So most of the month was just as I could expect it to go. Nothing extremely exciting, I kept adapting to my new surroundings. I spent much of my time studying Finnish. On Mondays, I have lessons from 2:30 to 7:30, then another three hours on Wednesdays. That's not including study time at home on top of it. So I've been working towards learning the language quite a bit, but it still often feels as though I open up one door in the language only to come into a hallway filled with hundreds of other doors. I'm always learning something new with Finnish. However, all is not in vain, I have been able to notice my improvements in the language by understanding more of what people say, and by being able to put together more complex sentences.
I finally was able to attend my first Rotary meeting in my host club. I gave my presentation on who I am, and where I'm from without any glitches, which was quite nice. Speaking of Rotary, I still have to fill out November's Monthly Report for my district back in the US. Oops. But now I have more contact within my Rotary club and I have a new counselor who is interested in me and always making sure I'm doing well. I'm still with my first host-family. I have been told that I will only have two and that I'll be switching sometime in January or February. I don't think that they have found a second family for me yet, but I don't mind. My first host-family is greater than I could have hoped for in the first place. I'm just worried about becoming an extra burden on them.
The weather here has really been gearing towards winter for a long time now. But there is no snow. It averages around 1 - 6 degrees Celsius, which is about 34 - 42 degrees Fahrenheit. Although I've seen the temperature drop to -9 degrees Celsius ( about 16 degrees Fahrenheit). It is also starting to get dark extremely early. The sun sets at around three in the afternoon. It's not like I'm able to see the sun in the first place though. I can't remember the last time I've been outside on a sunny day. It was probably almost a month ago. Because of the lack of sun exposure, I've started to take Vitamin D. Even though I should be feeling SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), I can honestly say, I've been happy for a while now.
At 6:15 in the morning on the 8th of December, I arrived in Kotka after an eighteen hour bus ride from Muonio, Lapland. I had left on the third of December on the same eighteen hour bus ride to Muonio. Seven of us Rotary exchange students got on in Kotka, and we continued to stop at cities all around Finland picking up other exchange students. We arrived in Muonio at our hotel at about 11in the morning. We had just enough time to eat breakfast before we had to leave to the ski resort. The first night skiing I did absolutely terribly, I looked like Jack Frost from falling so much. But, by the time the bus had to leave back to the hotel, I was doing really well. Then on the second day I skied even more and was able to go down the half-pipe and go off jumps. I really enjoyed being able to try something completely new. On the third day, in the morning, I went dog sledding and received a tour around the facility where they keep the dogs. Then, I went snowshoeing and went on a Reindeer sled ride. After lunch, we went to two different presentations about Lapland, one was about Reindeer and Finnish culture in Lapland, and another was a presentation about the plants and animals of Lapland.
That night, after dinner, we had a speech by some of the Rotarians and Rotex (past exchange students from Finland that have completed their exchange and volunteered to help supervise incoming exchange students). Then, the oldies (Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, and Argentinians that arrived in January and have been in Finland for a longer time) presented gifts to the new exchange students. There are not enough to go around for everybody and only a select few receive one. They ranged from an important old hat that has been passed down for eight years between exchange generations, to some very inappropriate books. I received a gift that was supposed to be given to the newbie that has, and will, adapt most to Finnish culture, "for better or for worse is up to you to decide." It is a textbook called "A Concise History of Finland," it's about 320 pages of an extremely detailed history of Finland. I'm told I should read it all. And if I get bored enough, I just might.
As of now, I'm just waiting for school to start tomorrow, it's a new period for me, giving me new classes, so that should be pretty exciting.
Now here are a few photos from the trip to Lapland, or Lappi in Finnish.
I fell quite a bit while I was skiing that first night.
A view from the slopes, across the river in the distance is Sweden
Holding one of the younger sled dogs
Reindeer sled ride
At the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi at Santa's Village, although I never got to see Santa, or Joulupukki in Finnish.
Meeting some Finns dressed up in traditional Sami clothing.