Monday, July 4, 2011

District Conference

On the 27th of May at 1 pm I set off with the president of the Rotary Club of Lieksa for the Rotary district conference. Lieksa is part of Rotary District 1430, and this year the conference was to be held in Lappeenranta a few hours (about 4) south of Lieksa.

It was going to be a long drive and we needed to be in Lappeenranta between 8:30 and 9:30 on the Saturday morning. Going the day before meant we didn’t have to wake up early and we could do some sight seeing on the way there.

The first stop was the Valamon Luostari, an Orthadox Monestry. In English it is called New Valamo. Established in 1940 after 190 monks from the Valaan Monestry in Karalia (Russian Karalia) were evacuated to Eastern Finland. The decided to stay in Heinävesi about 2 hours south west of Lieksa.

Valamo was such a lovely place. It is a tourist attraction but it is run by the people who live there. The women are dressed in traditional Russian orthodox clothes and the monks were dressed in their costumes. (Although I did see one younger monk with a really fancy sports bag).

The paintings in the church were fantastic, (I know I am only 18 and I havn’t seen much of the world but) they were some of the best religious artwork I have ever seen. There was a perfect attention to detail and I wish I had taken my camera with me (although the photos would not have given them justice). And yes I forgot my camera, which was a huge shame because the place was so beautiful.

It was a lovely day the sun was shining and the air was pleasantly cool.

I also saw an art exhibition from a contemporary artist who works in crystal and metal. I hadn’t seen artwork like that which made it really interesting. And we met a friendly old monk who is always waiting for interesting foregners to visit the monestry. He is really hoping for a French or Greek visitor but he had some questions about Australia.

We stayed overnight in Mikkeli and arrived in Lappeenranta at 9am. I was straitaway met by Maddi (also from Perth) and Ana (from N.S.W) when I arrived and all the other exchange students pretty soon after. There are 20 in district 1430 and we are all scattered around the area-most of us living very far from the nearest exchange student. It was so nice too see them again, I had not seen Julia (from Adelaide for 4 months) and the others for 2 months (since Russia tour) and there were a few I had not met yet.

We had our own program for the weekend, and would participate in the conference as well.

On Saturday we visited a paper mill, which makes magazine paper for 80% of the world’s magazines. Next time you are reading one just think it came from Lappeeenranta.
The Exchange Students of District 1430 decked out to visit the paper factory.

From there the Rotarians had planned for us to go rowing on Lake Saimaa, however as it was raining there was a quick change of plans and we ended up going shopping. And Lappeenranta is a good place to shop, but not to buy. It is close to the Russian boarder so there are many many Russians in the city (more then every second person we walked past was Russian) and that pushes prices higher. But in chain stores to prices are the same as in all over Finland and I managed to buy 2 new dresses.

We were going on a cruise with the Rotarians in the lake and before we went we hiked up a moderately large hill to an old fortress to look over the harbour. Lappeenranta is such a beautiful city, I hope to visit again.
Lappeenranta Harbour

In some ways it reminds my a bit of the older parts of Sydney, because it is very urban but the nature is interspersed throughout the city. It was however cleaner then Sydney.

On the cruise we were given raffle tickets to sell to the Rotarians. And this is where I saw the true talents and passion of the Brazilians. They were so excited to sell the tickets and they sold them fast, it became a competition between the different raffle ticket selling groups, ending in the Brazilians selling all their tickets and the remaining tickets from the other two groups.

After this we all went up onto the top deck of the boat and ended up singing the national anthems from all our respective countries. This was maybe one of the highlights of the exchange, not only do you get to know one country and its local people, but being an exchange student mean you also learn a bit about the home countries of all the other exchange students. And make really good friends from all over the world.

The District Ball was that night. There was only one shower available and a 30 minute time frame for 15 girls to get through it but we managed and were on time. Dressed in our blazers, decorated in pins from our friends from all over the world, we took our place at the exchange student table. 

After dinner, the exchange students introduced themselves to the Rotarians. We had been asked to give a short reflection on our year. There are two groups of Exchange Students, oldies and newbies. The oldies are nearing the end of their exchange and arrived in Finland almost a year ago. The are all from the northern hemisphere. The newbies, at this point in time include me and the 22 others who arrived together in January. There are 4 in my district, all from Australia. We felt we couldn't reflect on our time well because at the time of the conference we had only been in Finland for 4 months. So Maddi had the idea that we would follow the oldies, introduce ourselves and then give the Rotarians a small taste of Australia, because we had only really had a taste of Finland. 

 We played Australian Charades (I had to jump around like a Kangaroo) and sung 'Give me a Home Among the Gum Trees' together. 

The exchange students finished with a performance of the 'Banana Dance' a dance popular amongst Exchange students in Finland. 

The next day, we went on a bus tour of Lappeenranta with the spouses of the Rotarians, and had a final lunch together before saying our goodbyes. It felt a bit strange because Euro-tour was the next week so we would only be separated for 5 days and then it was the actual goodbye for some people who would not be going on Euro-tour. But it was the last time the district would be together as a big group.

I had to leave first because I had the longest drive home. 

We stopped off at Patsaspuisto, a sculpture garden. It was amazing, there were thousands of life sized sculptures of cartoon-like people complete with human teeth. It was slightly creepy but probably one of the coolest places in Finland, and I think I will have too make some similar sculptures for my backyard.

There was even a Kangaroo!

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