I can’t believe it’s almost been a month. In fact, in just 8 days I will have survived my whole first month living in Jyväskylä. It’s been amazing. And it’s only going to get better, I can feel it.
This last week has been such an adventure! Saturday, I went to Laajis Adventure Park, Sunday I experienced a worship service at the state church, Monday I found myself in a Finnish public school, Tuesday I went back to the school and met one of the three 6th graders I am tutoring for the semester, and today I sang with a choir for the first time since high school! All the while, I’ve been reveling in the challenge of my classes and feeling overwhelming love from my family and friends back home.
Saturday was pretty neat. I’ve done ropes courses and zip lines before, but never in a forest. Never through the tops of the trees. It was definitely aptly named as an adventure park! We were there for two hours and didn’t get through every track. I absolutely plan on coming back.
Religion in Finland is an interesting topic. After speaking to some Finns, I’ve learned that people don’t really talk about religion here. It’s almost a taboo. As someone who finds learning about other people’s faith to be super interesting, I was a little disappointed by that. But my host family opened their arms to me and graciously offered to take me with them to attend a service at the state church. Finland’s state church is Lutheran, so essentially what that means is people pay taxes to fund the church and by paying the tax they are allowed its benefits, including the right to be married in the church and buried in the church’s cemeteries.
It was really interesting to experience the service. I’ve been to Catholic mass (midnight mass, and a high mass – both in latin) and I’ve attended Greek Orthodox services (in… you guessed it – Greek) so attending church in a foreign language wasn’t all that intimidating to me. However, my host family arranged a translator who sat next to me and translated every spoken word. That was pretty cool! He didn’t translate the hymns but I didn’t mind because then I could hear the language. I could read the text and hear it and it was really good practice for me. I’m excited to continue exploring the churches here, even if no one talks about it.
Omg Finnish school!!! I could go on and on about this. I’m so excited to finally be experiencing it. We were provided a tour of the school in English by students. Finnish 6th graders (about 12 years old) were providing adults visiting their school a tour in English. Yeah, I said it twice because I can’t believe it happened. It was amazing!
There’s so much about this school that blew me away. The stuff about 45 minute lessons and 15 minute breaks is not a lie. They are strict about it too. They shoo their kids out the door until it’s -20ºC outside (for reference, my American friends, that’s -4ºF) and even then, the kids still have the option (that most take) to go outside during their breaks. Students are only at school from 8-2 (or 3 if they are older students with that particular schedule) and they have a 30 minute lunch break. That makes a 30 (or 35) hour school week for students, but they are only in class for about 23 hours. And yet, they succeed. Also, when their day is over, they are just released as if it’s time for another break, and instead they climb on their bike or ride the bus home. Even the little bitties.
The teachers have their own offices in rooms off of their classrooms and a teachers’ lounge. But that’s not all the cool things about the teachers. The teachers have to follow a national core curriculum (like our common core – kinda), but the curriculum is literally intentionally vague. Teachers are trusted to handle their own classrooms. And they do. The weirdest part about all of it was that Finland definitely takes “public school” literally. There is an open door policy for the entire school. Visitors are invited (and expected) all the time. No appointment or warning necessary. So, as a student teacher in the school, I can walk through the building and pick a grade level to observe any day of the week I want, and they have to let me, no questions asked. From what I understand, anyone is allowed to observe classes, not just student teachers. So that’s interesting.
Also, this is not super relevant to anything, but no one wears shoes inside. It makes for a super clean school so that’s cool.
Finally, today, I performed for the first time with UniSounds choir. It was a super last minute gig, so not everyone could be there, but I really like it. We sing stuff from all over the world, and it’s a super chilled out time. No auditions, no stress, just people getting together to sing and get to know each other. And occasionally performing 😉
Today, I sang with girls from Germany, Belgium, India, Finland, and Russia (I think I got it all right)
So yeah, a lot has been going on, but I’m so happy to be here. I’m catching onto the language (the high frequency stuff anyways. Thank you, you’re welcome, yes, no, good, very good, how are you, coffee. Working on numbers so I can get a grasp on hearing prices.), I’m loving my classes, even though they are stretching my mind. Earlier this week, I had a class about teaching a foreign language and then proceeded to a class to learn a foreign language. Only because I’m in education did I totally examine how my teacher was teaching and think about the theories she was applying to our learning. Oh yeah!
Also, I just want to shout out to all my family back home – blood and otherwise. My card collection on my bookshelf is growing and I love it. Mail is fun to receive when it doesn’t say “invoice for rent” on it lol. I finally received my boxes of personal items I had shipped out right when I left (which blessedly included my stuffed animals that I’m such a child that I can’t live without) and my mom blessed me with some surprises – including my favorite American candy that I can’t get here – Mike ‘N’ Ikes. I have a stack of letters from some church family that I promise I haven’t been cheating at reading, only one a week! And last night, the UMC campus minister connected me to an old ESU exchange Finn who lives in Helsinki and it was awesome to get to talk to her, thanks to his connection.
If there’s anything I’ve learned here, it’s that the world may be big, but that does not mean that every place has to be isolated from the others. I’ve been loving meeting so many people from all over the world, and I’ve so loved that I can share this experience with all of you back home.
“I have found that if you love life, life will love you back.” – Arthur Rubinstein