Name: Andrea Moening
Host Country: Finland
Host District: 1420
Host Club: Ylikerava
Sponsor Club: Gahanna
School: Gahanna-Lincoln High School
Moi! I’m Andrea Moening and I’m from Gahanna, Ohio. For the 2016-2017 exchange year, I will be in Kerava, Finland! This is going to be an unforgettable year for me as I will grow mentally and socially. In the United States, I attend Gahanna Lincoln High School. I am doing exchange during what would have been my junior year at Gahanna. I am really into cooking and I hope that I will have many opportunities to cook for my Host Families in Kerava. My family values knowing multiple languages and having a good education, and I have taken pride in these values and hope to expand my knowledge and fluidity of the Finnish language. This will be my first time leaving the United States and I am very nervous, but extremely excited for the opportunity that D6690 has provided me. Thank you to Gahanna Rotary for sponsoring me and to Kerava Rotary Club for taking me under your wing! Hyvästi!
It has been exactly 22 days since I have arrived in Finland, a little over 3 weeks, and the first thing I would like to say is thank you! It is wonderful here and I have been having the best time ever! It feels so weird to be on a whole other continent experiencing things I had only read and dreamt of not even a month ago! So much has happened to me in such a short amount of time, when I arrived in Finland with a group of American and Mexican exchange students from the Chicago airport, I was surprised to be greeted by my oldies! I didn’t know what a oldie was and they explained to me that they were mostly from Australia (one Brazilian, one South African, and 25 Australians) that had come in January and were leaving in January since it worked with their school schedule back home and that we would be oldies for the next group arriving in January. All the newbies(as they called us) then got in a bus and drove 3 hours to Karkku where we had our 6 day orientation/language camp. There we studied the Finnish language for 20 hours, listened to lectures about Finland and what their culture is about, traveled to Tampere (3rd largest city in Finland), experienced sauna for the first time, and created friendships and bonds with all the exchange students in Finland and part of Estonia. We stayed at a boarding school which felt like a summer camp. Everything was very new and exciting and a great way to introduce us to the finnish culture. It was difficult at first to learn how to work everything (showers, sinks, toilets, washing machines ect.) since everything was different than in the US. At the end of the 6 days we all went home with our Host Families and began our life in Finland. My host family consists of Tatu (host dad), Minna (host mom), Tuukka (host brother 12), and Vilija (host sister 16). Vilija, however, is not staying with us since she is a rotary exchange student this year to Florida. I started school on the 16th of August and it has been tough. Lessons here are taught so that a year long class in the US is only 1 and a half months here, so we cover things pretty fast and it’s hard to translate everything since finnish is such a complex language. Although we received 20 hours of Finnish lessons, I am in no condition to understand chemistry in Finnish. My classes typically start at 9:45 in the morning but on Monday and Thursday they start at 8:20. I only have three classes every day and every class is 1 hour and 15 minutes long with a 15 minute break in between classes. I am currently taking art, advanced math, english, history, and chemistry I also take a night Finnish course which is Finnish lessons on Monday and Wednesdays from 4:30 to 6:30. I was not able to choose my courses for this period of school, but I will be able to choose my courses for the next 4 periods of school. I have not made many Finnish friends since it takes time to warm up to them but I have made a lot of exchange friends who go to my school. Last weekend (August 27-28th) I attended EEMA conference along with 90 other exchange students from all across Finland. It was wonderful, we got to share our opinions with the rotarians from 32 other countries and went on a walking tour around Helsinki as well as go to the biggest amusement park in Finland, even if it is small compared to Cedar Point and Kings Island it was the biggest in Finland. Everything has been great and I have been adjusting very well to the lifestyle here in Finland. I hope everything is going well back home and if anyone would like to ask me a question about the culture, food, schooling, ect, here in Finland, I am just a quick email away! Moi Moi!
I am still having a blast here in Finland, just as I write this I’m on a bus off to visit my friend in Lappeeranta! This week has been so busy for me! It is exam week at my school so I have a lot of days of from Wednesday to next Friday. The language has been difficult but nothing I can’t handle. So far this month I have been focusing on making a daily routine and adjusting to the way people live here. At some times i am overwhelmed by the amount of freedom and responsibility, it seems that everything is up to me and it’s very exciting but also scary. Finnish people in general are very independent, I see 7 year olds taking the public bus and walking to school alone. I remember when I was 7 I would still sometimes cry when my mom dropped me off at school because I wanted to spend the day with her. I’ve made a lot more friends this past month, both Finnish and exchange friends. It has been great getting to know people and them helping me with school, this month has been a big settling my life kinda month.
I have been doing mahtava (wonderful/great) here in Kerava, Finland. It feels really mature and out of this world that I am an exchange student in Finland!!! I am getting really excited for my Lapland trip that is coming up on November 25th (the day after Thanksgiving). I have already sent in my application form and paid the fees. While I am up there we will be staying in a hotel that is known for the nature and scenery. We got to choose on the application between snowboarding, skiing, and cross country skiing. I choose snowboarding because I’ve never done it before and I don’t think I’d enjoy cross country skiing as much, so I am prepared to be falling a lot! I just bought my winter coat yesterday with my host mom, Minna, we got it as H&M for 50 euros which I was happily surprised about because I thought it would be a lot more, but don’t worry because what I saved on the coat I will definitely be spending on my winter boots which will cost around 200 euros. It has already snowed a couple times here in Kerava but it hasn’t stuck yet. It is supposed to snow a lot tomorrow and Wednesday as well as Friday and Saturday so maybe it will start to look like a winter wonderland soon! The temperature here has stayed a consistent 40 and below Fahrenheit, sometimes when it gets to 45 or 47 I feel like it’s summer again! I have been learning a lot more about the Finnish culture while being here and it is true like everyone says, Fins are very shy, but not in the typical, antisocial reading books, kind of shy. It’s language shy. They don’t feel like they’re English or any other language is good so they don’t go up to exchange students and try to befriend them because they feel like they will embarrass themselves. That hasn’t stopped me from making friends, gladly, but it does put a pressure on me to learn the language fast if I want to get to know a lot of people, which I do. Also the food here is very delicious and hearty in a very unique way. They don’t use many spices while cooking! In a way you could call it a bland flavor because of the lack of many different flavors in one course but it would be untrue because despite the lack of spices it is still very delicious and flavorful! So far I have found that I have a lot of capability and capacity to grow as a person and it truly makes me so happy that I am able to better myself and experience all these wonderful things. It blows my mind every morning when I wake up and look at the sunrise and see a different sky then I’ve lived with my whole life. Thank you for reading this letter and, in a way, letting me write this letter.
I have been doing great here in Finland! It feels so cool to be able to experience Christmas the traditional Finnish way with my second host family! They don’t actually open presents on Christmas Day, they open them on Christmas Eve and you kind don’t do anything on Christmas day except for just relaxing and eating food. On Christmas Eve when I woke up we didn’t even have a tree up! We decorated the tree and then we at Christmas lunch which was ham, some sweet potato casserole, liver casserole, and various cold salads. We then went to my host Dad’s parents house for about 2 hours and then we went to my host Mom’s parents house which is where Santa Claus showed up! Apparently in Finland when there is little kids in the family you can “rent” a santa for some time. They come and “bring” presents for everyone and then we sing some songs and take pictures with them and open presents. We then ate dinner which was very delicious. I really like finnish food, it’s very hearty and always warm! My host grandma likes to make a lot of things and she actually had made around 50 pairs of wool socks and gloves and she let me choose a few of them to take home! Christmas was wonderful and at the beginning of December I went to Sweden with my district as a trip! It was great! I got to go because I participated in a fundraiser for the depollution of the Baltic Sea by rowing in a row boat on the Baltic Sea for 6km and measuring how far we could see into the water. Since I did that along with other exchange students the district took us on a free cruise to Stockholm, Sweden! It was really fun and I had a blast since it was my first cruise but i did get a little sea sick. I don’t know how fisher men do it! I would never be able to spend most of my time on a boat, i’d get SO sick! I’ve had a lot of fun this month with the big trip and spending time with my friends and Christmas. Now I have the New Year to look forward to! 2017 is the 100th year that Finland has been an official country! Even though Finland has been inhabited since after the last ice age in 9000 BC and has its own language and culture for centuries it wasn’t until December 6th 1917 that they declared their independence. People here are calling it the “Finland 100”. Also, fun fact, The United States of America was the first country to recognize Finland’s independence from Russia. I am really happy that I will be able to be here during the first part of Finland 100. I can’t wait for the New Year!
This February has been very eventful for me. During the beginning of February I was at school a lot, going to Wanhat practices. Wanhat is the traditional ball held by the school to commemorate the emergence of the second year students as the senior members of the school. It is like Prom, but we have to learn to perform 13 ballroom dances and afterwards there is no free dancing. Also the girls dress in ball gowns. It was extremely fun and I had a great time! I asked my Finnish friend, Nea, to livestream the dance on my Facebook. You are welcome to view it there. The dance was held on February 17th. The following week was ski break, whose name comes from the way in which most Finns spend the holiday. My friend and I took advantage of this by spending two days skiing. I am still getting the hang of skiing, so the first couples runs on the bunny hill I fell many times. But I didn’t give up! I may have even got a little too confident, because not long after my first ever ride on a chairlift, I found myself spinning out of control on a black diamond slope! After that jarring experience, I decided to spend a few days recuperating at home. Although I was sore and tired from all the physical activity, on Friday I mustered up enough strength for a night out with my host family. We went bowling, then to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe. We then got material for sushi making and we made sushi together on the following Sunday. All in all this month has been really fun and I’ve been deepening my relationships with everyone around me constantly.
This March I have been very relaxed. I haven’t been very busy with friends since everyone, including myself has been hard at work with school. I’ve been able to spend a lot more time with my host family then normal, which I am really happy about. As a family we have been going to our relatives house and celebrating a lot of birthdays together, one in particular that stood out, was my great host grandmother that turned 95 years old! I love going to birthday parties because instead of their just being one or two desserts, like in the US, there are typically over 7! I have fallen in love with finnish desserts while i’ve been here, but if they aren’t homeade they aren’t as good and are very expensive, so birthday parties are the perfect place to try lots of different desserts. I’ve also been doing a lot of activities with my host family. One weekend we went bowling and then they took me to the Hard Rock Cafe in Helsinki which was my first time going there and I had a great time! I really love bonding with another family that I didn’t know i would be so close to. It’s a great feeling, being accepted into a family and culture that I knew nothing about just a little over a year ago. Lately I have been going to the library a lot more also. It’s a very popular place for the kids to go to after school to study, hang out, or have a cup of coffee. It’s really peaceful there. I love going to relax and read my book, just to think too sometimes. This 235 days has flown by so fast I’m very surprised. So far I have made the most out of every day in there own unique ways, ass I will continue. Although I have been getting a bit sad about leaving, since my departure date is coming up soon but I am also really excited for all the great things I have planned when I come back. Things have been really great here, I’m living my life to the fullest and in the moment!