Elin Havard (Wales) vierailu Toivakalaisessa perheessä 30.6.-11.7.2016
I am 19 years old and live on a beef and sheep farm in the Brecon Beacons, South Wales. In Wales, we do not have a 4H movement, but instead, I am a member of the National Federation of Young Farmers' Clubs, and my local club is Sennybridge YFC in the county of Brecknock. The YFC movement offers a variety of trips abroad as part of its international programme, and I was so pleased to be awarded one of the two places on the Finland exchange, along with Rebecca Smith from Martletwy YFC in Pembrokeshire.
We met in Swansea Bus Station on Tuesday the 28th of June to catch a bus to London Heathrow Airport and flew to Helsinki later that day, arriving at 9pm. Julia from the 4H office in Helsinki met us and took us by taxi to the Eurohostel where we would stay for two nights, along with exchangees from Taiwan and Korea. We had a great orientation day in Helsinki and visited the Sibelius monument, the rock church, the cathedral, the outdoor market, Regatta cafe, and had a lovely evening meal in Zetor.
On the Thursday morning, we all went to the train station to catch trains to meet our host families. After a three and a half hour journey to Jyväskylä, I was met by Kirsi, Emma and Aleksi, from my wonderful host family. They took me back to their beautiful home in Nisula, where I also met Matti and their two dogs, Turre and Remu. Since being here, I have already had a fantastic time and a great taste of their fun family life. We have been on adventures through the forest, seeing Devil's Field and many tasty berries; been swimming in Lake Päjänne, which was very cold; been in the sauna, which was very hot; baked lots of cakes and visited some great local sights, including the annual outdoor market in Toivakka, which was a lovely community event with a really friendly atmosphere. The weather has been much warmer than I expected and we have started to clean the swimming pool! The food is fantastic - Kirsi is a great cook, and I love the moose meat! I have met many members of their family, who all live very near to them - they are so lucky. I'm having an interesting taste of Finnish culture, and one of the highlights of my trip so far was seeing Semmarit in a local outdoor concert - they were amazing!
Today is a rainy day, so I look forward to visiting the city of Jyväskylä and comparing it to cities in Wales. I can't believe how quickly time is going and I'm so excited about the rest of my visit!
Wow, I'm over half way through my adventure already - time is flying by! Since I last wrote, I've seen more and more of this beautiful country, eaten more and more of its beautiful food, and made more and more memories that will last a lifetime! On the downside, the weather hasn't been quite as sunny in recent days...in fact, it's been quite cold and rainy, but nothing a Welsh girl isn't used to! Nevertheless, the fantastic Ilmonen family found plenty of rainy-day activities to keep us occupied, and continued to show me what their wonderful country has to offer.
On Monday, we visited the nearest city - Jyväskylä. It's a beautiful place home to some 130,000 people, and has a modern feel. After a quick look around the shops, we climbed some (many!) steps to reach the Museum, before discovering that it's shut on Mondays! That didn't matter, as we found even more steps (probably hundreds) that we could climb in order to reach the top of the viewing tower. Each and every step was worth it, as we were faced with a beautiful view of the city. We then visited Kirsi's sister and her family on the outskirts of the city for a cup of coffee (the Finnish do love their coffee), some lovely homemade buns, and lots and lots of strawberries (berries are certainly a favourite here too)! The next stop was Prisma - a huge supermarket with everything anyone could need or want, including restaurants, phone shops and opticians as well as the aisles upon aisles of groceries. On our way home, we couldn't but stop at the Panda chocolate factory for a photo with Panda, a taste of some chocolate, and a few bars to take home!
By Monday evening, we were all tired! Kirsi went to a community meeting, and we settled down in front of the TV to bring back some childhood memories as we watched High School Musical 3! Just as I was about to sleep, I found myself getting annoyed by the ignorance of a belittling anti-Welsh language tweeter, and upon reflection, I think that my frustration was probably amplified as a result of being in a community and a country where every citizen proudly and passionately values their heritage and language, whilst actively trying to learn and embrace the cultures and languages of others too.
As I've mentioned previously, the food here is delicious, and Kirsi is a fantastic cook, and indeed, Tuesday's lunch was one that I will never forget. After hearing about it time and time again, finally, I tried Mämmi - a traditional Finnish dessert (worth googling). I've been keeping a diary since I arrived, so I'll refer to that to sum up the experience of tasting this concoction - "not good". The fact that Emma dislikes it too made me feel better, and the fact that Aleksi likes it enough to finish mine was a relief!
In the afternoon, we went to the nearest town - Toivakka. I'm so glad that we visited its beautiful Church, with striking paintings on the ceiling and pretty throughout. Kirsi works for 4H in Toivakka, so we visited her office. They're very lucky to have lots of communal space and good facilities for the young people of Toivakka to come together and enjoy. We drove to the next village - Huikko - and stopped for some food in a sweet cafe overlooking yet another lake. The cafe is owned by the community and the employees are local young people. The final visit of the day was to a beef farm housing 500 animals of different ages, all bought as 2 week old bull calves from local dairy herds. Finland is full of many small farms, particularly those with sheep, but here was an example of a great system that has undergone continuous expansion since conversion from milking in 1974, with clever use of technology where appropriate. After a busy day, the sauna proved to be very relaxing later that evening!
Yesterday morning, we spent some time trying to find pairs of gloves in two big bags donated to 4H by the warehouse store in Jyväskylä to be used to make puppets! After lunch, we visited a local sheep farm certainly making the most of every on-farm business and marketing opportunity. Limited by area and quality of pasture, the family keep some 70 sheep altogether, with 5 new rams on the way over from Norway this summer, though that is definitely not considered a small sheep farm here! The sheep, bred mainly because of their fast growth, are shorn twice a year, and their fleeces sold from the farmhouse for around €150. Meat is also sold through the year in small tins from the farmhouse, whilst cuts are vacuum packed and transported once annually to major city markets to be sold, with the remainder sold from the farm during a particular weekend once a year. With three holiday cottages taken care of by the husband, and the farm taken care of by the wife, here was a couple exploiting every business niche available, and both certainly succeeding in their fields. On the way home, we called at a cheese factory and cafe for a cuppa and cake. Rural life and agriculture were actively marketed and certainly at the forefront of this well-themed catering enterprise and customers from all walks of life enjoyed an insight into the industry as they nibbled on the freshly baked goods. We even met an exchangee from Germany and two from Switzerland who were all enjoying their time in Finland as much as I am!
During the late afternoon, we visited Kirsi's mum, who'd been busy cooking. I'd heard a lot about her famous salmon soup, and quite rightly so, as it was delicious! The freshly picked wild blueberries and strawberries for pudding were lovely too. She is a keen knitter, and gave me a beautiful pair of socks to keep my feet warm during the Welsh winter!
At 10pm (Finnish time), the moment arrived, and we took our seats to watch Wales take on Portugal in Lyon. Watching it here was odd, I must admit, but alone on the sofa in Nisula trying, but failing to understand the Finnish commentary, I felt just as proud of the men who have put Wales and the Welsh language on a global stage - their journey has been terrific. Ie wir, "Cymru, fy ngwlad ble bynnag yr af!"
I can't believe it - my last night in Nisula with the Ilmonen family has arrived! I've had an incredible time here, full of wonderful experiences that I'll never forget.
Since arriving, I've admired the dozens of homemade 'elves'/'dolls' that are to be found dotted around the place time and time again. Indeed, Kirsi's talents don't stop at cooking - she's a great craftswoman too. So, on Thursday, she took Matti and myself under her wing and taught us (or at least, tried to teach us) to make these decorative characters! The process may have taken a little longer than it usually takes her, but both of us had an elf or doll of some shape or form to show for our hard work by about 8pm!
Friday was another rainy day, which meant a trip to Jyväskylä. An hour (or 55 minutes and 26 seconds to be exact) spent in a 'Mystery Room' provided one of the best rainy day activities I've taken part in! We had an hour and a few clues to help us escape the mystery room, and we were told in fact that our team (Dreigiau Cymru) was amongst at least the top 50% of teams that have given it a go so far - half didn't even manage to get out within the hour! The staff member who showed us the ropes happened to be off on holiday to Wales next week - I hope he enjoys the places I encouraged him to see and the things I encouraged him to do!
The afternoon saw us visit a local dairy farm, milking 65 cows with a Lely robot and selling all their milk through a nationwide farmers' cooperative, currently for around 35c/l. Both husband and wife were earning a living at home on the farm, and indeed, they were probably the happiest dairy farmers I've spoken to about their industry for a good while - there was only one point at which I sensed some frustration, and that was when they mentioned Arla (a milk-hungry food manufacturer that they, and most Finnish dairy farmers, steer clear of). On the way home, we popped to the local strawberry farm - another small, but friendly enterprise. The recent rain hasn't been too friendly to these berries, but they'll freeze well.
During the summer, Emma opens her cafe on a Saturday. I love the concept of '4H entrepeneurs' and Emma has very successfully embraced it - her baking is known across Nisula and surrounding villages, and she's even receiving orders outside of opening hours! 4H entrepeneurs across the country can be found baking, dog sitting, caring for the elderly, and providing a huge range of other services both in the cities and in the countryside, and having seen just one of their businesses first-hand, I think that the concept is great! All industries, and sustainable agriculture is certainly not an exception, are in need of business-minded drivers, and what better way of nurturing this important value than through experiences like these?
Last night, we visited Leivonmäki National Park - very different, but just as beautiful as the more familiar Brecon Beacons National Park. Our adventure through just part of the huge forest ended by the lake, where we cooked traditional Finnish sausages and spit buns on an open fire - priceless. We were joined by a German dairy farmer's daughter and fellow exchangee being hosted nearby - she's already started planning a trip to Wales next summer!
Today of course marks my last day with the Ilmonen family, and what a day it's been! The weather's been great, and the experiences even better! This afternoon, we took a 3 hour boat trip from Jyväskylä to Vaajakoski and back - the views were splendid, and summed up Finland (lakes and forests) in the most beautiful way! We topped off our emotional but memorable last day with a mouth watering meal in a Viking-themed restaurant called Harald.
So, as I sit here writing this at just gone 9pm, I look out of the window over (still!) bright and sunny Nisula, and Matti is busy reading the Farmers Weekly. Tomorrow, I head back to Helsinki for a night in the Eurohostel before the early morning flight to London Heathrow on Tuesday. I will go back to Wales having made priceless memories through wonderful experiences in what really is a beautiful country. But, most importantly, I will go back to Wales having made friends for life - friends who I cannot thank enough for making my adventure to Finland truly special.
Now, it's time to pack!
Miltä kuulostaa parin viikon kansainvälinen meininki tavallisen arjen tiimellyksessä? Ruoan laittoa ja lautapelejä englanniksi? Yes please!
Suomeen tulevat vaihtarit ovat sosiaalisia, rohkeita ja iloisia tyyppejä, jotka odottavat vierailultaan tavallista, suomalaista arkea. Useimmiten parhaiksi muistoiksi vaihtarit kertovatkin perheen yhteiset hetket, kuten kokkailun ja retket luontoon. Myös suomalainen sauna on monelle ulkomaalalaiselle ikimuistoinen elämys.
Perhe elää tuikitavallista arkea vaihtarin vierailun ajan, joten mitään erityisjärjestelyitä ei tarvita. Tärkeintä on, että perheenne on kiinnostunut vieraista kulttuureista ja osaa jonkin verran puhua englantia.
Miten ja milloin?
Vaihtarit asuvat Suomessa oleskelunsa aikana yleensä muutamassa eri isäntäperheessä noin kahden viikon jaksoissa kesäkuukausina. Tänä aikana esittelette vaihtarille suomalaista kulttuuria juuri teille sopivalla tavalla. Olisiko se vaikkapa mökkireissu, mansikan poimintaa tai kortin peluuta auringon alla? Vaihtarille ihan tavallisetkin asiat ovat uutta ja eksoottista!