Monday, August 3, 2009

Present Recollection

Since I've been on the other side of the world in the land of Fin, many people have asked me: Why did you come to Finland (of all places)?

It's a question all of the exchange students have encountered, and all of us have different reasons. They range from: "My friend traveled on the same scholarship a few years ago and suggested it to me," to the blunt answer: "For the nature."

Whether or not there was a lot of reasoning involved - and whether the reasons are connected deeply with the country itself - we all earned a national, full scholarship. 14 fortunate ones out of how ever many applied for this chance in a lifetime.

My reasons are clear. Complicated, perhaps. But I usually give the short answer out of my list of reasons. That would be: "It's the summer before my senior year, which means college apps. And I am doing whatever I can to stand out. And Finland is the country that would stand out from an American point of view."

That is very true, and a prime reason why I choose the country of a few million, difficult language-speaking, and too many trees.

But there's more to it.

I wanted to study abroad when I was introduced to the opportunity as a student ambassador for the World Affairs Council of Northern California. I wanted to explore the opportunity and my interest in internationalism as a possible career route. I wanted to get away from the life I was so accustomed to and find out how other people lived. To observe the lifestyles and customs and cultures of a what seemed to be a polar opposite people would give me what I needed to fulfill those wants, and more. Life was getting tough, and this gave me that escape for two months.

As I blog now, I realize it has given me more. I know that I have grown and learned and matured. I know that I have figured things about my future and continued to battle with others. The changes seem to be subtle. I can't determine to what degree change has come. But the city boy that once was a short month and a half ago wouldn't have dared to venture into the life he has now if he knew what he was getting himself into: the wilderness, preying mosquitos, absolute flatlands, homesickness, etc. Only time will tell if returning back to the city, Starbucks, malls, friends, whether or not the change in me is a continuity, and not just an adaption to the phase. I am growing, and feeling, so accustomed to Finland that it does feel like my home now and that I've accepted it. But like the change that has come across from being here, perhaps then, logically, the change will come across back from being home, in California.

Besides a different me, I've learned more about life. How cultural nuances exist. How we see life differently, in different shades of light. How Finns are not timid to go nude in a public suana. How Americans are willing to go skimpy, but not completely nude. How Finns are friendly, but turn away small talk. How Americans are loud and can talk to anyone.

But when in gets down to the essentials, the issues that plague the planet, we share the same pod. Global warming, teenage drinking and smoking, international conflict. It's the same. Maybe the degrees and extents vary a little, but these problems exist worldwide and have no clear solution. Together as a global populace can we hope to change the current situation.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Finnish Baseball Camp

Well it's not exactly what us Americans would call a camp. Instead of the tents and wilderness, it's a tournament that brings competitor teams from the West and East of Finland to duke it out against each other over the course of six, long grueling days that include at least 10 games.

This camp, for the lack of another official word, was for the under 17 (years old). About 1500 players were there for the week-long competition.

It was actually complicated to understand at first. There are various and numerous amounts of camps throughout Finland, throughout the year. This camp was for my host sister, and it was her last as the camps have age limitations.

The girls were docked in a school building in Nurma. Classrooms served as their "dorm rooms" and the girls had to bring their own mattresses. There are a few restrooms, the size for small children of course, and a separate shower for boys and girls, although I believe only three could shower at a time.

While my host sister was in the isolation of teenage girls and boys (who also occupied the building and often walked past the hallway, across the room half naked to go to the showers), my host bro and I shared a comfortable Sokos hotel room in the nearby city Seinäjoki.

I attended many of my host sis's games as a supporter, but I can honestly admit that I can't bear to watch so many games in one day, and definitely not back-to-back games. It's just too much, despite these games being exceptionally shorter than normal games due to the amount of games and teams that must play on a limited number of fields.

It was a difficult week. Everyone in the family had a part in baseball, and my host bro is also a coach for one of the competing teams. So I knew they were udner a lot of stress and exhaustion, and gave them their space. But that also meant that I was alone and by myself often with nobody to talk to.

I did use some spare time to go shopping and walk around the (small) city center, but that got boring quickly since there is nothing to do. I found myself watching tv alone most nights...

But needless to say there were highlights! KaMa 1 (or Kankaanpää Maila), the team my host dad coaches and my host sis plays for, finnished in a respectable fifth place out of twenty "level 1" girl teams. There were of course more girls' teams, but like I said, it's confusing - "level 2" are the majority who play for fun and aren't as good, thus they have their own division.

And there was a sign that I have watched too many games. I helped as a scoreboard attendee, or whatever you would call the dude that changes the numbers and puts up the signs for outs. And I did a damn perfect job I'd say. I knew what was going on and what to do, even without the referee's whistle calls. And my host mom, who was also helping out with the tracking sheets, said I did very well - better than a lot of other people. =)

Thursday, July 23, 2009


On my application I made it clear that I wanted to continue my summer training while I was with my host family. And without a doubt I got placed with an athletic-oriented family.

So each has a part in Finnish baseball. The siblings both play, and the hb is even a coach. The hd is a coach for two girls teams, which include the hs. And the hm is a manager for the teams.

Therefore, everyday has something to do with Finnish baseball. It's either practice or a game basically. And it consumes the schedule. Life during the summer revolves around Finnish baseball...

It's a complicated game that I didn't get a clear understanding of until it was explained to me in rather broken English once, and once again with another, and better English-speaker.

Firstly, it's different from American baseball because the first base is located to the left, the second to the right, and the third back to the left. Then the pitcher pitches in front of a wooden plate about a meter from the batter. And you don't get out if the ball is a fly ball. And there are nuances in between the rules that I only got a hand of after watching too many games.

I'm usually at every game. As support I suppose. I don't do much except sit in one place, my back aching, and listen to my iPod with an occassional clap to celebrate a good swing or score.

Elsewhere, the house is accessorized with a tennis court. So the first day I got here I played - not so well for it was my second time. And I haven't since. Although there will be fond memories of crazy guys that I've met on that court while watching a match.

And then there's volleyball. There's not net at the house, so we basically cosntructed our own small court. It's nothing serious though. Just for fun. I will add though that I am hella good. Haha.

Here in West Finland Finnish baseball reigns. Down to Helsinki it's ice hockey.

But there are some exceptions. I've met a top Finnish cross country skier in the teen age group the other week and he's my hb's friend. He trains by doing this kind of dry skiing that uses blades and picks just as if the ground were snow.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Back out of the Woods / Nuclear Power Plant

Sooooo I survived yet again the potential allergic reaction from mosquito bites. This time I escaped with only one on my left hand and one on my neck. Basiclly the routine was the same except (since it didn't rain) we played 2v2 volleyball and my hs's friend Anna came along with us.

We had to wake up at 9am this morning to leave the cottage because myself, hm and hd were planning on going to the nuclear power plant. That meant we had to drop the others off back in Kankaanpää and then hit the road again for another 1.5 hrs and actually landed in a bus for a good amount of time.

I thought we would have had the chance to walk around and see all of the nuclear stuff but that wasn't the case. It was a bus tour that only dropped us off to see some excavations and a huge 17m long by 3.5m tall transformers machine.

There I got to touch some bedrock that was about 2 billion years old.

The nuclear power plant is the largest in Finland and is set on an ithsmus, leading into the bay. Except you couldn't go into the water because of the output water that is hot enough to prevent swimming and fishing. And there probably is a radiation threat.

There are hella tunnels being constructed, that's why they excavated rock samples. The highly contaminated materials are going to be disposed into the bedrock about 420m below the surface through a huge channel of tunnels. I forget the exact length.

And even more platns are being built on the property. Right now there is two but the third will be done by 2012.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Shopping... hella expensive! The use of the euro is ridiculous in my mind. Every time I go and buy something, whether it's a souvenir gift or a candy bar, I immediately convert the price I see on the tag to USD and think, "I wouldn't pay this much for this back home."

The easy thing though is that the price you see is the price you pay for. The tax (22%!) is already incorporated into the price tag, making it easy to do the math of the total before you make your way to the cash register.

Given the limited amount of money I have, I haven't shopped so much yet. I've bought a couple of things but they are for peeps back home. Shopping for others is by no means the same as shopping for yourself.

There are plenty of stores here. Mostly commercial though. None so touristy. I try not to go buy things from the stores that you can find back in the US of A. And things are priced higher here too. I saw a pair of black vans that I was wearing at the time for sale at this one store, and it was 56€!

The department stores here are insane. Stockmann is the Macys and Nordstrom combined, and then some. The one in Helsinki was like 8 floors, including a supermarket and electronics department. You can find anything there.

I feel awkward shopping with other people. I've always been that way I suppose. So whenever I go shopping with the hb and hs, I tend to be following them instead of going places I want to. It's mainly my fault though. I don't assert my opinion as to where I'd like to go because of fear of embarrassment. I don't think the reason of "I want to buy something for my ___ in that store" is believable here. Soo this is what I have done:

1) Faked / Up-played an illness to sneak away from my hb and hd.
2) When on a run, I use it as an escape to run to the store.
3) When at a baseball game/practice I slyly go off without telling anyone.

For #1 I actually ran into my hs at a store alone. I told a white lie and said my hm knew where I was. And she believed it. But then she called my hb and told him she was with me at the store. And since he knew I went back to the hotel because of my severe headache, I would think he would think it would be odd that I'm out and about shopping alone. But I never heard of it.
On that occassion too I was shopping alone (before I was caught by the hs) I went to a store and came back to the hotel cause I was going to drop of the bags in the room. And right when I did so the room bell rings and it's my host parents. What a string of luck! Cause if I didn't open the door, who would know what was going to happen.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Helsinki, Finland's Capitol

So I just got back from a three day vacay in Helsinki. The ride took about four long hours to get there. But it was pretty sweet. We stayed in two hotel rooms between the five of us. And the room I shared with the hb and hs was way more spacious than what you find in the typical hotel room. Except that's probably cause the room was a bit more expensive (80€ / night).

There my hb and hd and I went to the famous amusement park, Linnänmaki. It's small in comparison to the ones we have in Cali, but they are very space conscious. Every ride and food station are relatively very close, whereas the parks back home are a walk away. And what's really interesting is how it is set on a hillside, so there are many stairs and slopes. This doesn't discourage the crowds though as there were a lot of people packed into the small area.

I went shopping in my free time too. On one occassion I had to upplay my headache so I could get some alone time, but then my hd escorted me back to the hotel and then I waited a bit in the room until I could make my escape to the mall, which was a block away. And then I ran into my hs! But I acted as if the rest of the fam knew where I was and nobody got caught ;)

We also took a walk around places there. Nothing special worth mentioning.

However, Helsinki is a mecca for tourists. There was much more diversity and I didn't get stared at for being "different" while I walked the streets.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Summer Cottage!

It sounds fun. A lakeside, wooden cabin with a sauna and shower, and a boat to take you into the glistening water under huge pillows of clouds. But then you soon figure out it's heaven in hell...

No flushing toilet; there is an outhouse 100 meters away from the actual cabin and it's a dry toilet...meaning NO FLUSH and it can get smelly.

Then there're the mosquitoes....those darn flying pests. I have acquired 11 known bites, 5 alone are on my the back of my left hand. And one of my left ass cheek...Being allergic to these bties, my left hand has swelled a decent amount. I cannot see my pinky's knuckle and the tendon under my thumb when i lift it back.

The sink water wasn't clean either. So we had to use bottled water to brush our teeth.

And I slept on a mattress on the floor.

There was a thunderstorm too. I don't think I've ever been that close to one that I could hear the noise pounding and the rain pours here. It's worse than what's Oakland usually sees.

But there was a good side. Immediately after unloading the food and appliances from the truck, my host sis and I took the boat and took a nice trip to the islands nestled in the middle of the lake. It wasn't a motor boat, even though the host family had one wrapped under a tarp. My host sister rowed first and got to the island. And then it was my turn! I was extremely excited to row like how I've seen the guys in crew races row. But let me tell ya. That shit was hard! It took me perhaps longer than my host sis to get the boat back to point A, partly due to my inability to control eveness with both of my arms. Hence, the boat swerved always to one side and the next thing you know, I am totally off with my direction. But it was a good arm workout.

Then we played darts. My host sister beat me pathetically.

And then we went inside for snacks, just in time to escape the downpour of rain. Rain stopped us from going outside, so we played a Finnish trivia board game, and I won the first round suprisingly. I'm good at guessing with that game.

Before sleep, we all went outside for a game that includes wooden cylindrical sticks that you knowck over for points. And I won a round of that too!

Sleep was actually comfortable. We only stayed one day and one night because of their baseball schedule. But they said they usally come 3-4 times a summer.

I think I will come out of this experience well acquainted with nature...