesting to see how all the people dance. They said I was a good dancer which made me laugh, because I know I’m not that great at it, but I think our culture is more into dancing than some others. When Viki and I went to go home at about 2:30am, we got lost. Of course. So we ended up looking at a bus route map for 20mins, not understanding a thing. There were no street signs posted anywhere around us. Finally we crossed the street and looked at a map, realized we were at the university, then knew how to get home. Oh the joys of being in a foreign place…it is funny looking back on it though.
I have met a couple girls from Iran now, and it is really neat talking with them. Their culture is so different from ours, and our governments disagree on a lot, but the girls are nice. It’s really eye opening to talk with all the different people here. When all the cultures get together, people get so shocked at things that are normal to other cultures. Me included. I think it’s good that I’m experiencing it this way.
I finally broke down and got a bike. It was 65 Euro, but it has gears that work, nice tires, and a light. So all I need is a helmet before I go offroading. ;) It is very convenient to have, and I don’t regret buying it, so I guess it’s worth it!
I also discovered my favourite restaurant here. It’s Pizzaria Maria’s. If you ever get a chance to go there, order their Amore pizza. It has chicken, pineapple, and blue cheese on it. If that doesn’t sound good to you, you’re crazy. I’m pretty sure you see heaven when you take your first bite.
At one point, Viki, Satu and I went to go to a small party with Victor. When we knocked on his door he wasn’t  there, but we heard noise coming from the floor below, so we went down to see what was going on there. I stuck my head in the door and mentioned that I was trying to find a friend but couldn’t, and then I asked what they had happening there. They told me I should come in and find out…and that’s when I met the Costa Ricans. They were some of the nicest guys I’ve ever met! We ended up having a great time. Later, Victor with came in with group of people and he was playing a guitar alongside another guy. That’s when we discovered that “La Bamba” is an international song. Everybody there sang it. This was also the first time that I actually got to spend time with Jesús, my Mexican friend I found here.
I figured out that I was homesick on Sunday, the 12th. I didn’t know that I was, till I heard hymns in Mass that were ones I knew, then I realized I was crying without noticing it and that’s when I realized I might miss home a little bit. It’s difficult to explain how different everything is here, but when people say that the Catholic mass is the same everywhere…it’s true. Some of the daily differences are that the birds look and sound different when you wake up in the morning, you get dressed and put a plastic sack in your bag for just in case it rains, because that means you’ll have to cover your bike seat to keep it dry. Then, you ride your bike (not a car) to school that is about 1.5 km (not miles) away. I get to the library, and study all day long, because half my classes don’t meet in a classroom, but rather I have to read the material and study on my own, and then take the test in English in the middle of October. Around lunch time, I go to a student cafeteria (there are nine to choose from) and pay 2.6 Euro (not dollars) to eat food that I don’t always know what it is. Then I go back and study for a while. I stop by the store to buy a liter (not quart) of milk, then I give in and make an impulse buy of fudge. When I open the package, I realize I’ve been lied to, because here, fudge and toffee mean caramel and they don’t even use the word caramel here. I get home and eat real Italian food with my Italian friends, then I come home and go to bed. The routine varies a bit – but nothing is ever the same. Even the toilets are deeper. The shower heads are all detachable. The kitchen…well…we’re not going to go there. It’s way different. I ‘m usually ok, but sometimes I get frustrated and can’t understand why everything is so different here when it looks similar. Then I sit down and listen to some music and I’m fine again. :)
I signed up for the Friendship Family Programme too, so I got assigned a Finnish family I get to spend time with! I got to meet them on the 12, and they are very nice people. Riita is the mom, Lauri is the 16 year old son, and Vilma is the 15 year old daughter. Matti is the father, but I didn’t get to meet him because it’s bird hunting season here. (I guess hunting season is a big deal everywhere!) They drove me around town to show me the basic layout, and then took me to their house. It was a pretty house, and it was nice to be in a house for the first time in half a month. We spoke for a while, and then they fed me dinner! We ate porridge with lingonberries (it is served cold and was bright pink), and rye bread with butter cheese and a salami-like meat. Afterwards, we had coffee and ice cream. It was truly nice to get to spend time with a family for the first time in forever.  The only thing that surprised me was how many stereotypes they had about the US. It’s almost like they thought I was from New York…and it was very difficult to convince them that we didn’t have large stores in my town, and that people didn’t eat hamburgers for dinner every night. The certainly have a different diet than the people in the US, but that doesn’t mean we have McDonalds everyday! On Friday the 17 Vilma is going to take me to see the Central Museum of Finland. I’m excited to go with her! She’s a sweetheart and full of questions!
My first class was Intro to Finnish History. My teacher is a very intelligent Finnish man, who studied for seven years in England getting his PhD. Unfortunately, his British accent is so incredibly heavy that I have problems understanding him. The class only lasted two hours, but he went so fast that by the time it was over my hand was killing me, and my brain was spinning! The people in my class seem very nice though!
The other day all my roommates and me hung out together – just us – for the first time ever. It was fun. They asked me and my roommate about drinking games. We told them a few, and now they want to try them out. We will have to! But safely  and quietly– and it won’t be a ton of people because I don’t think the family living in the apartment next to us would appreciate that. :P We also all want to have a heel party! We live so far from the bars, that nobody actually wears heels to the bars. So…we want to have a party at our flat where our friends that live in Kortepohja can wear their heels and feel pretty for a night!
Today I studied in the library for nine hours, with an hour long lunch break around one.  I read my Historia y Cultura book and take notes, then read and translate a Financial Accounting book. It says it’s written in English, but sometimes I think that’s a lie because I don’t understand any of it.
One of the events I have coming up is my second class of the year- it’s tomorrow, and it is a Women’s Studies class. I’m looking forward to it, because Finland is one of the most gender equal countries in the world. It probably won’t bash men as much as the one at Pitt seemed to! Also it will be nice to be in a classroom with other people. If anybody thinks classes are boring – try studying all on your own with nobody else studying the same thing. It kinda sucks. The Cultural Stereotype Stammtisch is also tomorrow, it’s where you bring something that your country is stereotyped for, and carry it around the bar with you so people know where you’re from. I’m eating dinner with friends before that. I don’t know what I’m going to bring to the party. I was thinking maybe a McDonald’s bag, but I don’t know if that will make my country look bad! Another upcoming event is Victor’s 20th birthday party on Saturday the 18th. We’re going to meet at his apartment, then probably go to the bars.
Another thing is that I think Bergen and I are going to show Marika and Satu what an American pancake is. A Finnish pancake is more of a cake that’s in a pan. It has a lot more eggs in it, and it is baked in the oven. You put marmalade on top and eat it, and it tasted really good-salty and sweet at the same time! However, we want to show them our pancake so they can see why we were so surprised at theirs.
I’d really like to go to a sauna again. I think I might try to go tomorrow this weekend maybe. It’s hard to find spare time in between all the incessant studying and hanging out with friends! Anyhow, I have to go do some self-prescribed accounting homework now, but I really am going to try to blog more so the future ones aren’t this long!!!

Monday, September 6, 2010

One Week In...

So, I have officially been in Finland for 1 week, and so much has happened! It took me 28 hours to get to Jyväskylä, but the real stories don't come from the journey here, but rather from what has happened since I got here.

Going to the supermarket was definately my first eye-opening experience to the fact that I was no longer in America. Everything was written in Finnish, and unfortunately my poor hands didn't know where to start thumbing through my dictionary at, so I just wandered around for awhile looking at the pictures on things - trying to become acquainted with the items and their placements.

The next biggest surprise was the main method of travel here. According to Wikipedia, Jyväskylä has a population of 129,777. I'm pretty sure over half of those people ride their bicycles everywhere. There are more bikes than cars, and almost every building has a bike rack outside for people to park. It's pheonominal to see so many bikes parked in the shopping center in town - and I doubt you'd ever see anything like it in the United States. I have opted out of the bike riding experience, because not only am I unfamiliar with where you can and cannot ride them, I also know that a lot of cold and snow will soon be here. I do not want to ride a bike in the snow - I'll take the bus thanks.

I have three roommates, and somehow I think I got into the 'penthouse' of student dormitories here. All the students' rooms are large, but the kitchen and sitting area is where the real importance is. I am lucky enough to have a kitchen that more than one person can stand in at a time! I have a full-sized european oven (much smaller than one in the USA, but apparently everything is bigger there...), and lots of counter space. One amazing thing I noticed about the shelved in the kitchen, is that the shelved located over the sink look like dish-drying racks. So instead of five shelves above the sink, I have four dish drying racks, and only the very top shelf looks like your stereotypical kitchen cabinet shelf.

My roommates' names are Satu (Finnish), Marika (Finnish), and Bergen (American like me!). They are all wonderful roommates, and I couldn't have asked for kinder people to live with! We have two and a half bathrooms here as well as having a good kitchen! I think that will probably come in handy at one point or another.

I have met wonderful people from all over the world as well, from places like Italy, France, Iran, Belguim, Holland, Canada, and Japan. (Sorry to all you countries I left out!)

I'd have to say that my favourite memory I've made so far, was when me, Victor (French), Antonia (Italian), and Ludovica (Italian), decided to make quiche. We went to the store, and it took French, Italian, English, Spanish, and the help of the grocer's Finnish/English ability to procure the neccesary ingredients to make the quiche.

Also, I have recently acquired my first, genuine European chest cold/cough. It is NOT fun, but it's also not too dehabilitating, so I continue to go around town and hang out with friends. That's all I can remember for now, but I will continue updating this so you can all see what is happening in my life! I'll also try to add pictures, but who knows whether or not I'll be able to figure that out...