Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Leikola Show

The spring is now in full swing. The temperature gage even said +37 today (it was not that hot but the sun was shinning strait onto it). Since the sun has been shinning and the days have become longer, I have noticed a real shift in the behaviour of the Finns. I have read that people get tired and a bit depressed over the winter and then increasingly more active as the summer comes. Now this may be true. Over the past couple of weeks since I returned from Russia my classmates are getting louder, seem to be joking around more, smiling more and some even dance in the Sumppila (Student hang out room).

To mark the beginning of the Easter holiday and celebrate the coming of spring, the Hallitus (student council) organised a concert.

There were to be two acts. The first a local Heavy Band called the Human Ruins. Before I left for Finland I had been told that Heavy Metal was very popular (it is) and so I imagined that Lieksa would have at least one local Heavy Band. It was fantastic to see that it actually did, and a pretty good one at that I think.

The second and main event of the evening was a show by Ismo Leikola; one of Finland’s most famous stand up comedian! I knew going in that I was not going to understand a word of what he was going to say. But EVERYONE in school was going so of course I had to go too. And even though I could only understand a few words and a wage jist of what he said, and none of his actual punch lines, I knew from the sound of the crowed and the sight of Finns doubled over in laughter that he was FUNNY.
Leikola being funny.
Leikola playing guitarre
And I think Leikola looks like Peter Jackson and also a bit like my Dad

He was funny to look at too and with the laughter around me, I really enjoyed the show and laughed along with the rest of the jam-packed hall.
The filled up hall. I clicked a moment after everyone stopped laughing.

The Hallitus did a great job organising the whole thing, it was a fantastic night enjoyed by many many many of the people who live in Lieksa.  They are all so great.

And I cannot wait to see how everyone gets come summer.

What is this?

a)    Excrement
b)   Mud
c)    A traditional Finnish Easter dessert

And the answer is c)!

Mammi is truly the stuff of legends, every visitor to Finland needs to try it at least once because I can guarantee you will never find anything else like it anywhere else in the world.

Like the blood pancakes I had heard of this odd delicacy. People were asking me if I had eaten it yet. Told me that it looks repulsive. I had heard mixed reviews about its flavour. Some said it was sweet some said it was not. The most positive thing I have heard about it is it is quite nice and most of my classmates had said they hate it.

But with Easter looming I knew Mammi day would be coming up.

According to Petri (my host father) Mammi is traditionally served in the sauna and can be enjoyed with Jegermeister. This is a complete lie (which I believed at first-not the Jegermeister part because this serving suggestion came after the lie had been uncovered).

Mammi is served with cream or milk. Made completely out of rye flour and water, cooked for a long time at low temperatures I was told to eat it with a lot of cream and to minimise how much Mammi I put in my bowel.

SO today it was Mammi-day. I had put it off over the Easter long weekend (Mammi is a good friday food) but no longer. After Easter lunch we went outside (because it is now warm in Finland) to taste the Mammi.

It smelt like rotting yeast and is the consistency of ultra thick treacle. I placed a spoon into my bowel. It slowly glooped off the spoon and into the bowel. 

I tried it first plain, found it was ok and then poured on the cream as recommended. I golpped it down quickly, really enjoying the strangely sweet goop. Then I had excess cream so I decided to finnish it off with some more Mammi (because Mammi is good I though) and then it hit me. The taste of Mammi was no longer good. It was bad, really bad. I cannot describe the taste at that moment but it was not pleasant. 

So overall Mammi is good to a limit, and in moderation, once a year.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Winter in Finland

I only left Finland for 4 days and all my snow melts! I came back to a rainy Finland and the snow quickly melted away. There are still a few mounds of it but it is practically all gone!

Winter in Finland is the most beautiful thing. The Finnish forests are so open and inviting that the light shins through the wilderness and glistens on the silver birch trees. There is something magical about it.  

I knew I would love snow before I arrived but I must say I really really REALLY love snow.

I flew into a white Finland and now I am seeing the seasons change from Winter to Spring. I knew it would come but I hoped that it would stay the winter wonderland I arrived too for the rest of the year. I am so lucky that I came to Finland in such a snowy winter. There was over a meter of snow! And it was FANTASTIC.

Clearing the driveway one Sunday afternoon on my first week in Lieksa

Yes it was cold at times less then -30 at times but even when it is that cold I didn’t care because I just looked around and saw how much snow there was and then I couldn’t feel anything negative.

Koli (the national park across Lake Pielinen) is probably the best winter place in the world. The trees look like cakes dripping in white icing. I drove over the frozen lake twice this winter to go to Koli for snowboarding. The picture probably describe it better then any words I can write, but it looks un-real. (and also it is more shiny in real life)

The most famous Finnish view. I hopefully can see it in all the different seasons. Summer is the most popular.

All the winter I was so sad when I thought about the snow melting, but now that it has melted I have discovered that Spring is actually really nice.

Lieksa is already a totally different place, the town is more open and spacious and I now realise where the foot paths are.

Russia Tour

 I must say that I think exchange students in other countries do not have it as good as us in Finland. Not only are all the other exchange students FANTASTIC but we get the opportunity to visit Russia.
My time here is going so fast. St. Petersburg Tour has already been and gone!
I woke up bright and early, at 4am to be exact on Thursday the 31st of March to drive to Joensuu in time to catch the train to Kouvola to meet the Rotary Bus before driving to St Petersburg!
The bus was running a bit late because the bus missed a stop and had to backtrack, so I spent the morning with Diego, Victor, Victoria and Ashleigh (oldies from my district) in Kouvola. Exchange students are loud and a lot of fun to be around. They understand what you are going though and you know as soon as you meet them that they are your friends. I get the impression that when exchange students get together it is always LOUD.
When I got on the bus I met most of the oldies from my district. The oldies have been in Finland for 8 months already and we the newbies have just arrived. They out number us 80ish to 23. The oldies are great and really welcomed us newbies into their fold.
It was a long trip but it didn’t matter because it was fun.
What wasn’t so enjoyable was getting through the boarder security. You can’t talk, you can’t dance and probably breathing is a bad idea too. Everywhere you look there are Russians glaring at you. The checkpoints are totally silent-even by Finnish standards.
Photos are forbidden anywhere close to the boarder, but the boarder is not so aesthetically pleasing, I don’t think the decorating on the Russian side has changed much since the 70’s. There are slanted mirrors above you so the ladies who check passports can see if you are short.
When my passport was being checked the woman spoke to me in Russian and passport in hand walked off and was gone for some minutes. Things like these do make you feel a bit nervous and I just stood there sweat beading up on my brow and looking nervously at the other exchangers.
It turned out ok, at least I hope so (I may now be apart of some conspiracy or blacklisted by the mafia) but I got my passport back and was allowed to enter the former Soviet Union.
I practiced Russian dancing with Karla (my oldie, who lives the nearest to me, in Joensuu) while we waited for our bus to be strip-searched. We did get some strange looks but it was not from the Russian so it was ok. (Russian dancing was soon to become a favourite past time of the Russia tour. I was not very good but every now and then I would dance Russian style-it is quite fun too)
There is a huge difference in the 100 meters surrounding the boarder. When you cross over the Finnish-Russian boarder the first thing you notice is that Russia is dirty. There is pollution stagnant in the air and the snow is darker then Finnish snow. As we entered the suburbs the houses are ostentatious, but many are abandoned and in ruins. When you look at them you can tell that they were once beautiful but now they are falling apart. Despite this in the block next door a new mansion is being erected.  
We had a quick stop at a small service station (the size of my bedroom) to get water. In St Petersburg it is extremely dangerous to drink tap water, people drink it with the intent of ending their lives. I had brought 5L from Lieksa with me but I went to the shop for the cultural experience. The first thing you notice is that everything is extremely cheep, and the second is the large amount of alcoholic beverages available.
We got to the Hotel (the Hotel Azimut), had dinner, got to know the oldies, were told stories of life in Mexico, and updated each other on how our exchanges are going. My roommate for the trip was Ashleigh an American from Upstate New York.
After a cold shower and a less then appetising breakfast, I was ready for my first proper day in Russia.
First on the schedule was the Hermitage, I had heard that it was the best Art Museum in the world. I was excited. But is not only an art gallery it is the Winter Palace of the Russian Tsars. The building was so amazing it was visually overwhelming. We toured the main rooms of the Palace. The collection is interspersed throughout the rooms. The art was fantastic but the interior of the building is what really stood out. Every inch was meticulously ornate. I don’t know if I took it all in to a level which would give it justice. The Hermitage is a place that you could live in for your entire life and every day notice something new, several things really. To see the art collection, looking at each piece for one minute, Monday to Friday, from 9 till 5 it would take over 14 years to see the whole thing.
We were shown the highlights which fit easily into tours route. For me the highlights were two Leonardo de Vinci paintings. When I looked at them all I could think was it is PERFECT. He applied paint perfectly and the colours melted into each other like smoke. I am glad high realism is not my personal artistic style because if it was I would never be able to achieve that level of perfection. The Madonna in one of the paintings had the same almost smile as the Mona Lisa. De Vinci’s attention to detail is phenomenal. I really can’t describe the paintings and my photos didn’t work out because of the glass. But anyway nothing can beat seeing the real thing. Basically I need to go back the Hermitage and see everything again and see what I didn’t have time too.
Also very high up on the highlight scale was seeing a Michelangelo sculpture. It was of a crouching man and was made as a bet between him and one of his artisans or friends. He was trying to prove that you could take a square block and turn it into the figure of a man. It is not polished or sanded. You can still see the marks where he chiselled the stone. So if de Vinci make you feel like you should give up now, the Michelangelo give you hope as it reminds you that these masters were people and things that are perfect can be made by normal people (fantastic artist but normal non the less)
Everywhere is Russia there are people selling those fluffy soviet style hats, and pretty well from the word go the exchange students started buying them and wore them for more or less the rest of the tour and perhaps longer.
We had lunch in a traditional Russian Restaurant which was basically under ground. It looked like the Russia I had seen in the movie Anastasia and imagined. With rich woods and colours, and a lot of navy blue (I don’t know why I associate Russia with Navy Blue, but perhaps because it is the colour of Anastasia’s dress on the front cover of the DVD) and other rich colours. Puppets dressed in the traditional costume decorated the restaurant. We had salad, beetroot soup borsk (I think it is called) and a chicken cheese omelette (but with no egg I think but to call it an omelette gives a  good visual picture of what it was) and a pancake with jam. I thought it all tasted good.
In the afternoon we headed off to the oldest museum in St Petersburg. The Kunstkamera, Peter the Great’s Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography. I don’t know if I would recommend it based on the tour I had. We powered though most of the anthropological exhibits and spent a long time in a room with pickled babies who had birth defects. A little bit upsetting, to say the least. I think the rest of the collection is interesting and it seemed like they had a lot of costumes and artefacts from tribal societies.
That night we went to visit Nikolai’s Palace to see a Russian Folk Show. It is said to be the best Folk show in St Petersburg and I do not doubt that for one second. It was FANTASTIC. The dancers had such energy and vibrancy. You could really see how rich Russian culture was.
After being do well behaved on the first night the tour organisers let us stay up an extra half hour on Friday.
Saturday was our second and last full day in St Petersburg. We spent the morning on a bus tour of the city stoping of at the most fancy church, a souvenir shop and the super famous horse statue. I am not normally the biggest fan of this type of tourism, but I think it worked well and I got the feel for the city.
In the afternoon we were left to our own devices to explore Nevski Prospekt to largest shopping area in St Petersburg. It was pretty confusing and we got lost over and over again. During this time we saw an Orthodox Russian Church. The whole thing was un-real, like it was a Disney movie or something.
We also visited a market. Amongst the market sellers you will find some of the nicest people, and they are all extremely well versed in foreign language. Russians find it hard to learn languages and many only speak Russian. If you imagine we find it hard to learn Russian it is the same for them but for every other language, so I was surprised to find people who could speak at least 4 in portable stores on the side of the road. I spoke German to one, English to many and I think they are probably versed in French as well (as this language was popular is Tsarist Russia). Victor told me that he told one of the Mexican girls in Spanish not to buy something because he had seen it cheaper, to which the market seller replied in Spanish that they would not find anything better elsewhere.
I had thought someone had told me it was ok to barter down the prices in Russia. So when Ashleigh tried to buy a badge from a man at the markets I began trying to get her a discount. Alas my efforts ended in an elderly Russian man yelling at me and me quickly running away, but now I know that discounts can only go so far, I would have been able to get Ashleigh a 50 rouble discount if I hadn’t tried to get an even bigger one. (But it didn’t matter because the next day we found vintage ones that looked better and were half the price)
On our last night we visit the Russian ballet to see a showing of Swan Lake. The dancers were extremely precise and the show was beautiful, but I felt that there was no emotion behind their moves and that made the performance a bit static. I was expecting the Russian ballet to be more rich and dynamic.  But having gone to the Russian Ballet is good card to play when bragging about life experience.
Bed time was extended until 1am on the last night and I realised how tired I was going to be at the end of the tour. I had been up late talking every-night. I don’t think I have quite recovered in the sleep department but I have plenty of time to sleep in Australia next year so I am not to worried.
We would exchange badges in the evenings/night and after this my blazer is looking a lot more colourful then when I got on the plane, and my business card collection is a lot larger.  It was really great to be with the other Exchange students. They are truly wonderful people. I will say it again but exchange broadens your worldview I now know people who I consider to be my friends living in places all over the world, and we have this common experience (not just the Russia tour but living in Finland-which is pretty special and unique) that we will remember forever.
The last day we began our journey back to Finland, stopping in Vyborg a former Finnish Village to spend the rest of our Roubles. It is apparently a hotspot for quality linin, but I didn’t know this until last week so I am sorry Mum but I didn’t get you anything. But I did get some super cute mittens, some cool fold out cups and a Lenin badge for my blazer.
The bus trip and our time getting through the boarder went a lot quicker then when we were coming into Russia. We had lunch in Finland and said our goodbyes to the exchangers on other buses there. It was sad to say good-bye because I live so far from all of them.  But seeing how fast my year is going I will be on Euro-tour with them before I know it.
Overall St Petersburg is an interesting city. The architecture is very European and the buildings are beautiful. The city is beautiful and it looks as if once it was very much loved and lots effort and money went into making it into a real jewel. But now the buildings are falling apart and if they are restored on the outside the inside is ruin. The pollution makes the city look grey and the buildings are dusty. The people look as if they have a really hard life. This is really sad because Russian culture is so vibrant and the city is so beautiful.
It was funny be in the places that I had seen in Anastasia, I was constantly seeing places that looked like the animation movie, which was really exciting. I hope I get to visit Russia again, some summer perhaps. Russian MacDonald’s is better then the Macca’s in Australia too. So I have many reasons to go back!

Friday, April 8, 2011

First Sale

So I am officially a proper artist. Last night I sold my first painting!

I have been taking a painting class in the local evening school since I arrived to Lieksa. I really enjoy it. The teacher is super nice, at first I could not communicate with the teacher at all but my Finnish is getting better and so is her English so we can somewhat communicate now. Before she would just hug me, point at my paintings and say noh nie (all right) and I like, is very good.She always calls me Sophia and I don't have the heart to tell her that, that is not my name.

Generally we have a model whom we paint. His name is Vladdie (or at least this is what the teacher calls him) and I am 99% sure he is Russian. He is not a brilliant model and I don’t enjoy painting him.

A couple of weeks ago I painted this picture of him.

I was struggling to get it right the whole night. At the end the teacher complimented it and showed it around the class (who are all much older, it's an adult painting class) and some guy who is an artist in Lieksa said to me ‘how much?’!

I didn’t know what to say . I needed to think about a price, before bringing it back to him the next week to make the sale. The next week he wasn’t there and the week after that I was in Russia so it was not until last night that I made the sale.

Not much can beat the feeling of selling a painting or piece of your own art. I was so sure that I would never want to part with any of my works (a bit of a problem if you want to make a living as an artist). But when someone wants to buy your art it is the greatest compliment. They are not just saying its good, they are saying that they really love it enough to pay good money for it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Verilettu-päivää - The Day of the Blood-Pancakes

When visiting one of the largest supermarkets in Joensuu I was curious to find a small red bottle in the frozen meat section. One side said naudanveri the other side said Blod! On a side note this is an interesting example of the use of the two official languages of Finland; Swedish and Finnish, in an everyday scenario. However it was my first personal introduction to one of Finland’s traditional foods. I had heard rumours of verilettu or blood-pancakes from the other exchange student but never had it clicked that this food was no joke. The reality didn’t even stick when I saw photos on Facebook of Kim enjoying a meal of veriohukainen (the proper Finnish word for blood-pancakes, verilettu is slang). But I became curious about this Finnish delicacy asking the kids at school whether they liked or had eaten them.
So when I visited the Saarelainen family-my second hosts, Marjaana said that Anna had told her I wanted to try them. All along I had been unsure about whether or not I wanted to actually eat them but whether I wanted to or not I was going to try them. This feeling was a bit nerve racking and on Friday night the vile of frozen cows blood was brought home.
On Saturday morning I helped prepare them. It is a strange feeling pouring half a litre of blood into a red plastic bowl (I think red is used to avoid staining).  The cow’s blood was dark and as the dry ingredients were added to the bowel the mixture thickened into a thick red paste.
The ingredients for Verilettu are;
In English
·      ½ l verta
·      ½ l vettä tai vichjä
·      3 dl ohtajauhoja
·      2 dl ruisjauhoja
·      ½ hienonnettua
·      1 ½ rkl voisulaa
·      1 rkl tumma siirappia
·      meiramia
·      valkopippuria
·      suolla
·      ½ l cow’s blood *
·      ½ l water or mineral water
·      3 dl ground barley
·      2 dl ground rye
·      ½ finely chopped onion
·      1 ½ tbl spn melted butter
·      1 tbl spn dark syrup
·      marjoram (oregano)
·      white pepper
·      salt
·      *Available from your local supermarket freezer section in Finland-not so readily available in other parts of  the world but ask your local butcher
To make the pancakes is a simple process, fry the onion in butter and add the dry ingredients to the blood. 200 ml water (with bubbles is better) is then added and the rest goes in just before cooking. I must admit I felt a bit strange adding the water, which reacted with the blood, making a watered-down blood colour of foam appear briefly.
We left the pancakes to set and I awaited 4 o’clock when the time would come for me to eat them. I will admit I was feeling a bit anxious as I helped fry them. The pancakes are cooked the same way as ordinary breakfast pancakes but they are smaller and need to contain small air bubbles. (This is why gaseous water is better then flat). Honestly they look like small flat  and black volcanic rocks. I wasn’t quite sure about eating them.
When it was time to eat I decided to just attack them as I would any other food. Served traditionally with white sauce, lingonberries, and a mash of sweet and normal potatoes, I took only two at first not sure if I would like them but still wanting enough so that they could be arranged prettily on my plate. (I think three is an ideal number for an aesthetically pleasing blood pancake meal plate up).
I sat down, my heart thumping. No only joking it was just like any other meal. I documented the event with a few photos, before putting a small piece of blood pancake with white sauce and lingonberries on my fork and into…
My mouth!
The flavour was mild but not unpleasant. Verilettu are not strong and overwhelming blood foods like British black pudding. And after all that I think I quite liked them!
If you are in a foreign country I think it is very important to try all the different foods that the locals eat. Even if you think it is a bit strange at first. You will probably find that you like it, because the locals would not have kept eating something – often for many generous- if it didn’t taste good. As a general rule try things three times-not three bites but on three separate occasions if even after eating it once you didn’t really like it. Then you can truly say whether you like it or not. Maybe blood pancakes will become one of my favourite foods, I don’t think so but I will definitely enjoy again them next time I eat them.

Wanhojen Tanssit

When the year threes leave the school to begin studying for their final exams it is the year 2’s turn to celebrate being the oldest members of the student community… And they do it in Style!
The Penkkarit celebrations end at 12pm when the year three's begin their truck ride around town. This is the time that the year 2’s head home to begin getting made up for the Wanhojen Tanssit-the dance of the Oldies. After rehearsing for 4 months choosing dresses and suits in the case of the young men. It was their big day.
I arrived in Finland too late to take part in the festivities but I had watched a couple of rehearsals and I was extremely excited to see how the night panned out and the reactions of the families who had been invited to watch. I had been told that it is the night where all the boys’ mothers cry because they see their son dressed in white tie and acting like a gentleman, washed and presentable and the girls’ mothers cry because the stress of the whole ordeal is over. For some un-explainable reason I wanted to see the parents cry. Creepy. Yes I am aware of that fact. 
Minna and I arrived early to find good seats, which we did. I had sat on the opposite side of the room to watch practices looking directly at the two leading couples.
The girls’ dresses were spectacular. Red was the favorite colour for the night. Most of the dresses were princess style with skirts that poofed out and thick festive fabrics. One girl wore an old-fashioned style dress, which looked great. 10 years ago all the girls would have been dressed in similar style but these days it is the modern dresses that are preferred. The boys were also dressed fancily. Some only wore normal suits but others were in penguin suits with tails. A few were even wearing gloves.
Over the practices I had noticed that one boy stood out from the rest. I call him good-dancing-boy and that pretty well sums him up. He was one of the leading pair and could dance insanely well and really gave it all his effort, which makes a huge difference in the overall performance. He was not they only good male dancer many other boys really got into the dancing, one even knew the dances so well he grooved along effortlessly totally loose and looking completely comfortable. I was surprised at how the boys were behaving because it is totally different to how I had seen them at school, quiet and shy.
The dances themselves are not traditional Finnish choreography the Wanhat tradition stems from the Swedish speaking communities who were at some point in Finnish history the wealthier classes. In their attempt to become more like European aristocracy they began practicing European dances. Today the typical repertoire consists of nine dances from all over the world. My two favorite dances were the least serious of the nine. They were not particularly good but entertaining to watch was people jerked their thumbs and kicked their legs. Good-Dancing-Boy managed to kick his foot higher then his head in this dance.
Half way through the mothers and fathers join their sons and daughters for a parent child dance. Some kids however danced with girl or boyfriends, sisters or brothers or friends. There were 3 such numbers and each Oldie danced at least one with a parental figure. The cutest couples were a boy who danced with his mum while holding his much younger sister and one girl who danced with her younger brother, who was smiling from ear to ear. I think they must have been practicing at home because the 10 year old boy knew the steps to the entire waltz.
The dancing concludes with two special dances. This may be exclusive to Lieksan Lukios Wanhojen Tannsits. The student dance choreographed by a group of girls can be poorly described as a cross between a ballroom and a hip-hop dance.  And the evening is capped of with the Poika Tannsit, the boys’ dance. I cannot imagine the Hale boys or any Australian born teenage male making up and performing anything like what the Lieksa boys did. It was a medley of several songs with thematic motifs to match each section. A Mexican wave, disco dance moves, the terminator dodge, a traditional Finnish dance and some death run (popular at heavy metal concerts) were all stylishly stitched together.
But Wanhat does not end when the night finishes. The next day the Oldie’s get back into (or have stayed in) their outfits and head to school. There they paint the year one’s faces with lipstick and feed them baby food! Over the day the year ones become more and more painted with Finnish world for baby and little kid covering their faces and necks. I have no idea how this tradition started but it’s quite awesome.
The oldies do not spend the entire day decorating their younger peers; they go around the community showing off their dancing skills in primary and elementary schools, banks and old peoples’ homes.
This made the event a real community affair and it is nice that the family and towns folk all get to be apart of it. I am a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to participate and wear an amazing dress but if I had I wouldn’t have been able to watch what happened and see how it all worked.  This is something else that should be brought to Australia. It doesn’t matter if a school has only boys or girls because two schools can join up to make a massive Tansit.
And Wanhojen tansits do come super-sized. After seeing all my classmates dance, Minna and I journeyed to Joensuu to watch the Wanhat there. The Karalian Military Band and the Joensuu City Orchestra conducted by Petri. Now it may seem over the top to get two professional music groups to play at a high school ball, however in Joensuu all 6 Lukios combined for the Wanhat night so their were 1 000ish dancers. It was a true spectacle and it was there where I spotted my ultimate favorite Wanhojen tansit dress. I had my favorites in Lieksa but this dress was the penultimate. It was beautiful and it moved so elegantly when the girl danced in it. If I were an oldie it would be the dress I would have worn.
It is the pink one.


The celebration of the year 3’s leaving Lukio, sometimes referred to as Year 3 Candy Day.

Traditionally (at least in Lieksa) the days begins when the Abi’s (Finnish leavers) blast music over the loud speakers and begin their classroom visits. Dressed in crazy costumes they throw candies to all the younger boys and girls before and after taping them to chairs.

I began the day safe in the thought that I would be spared in what became a taping extravaganza. I had not yet encountered any of the third graders and typically the Abi’s target their friends. Alas into the German class that day walked a boy dressed as a fire fighter. I believe he is a prominent social figure in the third class as he starred in many of the day’s events. Slowly he approached my desk in the back corner of the room.

From his mouth came the words; I hear you are from Australia, so I am sorry but I have to tape you.

And so I was taped.

But I got a kilo of candy before 9 o’clock!

Next on the agenda we made our way to a hall to witness the Abi’s pranking of the teachers. Pekka the principal was already wearing a jumper with a camel on the back and the words, International Camel Breeders Association-Cambridge Chapter on the front. Other members of staff wore girt pillows protecting themselves from the horrors, which would soon be inflicted on them.

Some serious taping action was going down in that hall. There were at least 8 2nd graders taped to each other and then to the wall. More and more unsuspecting youngsters were added to the bunch. Legs were being tangled and taped it was insane!

The pranking proceedings were conducted by my Tapist and were completely in Finnish (save short interludes in German between the Abi’s and Nina-the German teacher.) Most of the intellectual content of this assembly were inaccessible to my understanding. Despite this the humor of rigging a student vs. teachers game of hangman and watching the principal and teachers rap evades the language barrier and I could enjoy the celebrations as my classmates were.

To cap it all off the Abi’s played a game of floor-ball against the staff. With a blanket covering the opening of their goal, 5 goalkeepers and their excitement and of course athletic skill it was the Abi’s who were victorious. Viva la Abi’s!

Upon my arrival to Lieksan Lukio the walls were decorated with frescos painted by the 3rd graders. There was one for each class group, three in total. Their fate was to be burned on the day of the Penkkarit. Following the assembly they were ripped from the walls and escorted to the caught yard to meet their glorious end. The Abi’s made a circle around them and representatives from 3 A, B and C lit their matches and said goodbye to the frescos depicting the team from Shrek, Springfield Elementary School and Richard Scarry’s Busytown. They ran in a circle holding hands shouting Nolla, Nolla, Nolla. Zero, Zero, Zero.

The now only needed to fill their bellies and be kicked out of Lukio once and for all. Hungrily we waited for the Abi’s to Finnish their lunch. When they did they gathered the remainders of their candies or new supplies delivered from parents and slid down a massive slide that covered the entire staircase. They were then carried from the school. This is normally a task of which all the younger students help with however it was -25ish degrees and perhaps people were not feeling so enthusiastic. It was a few of the ice-hockey boys in my year who took charge carrying out the older students in style in Egyptian-Pharaohs-being-supported-by-slaves fashion or like a pork carcass in the abattoir.

From there they boarded trucked and drove around Lieksa screaming Nolla and throwing candies to the crowds!

Overall it was pretty amazing to watch. The traditions of Penkkarit are fantastic fun and it brought a lot of people together to enjoy the celebrations. It is a far cry from the Muck-up days in Australia where trashing the school and destroying teachers cars are the main agenda of the day. I did not go to one of these schools and my schools traditions were wholesome and fun, we dressed up, put on an assembly for the younger girls and jumped in the ocean wearing school dresses. But it is nice to think that the activities of Penkkarit are enjoyed in similar way across the whole of Finland and that it is a unique and special Finnish tradition.

Welcome to Finland!

Hi, I'm Sophie and 18 year old Western Australian girl, who on the 21st of January 2011 flew across the world. Leaving behind my easy life, my family, friends and most importantly my dog Sam, to live the life of a Finnish teenager as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange program.

It is hard to believe that something that seemed so far away has now become my life. I am experiencing new things and finding amazing people not only from Finland but from around the world. One of the best things about living abroad is meeting new people. Living in Perth I know that there are people out there living their lives, but I don't know anything about them or how they live so it is hard to wrap your head around it. And then you fly 12 935 km across the planet and find fantastic people, and you think we can be friends and get the opportunity to learn about them and their lives.

I absolutely love living in Finland,  I have been welcomed into Lieksa by so many people and I am beginning to think of it as a second home. I was caught calling it my Finnish hometown the other day by another exchange student. 

In the past 2 months I have seen and experienced so many things. I am learning about myself and the world and finding my independence. I have a massive support group behind me but I still need to do things of my own initiative, be aware of my surroundings. Sometimes it is hard having to do things without my Mum and Dad but I think I am managing well.

Being an exchange student is amazingly fun but at the same time it is a full time job and you need to constantly think about what is happening and how people may react. To keep me on track this year, I have 3 main goals, which I keep in mind every day, they are:

1) Learn the language; This year I will tackle Finnish and everyone keeps telling me how difficult it is. I am making slow progress but I understand more and more every day, it is speaking that I have trouble with.
2) Make friends. This is always hard in a foreign country as people already have their own lives and friends so you need to make the effort. One of the characteristics of Finnish people is that they are shy which doesn’t make my job easier
3) Try everything. An old exchange student once told me, if I you are unsure about something – a lifestyle choice - try it for two weeks, then you can decide if it is really not for you, or maybe you will find it is ok. People wouldn’t do something unless it wasn’t. With food or activities try it 3 times before you say “No I don’t like it”, you can’t make an opinion off something that happened once. This is a rule that I am living by, keeping an open mind and making sure my exchange brings a million new experiences. Keeping positive and trying new things also helps to assimilate you into your new way of life. If you keep saying no people will soon stop asking, caring and you will miss out on amazing opportunities. After all I wanted to come to Finland and living like the Finns is what it’s all about. 

I will try and share stories of my experiences and things I find interesting about Finland on this blog and I hope you enjoy reading about them.