January In Review

In the past month, a lot has changed.

I have already completed my International Management course and just have to turn in a paper by the end of February to check it off my list. My Survival Finnish course will have its final exam next week and I will be studying for that in the coming week. I started a new class this week called Education in Finland. We’ve only met for lecture once so far and it seems it will be a very interesting and informative course.

I have officially become a member of the University (my mobile student ID never leaves my side) and have benefited from this because students in Finland get discounts on everything. It’s great. I have also successfully opened a bank account here in Jyväskylä and have my very own Finnish credit card. Through the program I am studying on (ISEP-international student exchange program), I get 340 euros a month for food and living expenses. This bank account hosts this money and I am free to spend it how I see fit. I’m mostly excited about the pretty, bright blue credit card I’m sporting in my wallet and the amount of fruit I can purchase in a month with that kind of budget. 🙂

The daylight hours have extended by over two hours already in just four weeks. When I first arrived the sun rose around 10am and set at 3pm. Now it comes up between 8:30 and 9 and sets around 4:15. By the end of my stay here in late May, the sun will rise around 4am and set around 10pm. Almost completely opposite of January. But, just because the sun is up doesn’t mean it’s visible. Most of the time the sky is overcast so the sun hasn’t made too many appearances. I have been promised that this will soon change. Even the past three days have been completely clear skies all day long. That is the most I have seen the sun so far, but I’m not getting my hopes up considering tomorrow and Wednesday have cloudy skies and snow in the forecast again. This really doesn’t bother me though. The winter time here, even if it’s grey outside, is still beautiful. Snow covers every inch of existence and it is stunning, even without the sun (check out the pictures at the end of this post).

My hands are perpetually dry, but that’s nothing new.

For anyone who hasn’t heard of the traditional Finnish candy Salmiakki, it is a strong, salty, black licorice that is very popular among Finns. I tried it my first week here and had to spit it out. It was disgusting. I have had it three times since and every time it has gotten better and better. Don’t ask me why I continue to try it, most people avoid things that make them gag. I had Salmiakki yet again today and ended up reaching for another piece. *shrug

Sauna has become the only element of my life here that is somewhat of a routine. I go two or three times a week. In the student village I live in, there are different buildings for men and women every night of the week that are open from 6pm-9pm for sauna. I have really taken advantage of this perk of living in Finland and I absolutely love it. When I first started going, to avoid awkwardness and the unknowns of the sauna, I went with friends, but now I prefer to go on my own. It has been interesting to go alone because most people assume I’m Finnish. Thanks to survival Finnish, occasionally I can pretend I am. Oh, and if you’re wondering about the level of nudity at sauna, your guess is probably right. No clothes, no shame.

Life is keeping itself interesting here in Finland. Enjoy some pictures of my sunny weekend and throughout the month in general.IMG_0013IMG_0153

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Little kiddos playing hockey on the ice.
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Last week it snowed A LOT. The piles keep getting higher and higher.

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Stockholm 1/26-1/29

This past weekend, me and seven other students traveled to Stockholm. There are several ways to get there but we decided on flying because it was the cheapest option. That is definitely something I will not get used to while I’m living in Europe. Regardless, early Friday morning ( I’m talking 1:30 am) we took two taxis to the Jyväskylä travel station and hopped on our bus at 2am.

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A few of us at the travel center early Friday morning (or late Thursday night, same thing)

Our three and a half hour bus ride took us right to the Helsinki airport and we boarded our flight and landed in Stockholm at 7am. Low on sleep and in a new city, we had an entire day to explore.

The first day we walked around the city and just took in what it had to offer. Stockholm is beautiful and was my first experience in a true European city. The buildings were old and the sidewalks were cobblestone. We had the chance to watch the changing of the guards ceremony at the Royal Palace of Sweden’s royal family, then headed back to our hostel for a much needed nap, and found a cozy, local place for some traditional Swedish food later in the evening for dinner.

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This view overlooks one of the three islands of Old Town Stockholm. The church you can see right behind my head dates back to the 13th century. Amazing!

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We found this cool little store and went inside. It was a comic shop that sold really old copies of comics and graphics. Really cool!
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Kassie in the dungeon comic shop 🙂
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During the changing of the guards ceremony at the Royal Palace. There was construction going on, the palace must be up kept!
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Outside of the local restaurant where we had dinner. The neighborhood was all cobblestone and small, unique buildings. It was fun to walk around.
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My DELICIOUS meal. I had braised pork cheek with lingonberry sauce and parsley and herb mashed potatoes.
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Almost everyone (minus Lara who came later this evening). 

The second day, we got up and headed to a portion of the Old Town where a tour began at 10 am. There are free tours daily of Old Town Sweden and also the city of Sweden and we took advantage! After the tour we did some more exploring and headed back to the hostel for another quick nap. Then we went to eat dinner at a CHEAP local Mexican restaurant called La Neta. You walk down steep steps from the street into this little restaurant where I ordered two quesadillas for 25 SEK (Swedish Krona) each. That’s a 5 euro meal. Aside from what comes on your quesadilla, there is a topping bar where you put additional sauces, toppings, and deliciousness to complete you meal. It was great! Afterwards we walked to a local bar and listened to some live blues music. It was so much fun! We got there early (thanks TripAdvisor) and lucky for us. By the time the band showed and started playing there were tons of people smashed into this small bar. If you moved at all you would bump into at least three people, but that added to the local flare and the fun of the live music. It was a great day in Stockholm.

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A statue of Gustav Vasa in front of the House of Nobility (Riddarhuset)
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The “Big Church” or Storkyrkan

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This archway guides tourists between the two parliament buildings. Above the arches from inside, there are walkways between the two buildings.
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The small, white building sandwiched between the two others is home to Sweden’s Prime Minister. Sweden’s “White House” if you will.
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The tall building with the steeple to the right of this picture is Stockholm City Hall.

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The Baltic Sea, and a bunch of ducks, swans, and the like enjoying the water.

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Inside Storkyrkan, beautiful!

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Enjoying the live blues, and also ignoring the people we were touching.
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Part of the crowd listening to Erika Baier & The Business. Really great group

The last full day we took tours of the Royal Palace and also got to see the Royal Treasury which is all of the crowns, capes, swords, and other royal things that belong to the King, Queen, and the princes and princesses that are born into the family. We also took a tour of the Swedish parliament building. This was so interesting to see and hear about how legislation works in Sweden and be able to compare it to the United States and even just in Missouri. After the day of touring, we split up and ate dinners we wanted for our last night. Me and three other girls went to eat one last Swedish meal. I had Swedish meatballs this time, they were delicious! Our hostel was home for the night and we played games and chatted. We also made a late night walk to a Seven Eleven (they were EVERYWHERE in Stockholm) in our pajamas for some snacks. The next morning me and two other girls were heading home so we enjoyed our last night in.

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The staircase in the Royal Palace. It was specifically designed to wind around the building. This kept it from obstructing anything, including the windows. The architect knew daylight was scarce in Stockholm during the winter and wanted to ensure windows were always visible.
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This may just look like a fancy thrown, and it is, but it also dates back to Queen Cristina’s coronation ceremony in 1650. The history here will always baffle me.
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These massive chandeliers were in several rooms inside the palace. These three together weigh 1 ton!
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An intricate hallway. It is made to reflect lots of light. There are windows on the right side of the room and mirrors directly across from them on the left. The blinds were closed…but imagine how the room would sparkle if there was sunlight dancing around.
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This doesn’t look like much, but it was made to be a breakfast room (my kind of room) and the light above was the first light put in the palace to be used with electric light. Pretty cool.
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A lounge/social room for guests.
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A sleeping apartment for guests.
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This was a cool element I liked about the architecture. Apparently illusions were a big deal back in the day. For example, in some of the rooms that appear to be ceiling to floor marble, are only a portion marble from the floor up maybe a foot or two. The rest is stone that was painted to appear as marble. This seems like the Swede’s were being cheap but in fact it was to create an illusion and also to show that mankind had surpassed nature by “creating” something thought only nature could make. In this photo, you can see a portion of the wall that looks like it continues on into another world. This is yet another illusion used to create a sense of a larger, continuing room. These scenes were painted in almost every archway in the staircase.
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This was in the Swedish Parliament building. This chamber is the new one that began dealing with legislation in 1971 when Sweden became a unicameral legislature. There are 349 members of parliament from 290 municipalities. One thing I found particularly interesting is that members of parliament are seated in the room based on where they are from in Sweden. Nice way to mix things up!
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The stack of paper on the table is the budget bill for 2018. The tour guide is holding a photo of the deliverance of the bill to parliament to read and approve. This is a big ceremony every year and the fancy lady in the photo (I forgot her title and why she delivers it) gathers this bill and walks it across the street to the parliament building for delivery. Our tour guide explained parliament focuses on the budget bill in the fall and legislation in the spring.
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This is in the old parliament building

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And one of two of the old chambers when Sweden used to be bicameral. These chambers are now used on Tuesdays for the two biggest parties in Sweden to gather and discuss matters.
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Marissa, Lara, Tessa, and I walking, walking, walking.
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Swedish meatballs ❤
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Just a picture of our hostel room. Featuring Peter’s feet, Lara’s feet, and Sophie’s face between the ladder steps.
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Walking to seven eleven in our pajamas. Swedish people will come around.

Us three girls leaving Stockholm the next morning woke up, turned in our linens at the front desk, and sat in the community area of the hostel for some complimentary coffee before we left. There was a small TV in the room and I noticed it was playing My Name is Earl. It made me think of my dorky dad 🙂

I was so happy to spend some time in a new city exploring the sites and the culture but this made me miss home just the smallest bit. It also made me realize how badly I wanted to share my experiences with the people I love back home. So, as I sat in this cramped, slightly grimy community area sipping coffee out of a mug hundreds of people had used with all of my belongings on my back and my coat in my lap, I watched My Name is Earl with Swedish subtitles and I smiled. This is what I have wanted for so long. To be a weary traveler out and about exploring places I have never seen before, sharing sinks with strangers, and walking more than I ever have in my entire life. I have officially completed my first trip here in Europe! Stockholm was a great start. I got to see sunlight and blue skies, streets clear of snow, and a wonderful city. In late February I will be taking a week long trip to Lapland, mid-March I will be scooting over to Paris for a weekend to visit a friend, and at the end of March for my spring break, I will be in Spain. I plan on visiting Russia at some point as well as Estonia. Lots of adventure left!

P.S.

I have officially been living in Finland for a month. Time flies.

“Nice” Weather 1/25

It was 38 degrees Fahrenheit in Jyväskylä today. Looking at the weather last night I couldn’t wait for it! So when I woke up this morning to the sound of rain, I grinned.

It has not yet been warm enough for snow to turn to rain so it was really exciting. I knew the snow on the sidewalks would melt and it would be kind of ugly and slushy outside, but what I didn’t know was that under that snow on the sidewalks are just layers and layers and layers of ice. My walks to and from campus were much longer and included many more moments of me on the ground. The city workers here in Finland do lay gravel on the sidewalks but sometimes you just fall anyway. The funny thing was, other people (I’m assuming Finns) just walked right along. Several people were even walking and texting! It cracked me up. Here are a few pictures from my walk home.IMG_0197IMG_0200

Regardless of the deceiving weather, I survived and am now back at home for the night packing for my first adventure outside of Finland. This weekend me and about 10 other students are going to Stockholm. We will arrive early Friday morning and I, and a few others, will fly back on Monday afternoon. It should be fun! I will post an update of how the weekend goes later on next week. Until then, beware the ice.

Sauna Like A Finn 1/13

“Yes, but have you ever been to a Finnish sauna?”

Through the Erasmus Student Network (ESN), exchange students from everywhere in Europe have the opportunity to take part in activities, events, and trips at a bargain student price. Today I attended “The Ultimate Sauna Experience” through ESN Jyväskylä and it was a blast. We traveled by bus to a small town outside of Jyväskylä and stopped at a sauna resort of sorts. We got to walk around and explore the ancient sauna buildings and huts still in use today. Then we came inside for a nice lunch, went to sauna, and then came back inside for a traditional post sauna snack, sausages! Although the saunas were hot, the frozen lake water was NOT. Oh to sauna like a Finn…I will let the pictures speak for themselves. Enjoy!

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Then the real fun began…IMG_0077

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Busy, Busy, Busy

These first few days have been FULL  of new faces, new places, and lots of defining moments. I have so much to share and a lot of time to share it so I might as well.

I last left you on Wednesday evening after my first day of orientation and it is now Saturday evening…so much has happened! On Thursday I had another orientation session and it was up to us to find our way to the Agora building. This is a 40 minute walk from my student village and I had walked it only once the day before. Luckily, I walked with Anna, a girl from my tutor group, and we made a great team. We both remembered different parts of the trip to the correct building, so together we made it, no problem. That day we learned a lot about courses at the university and how to register for them. The way courses, instruction, and exams work here in Finland are much different than in the US. I will have to update you on a separate post once I have sorted out the system and am better able to explain it. Overall, I am very excited about the courses I will be taking. Four of the courses will be for credit to transfer back to Northwest. Those classes are Introduction to Classics of Sociology, International Management, Intergroup Communication, and Ethnology and Anthropology of Religion. I am also taking two courses of interest just for fun. Survival Finnish (which I’m sure will prove to be helpful) is a six week class and I will also be taking Education in Finland. The education system here is one of the best in the world and I am interested in learning a little about it while I am here and taking part in it.

At first, one of the classes I had originally planned to take was not available in English any longer and I had a mini panic attack trying to find another course to take in order to have a full semester of credits to transfer back home to maintain my full time student status. This is important to keep my financial aid and keep me on track to graduate in a timely manner so it was very important that I found an alternative. Thursday evening consisted of me searching Korppi, the student course sight, for courses. Me and my roommates all shared in the fact that there was some stress about courses. Some of theirs overlapped in time slots and they had to rearrange their schedules or, like me, some of the classes were only in Finnish. So most of our evening was spent sitting at the kitchen table sharing complaints and worries. We talked about everything from travel stories to things we needed to buy but couldn’t find. Sometimes there is nothing better to bond over than comparing times of struggle. It was so nice!

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Maps and laptops and late night snacks strewn across the table. Here are Julianne (on the left) and Sydney (on right). Julianne is from Kansas and Sydney is from Iowa. Our third roommate, Alena, is from California.

Friday morning my roommates and I left our apartment around 9:10 to make it to the last day of orientation by 10:00. 40 Minute walks are my norm now. Add the ice and snow and I will never complain about walking anywhere in Missouri ever again. I enjoy the walk actually, and it was nice to make the trek with my roomies. After orientation we had library tours with our tutor groups. This was what I was most looking forward to about orientation because I absolutely love libraries. When I am at home studying at Northwest I am in the library almost every day of the week. I love to study there and it is a good place to run into people. Here it seems to be no different. I found the inside of the library to be interesting though. It is not quite as cozy as the library at Northwest because the main color is a bright, obnoxious, yellow. It kind of cracked me up. The railings are all yellow, the bookshelves have yellow accents, and the walls of the study cubicles are solid yellow. Studying in one of those must give people headaches. It is an interesting color choice, but I can adjust. If that means wearing sunglasses when I study, so be it. My tutor Tina was such a great tour guide and she has been so helpful throughout this first week.

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Me and girls from my tutor group walking to the library for our tour. From left to right: Anna from Austria, Stacy from Russia, and Victoria from Russia.
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An entrance to the library. See the yellow?
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Our tutor showed us this fancy room on the second floor. As long as no one is already occupying it, feel free to nap away.

After the library tour it was about 4:00pm and me and the girls in my tutor group wanted to meet with some friends at a bar near by. We arrived and picked a table. The waiter came up and said some words in Finnish and all of us girls turned and looked at one another and then simultaneously said something like “Hello” or “Sorry” or “Excuse me” to let the waiter know that we were all very good English speakers but not at all fluent in Finnish. The waiter immediately repeated himself in English. Much better. After about 20 minutes the rest of our group showed up, there ended up being around 20 people sitting around our table. It was so much fun! We had such interesting conversations about things like if it was common to have middle names in your country, what currency looks like in different countries, and stereotypes. I was curious what people thought of America and they told me. My friend from Lithuania said that she thought of large, overweight people, a girl from Morocco said it was common to think that people in America are not informed and do not care about what happens in the rest of the world, and a gentlemen from Germany said “I think of all of your beautiful national parks”. Maybe he felt bad. He probably did. But honestly, none of this offended me, and of course they weren’t accusing me of these things. It is so interesting to hear what other people have to say. Our conversations were all very interesting! It was a fun evening. Then I walked the 40 minutes home.

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At Sowhi Bar. On my left is Kamilė from Lithuania and Stacy from Russia again on my right. You can see the nice German who complimented our National Parks in the mirror taking the picture. What a nice guy!
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Almost everyone fit in this picture. There are about 6 people to the back left that you can’t see. Of everyone there were people from Turkey, Korea, Canada, France, Russia, Morocco, Germany…you name it.
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Little viv in a big city center. I read this morning that the sidewalks in the center are heated so it is always comfortable to walk around.
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A tunnel I walk through everyday when I head to school or the city center. 

This morning I had the pleasure of sleeping as late as I wanted and I was grateful for that. It was strange though. The sun does not rise here until around 10:00am and even then, it never shows itself. There is cloud cover at all times, just a hazy gray that brightens slightly with the sun and dims 5-6 hours later. So when I woke up at 8:30 this morning I was surprised to find that it wasn’t still five in the morning. I did go back to sleep and woke up around 10:30. My roommates and I had plans to go to the city center to make some essential purchases so we took our time getting ready. I was looking around online this morning for some stores to go to, but also on the “Second Hand Items in Jyväskylä” Facebook page for some cheap alternatives. I found a post by Panu Makinen about items for sale. He had so many things and he lived just next door so I sent him a message and within an hour my roommates and I were walking to his building to buy some things for no more than 2 euros a piece. I purchased a nice blanket for my bed and a pizza cutter for a total of 3 euros. My roommates bought bath towels, sheets, other kitchen utensils, and a few hand towels. I have also reserved a coffee maker and a nice rug someone is selling. It is an hour walk to pick them up, I will make it there eventually.

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The first time I have looked out my window when the sun is up! The forest in the distance looked beautiful this morning.
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Our friend, Panu, with all the goodies! He came out the door with all four of these bags full of useful items for sale. Nothing more than 2 euros.
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My roommates and I with our bargain buys. We stopped for this picture just past the entrance to the building. I’m sure Panu saw and thought we were weirdos.
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One interesting thing in Finland, you must recycle. Today we took out our trash and recycling for the first time. These recycling areas are situated in several places around the student village. They are labeled (in finnish) for what goes in which. What I wasn’t expecting was to open the top and be looking down into a deep, insulated pit atleast 4 to 5 meters deep (that’s about 15 feet for you Americans).  

We headed to the city center afterwards and accomplished some shopping also met up with some of the girls from my tutor group. We ate dinner together in the city at “The American Diner”. Not my first choice, but once I saw cheeseburger and fries listed on the menu, I wanted nothing else.

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A church near the city.
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TARGET! 🙂

It has been a wonderful week here in Jyväskylä. I have confirmed my courses, established friendships, and had my first night out on the town! What a busy few days. Tomorrow I will meet up with tons of exchange students for an official city tour and lots more exploring. Thank you for following my blog and showing an interest in my life here in Finland. It is fun for me to write these posts because it helps solidify my memories and experiences but also because I know that other people are reading and enjoying my posts as well. Talk to you soon!

I Made It!

In Finland time (8 hours ahead of most of you), I have officially been in Jyvaskyla for about 24 hours!

Yesterday was eventful and so was today. I will try and catch you up.

Most of my flights went well, with only two minor delays. One of the delays was my connection from London to Helsinki, Finland and that is the one that caused me some worry. My flight was supposed to depart at 10:20 am and arrive in Helsinki at 3:15 pm. My flight didn’t leave until 11:30 which put me back an hour arriving in Helsinki and gave me only 45 minutes at the very most to unboard the plane, go through passport check, make my way to baggage claim (which was a LONG walk), wait for my luggage, go through customs, and find where the buses departed to catch my bus at 5 pm that would take me to Jyvaskyla. My plane landed around 4:15. I can’t tell you how I made it on that bus, but I did.

Once I got on the bus, I had a moment to soak in my environment. I was no longer in an airport with a wide variety of nationalities and languages. And I was no longer just waiting for my connecting flight. I had reached my destination and was now alone in a sea of Fins, on public transportation driving through a country I had never been to. And even though the sun had set, I could still see the beauty of the country. There was snow, EVERYWHERE and I could tell that the trees were all tall, skinny Aspen trees except for a few evergreens by the light from the street lamps.  I couldn’t help but notice the street signs as well, and I also couldn’t manage to read any of them either. They are all in, Finnish, oddly?! This was truly when reality struck me. Sitting in a bus seat looking out a window into the night could have happened anywhere. But looking at a store sign that reads “Stockmannin Helsingin keskustan tavaratalo” out that same window at least tells me I’m not in the U.S. anymore. All bus announcements were also in Finnish and I was completely clueless as to what was being said, but I knew the city I needed to make a transfer in and I knew what time I was scheduled to arrive in Jyvaskyla, so that wasn’t too difficult. My eyes kept closing and eventually I stopped fighting it. When I arrived in Jyvaskyla, my student tutor (which is a student at the university who is my walking, talking savior my first week here) picked me up from the travel station and we began walking to my apartment. I arrived but didn’t have access to wifi, I would have to contact my family the next day that I had arrived. I slipped into my pajamas and passed out.

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The bus stop where I had my transfer to the bus traveling the final three hours to Jyvaskyla.
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The view out my window, lots of snow!

The next morning, me and my three roommates met with a group across from our apartment and walked to the orientation session at Agora building on the Mattilanniemi campus. The walk was anywhere from 20-40 minutes and I didn’t mind because the past 24 hours had been nothing but sitting on a plane. The orientation covered basic information, I have another session tomorrow and on Friday, and then we ate lunch with our Student tutors and the other students in that group. My first meal included a salad and fish curry along with a boiled potato and some bread. It was very good! Campus tours followed and then we went to the city center to walk around.

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My makeshift breakfast (nuts and fruit I packed from home a pretzel and cream cheese I had saved from my flight to London, and some water).
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My first meal at a student restaurant. Very tasty!

Me and a few students living in Kortepohja decided to make the 1.5 mile treck back to our housing around 5 pm or so. When we made it to the student village, they headed for the M and N buildings where they lived and I headed towards building R. Well, I thought I was heading towards building R. I got so lost and so turned around. I probably asked 10 people where I could find building R until I finally found it. The Kortepohja student village is much larger than I thought and there are no distinguishable landmarks. Just trees, and trees, and trees, and snow. All of the apartment buildings are white and at some point I just couldn’t remember where I had been. I couldn’t use internet because I am using wifi until I can buy a sim card, so it was up to me and the many strangers I passed to find my way home. I walked around for about 45 minutes trying to find my building, but then I did. 🙂

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Walking back to the student village from the city center. The trees are so ominous. This was before I got lost…

Once I got home, I realized I needed food. So me and two of my roommates set out to the grocery store, yet another walk but only about 10-15 minutes. The grocery store was small, but we were in there for over an hour just trying to figure out what everything was. Would you believe that grocery stores in Finland have products in Finnish? Crazy. As a bargain shopper, I bought quite a bit of food for only 27,40 euros. Then I realized I had to carry it home. Hah! You should have seen me and the other girls lugging our groceries over our shoulder along the icy sidewalks. But we made it back and ate our respective dinners.

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Apples, i think.
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Just an example of the helpful signs posted in every aisle at the supermarket.

Realizations from my stay in Jyvaskyla so far:

  1. Walking is unavoidable. If I hadn’t lost my fitbit in the Dallas airport, I would tell you how many miles I have walked today. Well over 5.
  2. The university campus is a good distance away.
  3. Every Fin I have stopped at the airport/bus station/along the street/in the supermarket has been extremely kind and extremely helpful.
  4. I don’t know very much Finnish.
  5. I will learn very quickly.

It is 11:30 in the evening here in Jyvaskyla and I am tired! Tomorrow brings another orientation session and a few meetings about courses and the beginning of classes next week. I am heading to bed, goodnight!

I Haven’t Gone Anywhere, Yet

It was 7 o’clock on a Monday morning in mid September and I was still half asleep when I got the email that would confirm my placement for my semester abroad. Imagine me, standing in my bare feet and sleep wrinkled pajamas with hair sticking in all directions and a major life changing notification, almost a month sooner than expected, on a screen in my hand. I was not at all prepared. But now I am! January 1st, 2018 marks the beginning of a new year, but also the beginning of my semester abroad studying at The University of Jyvaskyla in Jyvaskyla, Finland. The morning of the first, I will be dragging myself, my luggage, and my family to the airport where we will say our so-longs and see-you-later’s. BUT, I still have one more week to prepare for my semester in Finland and I will be spending every waking moment making packing lists, ordering last minute necessities on Amazon (woo two day shipping), and enjoying my last few days with my cat, oh and my family.

I have been asked by many people about how I am feeling about my departure and I guess I don’t have a good answer, because it’s not that simple. There were emotions at every stage of preparation for this semester. There was frustration and confusion while trying to apply to schools in the dead of summer when no one was in their office and the average email response time was a week. There was relief when I finally submitted my application. Then back to frustration and confusion when I got placed at my third choice school which turned to satisfaction that I even had a placement and then excitement when I could wrap my mind around Finland and all of the wonderful things about it. Then came the “I’m over my head” stage with endless emails of information about housing contracts, bank accounts, health insurance, and transportation. It was exciting to travel to New York for a few days with my mom to apply for my residence permit but I was soon struck with panic yet again when the Finnish Consulate told me some of my documents would need revision. And don’t even get me started on my course approval forms, that was a nightmare. But now, all of that is in the past, and soon the life I know and the places I call home will be as well.

With everything I have stressed over, planned for, and dreamed of only being a week away, all I can do is wait. I will enjoy being home while it lasts.

Flowers in Korea

Before arriving, I did not picture Korea to be such a mountainous or nature loving country. I imagined the neon flashing lights and bustling streets that are shown in movies or other medias. While those features do not lack, the nature is more likely to be found across the country as a whole. This past weekend I attend a couple flower festivals and below are  pictures that came with the fun of exploring through open fields of flowers. Enjoy! ♥

 

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Gyengju & Cherry Blossoms

This past weekend I had the chance to visit Gyeongju which is located about 40 minutes North of Ulsan. Gyeongju is rich in history and even richer in beautiful scenery. However, it wasn’t always known as Gyeongju. Its early name was Saro which was the capitial of Silla, an ancient kingdom from 1st century BCE to 10th century CE. While most of the kingdom has been destroyed from war three structures and the artificial lake that was created still stand as beautiful ruins. Our next stop was to the tombs that were left preserving the royals. Korea has only excavated one tomb, Cheonmachong, and decided that they found enough artifacts that there was no need to ruin the others. Cheonmachong is not famous for the person who was buried there, in fact they have no clue who it is, but rather for the flying horse drawn onto a horse’s blanket. This symbol can be found all over the city from shop windows to billboards. Our last stop was to the water wheel that is deemed the founding place of tourism in Korea. After the water wheel was built next to a lake stores and hotels started moving in and tourism boomed. IMG_8786 IMG_8788

 

Gyeongju is also known for having a wonderful cherry blossom festival but sadly the trees there hadn’t bloomed yet, but lucky for me because the ones in Ulsan are in full bloom and just as pretty as ever! The Cherry Blossom trees only bloom for two weeks during the whole year and bring beauty to everything around them. Most cities will hold a festival commemorating this time. As much as I could describe to you the trees I believe that pictures will do them more justice than I could!

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Until the next post!!

Chloe

Ulsan, Korea

I have officially been in South Korea for a month and I have to say it’s stealing my heart. One of the best things about the University of Ulsan is that they offer a simple conversation program for Korean students to practice English, Spanish or French from the exchange students who are native speakers. I cannot thank the University enough for choosing me to be a part of this program for the semester.

While practicing English is the main focus with my three groups that I meet with three hours each per week, they are so excited to show me their city and the surrounding ones! From movie nights and coffee shop dates the men that I am a conversation partner are making this experience all the better. However my two favorite memories so far have been 1) a beach trip to Daewanggyo National Park which offers an incredible bridge that connects a look out point on the rocks in the ocean to the mainland (pictured below) and 2) a pet café located just down the street from the University.IMG_8648

Aside from making memories with my tutees, the other exchange students and I have had quite the time getting to know each other and going on adventures. Located within Busan (about 45 minutes away) are several Buddhist temples and we took a day trip to Hongbeopsa Temple. Upon arrival we were greeted by grounds that are covered in sculptures, waterfalls, lanterns and so much beauty. At Hongbeopsa specifically you are welcomed to the temple by the largest Buddha I have ever seen. During our day at the temple I witnessed several traditions. The main one being the Prayer of 108 Prostrations. During this time those within the prayer room bow 108 times cleansing their minds during each bow. It is said that during each bow your mind and body become more of one and take away the thinking mind and return it to the natural mind. Upon entrance in the Hall of 1,000 Ancestors we found temple workers creating hand-made lanterns for the upcoming celebration of Buddha’s birthday. The simplicity that the lanterns start as and then created into an immaculate creation is more than awe worthy. Words simply cannot describe the beauty that was found that day at the temple.IMG_8718 IMG_8732

Until next time,

Chloe King- Ulsan, South Korea