Finland understands that children need to move. I live near a preschool and I see the children outside every day no matter the weather or temperature. They are running, swinging, sliding, playing and exploring in the fenced in space behind the school building. There are adults outside supervising but not orchestrating the play. The trains reflect this understanding as well. When I traveled from Jyvaskyla to Helsinki and back, about 3.5 hours each way, I saw family train cars with little play areas.
It has been so nice to see children allowed to be children and engage in age and developmentally appropriate activities. Finland gets kids!
Felting craft is popular in Finland and I have seen felted gloves, hats, Christmas ornaments and stuffed animals. I saw these embroidered felted eggs at the local craft museum shop before Easter and thought they were beautiful.
Ice and swimming are two words that should not be used in the same sentence! I enjoyed this more than I could have ever expected. I went to sauna before swimming so I was quite hot when I went in the lake. I sent the pictures to my brother and he responded with "so the sauna prevents your heart from stopping." I guess so.
This winter has been longer and snowier than usual and many Finns have told me that they have had enough. I'm glad to see some Finns still having fun with Winter. This hill is very close to my apartment and I walk over it to get to the center of Jyvaskyla. The sledders are university students. Fox imagery is very common in Finland in children's books, post cards, fabrics and posters.
Today was a beautiful cloudless day and the first day I needed sunglasses since I arrived on January 8! So different than Colorado where I wear sunglasses everyday. In the morning, I went nordic skiing with a fellow Fulbrighter, Kerry, and in the afternoon went ice skating on the Jyvasjarvi, Lake Jyvaskyla.
The Lake was busy with all sorts of winter enthusiasts: ice skaters, ice skiers, nordic skiers, sledders, chair sledders, walkers, and picnic-ers. I saw a couple sitting on a bench surrounded by snow drinking coffee from a thermos and eating "pulla", a generic term for baked sweet treats eaten with coffee. Being outside and exercising is important to the Finns and the frozen lake is a great place to do it. A perfect Finnish day!
Finland is known for both and I didn't think I see them at the same event. Today all over the country was the Angry Birds Go Snow event. (For those who don't know, Angry Birds was created by a Finnish company and first released in 2009.) The event provides free use of nordic skis, snowshoes and sleds for kids and encourages families to recreate outdoors, have fun and enjoy being in nature.
There was a real life Angry Birds game to play in which players launched stuffed Angry Birds with thera bands (like the ones from physical therapy) hoping to knock off stuffed pigs sitting atop wooden poles.
The location of the event in Jyvaskyla is beautiful: a cabin set on the edge of a frozen and snow covered lake with groomed nordic trails all around. The cabin has about 6 or 8 tables each table had two votive candles, a fireplace, a simple concession area with coffee, tea and snacks for sale including sausages to cook in the fireplace. A small building close by houses the sauna. The building is part of a recreation association that anyone can join which provides a base for summer and winter outdoor activities. Check it out http://www.jyvaskylanlatu.fi/
A new storage building at the association is in the works and the insulation is made with Eco Vili or "eco wool" make from a recycled paper product. Recycling and sustainable living and building are visible everywhere in Finland and reflect how Finn's feel about the natural environment: they respect it and want to keep it as pristine as possible.
Diclaimer: When I switch to a keyboard with an umlaut key, I can't type as fast so I will type the Finnish words below without the umlauts. Earlier this week, I learned that the dots above vowels are not called umlauts in Finnish as they are in German. They are called dots.
Finnish sounds like no language that I have any experience with and it is more closely related to Hungarian than Swedish or Russian. I can manage basic communication in French, Spanish and German but not Finnish. Thankfully, the Finns learn English from an early age, most Finns speak it very well, and are incredibly hospitable and kind. I'm moving past the disorientation of having absolutely no idea what anyone is saying.
Last week, I was at the Fulbright Finland Orientation on Thursday and Friday where we were introduced to some basic vocabulary and general rules. Some characteristics of Finnish are easier than others. Easy - Every letter is pronounced the same every time. Easy - The accent is always on the first syllable. Harder - she and he don't exist. There is only one pronoun, Han, for both. This does not pose a problem for me yet because I'm still focused on pronouncing single words but I'm sure I'll struggle if I advance enough in my studies to attempt sentences. Harder - Lots of double letters, both vowels and consonants, and like German, many long compound words.
What I have mastered and can recognize:
Moi = Hello Suklaa = Chocolate
Moi Moi = Goodbye Fazer (pronounced Fat-zer) = brand
Kiitos = Thank you of delicious Finnish chocolate
Kahvia = Coffee Kaksi = two
Tervetuloa = welcome luonno = natural (used w/ vegetables at the grocery store)
What I am working on:
Hyvaa = Good, pronounced HooVah
Huomenta = Morning
Hyvaa Huomenta = Good Morning
Orange - Appel
Orange Juice - Appelsiinimehu
Not sure I'll get there in 6 months:
Juoksentelisinkohmn - I wonder if I should wander around aimlessly?
Uusi Sisustusmyymala Avattu - has something to do w/ furniture. In a newspaper ad.
Here's a link to a blog about Finnish language with a page that includes the
10 best words/phrases in the Finnish language. It's where I found Juoksentelisinkohmn?
First 2 Weeks in Finland
Today, Tuesday, January 23 marks the end of our second week in Jyvaskyla. We arrived
by train at about 2 pm on Tuesday, January 9th.
The Journey to Jyvaskyla
We traveled to Jyvaskyla by planes, train and automobiles. On Sunday, Jan. 7, Kyle drove
us to the airport and helped us lug the bags to the ticket counter. He accompanied us as far
as he could without a ticket and walked with us to the ticker checker in the security line before
we had to say our goodbyes. Saying goodbye for a few months is new territory for all of us.
The boys were thrilled to make their first flight across the Atlantic and loved that we were flying
British Airways, so exotic. My good friend of 30 years, Ellen, happened to be at DIA that
afternoon because she traveled from Durango, CO for an unexpected appointment in Denver
the next day. She was my main editor for the Fulbright essays so the fact that she was at DIA
to see us off on our Fulbright adventure was fitting. She stayed in the secure area, met us at
our gate and saw off the old fashion way just before we walked down the jetway.
The flight from Denver to London was full and crowded: seat size has shrunk since my last trip
to Europe many years ago, but it was exciting nonetheless. Coincidentally, I was seated
behind a man who I worked with about 14 years ago in Denver and haven’t seen since. I was
laid off from this job in early 2003 as the internet bubble bust took hold in Colorado. I knew
the layoff was coming and had researched teacher licensure programs so I jumped on to
it when the pink slip arrived. After talking to Ryan and reflecting on the years in between that
job and now, I saw the gift of the layoff. I am at a high point in the teaching profession: starting
an amazing journey to Finland as a Fulbright researcher and teacher. It was a nice and
unexpected validation of the choice I made so many years ago.
We landed at Heathrow, a chaotic place, on Monday, Jan. 8 about 11 am went through
customs, found the gate for the flight, boarded the plane and departed for Helsinki. We tried
to sleep on this leg of the journey and the boys were more successful than I was. We landed
in Helsinki about 4 pm, checked out the airport, got a hot dog and went to the hotel which
turned out to be more of a hostel. Not a problem since the room was clean, warm and the
beds were comfortable. The next morning, we had the typical Finnish hotel/hostel breakfast: a
buffet of coffee, tea, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, bread, porridge, cucumbers, and cheese. Our
train to Jyvaskyla left at 10:00 am the following morning, Tuesday Jan. 9. The train ride was
3.5 hours, was wonderful and gave me a chance to see the Finnish countryside. It really looks
like Minnesota. The boys were more impressed with the wifi and restaurant car on board.
Marja, the Finnish Fulbrighter who visited up in Colorado (see post #1), met us at the train
station with her car and kindly transported us and all our bags, including skis because the
boys insisted that bring them, to our apartment. Ulla K., my University of Jyvaskyla adviser
and Professor of Craft and Teacher Preparation, was waiting with the keys. I think each of us
were pleased to plunk down our bags, breathe deeply and let ourselves relax. We had made
it to central Finland!
Our apartment is tiny, has everything we need and is close to the University. The University
reminds me of a mash up of the University of Vermont and University of Colorado. It is pretty
with snow covering everything. Sometimes, I feel like I’m in Narnia.
The elderly Finns are a marvel... cross country skiing and walking everywhere in the freezing
temps and on icy sidewalks. There is gravel in the ice to prevent slipping and people use
walking sticks and yak trak type things on their shoes. So different than the US. Also, bike
culture is alive and well in the frigid weather. I have become accustomed to seeing bikes,
mostly with skinny tires, zipping around town. I’ve been looking for a bike on the “second hand
items for sale in Jyvaskyla” Facebook group and should find one soon.
The day we arrived the sun rose at 9:34 and set at 3:14 and today it rose at 9:05 and sets at
3:51, so we have already gained about an hour of daylight. In the first week, I walked through
a neighborhood and saw little kids out sledding in the dark which seemed strange because I
thought it was about 9 pm but then I realized it was only 5:30 pm.
Today the sky is cloudless and the sun is shining brightly. Before today, I had had only a few
glimpses of sunshine which is not such an easy transition from Colorado with its 300 days of sunshine per year. While I relish the sunshine, the clear sky means colder temps. This morning it was a chilly -7F and I had to be at class at 8:15 so cold and dark met me when I left the apartment.
Clear skies provide an opportunity to see the northern lights and I am keeping my fingers
crossed for that to happen while we are here. Besides allowing for warmer temperatures, the
clouds, which are usually low lying, reflect the man made light of the city and make outside
seem lighter and brighter than it really is.
Despite the cold temperatures, Finland is warming. It has not been as cold this winter as it has
been in past years and as a result Lake Jyvaskyla has not frozen solidly enough to set up the
path/course for ice skating and cross country skiing which is the custom. I hope we get the
consistent cold needed for this because playing out on the lake and warming up by and roasting
sausages on the fires made out there sounds fun and a very different winter experience than
we have had.
The boys are enrolled in school and had a full week of classes last week. It was so easy to sign
them up. The school did not require any documentation of previous schooling or proof of
residency. For each boy, each day is a different schedule of classes and different start and end
times. They walk about 20-25 min each way. They seem to be enjoying it and making friends.
It is good for them to have structure and for all of us to have some times away from each other.
There have been a few bumps so far but I am confident we’ll work through them.
Finland is a great combination of the new and the familiar and is a perfect place for the boys to
have a first extended experience abroad. Almost everyone speaks English when asked and
there are products and stores the boys recognize from home: H&M, IKEA and McDonald's. We
can find similar foods when we need comfort (there are a lot of american/mexican items, Old
El Paso to be specific, at the grocery store which I was not expecting) and the boys are getting
school hot lunch everyday which exposes them to traditional Finnish cuisine. Angus said the
school lunch is pretty good and he is a foodie.
I'm trying to make sure they both exercise enough so that their excess energy gets channeled in
a productive manner. I got them season passes to the little, local ski hill and the trampoline
park, and signed them up for the American football and Ultimate Frisbee clubs. Now that I write
that, it seems like a lot. I have to remember that we are just at the 2 week mark in Finland.
Wow, it seems like we've been here for at least a month but an age since we left home. The
perception of time is so interesting.
We head to Helsinki tomorrow morning for my Fulbright Finland orientation on Thursday and
Friday. We are excited to see a bigger city. Finland is very safe and the boys will wander around
during the day while I am in meetings. On Friday evening, we will head to Tallinn, Estonia traveling via ferry and stay there until Sunday. Fox is very interested in the Soviet Union and Communism so his first trip to a former Eastern block country will be a milestone. There is a little KGB museum there which sounds cool. I hope both boys enjoy this type of travel.
It's been a over a year from application to departure and I am ready to leave behind the preparations for and anticipation of the adventure in Finland. I want to be in Finland: exploring new places, breathing Finnish air, smelling Finnish aromas, and feeling the crunch of my footsteps in the Finnish snow.
Our in-person initiation into the Fulbright family started with the Orientation in August in Washington DC. Kyle, the boys and I went to the Finnish Embassy to start the resident visa process, toured the Lincoln memorial, and joined the crowds at the Air and Space museum to escape the wet and rainy weather. We visited family in Alexandria and rode bikes from there to Mount Vernon. Thank you Kathy, Chuck, James and Alice!
Kyle and the boys went home after 3 days because Kyle, a high school Language Arts teacher, had to start work and I was fully scheduled with Orientation meetings. The orientation was exciting and a huge information dump: all necessary, relevant and helpful but overwhelming toward the end. I fully experienced overload on day 3! It was wonderful to meet the IIE staff in person since we had been communicating with them via email for months. It was helpful and reassuring to connect with the other American and International Fulbrighters and share excitement for our projects and upcoming adventures and our nervousness about living in new places and cultures, learning new languages and meeting new people.
As a family, our Fulbright experience continued when we had two Fulbrighters stay with us last Fall. The first was Marja P., a mid career Fulbrighter from Jyvaskyla, Finland (where we are headed), who was researching post secondary career counseling in the U.S. She was based at Georgetown University and wanted to see the Rocky Mountains so she visited Colorado for 3 days in late September. She accompanied me to my school, Arapahoe Campus, to see the Career Technical Education classes and facilities. She toured the building, met counselors, other teachers and commented that the Nursery and Early Childhood Education Center, which support teen parents and their babies, was unique.
After school, Marja and I did a quick tour of Boulder and she saw Pearl Street Mall, the Flagstaff amphitheater, and Chautauqua Park. On Saturday, we drove to Rocky Mountain National Park. The day was picture perfect with blue sky, warm temperatures and coincided with a free entrance day to the Park. We went on a short and stunning hike and were treated to an up close view of an Elk bull on the drive home.
Our second Fulbright visitor was Keith D. who visited at the end of October. He is an art and design teacher from New Zealand, who was at Indiana University for the Fall semester with the Fulbright international teacher cohort. Keith stayed in Colorado longer than Marja so he had the opportunity to see more of personal and professional life in Colorado.
He visited Arapahoe Campus with me and Centaurus High School, where my husband works, and made a good connection at CHS with one of the art teachers. He attended the Centaurus open enrollment showcase night with us as we toured the school with our older son who is in 8th grade and deciding where to attend High School. We visited the landmarks in Boulder that I showed Marja, He attended the Colorado Art Educators Conference in Breckenridge, CO. At the conference he connected with a friend of mine who is an art teacher and with whom I student taught back around 2006. I can't remember exactly when I was a student teacher!
He had the chance to see some spectacular scenery on the drive to Breck and back to Lafayette. He drove over Loveland Pass, through South Park (yes, the inspiration for the TV show), up the back side of Pikes Peak, down into Colorado Springs and through the Garden of the Gods. While he didn't see all Colorado has to offer, he got a great introduction to the Centennial State.
These visits made real for the me the idea that I am part of unique and privileged group who is working toward making education better through sharing knowledge, discarding comfort for the growth, changing perspectives and envisioning new solutions by seeing different approaches to familiar processes and situations and diving into new experiences. Finland, here we come!.
I am a high school art teacher from Boulder Valley School District in Colorado studying craft education in Jyvaskyla, Finland. I am in Finland through a grant from the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching program and the Fulbright Finland Foundation.