Day 10

I can’t believe it was our last full day in Finland today. The past few days have just flown by! Today we had the opportunity to go to a teacher training school, this is a public primary school that is run by the University of Lapland, and it is where students in the teacher education program there fulfill their practicums and student teaching experiences. Each university in Finland that has a teacher education program has one to two schools where their students go for those experiences.

Also, what is different from the US, or Iowa at least, is that student teaching is only a few weeks long and students complete it in pairs of two. As someone who will start student teaching in less than a week, that sounds much less scary and awkward than what I will be doing! I’m not gonna lie, I am very excited to student teach and to practice what I have been learning about for the last two years, but I am also very nervous.

We had lunch at the school and then went to the Arctic Circle to Santa’s Village. I got my picture taken with the jolly man himself, and I finally got to see my reindeer friend Sven! (He said Anna, Elsa, and Christof say hello! 🙂 ). After some exploring around the village, we didn’t do much because it all cost money, we headed back to the hotel. I chose to relax because my arms are pretty tired from yesterday’s adventure. Then, we all went for a late dinner at an Italian place close to the hotel and surprised Trent (the professor who had the original idea for this trip) for his birthday today. We got him a card, a t-shirt, and a small cake and sang him happy birthday at the restaurant. I am sure we embarrassed him a lot!

Now I am relaxing a bit more and procrastinating on packing because I don’t want to leave this wonderful country. I truly have had a wonderful experience and I can’t wait to share more pictures and stories with all my family and friends back home!

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Day 9

Today was absolutely my most favorite day in Finland! I went with my professor, Elaine, on the best excursion! We got to spend the whole day guiding our own dog sleds in the middle of nowhere and it was truly one of the best experiences of my life. Elaine said it best when she said that we had a true experience, not just doing the tourist thing.

We started our day bright and early with the company picking us up at the hotel around 8:30. We arrived at the husky farm and got more layers, in total I had two t-shirts, a jacket, leggings, snowpants, a long down coat, two pairs of socks, a hat, two pairs of gloves, and a jumpsuit. By the time I had everything on, I felt like that kid from A Christmas Story.

After a quick lesson on how to run the sleds and short walk, we were ready to go! I was super excited and not really sure how to feel but when we walked up to where the dogs and sleds were, the dogs were very excited to go! Basically, all these dogs want to do is run, so could not wait to get going. Unfortunately, all their excitement and barking started to make me a bit apprehensive. But, once we started going and I got used to the feeling of the sled and dogs pulling me, it was so exhilarating! The scenery was so amazing, we went through forest and on a swamp/lake area, it was so remote, peaceful, and beautiful. I lost track of how many times my breath was taken away. We got to see the sun rise and were even there for the sunset, the sun was up for less than 4 hours.

Elaine in front of her team.

Elaine in front of her team.

We drove for a bit and stopped twice for some warm mixed berry juice, which was so relieving because our fingers and toes didn’t get a lot of circulation so they were the coldest part. Our third stop was for lunch, which we ate in a teepee and heated over a campfire. We had cheesy reindeer soup, cheese, salami, and tomato sandwiches, more juice, and cupcakes with frosting in the middle. It was a very good picnic lunch and the teepee was so nice to have to warm up! After lunch was our last leg of the trip and it was my favorite part, we went up and down more hills and got some wonderful views that I wish I could have captured with a camera, but I doubt it would do it justice. In total, we traveled 40 kilometers!

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Me with one of my lead dogs.

Our guide was great, he was very nice and Elaine and I really enjoyed getting to know him. He used to compete in dog sled competitions and he told us all about how they work and how they train the dogs. He was a very nice guy and very helpful. We really could not have asked for a better or more authentic experience.

Elaine, our guide, and me

Elaine, our guide, and me

When we got back to the hotel, I was so exhausted. I laid down to relax and ended up taking a short nap. We then went to dinner as a group for some traditional Finnish food. I opted for the salmon dinner, which was fantastic! We got dessert too, and of course I went for the chocolate cake! Then we had a group meeting to start debriefing the trip.  I am still so exhausted, but today was such a good day and I would not trade it for anything!

The delicious salmon I had for dinner.

The delicious salmon I had for dinner.

And of course, chocolate cake for dessert with lingonberry ice cream

And of course, chocolate cake for dessert with lingonberry ice cream

Day 8

We rolled into Rovaniemi around 11am this morning, and took some cabs to drop our stuff at the hotel and split for lunch. Then we all went to the Arktikum Museum and Science Center, and that was a pretty cool place! There were quite a few interactive things to do and many cool things to see.

After the museum we got to check into the hotel and get settled in…it was so nice to be able to shower after being stuck on that train! Did I mention I don’t like overnight travel on trains yet??  Then Brooke and I went to find some dinner and we found a Mexican place and I got a reindeer burrito! It was really good!

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I actually ate this entire thing!

A bit later some of us took a walk to try to see the northern lights, but we had no luck because we stayed in the city. Tomorrow night we plan to take some taxis far away to see them, so hopefully they show!

Day Seven

It was an extremely busy day today! We started the day bright and early by going to St. Henry’s, the Catholic church, and then we went to the Orthodox Cathedral and the Helsinki Cathedral. I loved the stained glass at St. Henry’s and being able to spend some time in the chapel. The Orthodox Cathedral was very beautiful with all its artwork, and the Helsinki Cathedral is actually a huge landmark and how many Finns recognize the city. After those we went to the Mannerheim Museum and learned about, C.G.E. Mannerheim, a Marshal that was very key to Finland’s independence. The museum was his home before he died that was converted to a museum you can walk through, most everything is set the way he had it except for a couple rooms that are used for displays.

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I snuck a quick pic of the chapel.

After that museum, we took a ferry to the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, a fortress that had been in the possession of Sweden, Russia, and now Finland, and is one of the biggest attractions of Finland. Before taking a tour, we went to one of the cafes and had some lunch. I had a delicious pizza thing (that tasted like an elaborate bagel bite) and a piece of strawberry cheesecake that was really good too. We then took a tour -it was so cold and windy because we were outside but it was nice to learn more about Finland’s history.

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My lunch, one of my favorite meals so far!

We took the ferry back and headed out to do a bit of shopping and attempted to go to the National Finland Museum but our feet were so tired and we were so exhausted that we only made it to about 1.5 floors. So we searched for some food and settled on Hesburger (a.k.a. the McDonald’s of Finland).

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I’m about 90% sure this is the equivalent of a big mac…

Now we are on an overnight train that will take us up to the Laplands! I am very excited for this part of the trip (not the train though, I strongly dislike traveling overnight by train) we have many fun things planned and many more options in addition!

Day Six

It was a much more relaxed day today, starting with one short school visit to the other private high school. We arrived at the school and met with one of the language teachers and she divided us into groups so we could be in the classrooms. Each group went to an English class and they all had a plan for us to work and do activities with the students. They were very fun activities and it was a great opportunity for us to get to know the students and for the students to practice speaking English.

This school is able to exist because they have shown a need for it, like I mentioned in yesterday’s post. This school offers swimming, which no other school does, and it has three tracks (or, lines, in their terms) that are available to students. The tracks are science and technology, international business, and artistic. I was excited to hear about the international business track because the other schools have said they do not offer business or economics classes, unfortunately we did not get to see any other classes, but that is okay because the English class was a really good experience. After the class, we took a tour through the school and stopped in the cafeteria for lunch, it was salad, steamed veggies, cooked potatoes and some sort of pork stew to put on top of the potatoes- it was very good! Much better than pea soup in my opinion!

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The outside of the school.

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The swimming pool in the school basement.

After finishing tour we headed back to the hotel and relaxed before we went on a really fun Finnish tradition- sauna and ice swimming! I will tell you, I wasn’t very nervous about it because of course it was going to be cold, but I don’t think my feet have ever felt that cold before! We started out in the sauna and then worked up the nerves to head outside into the water, the ground was so cold and even more so because there was ice covering the walkway. As I made my way down to the water, unfortunately leading the pack of us, I stepped into the freezing water and never have I experienced a feeling like that. It was so cold that after about 10 seconds in the water I could barely feel any part of my body. I went in the water all the way up to my chest and turned around to realize that everyone else was only going to their waist…

Well, I got out of there as quick as I could and speed walked as fast as I could without falling back to the sauna. The heat was such a relief! I then decided to go one more time to really get the experience, so we went out again and of course the wind started to pick up. After getting back I felt so much adrenaline, so we went a third time. This time I tried swimming around a bit in a big circle, without getting my hair wet (they do not recommend putting your head under water).

Overall, the sauna and ice swimming was a surprisingly great experience and I really enjoyed it! I felt rejuvenated and cleansed from the sauna and there was a bit of a high from the adrenaline rush of swimming in the cold water. Honestly, I would definitely do it again and recommend for everyone to try it at least once in their lifetime.

Note: Sorry, no ice swimming pictures because I didn’t want to damage my phone.

Once everyone was done with that we came back to the city for an Italian dinner at a local restaurant, it was so good and I was so hungry! Then I decided to stay low after dinner and hang out in the hotel to relax and plan for a busy day of sightseeing tomorrow.

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My delicious pasta dinner.

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And dessert… “death by chocolate”

Day Five

We had a really good day today, with school visit and a hockey game! Today we went to an upper primary and secondary private school, meaning they had 7th-12th grades. Also, private does not mean the same thing in Finland as it does the US. Private schools in Finland are still funded by the government, it is still free to the students, they have to meet the same standards as the public schools, and there are very few of them because they have to provide a very good reason as to why the school is needed in the area- the school we were at has an emphasis in futbol.

They had us separate so we could be in different classes to observe. The first class I went to was a woodworking class, where I talked to a couple girls. There were two of them and many rambunctious boys, so I played the safe route and got to know the girls pretty well. Then we ate lunch, and they served pea soup and pancakes, and unfortunately I do not care for peas. I tried some of it, but I just could not eat it, so I had the pancake and went back to the teacher lounge and ate the fruit and cookies they had there for us. 

After lunch I went to a geography class and it was one of the best lessons I have observed in a classroom. The teacher was very excited to have us in his class and included us and planned for us to be a part of the lesson. His lesson had us comparing what we think of Finland to what the students think we think about Finland. It was very interesting and very interactive because we used an online board to work on it. The third lesson I watched was rather disappointing after that. It was a visual arts class and the teacher lectured the whole time. The interesting part was that students did not take notes, nor did they pay much attention to what the teacher was saying, because at any point about half the students were talking to each other or on their phones. The teacher didn’t seem to care or mind, so that was very interesting, but I would like to see how that class is the rest of the year.

After that lesson we all went down and made these rice pie things that were very delicious! It was very fun to work closely with some of the students. Overall, this was a great experience and I was happy to observe older students and interact with them.

Later, we went to a hockey game! Something I have been looking forward to this whole trip. The game was Espoo Blues vs. Helsinki, Espoo was the home team so we rooted for them and we won in an overtime shootout! It was a very exciting game because they are pretty big rivals. I also enjoyed seeing the similarities and differences between a hockey game over here and ones in the US.

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Note: I will update with more pictures from the school later!

Day Four

Another busy, but very good, day today! We went to two different schools and each were a great experience. The first school we went to was a primary school, or in American terms an elementary school. They have first through sixth grade at this school with 442 pupils. When we got there we were split into small groups so we could be in the classrooms and get to know some of the students and teachers. My group first went to a sixth grade handicrafts class, there were 12 students in the class and they were working on sewing hoodies. The teacher encouraged us to talk to the students, so I went over to a couple boys, but they seemed rather apprehensive about talking to us, so then I moved over to a group of girls and they were extremely talkative! We asked them about their schools and they asked us about what entertainment we liked- they were especially interested in what singers/bands and TV shows we like! During the next lesson of the day, our group went to eat lunch in the cafeteria and then we went ice skating with a group of second graders (I think….they were little haha). I did not have very good skates, so it was a rough go for me, but I tried and at least I can say I ice skated in Finland! 🙂

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The handicrafts classroom, where they learn sewing and knitting. 

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Me, my classmate Shelby, and two students.

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Two more students and me, they were very sweet and asked their next group from our class to tell me hello 🙂

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A typical student lunch, all lunches are free to all students in Finland.

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The public skating rink the students walked to, they do skating or skiing or other sports for two hours every week.

The next school we went to had three different buildings and we were in the main one that had a great layout- a large atrium when you walked in and three stories of classrooms, a building that was very efficient. A few students greeted us when we walked in, and then after a short presentation by some teachers, they split us and took us for a tour to get to know their school and how it operates. This school was also a primary, but since it has multiple buildings this one had grades 3-9. I really liked this one because the students are closer to the age I will be teaching.

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The large atrium that is a lunch room, meeting room, and has a stage (to the left, just out of the picture).

One way that Finland differs from the United States in education is that their system is organized from top down, they have central steering and local decisions. Meaning that decisions are made about education at the upper level, but it is up to individual schools to decide how they will comply with them. This is important because it means every school we go to will be different. Also because it reinforces the idea of trust I talked about in a previous blog.

When we were done at the second school, we headed back to the hotel and went to dinner at a comedy club across the street. The club was open special for us because some of the adults in the trip made friends with the bar tenders and chefs earlier this week. They served us reindeer with mashed potatoes, it was just as good as it was yesterday! (Mom, I don’t think Santa will mind!) Someone also bought the group a round of a shot that tasted like salty black licorice…I was NOT a fan, yuck! After dinner, we had some time so we checked out some of the local nightlife. It was good and we had some great conversations.

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Lapin Kulta, the budlight of Finland.

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More reindeer! Just for you mom!

Day Three

It was another long and busy day today! We started out going to the University of Helsinki to visit with Dr. Auli Toom, a well known professor and author of pedagogy. We learned more about the Finnish education system and a lot about their teacher preparation. After that I went with a small part of our group for lunch to a market and got a sandwich and some chips for lunch, the chips are below:

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The chips we tried, sour cream and onion is a very popular flavor over here. These tasted a lot like like funyons!

After lunch we headed to the open air museum, a place that would have been much more enjoyable in the summer but was interesting nonetheless. There were many cool buildings that were used long ago, but I’m not sure what most of them were for. If I came back here in the summer, this would definitely be a place I would go to again!

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After the museum, we had a couple hours to burn, most of us went back to the hotel to change shoes- it was above freezing today, so much of the ice and snow on the streets was melting making our shooes and socks wet and cold. I then went with a couple classmates to a cafe near our house, the same one where I got the chocolate cake the other day. They saw it and each got a piece but I went with some hot chocolate and a pastry with strawberries and whipped cream.

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We then headed back to the hotel and I sent a postcard to grandma and then it was time for dinner. For dinner, we went to a restaurant called Zetor, which we learned from a nice man on the tram over that it means tractor in English. It is a very fitting name because they truly ran away with the theme! Also, the menu was available in at least 10 different languages, which was pretty cool. Most of us ordered reindeer for dinner, and it was delicious!

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One of many tractor tables you can sit at.

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My reindeer sandwich, sooo good!

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The wall next to our table, that was a wolf.

After dinner, we went to Hotel Torni for a rooftop view of the city, below are the adults from our group:

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Day Two

Today was a very busy day! After some hotel breakfast we headed over to the Fulbright Center for a few presentations about what is offered for international students to study in Finland, a presentation from the Finland National Board of Education, and a crash course in Finnish! There was a lot of great information about the programs available to all areas of study, it almost makes me want to stay to complete school here! Almost :). We also learned a lot about the structure of the education system and what values they hold in regards to their education: 1. Flexibility and diversity, 2. Emphasis on broad knowledge, and 3. Trust through professionalism. Trust is a very large part of Finnish society and you see it everywhere you go. For example, one of our professors asked for a to-go cup for his coffee from the hotel, and they told him to just take his cup and bring it back later- you do not see things like in the states!

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View from the Fulbright Center; the large red brick building is the University of Helsinki school of education, where we are going tomorrow.

After the presentations there we stopped for a quick (10 minutes) lunch at a square close by, where I was able to find a sandwich I really enjoyed. Then we took the subway to our first school visit. The school we went to today is called Ruoholahti Primary School. We learned more about the education system and how this school operates. In Finland, individual schools have the freedom to operate in the way that is best for them, with little monitoring from the government. Again, here is where trust is emphasized, where the government trusts their schools and their teachers to provide the best education for their students.

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All 270 students in this school and their teachers and administration in the picture below.

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A 6th grade classroom in the school.

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The wood shop class, where every student makes one of those ladle things she is holding. The ladle is for the sauna, every Finnish home has a sauna.

After the school visit, we had about an hour to hang out, I got some shopping done, and then we went to a nice seafood restaurant for dinner. There, our professor ordered us appetizers to try, including snails. Now, I liked the garlic butter flavor of the snail, but I just cannot handle the texture of it! My steak and potatoes dinner was amazing though, so delicious!

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Two of the appetizers, the top one was the snails.

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My delicious steak and potato dinner.

When we finished dinner, some of us went to see the Olympic Stadium from the 1952 Olympics, and that was way cool! In the pictures below you will see the tower we went up (11 floors), and you can see a great view of the city. It was awesome!

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The stadium.

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View from the top.

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My friend Brooke and me at the top of the Olympic Stadium.

Day One

Today was our first full day in Finland, and it was a very busy day! We started out with a large breakfast buffet at the hotel. Then we learned our first lesson about punctuality (something that is very important to Finnish people), when we were a bit late for an audio and site seeing tour. Thankfully, they were understanding and we were able to hop on a few minutes late. We saw some pretty cool things and learned a bit about Finnish culture.

After the tour, we had some free time, I went with a group to a cafe and had chocolate cake for lunch :). Then our group checked out a couple of the malls, some stores, a few landmarks, and we walked around some getting to know the city. There is so much going on here!

For dinner, we went for some Russian food to a place called Blinit, where they served blinis which are a Russian crepe. Mine had chicken and fresh vegetables and it was very good. For dessert, our table tried a few different ones to share so we could try them all, and they were all delicious! One had nutella, one had bananas and chocolate, and another had apple and caramel.

On our way back from dinner, we learned our second lesson about how important being on time is in the Finnish culture. We were walking towards the tram to go back to the hotel when we saw it going by us and we were about 400 yards out. Our guide, Ben, started running to catch us and we all panicked and started running too. It didn’t quite catch on in the back of the group though, because we ended up leaving a couple people behind. Thankfully, the tram comes about every 10 minutes or so, so they were able to catch the next one (for all of my Iowa State friends, it felt just like trying to catch CyRide on the way to class!).

We waited for the rest of our group at a sports bar where they were playing the Packers game. So we had some drinks and I got an email to tell me I passed my Praxis PLT exam! That was very exciting for me, so I celebrated with a tequila sunrise 🙂

Today was a good day to orient ourselves with the city and to explore some before we get into the coursework. Tomorrow we will visit the Fulbright center and have our first school visit!

Below are pictures from the day:

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The Sibelius monument, seen on the tour.

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The chocolate cake that I had for lunch.

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The Kamppi Chapel of Silence

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The chicken and veggie blini I had for dinner.