My name is Sam Yancho, and this is my blog about my school year abroad in Finland in the 2011-2012 school year. I will try to update the blog as much as possible with new information and stories about what I'm doing as everything unfolds.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ok. So it's been a little over a month since my last post, and that shouldn't happen, but so much has happened in the past month that this post should (hopefully) make up for all of it.

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

Dog Sledding

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. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Time for another long overdue update!
It has been exactly one month since my last post. That is by no means a great thing, but it's a good sign. It shows that my mind is here in Finland with me, and I'm not always thinking about home. Speaking of home, people always ask me if I'm homesick, and I can honestly say that out of the entire 3 months I've been away from home, I have not been homesick yet. Granted, I do miss my brothers, my parents, my grandparents and all my cousins, but that does not mean I'm homesick. It's a known fact that if someone is away from the ones they love, they're bound to miss them. But I wouldn't give up the rest of this year for anything in the world. Except maybe another few years here.    :)

I've filled my days with school, studying, Finnish, friends, and explorations. Each day is a new adventure, even if I did the same thing the day before. If my days are repetitive, I count it as a good sign that I'm finally developing my own new routine and  adapting to life here. I definitely think of my life here as my "real" life and I think of my life back in the United States as an object of the past. An object of the past, but surely not forgotten, someday I'll have to pick it right back up where I left off. But that's not what I'm here to think about.

My main goal right now is to learn Finnish. Whenever I'm in a class that I don't understand, I'll be reading my Finnish-English dictionary. For example, tomorrow I'll be having six hours of much needed Finnish lessons. While my Finnish may not be the best of the exchange students, I'm putting forward the right amount of effort and have noticed a great improvement in my Finnish capabilities over the past month, and that makes it all worth it. I view learning Finnish as one of the most important barriers to overcome during this year (even though sometimes I feel as though it's going to be impossible).

This past month has been amazing, I went on a trip to the Canary Islands for a week, and many other great things. But the best thing of all is that I'm finally living what I would consider the everyday average life. Or at leas as normal as it could be for me. I know I've said that in the past, but I feel now it's actually true. Except for the whole, dust at 4:30 thing, that's going to take some getting used to.

I would say that things have changed fast over the past week so, in relation to the weather. It's been cold for a while now (Around 3-9 degrees Celsius, sometimes even going below 0), but the time at which it gets dark is getting earlier and earlier, about two weeks ago, it was just starting to get dark at around six in the afternoon, but now it is starting to get dark at 4:30. So that's going to take some getting used to. I've always used dusk as the time to head home for the night, but I'm told that in the worst part of the year, it will be dark when I go to school and when I leave, so I'm going to need to start getting used to doing things in the dark, or else I'll be home all the time.

Well I feel that I've done an adequate job in updating my blog. But this time I really hope I'll be able to keep it updated and not make this a once a month ordeal.

Moose hunting with one of my host brothers and my host father about 30 km East of my home.

The dunes at La Playa de Ingles on Gran Canaria, different than the dunes back home at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.

Some of the inland terrain on Gran Canaria, it was astounding.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Kaksi kuukausi jo.

Today marks exactly two months since I've left the US so I figured today was a worthy day of a blog update. Over the past two months, I've changed more than I thought possible. Mostly in my mannerisms, and the ways I conduct myself.

When I first arrived in Finland, I was shocked at how little people talked, and how reserved Finns were. I was told that the people here didn't really have much small talk. I just said ok, but didn't really think much of it. Until the first weeks I was here. I would be sitting at lunch with friends, and nobody would say a single thing, and I couldn't get over how "awkward" I thought it all was. But, I just didn't realize that in Finnish culture, when people talk, they mean everything they say, and when they say something, it's for a reason. Now, when I say that, I don't mean that Finns just sit in silence all day until they absolutely need to say something to their friends or family, but they definitely don't always all the useless chatter that you would hear if you sat down in a restaurant in the US. It took me a while to accept this, and to be able to deal with sitting in a silence that my home culture would have considered awkward.

Now, after two months, I've reached the point where it's really no big deal anymore. Just the other day, I was walking through town with a friend. And all of a sudden she told me that I had finally, "become a true Finn." Not having any idea what she was talking about, she just told me that we had walked for over five blocks without saying a single word. I hadn't even noticed. But that made me think, and I realized that for the past few weeks, I would be eating lunch with my friends and we would be able to eat for periods of time and not talk. It's not that we were just sitting in an awkward silence, but none of us had anything important to say, so nobody said anything. And I'm completely fine with that. I've noticed that when I do talk, I tend to put more thought than in usual into what I'm going to say.

The little differences add up, and I'm finally starting to notice them.

Fall is here. Actually, it has been. It's been like this for about 3 weeks now, but the trees have changed colors, it's getting down to almost freezing temperatures at night, and it rains almost every day. I went for a walk today, and I could finally smell that tell-tale scent of fall.

A photo from about a week ago when the trees were just starting to change, and it was still mostly sunny.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

So it's been almost a month since I've made a new post. I'm way overdue. So much has happened since then, and I've done so much, but I'll try to cover most of it.

During the beginning of the month, I was still getting used to my surroundings. It takes a while to acclimate to everything, all the people around you speaking Finnish, occasionally trying to eavesdrop on a conversation just to see if you can understand a word here or there, the social culture, and even the weather. I figure it rains about 5 days a week, but it never lasts. I can go to town and get coffee when the sky is clear and it's a sunny day, then 20 minutes later you walk outside and it's raining. I've learned to never go anywhere without my umbrella.

I went to district camp. That was fun, a nice weekend break to talk to all the other exchange students. It was basically just a weekend to bond. We went on a hike, and I got some spectacular photos, but this whole page won't be bothered to translate to English, so I'll play around after I'm done typing this and try to attach some photos. That weekend was the first time I saw the Northern Lights (revontulet in Finnish). It was awe striking. Everybody was having a dance party, and the cabin got pretty warm, so I decided to go outside and cool off by taking a walk. I got to this huge field, and sat down. Surrounded by the crisp fall air, and the sounds of the trees, I sat and watched the sky. I noticed something off about the sky, but couldn't quite put my finger on it. Then as I was sitting there, I realized that what I thought were just some clouds in the sky were actually the northern lights slowly moving. Still not believing what I was seeing, I sat there longer, until they got really bright and were moving across the sky like ripples in water. By no means where they bright, but they were amazing. Hopefully when I go to Lapland I'll be able to see them again, but brighter.

School is school. Still. I go to class, do the homework, and study, just like everyone else (except for some things, because of the whole language barrier thing). This past week has been test week. Marking the end of my first round of Finnish classes. I still have one more test to take tomorrow, but then I have the rest of the week off. I wish. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I'll be presenting the USA to some younger level English students.

I went to a festival in a nearby town, and I've visited the Russian border. My friend, from my same town back in the US is also here in Finland, and he came to visit for four days or so. He went to school with me, and I basically just showed him around town and we were able to catch up on everything since coming to Finland. It was fun.

The other night I went out bowling and to get some food with a big group of friends.

My host family is great. They are so kind and welcoming. Always offering to do things with me, making sure I'm comfortable and don't need anything. I couldn't have asked for a better first host family. The house is nice, it's in a neighborhood, not what I'm used to, but it's nice. It's only a short walk to the bus stop, and I don't mind that because the scenery is amazing. My view about that will probably change when winter gets here though.

That's all for now, hopefully it won't take me a month to update again.

Church in Kotka

At the Russian border with my friend

Fall is here, the leaves are everywhere

The bus stop in Kotka

A picture from the hike while at district camp

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The past week or so has been amazing, especially this past weekends, probably some of the most fun I've had in an extremely long time. I had the chance to go around the city and explore. The weather wasn't exactly the best, but it was on and off, it only poured down two or three times. And when it wasn't raining, it was sunny, so that was nice. It wasn't completely the things that I saw, but the two other exchange students I was with made it even better. Then that night I went and met my host cousin and her friends and just hung out. It was a lot of fun and I got to make new friends with people from a nearby town, Hamina, which is about 25 kilometers to the East.
On Sunday, I was able to go to a nearby national park with my host-family, and extended host-family, the nature was amazing. It was like something out of a dream. The air was so pure, and the sights so awe inspiring that I couldn't help but hike in silence, just trying to take everything in.
I think I'm finally getting the hang of public transport, and everyday life in general. I can do simple things, like get myself around town pretty easily, I can also do little things, like order a coffee in a shop, or a sub from subway without having to rely on English (granted my Finnish probably isn't the best).
School is school. Except I like it more. No surprise that English is my favorite class, except for the fact that they teach British English, so I occasionally get something "wrong" because I use American English, it's no big deal though.
I'm still getting used to Finnish social practices. I'm mostly used to it by now, but I was on a bus with over 35 people today, for a complete ten minutes, nobody said one word. Like absolute silence. And I thought it was the coolest thing to see. In the US that would never happen.
I'm still doing things here in order to fully adapt, like get my student's card, and my library card. But eventually I'll have been able to have everything I need  in order to do anything I need.
Obviously the idea of consistently updating this has failed. But, all is not lost, and I'll still post more and more.
Today is my one month mark for being here. I feel like I've changed and experienced so much, it makes me excited to even think about what the next 10 months have in store.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Jo kaksikymmentäyksi paivät. Already twenty-one days.

It's been 21 days. And the main word that comes to mind when trying to sum everything up, is wow. All the big things, and little things, make up the differences between Kotka, and Traverse city. The biggest changes so far would be the people, the city, the environment, and obviously, the language.  But then, the little things add up as well, constantly reminding me that I'm actually here, living what I've dreamt about for years. The little things are usually, the road signs being in kilometers, the absence of small talk on public transport, and even they way I eat breakfast. It's all different, but for the better. I've started school, and am taking, Maths, History, Art, English, and Sports. My schedule is pretty nice, on three days, I get to school at 8, on one, I get there at nine, and on another, I arrive at 10. There's only one day where I don't get out at 2, and on some days, I have three hour breaks in the middle of the day. I got it easy on the number of classes, because I'm an exchange student, but it helps give me time to study Finnish, which is really needed. Tomorrow I have my first language lesson in my second language course, which should really help out a lot.
 I finally have my own mobile, and of course it's a Nokia, I didn't feel right buying anything else.
School is pretty good, but in the end, school is school no matter where you are. One thing about it that I really  enjoy is that the lunch is free and healthy for you. I really appreciate that, and the fact that I'm able to study in one of the best educational systems in the world.
The people. The people are some of the most kind, straight forward, and frank people I've ever met. Also, some of the most shy at first. That has to be the biggest things to get used to. The lack of unimportant conversations is almost shocking at first. But I appreciate it, no need to listen to people talk about the things they know you don't want to hear about it. The people are shy, and I was expecting that, but I wasn't prepared with what I found. The social norms are this, don't confront a stranger in public by saying Moi, or smiling or something like that, because people don't do that unless they're crazy, or drunk. Next, expect people to be shy when you first talk to them, but as the days go by, they'll get more comfortable around you and you'll talk more and more. Third, when somebody is talking to you, listen, and never interrupt, because it's not common for people to ramble on about pointless things, so when they say something, they usually mean it. Unless they're joking. Finally, don't be loud, if you have loud conversations on the bus, you'll often annoy someone somehow, so respect their silence. These are by no means concrete social norms, but they are what I've observed when comparing American society with that of Finland.
I've done a lot, I went to a Finnish amusement park, Tykkimäkki. I went to my summer cottage today, and went rowing, the nature was amazing. I sauna almost daily. And I've been on a ferry on the Baltic.
It's been the time of my life so far, and if the rest of my year is half as good as my first 21 days, I'll have the year of my life.
If you have any questions, email me at syancho@gmail.com

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The first week

Well, I'm here. And it has been the experience of a lifetime just in the first week.
I have done more things, and had such great experiences in the first week than I could have imagined possible. I've had an entire course in Finnish, visited numerous Finnish cities, had multiple authentic Finnish saunas, went to pick buckets of fresh berries until your hands turn blue, and made tons of friends at the language camp.
I'm finally at my host family's home, and it's great. On Tuesday I have my first day of school, and I couldn't be more excited. I feel like a giddy little schoolgirl I'm so excited. I would have to say that by far one of the best things was the trip to Tampere where I had mustamakkara along with other traditional Finnish foods. I was also able to go around the city and just look around and experience everything, like the daily market in the town square. It was amazing to see. This is where I post to let everybody know that I'm alive and well, and that I'm extremely happy at the moment. I'm really tired from this past week, and finally have a real bed, so this is where I sign off and finally get a good night's sleep. I'll post more soon.
Hyvää yötä!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Saying goodbye

Just ten more days until I depart to begin my new life in Finland for the next year.
I have begun to say goodbye to all of my friends and family. The words, "I'll see you in a year," sink in pretty quick. I don't have my visa, plane ticket, or passport yet, but I'm hoping those will come in the mail any day now. Everything I'm doing seems to fly by faster than I ever could have imagined. Tomorrow is my last day of work, then I have a few days to pack, and prepare to leave. And then, I'll be on my way. 

It's pretty hard, to say goodbye to everyone you know. Because the entire time, you know that, down deep, you might never see this person again, or your friendship may dissolve over the trials of time.

But it's absolutely worth it. Never before have I been so excited to do something. And never before, have I ever been so close to achieving one of my dreams in life. The people I'll meet, the experiences I'll have, and the things I'll learn, will be priceless.

I cannot honestly say that I am prepared to leave. I still have to pick up a few things, and get gifts for people I don't even know yet, let alone learn the basics of an entirely new language.
I may not be prepared, but I have never been more ready, or eager to do anything like this in my entire life.
Sure I'm getting a little nervous, but after all, as Charles Lindbergh said, "I don't believe in taking unnecessary risks, but a life without risk isn't worth living."

I'll try to keep posting as the year goes on, but no promises. For all I know, nobody is reading this, so I'll post updates, and sometimes make some pretty long entries. At some point I may even switch it over to Finnish, so you might have to translate it into English, or whichever language you happen to speak.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Beginning Stages

I am in the end of my first year of exchange, the preparation year. It is finally time for me to get my stuff together and start thinking of gifts for the people I'll meet, the clothes and shoes I'll pack, and the pins and gifts I'll give. I have but 34 days (about) until I get on that plane and leave everything that I've ever known behind me. On the other side of the ocean.

I finally know who my first host family is,  I've applied for my residence permit, and I'm doing as much as possible to learn the language. The only thing left to do is buy the plane ticket, get on the plane, and have the time of my life.

This blog will cover my year in Finland, and I'll do my best to update it and share my experiences on a regular basis.