Thursday, January 22, 2009

Language Camp

We arrived at Karku where the Rotarians of Finland had rented out a small college campus to house us for the week, while they tried to teach us the basics of the language and introduce us to the culture. (I never did learn Finnish, except for: my name is, where is the bathroom, how much is, I am an exchange student, etc … and I don’t think I ever pronounced them correctly. I can’t roll my r’s and that was a huge detriment).
When we got to the camp we were shown our rooms. My roommate, Lauren Sina, was flying in from the west coast, and would be arriving later that day. Oh that fateful day when the Rotary club of Finland placed us in the same room. The first day was fairly simple, there was a dinner and a introduction talk once all the students had arrived. Then we were all invited to go to sauna that night. (A quick word about the sauna, it is a dry steam room, and there are very hot rocks that you throw water on to make steam, and you go in naked and beat yourself with birch branches. The Finns are very proud of the sauna, for which their country takes credit. There are five million people in Finland, and one million saunas. At least those were the numbers when I was there). So the first night in Finland, we all saw each other naked. (well, us students were separated by gender)
Lauren knew another exchange student Alicia, who was from Oregon, just a town away from Lauren. We three became thick friends, along with Gary from up-state New York and Jason from Florida.
The days at language camp were fairly structured, (which as we learned on the other Rotary trips is the way they like to do things) we had breakfast, (this is where I fell in love with strawberry yogurt and granola) then a few hours of language class, lunch, and then more lessons or a field trip. And every evening there was sauna, and a lake to swim in.
The very first day, we were all in a daze, well the technical term is jetlag. Lauren and I woke up at what we thought was four in the morning but what really turned out to be two in the morning (in never gets completely dark in Finland in the summer, just like is doesn’t get completely light in the winter), both of us quietly laying in our appointed dorm room, wondering if the other is awake.
“are you awake?”
“yeah, are you?”
Why do we ask that question back? So we decided it was a good time to walk around the camp and take pictures.
Evenings, this is where the fun came in. one of the nights Gary had convinced me to walk down to the town, about two miles away, and he would bye me dinner at the little café there. One of the Rotary rules stated that we were not to leave the camp. So we walked and walked and walked and walked. When we got to the corner across from the café, we could see through the window all of our teachers from the camp hanging out, drinking beers.
“well, shit, we better walk back”
the walk back was shaping up to be even longer, and I was getting tired, when a passing car stopped to give us a ride. There wasn’t much room in the back, I had to sit on top a car seat but Gary and I were grateful, and were attempting our limited Finnish, (well really Gary was learning Swedish, since he was going to a Swedish speaking part of the country) to thank them.
Over all it was an enjoyable week, but the whole time I felt I was in a bit of limbo, and I just wanted to get to my town and my host family. The very last day, all of the host families came to collect their students. In the crowds, my host parents found me, I gave Lauren a hug good bye, and hopped in their car to be taken to Turku.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Leaving on a jet plane

I planned it so carefully, I would fly to m Uncle Jim’s in Connecticut and spend a week there, before flying on to Finland. I packed up my few meager possessions and waved goodbye to my family and boarded a plane. I was flying to JFK, where I would board a bus to take me to Connecticut, I felt so grown up and independent. I had never had to make my way through an airport without the assistance of a grown-up before. It was only me, I was all I had, and you know what? I did a pretty good job of taking care of myself. Once in Danbury I called my Uncle, and he drove to the bus station to pick me up.
The week I spent at my uncles was quiet and filled with anticipation. We went into Manhattan for a day, road the Staten Island ferry, I had a wonderful falafel sandwich. In the sandwich shop there was a poster of a huge red delicious apple, half of it looked like an apple, the other half the skyline of New York in the shape of an apple. Why is it called the big apple? And how many people like me long to take a bite? For as much as I have traveled since, this has been the only eight hours I spent in New York City. I have passed near it since, but never ventured in, but that is a story for another time.
Finally, it was Saturday, the day I would leave the US, on a really big plane. The song leaving on a jet plane ran through my head all day. My uncle Jim drove me to JFK, he dropped me off on the sidewalk, with a hug and my luggage. What was this? I was being left alone to figure this shit out? Okay so I had gotten my way off a plane and out of the airport by myself, I had never done the checking in by myself. Be brave little meer cat I tell myself as I make my way into the Finnair line. When I got up to the ticket counter, I was told by the lady there that I did not have a seat because I did not call 24 hours prior to confirm. Oh my god, my head spun this can’t be possible.
“That can’t be possible, I bought this ticket over a month ago! I didn’t know I needed to call and confirm the flight!” I cried.
“let me see what I can do.” Said she. And she clicked her keyboard. Click click click, sweat, sweat, sweat. What if she can’t find a seat, what am I going to do?
“okay miss bird, I found you a seat, Row 94E.”
thank god.
Well it turns out that row 94E was in the very back of the plane, in the middle of a row of five, so I had two people on either side of me. The rotary club had told us what flight to book, so the all the exchangees would be on the same flight, or one of two flights, one leaving from JFK for all the east coasters, and one leaving from San Francisco, for the west coasters. so when I got to the gate, there were dozens of young kids hanging around in rotary blazers. I was one of the few without one, as my club had not yet ordered me one. And we were all to have pins, that represented our state. I had little saguaros cactuses and “Arizona… HOT HOT HOT” pins I was handing out, and I collected some myself, even through I did not have a blazer to pin them on. Great, I was already an ill-equipped exchangee.
The first five hours of an eleven hour flight are fun. People are awake, we exchangees all bubbling with energy ran up and down the aisles, listening to each other’s stories and hopes for the year ahead, telling our own.
I had always heard the horrors of airplane food, but the meal was really not that bad. It was still hot, breaded chicken stuffed with ham, bread and cheese, fresh fruit, it was great! I would later have horrible airplane food, my first exposure, was undoubtedly the best.
The flight attendants gave us all these little Finnair goodie bags, they had a coloring book, a pilot wings pin, and a little toy Finnair van. I think I still have the van.
The second six hours of an eleven hour flight are brutal. Everyone has calmed down, and we’re trying to sleep, and I had two people on either side of me that I got to try and crawl over to go to the bathroom.
Well, you can never get good sleep on an airplane, and landing the next morning was a haze, all of us exchangees were herded like cattle by a rotary representative, who met us at the gate, through customs and off to a little bus. I was in Finland, and they were taking us to a week long language camp in Karku.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Paris, really quick

There is a story behind every door, down every road and behind every pair of eyes… this one is mine. And it was running down the stairs to catch the metro in Paris. It was one in the morning, the metro stopped running at one thirty, our curfew was midnight and we were on the other side of the city. We were thrilled when the train approached- at least we had not missed the last train, and were the only ones on the line. Five crazy American teenagers, happily chatting away as the metro tunnels carried us under the city to our hotel. Everything was going so well. It had been a perfect day, the Lovue in the morning, a flea market and graveyard in the afternoon, beers at some crazy Aussie bar before taking a midnight stroll amidst baroque architecture. When the train finally got to our stop, we were all a little tired, and hurried up the stairs but once there we were met with iron bars. Oh my god they had already closed the gates. We were trapped in the metro. Okay so we run to another exit, iron gates there too. There are only so many exits out of a particular metro station, and when the third exit was also gated I started to get worried. On top of that, the metro, which is usually bubbling with people, was completely empty. All seemed lost, and we were going to have to sleep down in the metro that night, when we saw one lone Frenchwoman walking down a tunnel. We ran up to her, rapidly yelling our pleas, were trapped! We don't speak French! Help, Help! She did not seem to speak much English, other than 'okay', but our message got across…either that or she was having the same problem we were. She picked up an information phone and had a quick conversation with whoever was on the other side. After hanging up the phone, this poor Frenchwoman led us down the hall, around the corner, over the tracks till we reached a gate that wasn't locked.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Out the Door

When did I become a wanderer? I attribute it to freshmen year of high school sitting in home room and watching the morning announcements. During Channel One a commercial came on for a foreign exchange student program, it showed some hip little kid with a backpack walking down a romantic dirt road in Italy. The song was B52's "Roam" if you want to, without wings, without wheels. I was sold. There's your proof advertising works. Although maybe not the way it's supposed to since that particular company was not the one I traveled with.
When I got home from school that day I quickly told my parents then I wanted to be a foreign exchange student. My dads typical discouraging remark was "good luck trying." I was an unhappy child, stuck in the small town small mind set of a po-dunk one dirt road intersection with a post office that was Sahuarita, my home town, although I usually claim to be from Tucson. With lack of diversity, there is not much room to be different, but I was, and I was ostracized for that. At least in my own head, which is the worse place for it to be. I didn’t wear Nike, I wore Converse. I didn’t shop at the mall, I preferred thrift stores. To hell with sports, I’d rather sit through a good play. I wasn’t Mexican, and I wasn’t a cowboy, there was no room for me there. This predicament can do dark things in the mind of an impressionable teenager, with all the angst and emotions that come along with it. I either had to kill myself or get the fuck out of dodge.
It was in this mind set, my sophomore year, that I sat through a particularly brutal English class, doodling nooses and ‘I want to die’ in my notebook. And wouldn’t that be the day i forgot my notebook in class. By time I had sprinted back three minutes later, my teacher had, upon opening the book to see whose it was, read it and took it to the school counselor. Who promptly called my mother and me in for a meeting.
It’s amazing that in hindsight we are able to see the seamless beauty of the universe pushing us down our path, and I’m glad my teacher took my notebook to the counselor, but at the time I despised them all. I sat there weeping, trying to name the reasons for my profound unhappiness, all of them petty, but all of them reaching the same conclusion, that I hated it here. I mentioned to the counselor the commercial I had about the foreign exchange, and she began to pull out catalogs of the various programs. My mom hemmed and hawed over the prices.
Then my counselor handed us a brochure on Rotary International. They are an international gentleman’s club. The scholarship essentially broke down like this: I would pay for my plane ticket and health insurance while I was there, Rotary would find me a family to live with and give me 200 markas (about 60 dollars) a month for discretionary spending. They would also provide variety of actives and trips to participate in, though some of the longer trips I would have to pay for. The first thing I had to do was contact my local rotary club, and ask for their sponsorship. My mom and I sat through interviews and went to meetings in order to gain it. After they approved me, they then had to place me with a rotary club oversees. I could vaguely request a country or area, but the choice of country was ultimately up to the club.
So I got a job at the local grocery store and started saving my money, I had to pay for my plane ticket and the health insurance. i eagerly waited my letter, telling me where I would be off to. I was ready for anything, everything, as long as it was something different. Then one day a package came, for me, from Finland. I was going to Lieto and little town ten minutes northeast of the third largest city Turku. Thus started my year, my travels, my passion, my life.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Around the World on a Student Loan

Hello all,
This is my baby, my life's work, my longest dream. in it's perfect form it is a book, around the world on a student loan, but for now it will be a blog. creation process abound.
briefly i state my authority:
at 17 i was a Rotary International Student Ambassador to Lieto Finland for a year, aug '97-june '98, at which time they also took us to Stockholm, st Petersberg, Lapland, and on a 18 day 13 country tour of Europe.
in 2002 i took a week trip to Paris and london
in 2003 i traveled through western europe with a boyfriend for a week and a half
in 2004 i went back to turku, finland for a week
(these were all spring break trips)
in 2005 i spent 3 weeks traveling Viet Nam with my cousin, who had recently moved there. his older brother, also my cousin was already living there, and still is
after i graduated in may 2006, with a bachelor of Anthropology from the university of arizona and took a two month 11000 mile road trip around the U.S. all by my little lonesome. well i had a friend with me until seattle.
in late summer 2008 i honeymooned in tahitti, that wasn't on my student loans, and doesn't really enter the story, but i wanted to add it to my credentials.

well, there is it, with a quick note about my style, i don't like to capitalize letters, i don't really understand grammar, i still can't tell you what a semi-colon is used for, i believe in both long rambling sentences and fragments. as long as the words flow and the meaning comes across, that is what communication is all about anyway, right?

stories will follow, i have to weed through all i have written on the matter, 80 some odd pages and counting, and see where that leads us.
as always, enjoy