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.
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.