Monday, September 6, 2010

I Helsingissä

If you don't know Finland already, Finland has two national languages; Swedish and Finnish. Sweden ruled over Finland for hundreds of years, and so Swedish the language used for writing, reading, and the government. Because Finnish is such a minority language, as compared with French or English, it is important that Finns learn foreign languages. Perhaps a little of that, as well as some other things, and you get a compulsory Swedish class. Pakkoruotsi, or directly translated, is the enforced Swedish classes that every teen has to take. It is hard, and I would, to go from a Germanic language to one of the Finno-Ugric, and so people generally dislike the language and having to learn it.

I was told that although you needed to speak Swedish to get a job, most Finns will switch to English upon being asked a question in Swedish. The signs also come in Swedish. Oddly enough, but not so oddly, only 6% of the population has Swedish as their äidenkieli, or mother tongue.


Last night I had an orientation of sorts with the Helsinki and Espoo AFS chapters. I had so much fun seeing everyone again! It was also nice to meet all the new and different people! I even meet a boy from the Faroe Islands. When I asked him why Finland, he said it was because it was so different despite being in Nordic Europe; which is only another reason I should make my next exchange be to Denmark.

Anyways, I meet a few Swedish-mother-tongue Finns and got to chat with them in Swedish. Once things got going, the Swedish just rolled right off my tongue! It felt so comfortable and natural! I also got to speak in short with a girl in pure Finnish.

Well, to explain the title and this post, I was asked (Swedish:) 'Var bor du?' (Swedish: Where do you live?) I replied 'I Helsingissä : DD' (Swedish correct answer: i Helsingfors) (Finnish correct answer: Asun (live with the possesive case =I live) Helsingissä (Helsinki. Nk always becomes ng when cases change it. -ssä + i = case ending meaning in).

So, I am living in a place where Finnish and Swedish are constantly struggling against each other, yet I somehow mix up these completely different languages. I just thought that was pretty interesting, and I definetly would like to learn more about exactly why young Finns are saying 'Pois pakkruotsi!' (Finnish: away with the enforced Swedish)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

No Matter What

That last post was actually a post I brainstormed when the countdown was 39, but I forgot my log-in details for this.

I have been getting ready here and there. My grandparents have purchased my luggage for me. I can only look at this experience in awe; I'm so blessed to get to go on it. I have had so many obstacles in my way, and I want to share that so everyone else may take the stand for their exchange; when there is a will there is a way.

When I first came to exchange, it was because one of my friends was going on an exchange to Estonia with Rotary about 3 years ago. At that point I was not sure what exchange was, or that ordinary people could do it; I figured it would take a boatload of money. Don't get me wrong, the price tag is not cheap but it is certainely not the $100,000 I expected! Anyways, I just let the idea roll off my mind.

Then, a year later, I met my first exchange students. I even dated one. So, I heard nothing but how amazing it is. It was then that the idea came back. It still was far away, but I decided to look into it.

At first it was China, then Sweden, then it was Finland, and it wasn't long before I bounced around the thought of all the Nordic countries. Either way, Rotary would decide for me ultimately; and they only had Denmark, Sweden, and Finland.

To skip things a bit, the Rotarians and I hit it off amazingly! I KNEW I was to be a Rotary kid; how could I not? I was the full package and they loved me. They all knew I would succeed. I waited on the edge of my seat after the final interview (A rough, tough interview spanning 3 days with a homestay portion with the another exchangie on program. And you thought your 30 minute interview was intense ;) ) for my letter that would tell me where I was going.

The letter came.

The destination didn't.

Because of my anxiety, the Rotary club decided I should wait another year. Not only that, that put me into the age range of gap years. The only gap years were to Brazil, Argentina, and Taiwan. I loved all the countries but I had no real desire to learn Portugese, Spanish, or polish off my Mandarin.

I cried and fell apart. This was it. I was not an exchange class of '10-'11. I would not get my year. I was doomed!

But I wanted this with my entire soul, so I picked myself off my bedroom floor. I wiped the tears from my eyes. Opened my bedroom door. And made my way to the computer.

See, I had put applications in YFU, AFS, and others just in case. I was mostly just bored and wanted to do something to do with exchange. Little did I know, that boredom would bring me to the best thing to happen to me.

I throw my dice into AFS once more.

To keep it short (er) I will just let you know what happened. For even in AFS, I still had to fight for my life.

1. I was rejected at first because of medication
- I gathered doctor's approval and the like, and begged for another changce

2. I could not afford the $900 deposit
- There was a special going on that made it $500
- I sold my bassoon to make the money; my dad was in the hospital at this point

3. I had taken my interview, not realizing AFS would not cancel it after rejection
- I'm pretty positive that a good review helped them reconsider

4. I lived in an area with scholarships
- My tuition was paid with $5,000 grant and $2,800 loan from my local club

5. I got a Global Leader's scholarship
- I got $1,000

6. My passport needed expiditing because I applied literally last minute
- It barely got here in time to be sent off to apply for my visa

7. My parents did not believe I would make it all the way + did not handle any part of the process but signatures

As you can see, it has been one long journey. Every turn held a roadblock; but what was important was that I pushed through and never gave up.

It is my hope that you will reach for your dreams no matter what. So, that is my story.

0 Regrets

17 days until I leave New Mexico. 19 days until I'm in Finland. 151 days until I'm back. 17 days of wishing I could never leave New Mexico. 151 days of wishing I could never come back. 151 days of great memories. 151 days of bad memories, that will fade faster than the good. 1 lifetime of change. 1 lifetime of friendships. 1 lifetime of language use. 1 new family. 1 journey. 1 semester. 5 months. 1 great opportunity.
But whatever the numbers, whether some must be added or subtracted, the product will always be

0 Regrets.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hello everyone! I have tried to write this entry over and over, trying to tell you about how crazy everything has been. I've been trying to talk about how the orientation made this real. I've tried to describe my host family, and what it felt like to finally get one. I've tried to explain the joy and surprise I had when I was placed in the capital, Helsinki. I've tried to tell you about the apartment, about the neighborhood, and how there is a Swedish kindergarten near there that I am itching to help out at to improve my Swedish. I've attempted to speak words that could show an non-exchanger what it's like to be an exchange student; how even outbounds are exchange students. I've tried to illustrate how exchange students have their own sub-world, and how the experience starts from the day you feel that tug at your heart that tells you, you were born to do this.

I can't tell you, adequately, how my heart jerks every time I hear Finnish. I can't speak to you of how any mention of exchange makes me choke up and almost cry. I simply cannot open the door to this world.

I know that sounds weird, and it doesn't make sense to have a blog because of it. I simply say that because it is my wish you pursue a journey of your own after hearing of mine. It is an experience that varies from person-to-person. Our only common link is the bravery of leaving our homes, ready for the new and different. We share in our cultural hunger. We share in our need for bi-lingual ism. I hope I can inspire you to do these things, because you will never know what your exchange is like until you get on it.

Lately, my philospohy has been to treat my home country like my host country. I truly want to be a cultural ambassador and share my country and state, which is hard if I don't truly know about it. I think a lot of people on exchange think their only adventures await them abroad; there is so much to do here! It is just a matter of taking every minute and enjoying it. A lot of people get bored abroad, which is another reason to practice boredom-fighting here. I want to waste no second in Finland, so I am practicing by trying to not waste a minute here.

It is hard to believe that in two months my feet will have walked upon their first foreign ground. In two months my ears will hear their first foreign language in constant. In two months my eyes will see their first sight of a foreign country. In two months my mouth will begin to speak a whole new language. Best of all, I'll do it in Finland and get to share it all with my wonderful host family.

I am trying to open up the option to extend my semester to a year; just in case a semester is not enough for me to discover the things I wish to.

There is nothing to say, simply because there is everything to say!

It is impossible to believe that all those months of fighting for my exchange have begun to wrap into itself and produce a great semester ahead of me. It is so amazing to look back at all the things that have come my way; rejection from Rotary, rejection from AFS *I asked for them to reconsider*, all the paperwork, all the faith, all the drive.. it has been a journey. Already I am not that same girl from 10 months ago. It leads me to wonder, if I am this changed here, what changes await me in Finland?

Whatever Finland has for me, I want to greet it with all I am!

AFS Finland Inbound 2010-2011

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Våra Året: Mitt Liv I Finland)~(Our Year: My Life In Finland

Hello my name is Michelle Van Wart, a 16 year old senior at Independence High School, and currently residing in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. My dream is to do many spectacular things throughout my life, but for now I would like to focus on foreign exchange.

I have never traveled outside the United States before, but I have often dreamt of it! Since I was little, my sister and I were raised with both the American and Japanese culture. It was from this that I developed a fascination for more than just the world around me. I have been thirsting for culture ever since! So, to get the chance to see a culture first hand and unlike any other excursion, it was something I was very excited for!

Now, what exactly is foreign exchange?

[Well, there are many companies out there but, I have decided that I would like to go through the American Field Service (AFS).]

Foreign exchange, through the American Field Service, or AFS, company would place me with a host family, in a foreign country, for one entire year. This year would be the year to end all years! Through my year abroad I will be taught culture; by living with a host family, I will get special inside look into the country, one that cannot be obtained through a 4-week vacation. I would preform day to day tasks just like the other teenagers my age would: such as chores, going to school, and participating in sports and other activites! I would also learn a new language at a fluency that only immersion can give me. This is very important to me as I love languages but, though I know a bit of many, I am not fluent in anything but English at this point. Being abroad, I would also learn independence and self-sufficiency. This is because, though I have the guidance of a host family, I will make decisions for myself that I would not normally have to do if I were at home.

All in all, this opportunity will help me grow as a person, because I would be placed in situations different from my day-to-day life in America. I would learn to problem solve, increase my independence, and become more confident in the decisions I make for myself; as well as becoming a global citizen.

The country I am wanting to experience is Finland. Finland has so much to offer! Finland is still 1/3 forest. It has a small population for the land mass at about 5.2 million people. Plus, Finnish and Swedish are my favorite languages, and also both official languages of Finland. I love the cold, which is good because Finland is the second highest north country in the world (The first being Iceland)! The climate would be so different from my own. Finally, I want to share the culture of the country I go to; Finland would give me a chance to share a relatively unknown culture, in the U.S. at least.

As you can see, exchange has so very much to offer, that it really is an opporutnity I cannot pass up! Especially because you never get to do an exchange like this once you reach a certain age; after around 18 years and 6 months, the only exchanges open to you really are college ones (Those are really different because you don't generally get a host family).

I have the drive, the desire, flexibility and the maturity to take on this experience. However, it does not come free nor cheap. A rough estimate of costs is about $12,500; The program cost is around $10,500, a passport costs roughly $100, a visa is about $200-$300, and spending money is reccomended to be in the $2,000 range. Now, realize that economy is not doing so well right now but I need your help!

I truly feel that this chance-of-a-lifetime should not be missed just because I may not currently have some of the means to do it! Because of this, I am trying many different fundraising ideas to make my dream come true! One of my fundraisers is located right on this page, in fact!

If you would like to help support my dream then please locate the Chip-in widget on this page and contribute by clicking the button; there is no amount too small, I appreciate any and all of your support! Even if you cannot contribute in money, perhaps you know someone who can? Helping get the word out about this blog is just as valuable a donation as anything else!

Thank you for your time!

Prospective AFS Outbound
Finland 2010-2011