Monday, March 25, 2013

Eating Waffles and Talking Politics

March has been a busy month of moving around and hanging out with other Fulbrighters. It started off in Belgium and Luxembourg with 40 other Fulbrighters who represented the European nations they were studying in. This trip was AMAZING and I am so grateful to have been selected to represent the Finland crew at the seminar.

We started by being whisked off on a bus to Luxembourg. I would love to insert a picture here of what the small, yet financially powerful country looks like. However, I did not manage to take ONE single picture of what it looks like outside! Granted, I was there less than 24 hours, but it was a jam packed 24 hours including a visit to the Ambassador’s house (where I didn’t get to take my camera) and hearing a case at the European Court of Justice. I did manage to snap a few pictures in the courtroom where we heard a case being tried about copyright laws between a coffee shop in Amsterdam, Red Dog, and the American based company Red Bull (also sold in Amsterdam). 

It was fascinating to think about the justice system from the EU perspective and even had an opportunity to debrief with one of the justices afterward. Imagine getting to sit down at a roundtable with a Supreme Court Justice and talking about the way decisions are made on the court- amazing opportunity! It was a treat to understand this system from an inside European perspective.

After Luxembourg we headed to Brussels to spend more time thinking about the EU and NATO and the role that each of these global organizations play in the decisions being made. It was an impressive itinerary full of meetings with the decision makers and the people close to them. What impacted me the most was the time that we spent with Ambassador Ivo Daalder.  He spoke very candidly about his job and his role in building consensus among the NATO decision makers. It was a unique chance to understand the reasoning and methodology behind the decisions being made in this collective defense organization.  These sessions definitely got my brain spinning with new ways and ideas to teach this stuff!  Foreign policy is a unit in class that I never give enough teaching time to because it seems overwhelming to figure out how to break it down. Now that I have such a better understanding of how things work, (although I do feel like I should spend a lot more time reading up on the news!) I think I will be able to tackle this topic with a lot more gusto next time I teach it. 

The most amazing part of this seminar had nothing to do with the time we spent in sessions or even the speakers that we heard, it was being able to hang out and get to know some amazing Fulbrighters who are thinking and studying some amazing topics! This week was enriched by the conversations on the bus, out munching on waffles (YUMMY!!), drinking the Belgian beer, and simply hanging out walking around the beautiful city! There are truly some amazing people who pushed the conversation and added perspectives from each of the countries they are studying that made this week unique. Being around likeminded people is always an encouragement and I think a lot of these friendships are going to go beyond conference buddies! 

Here are a few shots from around town. We had beautiful weather and I could not have enjoyed the sunshine more!

Walking around Brugge 

Chocolate!!  I officially fell in love with Belgium chocolate!!
My friend Marisa joined me for a few days after the conference and we took a side trip to Amsterdam to visit the Anne Frank House.  Truly an amazing city and an incredible opportunity to stand in the place that she lived for years and to hear her words come alive from her diary.  It is always in these moments that I am proud to be a history teacher and to have the opportunity to bring these moments alive for students.  

Anne Frank House

I love sunny days in parks!

Fun Finnish Fact #3

I have realized that I have been slacking on my Fun Finnish Facts. Mainly because I stopped going to my Finnish class and no longer have great stories from my not so amazing teacher…opps! I promise it wasn’t because I didn’t want to or because my teacher and I weren’t seeing eye-to-eye, but simply because I wasn’t there! I have been having a blast at some conferences during this month (more to come in other posts) and haven’t spent much time in Jyväskylä!

But that leads me to maybe my favorite Finnish fact- I love Finland!  Everywhere I go, people ask about what Finland is like.  I get this huge grin and start in all the things I love about Finland.  Usually these words are included: peaceful, quiet, efficient, responsive, kind, beautiful…. I can go on an on about this incredible country.  But I think my favorite part about the conversation is the moment when I take a breath from my running list of great things and people have this look that says, “really?!” It is the very same look I get when I give a similar list of amazing things about Idaho. People don’t know, because people don’t go. I couldn’t be more grateful that I am in Finland and that this experience is all about a place (much like Idaho) that people forget to think about and are consistently surprised to find out about. 

Who wouldn’t love this place?

Monday, March 11, 2013

I Slept in a Fancy Igloo!

For my winter holiday, I went north to Oulu and Kemi with other Fulbrighters Laurie, Amanda, Janet and our fearless Finn Marianna.  I am going to let the pictures speak for themselves about this trip- it was amazing!!  We got to snowmobile to an island, sleep in a snow castle, eat on a table made of ice and have enough laughs lasts to get us through the remaining cold winter days. 

Amanda and Janet built that fire!  Whoohoo!
What you see under Amanda's feet is the frozen Baltic Sea!  Crazy!

Do you sense a theme?  

There is an air guitar competition in the summer- Amanda
and I thought we should practice!

Good night!
Just so you know, I was warm and toasty in my two sleeping bags.
But that was after I had to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night :)

Being Kicked Out of High School

I have to admit, blogging has not been my first priority lately! I am sure you can tell that since my last post was on Valentines day! But I have been up to some cool stuff and will do my best to try to give you the updates. But first, I must tell you about a fantastic high school tradition that took place in February...

On the last day of regular school work for the last grade of general secondary students, Penkkarit happens where they are (sometimes literally!) kicked out of school!

Some schools have underclassman carry the grade 3 students out the doors, others have underclassmen kick them out the door, but regardless the message is clear. It is time for them to go! This signals the month long study period before the matriculation exams. But like any good transition, you need to have a party.

Students make banners and dress up before they get in a truck to parade around town and celebrate the end of classes by throwing candy at all who are watching on the sidewalk. Here are some of the banners made by Cygnaeus High School that were proudly hanging on the wall before they made the parade around town.

This one needs no translation :)
I couldn't make the parade down Jyväskylä streets because I had already scheduled a school visit at a middle school for the day. However, I sent my high school friend to take pictures and tell me all about it. He emailed me back the webpage of the local news coverage instead.  Teenagers, they never quite follow directions exactly :)  But I am thankful for his inside scoop of the day and his take on the tradition!  The article is in Finnish, but the video is worth watching to get the idea of the day.

Now students are nearing the end of the month long study period and I am still wondering,  how much did you really study?