Leaving Finland

Lake Jyvasjarvi I have never lived anywhere for 5 months other than Jyvaskyla, Finland. As my Fulbright journey concludes, there is so much to still digest. It will take months, if not years, to truly assimilate all the learning. Before I left Southern California, I wrote about the what I would miss the most from home and what I  looked forward to experiencing in Finland. It is safe to say I met my goals. Top 7 Goals 1. Discussing Education Helsinki Workshop Through professional development programs, Fulbright Finland connected teachers with scholars and researchers, for the purpose of putting inquisitive minds together. The Making Democracies Resilient to Modern Threats seminar provided participants with fascinating research and presentations. 2. Nordic Model Bus station in Espoo What does an efficient and earnest country look like?  It looks like Finland. Yes, people pay higher taxes, but get so much in return. I for one appreciated the well-maintained ro

FULBRIGHT: The Application; Am I Worthy?

As a classroom teacher, milestones that determine your accomplishments are quite different than in other professions. Managing an unruly department can be an accomplishment. Applying for and earning a school grant is laudable. National Board Certification? Props.

But would these be enough to qualify me for a Fulbright?

The application itself was formidable. You can peruse it here.

The main focus of the application was previous travel experience and qualifications. Moving to a foreign country for 6 months is no joke, and I saw the questions as a way to gauge your sturdiness in adapting to foreign cultures. While  Finland is not dramatically different than the U.S., the climate is. Going from the land of eternal sunshine to 5 hours of daylight upon arrival will take some adjustment.

For my letters of recommendation, all those commissions in which I participated came in handy. I did not hesitate to ask leaders in education for a letter. They not only obliged, but cheered me on.

For my professional accomplishments, I thought about what I had tried to accomplish during my 20+ years as a teacher:

  1. becoming a model for my students
  2. acquiring top-notch training
  3. joining professional networks
  4. stemming the loss of teachers at my high-needs school
  5. elevating the profession
And yet I was intimidated by the Fulbright. Who did I think I was thinking I could represent the United States of America in such a prestigious manner? Although friends and colleagues assured me I was a strong candidate, I always have a crisis when it comes to high profile opportunities. Teacher stage fright.

I reflected over the study tours I had taken around the world on teacher delegations.

I though of the commissions I worked on at the CA Department of Education.

I thought of the awards I had been fortunate to received.

And then I received a message from a long lost student on Facebook (posted with her permission):

Hello Ms. Infante,

You may not remember me but I'm a former student of yours. I graduated from Bethune MS back in 2005 (12 years ago, WOW!). Just wanted to express my gratitude for encouraging me along with many others, to go to college and succeed in life.

I had a few behavioral issues but with no hesitations, and no questions asked, you enrolled me into the Honors program in Bethune. With the guidance of caring individuals like yourself, I had the support needed to succeed. I'm currently a Graduate Student at CSULB School of Social Work.

Aside from education goals, I also owe to you my aspirations to travel. During our history class you would ALWAYS encourage us to consider traveling. You gave us a sneak peak of the world through pictures of trips you had taken. I remember thinking, God... when I grow up, I'd like to do that! At that age I knew nothing but the streets of South LA. And now, I've visited 9 countries, and counting 😉

The work you do, TRULY changes lives! You instill dreams to students, and you give us the support needed to ensure those dreams come true. You've planted so many seeds throughout the years in areas where there was nothing but dirt....and now, thanks to you, there is a garden 🌼Thanks to individuals like you, generations of educated Latinos are rising. We are no longer a statistic, but are becoming constructive members of society. Thank you for looking past behavioral issues, challenges, and other things, and for valuing each student beyond their flaws, and seeing their true potential 🙂

Best Regards,
Ariana Z

Become a role model for your students. How could I look my students in the eye, exhort them to work hard, dream big, and fly if I wasn't willing to do this myself? After wiping the tears and reflecting on how many students are watching what we say and do, I began the Fulbright application process. After an agonizing 5 month wait, I learned that I too, would be a Fulbrighter. And now the work begins.


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