|USIA Fulbright Scholar in Finland|
Terve Huittisista! (Hello from Huittinen!)
I just thought I would drop you a line to let you know what was happening above the 60th parallel. Actually the weather has been good so far. The typical day is likely a cool winter's day in South Florida. It has been perfect for running. There are many excellent bike paths to run on as well as trails through the woods which double as cross-country ski trails in the winter. I did a stupid thing the other day, however. Huittinen is a fairly small town with beautiful countryside surrounding it (lots of forest and farmland). So the other day during a run I decided to head out into unchartered lands (or at least unfamiliar to me). Unfortunately, I hoped I would eventually make a giant loop back to where I started. Well, after 45 minutes it occurred to me that I had no idea which direction I was going. Fortunately, I was able to retrace my path backwards. All in all in turned out to be a good workout, but probably not the smartest thing to do.
The people at the school have been wonderful. The principal has a wonderful sense of humor. And he was also very kind to start me off with a light schedule while I get adjusted to the town. I only have ten hours of teaching per week right now. But that will change next week when I also pick up an evening school class. Right now I am teaching two chemistry courses. One is called Chemistry 1; this is the introductory chemistry course which I believe is required of all the students. There are 36 students in the class. The other class I have is Chemistry 3, which has only 7 students. I think things have gone well so far, but it is very difficult to tell. After a little bit of prodding, the students have seemed to open up a little and have begun to answer questions in class. When they are quiet it is hard to know if they don't understand the Chemistry or they don't understand the English (or, of course, like many teenagers, they just have something else on their mind). My initial impression of the students is that they are quieter and more mature than the typical high school student in the states. However, I still have found it necessary to "lay down the law" in terms of talking out of turn in class. Actually, this was a little bit of a problem in the class that had only 7 students.
Each class will last approximately 8 weeks and then there will be one test at the end of the 8 weeks. Their grades will be based solely on this test. As you can imagine, this is a bit of a difference for me. I have to admit that it is a pleasant change in the sense that it does make less work for me. However, I can't help but wondering if they are catching on to anything so I think I may sneak in a quiz or a short test sometime soon to assess what they have learned. It won't count but it will at least let me know where people stand.
Living in a different language can be an adventure sometimes!! For example, I wanted to make a collect call to my credit card company back home. No problem, right? Well, how to do you call the operator (it's not "0")? I looked up the word for operator in the dictionary, but then I couldn't find that same word in the phone book. I ended up just making a direct call. On another occasion, I had an interesting computer experience. At home, I am using Windows95, but in Finnish. Actually, it is not that difficult to use because all the icons are the same. The problems arise when something goes wrong and you have to read (or in my case stare blankly) at the error window or the help message. The other day I was printing off something when, for some reason, the printer wouldn't stop spitting out sheets. I know that I could have just shut off the printer, but I wanted to figure out the proper way to cancel the print. After trying about 20 or so commands and frantically looking through my dictionary, I decided to shut the printer off after 15 excess pages had come out.
There are some advantages to the language barrier, however!! I was paid a visit at home the other day by a couple who was representing some religious organization (I'm not sure which one). I'm sure they were lovely people, but I just was not in the mood for what they had to say. So after their initial salvo in Finnish, I was happy to respond, "Anteeksi, en ymmärrä. En osa puhua suomea" (I'm sorry, I don't understand. I can't speak Finnish). Realizing their predicament, they replied something like "Oletteko Amerikkasta?" (Are you from America?) Although I did understand their question, I maintained my puzzled look and said "Anteeksi, en ymmärrä". They tried again by asking another question which I did not understand. Regardless, you can guess what my response was. That was the end of the conversation!!!
Several people at school speak excellent English and just about everyone at the school speaks a little. I am glad that I did try to learn some Finnish before I arrived however for two reasons. One is that I think it made a good initial impression with people that I respect their language and culture. The other being that some people in the town, such as at the bank or the post office have limited English skills so the few Finnish phrases that I know have actually come in handy once or twice. I may take a Finnish class in a few weeks if I can fit it around my own teaching schedule.
As far as traveling goes, I went to Tampere last weekend and Stockholm this weekend. Tampere is a large city about an hour to the North of here. I went an English teacher at school and her family. We went to a wedding that she was invited too. And this weekend I went to Stockholm by myself. I took a cruise ship from Turku (a city on the Southern tip of Finland) to Stockholm. I left on Friday night, arrived in Stockholm early Saturday morning, spent the day in Stockholm, and then took a return ship back on Saturday night. Stockholm struck me as a very clean city. The public transportation was very efficient (once I figured out how to find it!!). I went to a couple museums and the City Hall (where they give out the Nobel Prizes).
Well, that's all for now.