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Precarious

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Precarious – adjective;
1. Dependent on circumstances beyond one's control; uncertain; unstable; insecure.
2. Dependent on the will of another; liable to be withdrawn or lost at the will of another.
3. Exposed to or involving danger.

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Hetalia International Academy was a world-renowned secondary school situated in a small town in the foothills of the Alps. The school was best known for its vocational training in international politics, business, and history. Graduating from HIA practically ensured admission into any university in the world. However, admission to HIA was not particularly difficult. Good marks in the appropriate school subject, a personal essay and a glowing recommendation were all the requirements. They accepted 500 new students every year. But only about half of the students who enrolled lasted more than a year. School work was hard, with classes six days a week and instructors who were some of the best in their field, and it took dedication and determination to make it through.

But even knowing what trials awaited them, students applied. HIA accepted students aged thirteen to eighteen and always received numerous applications from students of all ages.

Tino Väinämöinen was sixteen years old when he sent in his third application to the academy. This was, he determined, his last chance at getting in. Next year it would almost not be worth the trouble to apply again. His grades were certainly good enough, so Tino was not sure what he was doing wrong. Were his recommendations not good enough? Was there something wrong with his essay? But the boy had high aspirations, and he would not give up. He was determined to get into this school, and perhaps it was that determination that finally earned him that long-awaited acceptance letter.

He knew as soon as the envelope came in the mail that this one was different. The past two years had earned him only a small envelope with a single piece of paper apologizing that they could not accept him this year and encouraging him to try again the next. This year Tino received a much larger envelop, and inside he found what he had been hoping for since his thirteenth birthday.

 

Dear Mr. Väinämöinen,

  We are pleased to inform you that your application to Hetalia International Academy has been accepted. You have been provisionally accepted into the International Relations program pending placement testing.

  Enclosed with this letter you will find your Incoming Student Handbook. This handbook will provide all the information you need to prepare for the upcoming school year at HIA, including information on housing and course placement. Please return the roommate survey included in the housing packet no later than August 1st so that we may match you with a roommate.

  On behalf of Hetalia International we would like to congratulate you on your acceptance, and we look forward to meeting you. If you have any further questions you may contact the Office of Admissions at the number below.

 Sincerely,
Admissions Board
Hetalia International Academy

 

Tino could not contain his joy.

Standing next to his mailbox in the summer sun, staring at the simple piece of paper that held all his hopes and dreams, Tino had never been happier in his entire life. When the shock of the moment wore off the teen was running inside, shouting to his parents so they could celebrate with him.

Within the week Tino was packing his things, even though he would not leave for months. New students moved into the dorms on September first, classes started a week later after orientations and placement exams. The date was circled in bright red on Tino’s calendar. He could not have been more excited, even if he was a little nervous about moving away from home. This was, after all, the first time he would spend more than a week away. And the school was so very far away from his home in Finland.

But while other kids his age probably worried about whether they would be able to see or talk to their friends, how they would fit in at the new school, and other such teenage concerns, Tino was not bothered by any of those thoughts. He came from a small town, and Tino had always been a little odd. He had friends, sure, but none of them particularly close, none he could not live without.  In fact, he was happy to be getting away, even if he was moving to a similarly small town. He would get to meet new people from all over the world. Make new friends. And maybe find somewhere he fit in.

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When September rolled around Tino boarded a plane with his mother in Helsinki and they flew to Milan, Italy. She came to see him off and make sure that he got all his bags from the plane and got onto the right train. And then Tino was on his own. A train up toward the mountains and then a bus to the school campus, and finally he was there.

Standing at the bus stop Tino took his first look at the little town where he would be spending the next two years of his life. It was a quaint little mountain town with narrow cobbled streets and historic houses painted in cheerful earth tones. Autumn had not yet hit this lower latitude, although the elevation of the mountain town put a chill in the air. According to the school website nearly half the population was either students or staff of the school. It did not look as though it had changed much in a hundred years, save the modern street signs and electric lamps that illuminated the street. And there, just up the street from were he stood, was the academy.

It was an old castle standing on a slight bluff; some nobleman’s summer house transformed into a school centuries ago. The town had, by now, grown all the way up to the edge of the school grounds and the castle had been expanded with extra classrooms and dormitories; buildings that imitated the original architecture but still stuck out as being different. The grounds were protected by an ancient high wrought iron fence broken with an ornate gate at the head of the long drive up to the buildings. Tino could see a small group of other new students with their suitcases already groups around the gate and he hurried over to join them, dragging his rolling suitcase behind him. When he neared the group he discovered that they had congregated around a table set up by the open gates. This must be where he checked in.

Waiting in line behind two other students Tino took a closer look at the area and the people here. He hadn’t seen any of the townsfolk yet, but perhaps that was not terribly out of the ordinary. Around him he heard the other students nervously conversing with each other, mostly in English but with a number of different accents. It seemed like everyone had a different accent. Tino had never really met anyone from another country, and he found himself both shy and excited at the same time. He had always been curious about other countries. That was why he was here, after all. But now that he had the opportunity to meet new people Tino found himself too shy to open up his mouth and say anything. He hoped he would overcome that.

When he finally reached the table, although the wait was not nearly as long as it had felt, Tino was greeted by the polite smile of a student. It was a young man, probably only a year older than Tino, with messy blond hair and green eyes. He wore the school uniform that Tino had so far only seen picture of, and on the sleeve of his navy blazer was a red band which, Tino assumed, marked him apart from the other students.

“Last name?” he asked, speaking with a posh British accent.

“Väinämöinen,” Tino replied.

The green eyed boy stared up at him with mild horror for a moment. “Can you spell that for me?” he asked. Tino did, and when the Brit found his name on a list of incoming students he checked it off with satisfaction. “Welcome to Hetalia International, Tino. My name is Arthur, I’m the student council president,” he greeted, and from a box under the table pulled out a large manila envelope with Tino’s name printed on the front. “This has all you’ll need to know about living here, including a map of the grounds, which you will probably need for the first week or so, and a schedule of placement testing going on this week. Because you’re a transfer we’ll have to make sure you’re on track with the other students your age. Although I don’t think there will be a problem, since you’re from Finland. It also has your housing information and a key to your room. A shuttle will be down from the main building in a few minutes to take you up with your bags. After you’ve put everything in your room you’ll need to head down to the student store to pick up your uniform.”

Tino could only nod as he listened to this speech, which had probably been recited innumerable times already. It was all a little overwhelming, but he supposed that was par for the course here. He took the envelope from Arthur, the packet heavy in his hands as he stepped away from the table to let the next student check in.

The shuttle that showed up moments later was actually just a large pickup truck with benches bolted into the flatbed. Fourteen of the new students, Tino included, were squeezed into the back with their luggage. Tino smiled pleasantly at the other students, hoping to come off as a nice person, and turned to stare at the castle growing ever closer. It was enormous from up close; three stories high and built of ancient grey stone.  Four wings surrounded a large inner courtyard with the new additions, built of the same grey stone but still somehow distinctive from the historic building, branching off the Northwest corner of the building. There were also a few free standing buildings of various sizes nestled throughout the grounds, but they were quite insignificant beside the grand structure of the main academy.

The truck pulled up in front of the main entrance and stopped to let the students out. Dragging his bags along behind him Tino moved with the small group through the large wooden doors that were flung open welcomingly and stood in the entrance hall. The ceiling seemed to go up forever. Surrounded by stone it was quite a bit cooler inside than out, but Tino found that quite pleasant at the moment.

Inside the building they were greeted by another student whose uniform sported a red armband; another member of student council. He greeted the group with an enthusiastic, “Hello!” and an energetic wave. “Welcome to HIA, new people,” he greeted cheerfully, and pushed up the glasses that had slipped down his nose during his lively greeting. He was American, that much was obvious from his accent and his loud, cheerful voice. “I’m Alfred Jones, student council vice president. Best job in the world, all the power, none of the responsibility. Anyway, I’m here to show you to your rooms so you don’t get lost. Not that it’s that hard. We’re in the main building right now; this is where all the classrooms, the dining hall and the library are. It’s three stories high, there’s some stairs here in the front hall, some in the dining hall, and another set in the back near the dorms. That’s where we’re going now. Follow me!” He spoke like a whirlwind and turned around even faster, heading off and just expecting the others to follow him. Follow they did.

Alfred led them down a hall that bordered the inner courtyard. Tino could not help staring out the windows that looked out on it, though he probably should have been paying more attention to the rooms they passed. The courtyard was immaculately gardened, though mostly grass gravel paths wound across it and small flowerboxes decorated the yard. Several tables sat in the grass, no doubt to encourage students to spend time outdoors between their classes.

At the end of the hallway they stopped, and Tino looked back toward the inside to discover that the corridor branched off. “This is where the dorms meet the main building,” Alfred was saying, still talking a mile a minute. “They’re not part of the original construction. Actually, if you look close you can tell the old stones apart from the new stones, which is pretty cool. But anyway here’s the other stairs I was telling you about, there’s also a flight at the end of each dorm wing, and a kitchen at the end of each floor, too. Your room’s going to be in either the North Wing or the West Wing. You can tell ‘cause on your room will have either ‘N’ and a number, or ‘W’ and a number. North Wing is straight ahead, and West Wing’s out to your right. If you’ve got something else written on your room assignment let me know, ‘cause there is a set of dorms just down the hill a ways, but it’s mostly reserved for returning students since it’s a lot nicer. If you make it through the year here you’ll probably get to live there; or in town, if you want, but then you’ve to walk really far to school.”

Alfred had not said much, but for some reason it took him a long time to say it, and Tino felt overwhelmed even though he had not been given that much information. Tino began to wonder whether all Americans were this intense, or if Alfred was just incredibly hyper. The American flitted around to each student in turn to help them locate their room number and point them in the right direction to find it, offering each of them a bright smile.

Tino’s room was N236. That meant he had to drag his bags up a flight of stairs, which he was not looking forward to. Standing at the bottom of his stairs with his large suitcase Tino stared up with very little confidence. Tino was not particularly strong. He was short, not particularly muscular, and this suitcase probably weighed almost as much as he did.  But just as he was about to make the daunting climb up the stairs with the case he was rescued by the loudmouth vice president.

“Want help with that?” Alfred asked, appearing as if by magic at Tino’s side. The Finn was startled by his sudden presence, but managed to nod ‘yes’ to answer his question. With a grin Alfred took the suitcase from Tino’s hands and lifted it up with ease as he started up the stairs. Tino watched in amazement as he trotted along behind, listening to the American chatter on about anything and everything as they headed upstairs and then down the hall to his room.

The rooms were small, but not too small, Tino discovered after bidding Alfred farewell and unlocking the door. On either side of the room a bed sat along the wall, a window between them and under that window two desks. At the end of each bed was a dresser, and the room also sported one walk-in closet and a sink. On each bed sat a pillow and a single set of sheets, but other than that the room was completely barren.

No roommate yet, that was one of the first things Tino noticed. And he vaguely remembered Alfred mentioning that if no one showed up by the end of the day then he would be rooming with a returning student, someone who would not arrive until the day before classes. It was already late in the afternoon, almost dinner time, so Tino did not think there was much chance of anyone else showing up to join him.

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As the week rolled on Tino was inundated with orientations, meetings with counselors and teachers, and assessment of his aptitude in various subjects. It was a busy week, in which he had little time for meeting and befriending his fellow new arrivals, who were similarly booked with meetings and tests.

Classes were all taught in English, but non-native speakers were also required to take English language instruction. Native English speakers were required to take another language of their choice. One could not graduate from Hetalia International without being near-fluent in at least two languages.

Tino planned on being fluent in three.

He had taken both English and Swedish at school in Finland, and he planned to continue those studies because, he figured, Finnish was probably useless in the international arena.

But taking two languages meant he was taking one more class than most of his classmates. His schedule was a daunting thing. Nine courses would have him in class from eight in the morning until six at night. Six days a week.

It looked something like this:

 

8:00 - World History
9:00 - Introduction to International Relations
10:00 - Government
11:00 - English Language
12:00 - Western Literature
13:00 - Lunch
14:00 - Swedish Language
15:00 - Statistics and Probability
16:00 - Introduction to Political Science
17:00 - Economics
18:00 - Dinner

 

Tino was certain he would live to regret this schedule, but he was determined to see it through for the entire term. Coming in as an older student he felt as though he was already behind in his studies and needed to catch up. This was not particularly the case, as there were a number of students who transferred at the same age as him, but more than anything Tino did not want to be left behind. Already he was planning to stay for the summer term, if he could stand being away from home for that long.

But he had met some of the other students living in his hall in passing. He knew that there was a boy one year younger than him from Hong Kong, another from New Zealand, and a girl from Belgium, among others.

By the time returning students were arriving on the Sunday before classes Tino felt as though he had already been in school for a week. But he was still eager to meet his roommate. He was one of very few new students to be matched with a returning student as a roommate, and he was very curious about what sort of person he would be living with. Would they get along? He hoped they would be friends. But what if they weren’t? What if his roommate was a total jerk? What if they were a total snob? All Sunday morning Tino’s thoughts bounced back and forth between hopeful thoughts about the ideal roommate, and worries about the nightmare that a bad roommate could be.

In the early afternoon all of his worrying was put to rest when the door swung open. Standing in the doorway was a teenager about the same age as Tino with short sandy blond hair and blue-green eyes behind wire-framed glasses. He laid eyes on Tino, who was laying on his bed with his computer on his lap, and smiled. “Hey, you must be Tino, I’m Eduard,” he greeted, and abandoned his suitcase in the doorway to come greet Tino.

“Yeah, Tino,” the Finn confirmed, setting his computer aside and sitting up to shake Eduard’s hand. “Nice to meet you, Eduard.”